Embarking on a gorilla trekking adventure in the untamed mountain jungles of Rwanda has become a popular choice among intrepid travelers seeking summer getaways in Africa. With Volcanoes National Park as the prime destination, the journey starts from Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, and takes you through a seemingly endless expanse of misty jungle on the slopes of the imposing Virunga Mountains. The experience of gorilla trekking is unmatched as you embark on a thrilling bushwhacking adventure, hoping to catch a glimpse of the majestic mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. This detailed guide will provide you with all the information you need to plan your gorilla trekking trip in Rwanda.
Picture yourself sitting in the midst of a dimly-lit forest, separated only by a few leaves from a family of giant black apes. Imagine gazing into the deep brown eyes of a 200kg silverback who remains cautious of your every move. Listen to the gentle grunts and enigmatic snuffling’s, the sound of gnawing and teeth chomping, and the weighty breaths coming from just a few feet away, where it can detect your apprehension. The surge of adrenaline and prickling sensation on the back of your arms is palpable. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is an unparalleled wildlife experience and one of the top adventure highlights in Africa.
Our comprehensive guide to gorilla trekking in Rwanda offers invaluable resources to assist you in planning an unforgettable gorilla safari adventure from Kigali for your upcoming summer vacation.
Volcanoes National Park, or Parc des Volcans, is a vast rainforest that covers five Virunga volcano slopes in Rwanda. With an area of 160 square kilometers (62 square miles), this park is a crucial part of a larger 433 square kilometer conservation unit that safeguards the entire Virunga volcanoes chain. The park shares its boundaries with the Congolese Virunga National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park, which function independently within their respective countries. Volcanoes National Park is renowned for being the best place to witness mountain gorillas, which have been carefully protected here since the 1980s.
The Virunga Mountains in Rwanda host a spectacular reserve called Volcanoes National Park, spanning over 160 sq km of rainforest on the five slopes of the mountains. The park is part of a larger conservation unit that protects the entire Virunga chain, extending into Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mountains’ steep, free-standing peaks, ranging from 2,400 to 4,507 meters, create a stunning and diverse landscape that is unmatched in Africa. The tallest of the mountains is Mount Karisimbi, located on the western side of the park, with Bisoke, Sabyinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura dominating the other borders with neighboring countries.
Volcanoes National Park serves as a refuge for endangered mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, and a rich variety of plant and animal species. The park holds a significant place in history as the base for renowned primatologist Dian Fossey’s groundbreaking work in gorilla tourism and conservation. Today, mountain gorillas are the park’s main attraction, drawing visitors from around the world to witness their beauty and observe their social behavior.
Through gorilla conservation efforts, humans have learned to coexist with these once-feared animals. Gorillas were once on the brink of extinction due to human activities, but conservationists like George Schaller and Dian Fossey worked to change the public perception of gorillas from brutal beasts to creatures with deep compassion and intelligence. Their work demonstrated the remarkable similarities between gorilla and human behavior.
More than a thousand mountain gorillas thrive in two populations across the Virunga Mountains in East Africa today, a remarkable improvement from their near-extinction in the past. Thanks to the concerted efforts of conservationists, nature enthusiasts, and the governments of the three East African states, these majestic creatures are now protected and thriving. Gorilla tourism has grown in popularity, with many travelers journeying to East Africa for a chance to trek through the jungle in search of a nomadic gorilla family and spend an hour observing them in their natural habitat, as Dian Fossey and George Schaller did in the past.
While encountering a powerful mountain gorilla may be the primary draw for many adventurers to the Virunga Mountains, there are other compelling reasons to explore the area after finishing a gorilla trek. For instance, Volcanoes National Park is also home to golden monkey troops, adding another fascinating element to a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda. These tiny primates with cherubic cheeks are a joy to watch as they swing through the bamboo forests with their boundless energy.
The Virunga Mountains offer a range of exhilarating mountain climbing and hiking adventures, in addition to gorilla trekking. While many visitors opt for the easier treks, such as those to Bisoke or Muhabura, the more challenging day treks to these summits are available for the daring few. For the most intrepid explorers, an overnight hike to the highest point in the range, the summit of Karisimbi, is a must. To fully experience the Virungas, plan to spend ample time exploring, as this park generously rewards those who take the time to do so.
For those interested in animal conservation, a visit to the renowned primatologist Dian Fossey’s gravesite and research center is a must-see. Here, visitors can relive the set of the film “Gorillas in the Mist” and pay their respects to a true trailblazer in the field of primate conservation.
Volcanoes National Park is not only famous for its gorilla trekking adventures but is also a sanctuary to various rare and endangered species. Among the animals that inhabit the park are forest elephants, giant forest hogs, buffaloes, black-fronted duiker, spotted hyenas, bushbucks, and different small predators. Bird enthusiasts can also enjoy the rich birdlife in the park, with more than 170 recorded bird species. At least 13 species are endemic to the Virungas and another 16 species endemic to the Rwenzori Mountains. Some of the birding favorites include handsome francolin, Ruwenzori turaco, Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird, Ruwenzori batis, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared Apalis, red-faced woodland warbler, and Archer’s round-robin. A visit to Volcanoes National Park is a fantastic opportunity to witness rare and unique wildlife species while immersing oneself in a remarkable natural setting.
