When you decide to visit Rwanda, one of the most remarkable experiences that comes to mind is embarking on a gorilla trekking adventure in Volcanoes National Park. Travelers from around the world have spoken highly of this experience, emphasizing the awe-inspiring nature of encountering mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Sitting amidst the coolness of a Rwandan forest, gazing into the eyes of a creature that shares 98% of our DNA is a profound and humbling experience. It feels as though you’re looking into a mirror, while the gorilla gazes back at you, seemingly unfazed. There’s truly nothing quite like it in any other jungle.
Humans have an inherent attraction to the rare and extraordinary, and we marvel at things that seem otherworldly. Thousands of years ago, mountain gorillas roamed freely in the East and Central African rainforests, occupying the rift valley and volcanic slopes. Over time, their habitat diminished due to human development, pushing them into higher grounds and driving their numbers close to extinction.
Today, mountain gorillas are an endangered species, with just over 1,000 individuals remaining in the world. However, through the efforts of governments, NGOs, tour companies, and dedicated individuals, the numbers are gradually increasing. Gorilla trekking has emerged as a vital source of funding for gorilla conservation and has made a significant impact in the field.
Rwanda has positioned itself as a leading destination for conservation tourism, attracting countless travelers who seek the ultimate gorilla trekking adventure in its renowned gorilla forest reserve, Volcanoes National Park. The park has habituated twelve gorilla groups for human visits and a few others for primate research purposes.
This guide aims to provide you with all the information you need to plan your gorilla trekking adventure in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.
Volcanoes National Park is located in the northwestern region of Rwanda, encompassing the country’s side of the Virunga Volcanoes chain that extends across the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. Approximately half of the world’s mountain gorilla population inhabits the slopes of the Virunga mountains, spanning the three countries. The other half resides exclusively in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Upon arriving at Kigali International Airport, you can expect a two-hour drive on a well-paved road to reach the base town of Kiningi, where you’ll spend the night before your gorilla trekking adventure the following morning.
On the morning of your gorilla trek, your driver will take you to the park headquarters, which is usually within a 45-minute radius of your lodge at the base of the park. There, you’ll receive a briefing about the trek, what to expect, and which gorilla group you’ll be visiting. After the briefing, you’ll be divided into small groups, accompanied by a local expert tracker guide and two armed rangers (for security in the unpredictable jungle), and transported to the trailhead that leads into the jungle.
Rwanda’s gorillas inhabit steep slopes, so be prepared to hike on uneven terrain through dense, misty jungles with unmarked trails in search of the gorillas. Moderate physical fitness is necessary for this adventure, and we recommend hitting the gym a few weeks before your trip if needed.
If you’re not confident in your physical abilities, you can hire a local porter to assist you during the challenging hike. This not only eases the physical strain but also provides direct support to the communities living around the park. Porters come from nearby villages that once relied solely on the forest for their livelihoods. Now, with the forest protected, they have turned to gorilla tourism as a means of income. Hiring a porter, who typically charges around $20, is a worthwhile investment.
As you make your way through the dense forest, following the footsteps of the tracker, it may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to locate the gorilla family. The time it takes is unpredictable since gorillas move freely within the forest, limited only by the park boundaries. However, a team of rangers stays with the gorillas throughout the day and will guide your tracking team based on their knowledge of the gorillas’ whereabouts.
When you finally find the gorilla family, you can expect to spend at least an hour observing them as they eat, groom, socialize, and seemingly ignore your presence. The quality of your experience during this hour depends on your level of consciousness and ability to minimize disruptions, such as excessive photography. Your guide will provide you with stories and information throughout your stay and will let you know when your time is up.
There are several rules to follow during gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, including maintaining a distance of at least 10 meters (32 feet) from the gorillas, wearing a face mask, avoiding direct contact with the gorillas at all times, refraining from using flash photography, and not eating near the gorillas. Adhering to these rules and following your guide’s instructions will ensure that your gorilla trekking experience is as memorable as you anticipate.
