Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda takes place in the Volcanoes National Park, home to a number of endangered mountain gorillas and other primates. Rwanda, which is a landlocked country in Central-East Africa bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has the Volcanoes National Park tacked in the northwest of the country covering 160 square kilometers of rainforest inhabiting the endangered mountain gorillas. Volcanoes National Park has five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga ranges, namely Mount Karisimbi, Mount Gahinga, Mount Bisoke, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Sabinyo, all of which are extinct.
Mountain gorillas are apes that live in the lush vegetation cover of the Virungas with a 98% DNA comparison to humans. Mountain gorillas are only found in the Virunga ranges that encompass Virunga National Park of the Congo, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda; and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda which has more than half of the total gorilla population in the world. Gorilla trekking is an activity that sees travelers hiking deep into the lush forests and steep slopes in search of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is possible with the availability of the ten habituated gorilla families that are available for tracking in the Volcanoes National Park. Rwanda’s ten gorilla families include the elusive Hirwa gorilla family, Susa, Karisimbi, Sabinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Kwitonda, Agashya, Bwenge, and Ugyenda. These gorilla families can only be tracked once a day by a group of only 8 travelers and allowed only one hour with them.
The gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda just like in the other two countries starts very early in the morning with a briefing at Kinigi, the park headquarters at 7:00 am by a ranger who will share with the travelers what they should expect while on the trek. Rules and guidelines are then laid out (pay keen attention to them) and you are advised to follow them. Thereafter, groups of eight are made and then allocated which gorilla family to track. gorilla trekking starts at 8 am with the guidance and protection of rangers. With a hiking stick from the lodge or park headquarters, travelers move through the thick vegetation in search of the mountain gorillas all the while keeping an eye out for some birds and other wildlife like bush pigs. The rangers during the trek will share important features and point out whatever they think will interest the travelers. When nearing the exact location of the mountain gorilla family, travelers are notified and once encountered, pictures and videos can be taken but be reminded that cameras with a flash are not allowed. Travelers are allowed up to one hour only with the gorillas as they just might be irritated with human presence over time. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can take from 30 minutes to up to 5 hours or more depending on the location of the gorilla family.
To be able to be admitted for gorilla trekking in Rwanda, a traveler ought to have a gorilla trekking permit. This permit can be booked from the Rwanda Development Board in Kigali or alternatively have a trusted tour operator purchase it for you. The gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda is at $1,500 for all those interested in gorilla trekking, including the nationals.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda takes place throughout the year but the dry months of June to October and December to March are the most encouraged to plan your gorilla trekking safari to Rwanda in. The vegetation cover during this time is not very overgrown and the roads are more passable compared to the others that are considered as wet season months. It should, however, be noted that the rains in the tropics fall at any time, so do expect to be drenched at any point or have small drizzles falling all through or be blessed with a sunny day.
Travelers intending to do gorilla trekking in Rwanda are advised to pack the following essential items for a successful gorilla trekking experience;
- Long trousers and long sleeved sweaters or shirts to protect you from insect and plant stings
- Sturdy hiking boots preferably waterproof for a good grip during the hike and protection from getting wet feet when passing through puddles, small rivers or when it decides to rain.
- Hand gloves for a good firm grip on the hiking stick and to also protect you from getting reactions due to some very reactive vegetation and insect bites. The nettles in the Volcanoes National Park are particularly aggressive.
- Rain jackets to be sure you don’t get wet in case it rains.
- Waterproof hat and sunglasses to shield you from the heat and rains too
- Waterproof backpack to safe keep all your important items like cameras
- Insect repellent creams
- Energy giving snacks and water for the refreshment-the trek is no easy task.
For conservation purposes and travelers’ own safety, some of the rules and guidelines that the rangers will share with you during the gorilla trekking brief include;
- A 7 meters’ distance away from the mountain gorillas must be observed at all times.
- Keep within your group that you are put with, do not spread far out or encircle the mountain gorillas as this is threatening to then.
- Noise is not allowed and whispers if you really need to speak
- Avoid direct eye contact with the gorillas, this threatens them.
- Keep calm when charged at by a gorilla. Follow whatever instructions your guide/ranger instructs you to do in such an instance and keep calm.
- Do not throw rubbish in the park. Carry back all that you came with.
- Do not eat near the mountain gorillas. Eating should be done at least 200 meters away.
- Do not touch the gorillas. Some juveniles can be very playful and can come onto you, keep calm and enjoy the moment.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an activity that should be included on all travelers’ must-do activities. Having a gorilla trekking experience and particularly in Rwanda is very much worth the price you pay for it. You can have your gorilla trekking in Rwanda experience solo or have it combined with other activities in East Africa. Have your trusted tour operator put it all together for you.