As you trek through the dense vegetation of Volcanoes National Park, you will encounter a challenging terrain with thick vines, bamboo thickets, and steep slopes that will test your physical endurance. But suddenly, as if emerging from a secret hideaway, you will find yourself surrounded by beams of sunlight, illuminating a group of black figures amidst the lush greenery. Your heart will skip a beat as you come face-to-face with some of the last remaining 1,000 mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. This unforgettable moment will be etched in your memory forever.
To witness the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, taking part in the daily gorilla trekking excursions in Volcanoes National Park is the only option available. People from all over the world travel to this small country (or to its neighbor, Bwindi in Uganda) to experience a rare opportunity to gaze into the eyes of our evolutionary cousins for an hour.
These great apes are our closest relatives after chimpanzees. Spending a valuable hour observing them can be akin to reading a missing chapter from our evolutionary history book.
Experience a perfect blend of jungle adventure, superb gorilla trekking, and conservation tourism at Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. With permits priced at a steep $1500, prepare for a luxurious and unforgettable adventure experience.
The gorilla trekking expedition at Volcanoes National Park starts at 8:00 am, regardless of the weather or day. Plan to spend a night at a forest lodge near the visitor center and rise before daybreak to begin your trekking adventure.
Please ensure you arrive at the visitor centre by 07:30 am for a briefing. From there, it’s just a short drive to the trailhead where you can begin your adventure into the wooded wilderness.
Encountering a mountain gorilla in the wilderness for the first time is a truly indescribable experience. These enormous animals, with fully-grown silverbacks weighing around three times the average human, are covered in a shaggy and luxurious coat that accentuates their bulk. However, despite their intimidating size and appearance, gorillas are surprisingly fond of peaches.
Compared to most primate encounters, gorilla trekking is a significantly riskier expedition. Consider what it would be like if these gentle giants had the temperament of common monkeys such as baboons or even humans. What’s even more remarkable than their size is the unfathomable way in which gorillas interact with their human visitors, which is unlike any other wild animal.
Additionally, it is captivating to witness how curious gorillas attempt to interact with their visitors. Sometimes, they will approach and even touch the guides in an apparent act of recognition and greeting. During a recent encounter with one of our guests, a group of young gorillas and adults were intrigued by a photographic tripod. One curious female walked up to the camera, looked into the lens contemplatively, and then wandered off, seemingly content.
The mountain gorillas seem to recognize their regular visitors as fellow great apes and do not perceive them as a threat due to their passive nature. Occasionally, a young gorilla may attempt to assert its dominance by beating its chest as it walks past tourists, but it knows that the visitors will accept its display, something it wouldn’t dare to do to an adult gorilla.
Despite this, there is a growing concern about approaching the gorillas too closely. Studies have revealed that respiratory diseases can be transmitted from humans to apes, including the coronavirus. To limit infections, Rwanda’s conservationists and veterinarians take strict precautions. All visitors are required to wear surgical masks, sanitize their hands and shoes, and maintain a distance of at least 10 meters (32ft) from the gorillas. Nonetheless, the reality remains that there is little that can be done to prevent the gorillas from disregarding regulations of which they are unaware.
Undoubtedly, the mystical hour spent with the gorillas can be quite costly, and reaching their habitat can be quite arduous. Trekking up to the bamboo forest where the gorillas reside entails scaling steep and slippery slopes in dense vegetation at high elevations.
Looking back, it’s worth noting that only moderately fit adults can visit the more easily accessible gorilla groups. However, in our years of conducting gorilla trekking expeditions, we’ve never encountered anyone who regretted the financial or physical exertion required to do so.
To ensure the safety and well-being of both tourists and gorillas, strict regulations and protocols are in place for gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Visitors are permitted to spend no more than one hour with the gorillas, and are strictly prohibited from eating, urinating, or defecating near them. Additionally, tourists are not allowed to allow gorillas to observe them defecating.
Tourists are required to maintain a distance of at least 10 meters (32 feet) from the gorillas, although this can be challenging as curious young gorillas (and adults) may approach visitors to satisfy their curiosity. However, visitors must not approach the gorillas, and must adhere to this rule at all times. These regulations and protocols are crucial for the protection of both the gorillas and the visitors who come to admire them.
To ensure the safety of gorillas, all visitors are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours and wear a new surgical mask when approaching the gorillas. Additionally, visitors must sanitize their hands and shoes before getting close to the gorillas.
Smoking is strictly prohibited within the national park boundaries due to the potential risks it poses, such as littering, causing fires, and disturbing other tourists.
Because gorillas are vulnerable to human diseases, there is a risk of infecting them if a tourist carrying an infectious disease visits them. This could result in the death of the entire troop if they have no immunity to the disease. If you suspect you may have an airborne infection like the flu or a cold, it is advisable to avoid gorilla trekking in Rwanda. In case you feel the urge to sneeze, please turn away from the gorillas.