The cost of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is higher compared to other destinations in the region, primarily due to the price of the gorilla permits. In Rwanda, a gorilla permit costs $1,500 per person, per trek. It’s essential to consider additional expenses such as accommodation, meals, and transfers when calculating the overall cost of your gorilla safari.
Gorilla permits are sold by the Rwanda Development Board. However, due to their limited availability (less than 100 permits per day), they can be in high demand. Licensed local safari operators, like Trek Africa Tours, can assist in securing permits even during challenging times. However, it’s advisable to book your permit at least three months in advance.
Most safari lodges around Volcanoes National Park do not include the permit in their all-inclusive packages. When booking accommodation, expect to pay for the permit separately. However, the lodge will provide you with a comfortable bed, meals, lodge activities, and sometimes, transfers to the gorilla trek starting point.
The price per night for all-inclusive lodging can range from less than $200 for budget options, $200-$450 for mid-range choices, and above $600 for exclusive luxury lodges. Transfer costs, which include the driver and fuel, may vary from $80 to $250 per day, depending on the provider.
Rwanda has positioned itself as a high-end destination, which is reflected in the cost of gorilla trekking compared to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, our consultants can provide you with an accurate price for your trip in a short amount of time. Simply request a quote by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volcanoes National Park, located at an elevation of 2,500 meters, experiences a tropical climate with the possibility of rainfall at any time. Heavier rains can disrupt gorilla trekking experiences, making certain seasons less favorable for visits. It’s best to avoid the heavy rains of March to April when the roads become impassable, and the trails become slippery.
The ideal time for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes is during the dry seasons, which typically occur between June and September. These months experience less rainfall, reducing the chances of disruptions during treks. The roads are also more navigable, and walking under the forest canopy becomes easier. You can include other activities in your itinerary during the dry season, such as nature hikes, birding, and a visit to Diane Fossey’s grave.
Although the dry season is considered the peak travel season in Rwanda, the park does not feel overcrowded due to the limited number of trekkers allowed each day. However, if you prefer to take advantage of low-season pricing, you can plan your trip during the wet seasons. During this time, many lodges offer substantial discounts due to the lower number of travelers.
As you venture into the mountainous environment, it’s essential to pack appropriately to stay warm and dry during your stay. Your packing list should include a lightweight rain jacket, a sweater for cool evenings at the lodge, a pair of warm socks, and perhaps a scarf.
For trekking, pack a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking shoes, gaiters, trousers, and a long-sleeved shirt to protect your skin from prickly plants. Bring a waterproof backpack to keep your gadgets dry and consider a hat for added protection. It’s crucial that all your gear is lightweight to avoid excessive sweating during the challenging hike.
Most visitors to Rwanda arrive at Kigali International Airport, located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the capital city, Kigali. From the airport, Volcanoes National Park is approximately 100 kilometers away, and the journey takes around two hours on well-paved roads. There are no scheduled domestic flights to the park, so a 4×4 vehicle is typically used for transfers within the country.
Gorilla trekking activities in Volcanoes usually begin before 08:00, and all trekkers must report to the park headquarters in Kinigi by 07:00. Therefore, it is recommended to stay close to the park or in the nearby town of Musanze.
After securing your gorilla permit, choosing the right accommodation becomes an important part of planning your gorilla safari in Rwanda. Fortunately, the lodging options in Volcanoes National Park cater to various budgets, tastes, and travel styles. The cost of accommodation does not necessarily reflect the high price of the gorilla permit. Here are our top recommendations for where to stay in Volcanoes, ensuring an exceptional gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda:
Planning a gorilla trekking safari in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda’s premier attraction, requires more than organizing a typical city tour. The logistics of obtaining gorilla permits, finding suitable accommodation with meals, and arranging transfers can be challenging, necessitating the expertise of a knowledgeable local operator.
With the assistance of a local operator like Trek Africa Tours, you can plan your trip based on your preferences and budget, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable experience, knowing that every aspect is taken care of by someone with local expertise.
Plan your Rwanda gorilla safari with Trek Africa Tours, a trusted local operator with extensive experience in sustainable travel. For further inquiries, please send us an email at email@example.com.