Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Overview
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is often seen as a magical thrilling and “life-changing adventure that leads tourists to encounter with the mountain giants in the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda. With an estimated of about 800 mountain gorillas remaining in the whole world, a safari to Rwanda for gorilla trekking and encounter with these gentle creatures is surely a rewarding and an unmissable experience.
Mountain Gorillas live and are resident in the bamboo-covered slopes of the Virunga Massifs of Volcanoes National Park situated north of Rwanda. A thrilling gorilla trekking experience introduces you to see them under the guidance of trained guides and experienced trackers to interact and get up-close with the magical creatures in the wilderness! That’s the real experience of the movie “Gorillas in the Mist”. On your gorilla tour, you will visit one of the many habituated families of the mountain gorillas for an awe-inspiring hour observing the gorillas play, guard and as well amazingly gaze at them whilst they go about their daily lives.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is not as strenuous as it is in Uganda and hence, you spend relatively lesser time to find the gorilla family. In Rwanda, the hikes in the mountains as you hunt for the gorillas can take between 30 minutes to 4 hours or more depending on the allocated gorilla family and their current habitat. The journey as you descend back to the park headquarters is quite long but very rewarding as you enjoy the discussion and interaction with fellow trackers about the enchanting magical mountain giants.
Planning Your Tour For Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Rwanda Gorilla Permits
Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda cost US$ 1500 per person for all visitors. This a standard cost for all visitors though there are special packages and discounted gorilla permits available in the low season. The discounted gorilla permits come at a 30% discount (US$ 1,050) if a visitor has booked for safari trips in all the three major national parks of Akagera, Nyungwe and Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park) for at least 3 days during the months of November to May,
How to Obtain the Gorilla Permits in Rwanda
In order to enjoy the thrilling and magical adventure of gorilla trekking in Rwanda, you have to first obtain a valid gorilla permit which is issued by the Rwanda Development Board. On a single day, a total of eight gorilla permits are issued for each gorilla family for all the 10 gorilla groups that are visited by trackers daily. One can obtain a gorilla trekking permit by contacting the RDB offices directly or through a trusted tour operator, early enough (about 6-8 months in advance) so as to secure the opportunity of tracking the gorillas at that time to come.
On securing your Rwanda Gorilla permit, the first thing to be aware is to be assured that you will meet and encounter with the gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park. Have a magical experience with the different gorilla families but be aware that some gorilla families have more members compared to others, the most and best thrilling moment is to encounter a group having more members. The different zones or areas of volcanoes present different challenges or opportunities during trekking. One could choose a gorilla family simply for what its location presents, for instance the level of trekking difficulty.
What Physical Fitness is needed to enjoy gorilla trekking in Rwanda?
Please Note that gorilla trekking in Rwanda involves an expedition that will hike you up to the steep rocks, walk over muddy grounds, and the grounds are covered in shrubs. You will be required to have some level of physical fitness to enjoy the whole awe-spiring trek experience since it is quite a strenuous activity. You are advised to also carry along with basic gorilla trekking gear such as sturdy hiking boots, full trousers (preferably a jean or tracksuit), and a raincoat or jacket since it may rain on any day and time of the trek.
What To Expect on a Safari For Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
If you are to have the best experience and encounter with the world’s remaining gorillas, choose to go for gorilla trekking in Rwanda in the Volcanoes National Park. It is essential to bring along your valid passport and a gorilla trekking permit. Without those two documents, despite the payment, the park authority will not let you do gorilla trekking.
On your typical day of the trek, you will all wake up to assemble at the park headquarters in Kinigi for a pre-gorilla trek briefing from the officials at the park and ranger guides who will lead you through the basics of gorilla trekking, the guidelines, rules, and regulations, among others. No Worries! the guides here speak both English, French, and Swahili, so we got you covered!
After the briefing, you’ll be divided into groups of eight and be allocated a specific gorilla family to start off the hike into the jungles leading you to find that particular gorilla group. You will be led through the jungles by the guide clearing the bushy paths and trails while staying intact with other fellow lead guides so that you can easily locate the gorilla family. The hike on any day can lead you high to the altitude of over 2,500m taking from 30 minutes to 4 hours + until you meet the gorillas. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit breathless at this altitude – this is perfectly normal.
Most trekkers are a little apprehensive – a large silverback male gorilla can weigh up to 200kg, or three times the weight of the average man, but the apprehension usually vanishes when you see the group. Often the gorillas will be spread around a small area of dense vegetation. They’ll continue with their feeding and interactions, nonchalant about their visitors, though watching you with interest. Occasionally one, often a playful youngster, will approach you with curiosity – sometimes coming so close that you’ll have to move away.
What to wear and carry for gorilla trekking in Rwanda?
- Gorilla trekking is often an experience that can be on muddy and slippery trails, and this, therefore, requires a tracker to have sturdy hiking boots that will give you additional support and confidence throughout the trek.
- You may also think of obtaining thick gardening gloves because of the brambles and nettles en route and you should wear long trousers rather than shorts.
- A waterproof jacket may come in handy and take some water and a snack in case it’s a long trek. You might also find a walking stick or pole helpful.
Also available are porters that you can hire to carry your backpacks and other items at just a minimal fee. Even if you don’t really need them, hiring a porter is a helpful way to contribute directly to the local economy and chatting to them en route can enhance your experience both of local life and of your gorilla trek.
Summary of Gorilla Trekking Guidelines to Follow
Gorilla Groups / Families in Rwanda
At the time of writing, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is home to ten (10) gorilla families that are available for trekking by the visitors. Each gorilla family is led by a male silverback and stays along with several females and a group of youngsters. The summary list of the gorilla groups in Rwanda is here below; For more information about the gorilla groups in detail, please read here;
- The Sabyinyo Group has about 12 individuals, including two silverback gorillas, and is usually found relatively close to the edge of the forest (about 20–40-minutes’ walk), between Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
- Agashya Group usually lives close to the Sabyinyo Group but can range very far and high. It has about 25 gorillas with 2 silverbacks.
- Amahoro Group, Usually living between the Karisoke and Visoke (sometimes called Bisoke) peaks are with about 17 individuals.
- Umubano Group, which currently has 11 members. Both are usually further away from the headquarters than the Sabyinyo and Agasha groups, but easier to reach than the Susa Group.
- Originally studied by Dian Fossey, the Susa Group was the largest, with about 40 individuals, including 3 silverbacks. After a split (creating Igisha Group) in 2009, Susa now has 28 members. In the summer months, in particular, it can be a tough trek to reach this group high up on Mount Karisimbi, but it’s well worth the effort because of their number and because, uniquely, it has two sets of twins, which is very rare.
- The Karisimbi Group, which split from the Susa group a few years ago, also lives in the Mt. Karisimbi area of Volcanoes National Park and is also suited to visits from more serious hikers. Both of these groups can potentially involve a full day’s trek. This group also underwent a split in 2012, and now has 11 individuals.
- The Hirwa Group has around 11 members including one silverback and another pair of twins. Together with the two pairs of twins in the Susa group, these are the only known surviving twins of mountain gorillas in the world. They’re also usually found on the slopes of Sabyinyo, and tend to be one of the easier groups to trek to.
- The Kwitonda Group has 18 members and was habituated in the DRC. They crossed the border into Rwanda in 2005, and were carefully tracked and are now also being visited on a regular basis, although they are known to range far.
- The Bwenge Group, named after their silverback, has 11 members and can be a tough trek – they’ve had a lot of in-fighting and have lost a few family members, and they move around a lot, and faster.
- The Ugende Group do the same, so it’s often a harder trek. The name means “on the move” – its 11 individuals shift regularly.