Although there have been no reports of habituated gorillas harming tourists, the possibility of such an incident cannot be ruled out. Research indicates that an adult gorilla possesses the strength of 20 strong men, making it significantly stronger than a human. As gorillas follow their social codes, it’s crucial to adhere to the correct protocol in their presence, as directed by your guide. Therefore, it’s important to listen to your guide at all times to ensure your safety around these magnificent creatures.
In the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) allocates eight permits per day for each of the twelve human-habituated gorilla groups. This means a total of 96 gorilla permits are issued daily. Although these habituated gorilla groups remain within tracking range on a more-or-less permanent basis, they have a free-range of approximately 0.75 to 16 square miles. This means that they could be found anywhere on any given day, adding to the thrill and excitement of tracking them down. To avoid disappointment, it is advisable to book your gorilla permit in advance to secure your spot.
You will not receive a specific gorilla group allocation in advance. However, the guides at the visitor center typically try to match visitors with a group based on their apparent fitness level. For example, Sabyinyo and usually Agashya (Group Thirteen) are the least demanding hikes, while Susa, Isimbi, or Karisimbi are the most challenging. This ensures that visitors have an enjoyable and safe trekking experience, suitable for their abilities.
A gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda, which includes park entrance fees, costs $1,500. Please note that the permit is only available to trekkers above the age of 15, and it is non-transferable. The cost of the permit goes towards the conservation efforts of the gorilla habitat, as well as supporting the local communities. It’s an investment in protecting these magnificent creatures for future generations to experience.
The gorilla permit can be purchased in advance through various channels, including the RDB office in Kigali, the official IREMBO website, or our reservations office. It’s also possible to buy the permit at the last minute, subject to availability. However, this option is not recommended, especially during the peak season between June and September when demand is high, and permits are scarce. To avoid disappointment, it’s best to plan and book your permit well in advance. This ensures that you have a confirmed spot to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime experience of gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
There is no assurance that you will be able to obtain a gorilla permit on any given day, as availability varies. The best chance of securing a permit is during the primary rainy season of April and May. During this time, fewer visitors tend to trek the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, increasing the chances of obtaining a permit.
However, during the peak season from June to September, you may face extended wait times of several days or even weeks to obtain a permit. To avoid disappointment and ensure availability, we highly recommend booking 6-12 months in advance. By doing so, you can guarantee your permit and enjoy a hassle-free experience.
To comply with park regulations, all trekkers must check-in at the park headquarters located in Kinigi by 07:00. Once there, you can enjoy a complimentary cup of tea or coffee and utilize the last clean flush toilets. A park warden will then assign your trekking party to one of the eight habituated gorilla groups. If you have a preference for a specific group or want to avoid one, arriving a bit earlier will allow you to speak with the rangers and express your request.
At around 07:30 am, a briefing will be conducted before you drive to the appropriate trailhead. The actual gorilla trekking usually commences between 08:15-08:30 am or as late as 09:30 am for the more distant groups.
Please note that the number of individuals within a gorilla group may vary at any given time, but we strive to provide accurate information.
The Susa Group, which was originally studied by Dian Fossey on Mount Karisimbi slopes, is the most challenging group to access. It used to consist of more than 40 members, including four silverbacks, and was at one point the second-largest mountain gorilla group in the world. However, it split into the Karisimbi Group (with 10 members) in 2010 and the Igisha Group (with 35 members) in 2014. Presently, the Susa Group has 19 members. Additionally, the Karisimbi Group further divided in 2012, giving rise to the Isimbi Group with 16 members.
For most visitors who are physically fit, the habituated groups mentioned above are usually the top preference. However, getting to these groups requires a long drive of approximately 90 minutes from Kinigi to the starting point. Additionally, you should prepare yourself for a challenging hike. It takes almost an hour to ascend from the car park to the forest boundary, although it is not as steep as it used to be from the new starting point.
On a good day, it takes around 20 minutes to reach the gorillas from the boundary, but on a bad day, it could take you two hours or more in either direction. Some visitors have reported spending as much as seven hours locating the habituated group during the dry season.
To mentally prepare for trekking, you can inquire about the gorillas’ location and movement from the Kihingi visitor center since they usually don’t travel far in a day. The Sabyinyo Group’s habitat is on a sparsely forested saddle between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga in the Volcanoes National Park. The journey from the parking lot to the forest’s edge is generally flat or slightly sloping and takes around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the gorillas’ location. Once inside the forest, it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to locate the gorillas, and the slopes, while not too challenging, can be slippery after rain.
The Sabyinyo Group, led by the dominant male Gihishamwosti, consists of 15 individuals, including two silverbacks. Gihishamwosti took over from Guhondo in 2020, who was the heaviest gorilla ever measured across all races, weighing in at 220kg.
The Agashya Group, also known as Group Thirteen, shares the same saddle as the Sabyinyo Group and typically spends most of its time there, making it easily accessible in the same area. However, the group may occasionally venture deeper into the mountains, resulting in a significantly longer hike.
Originally named for the 13 gorillas first habituated, Group Thirteen now boasts an impressive 26 members, including 13 adult females. The group is led by an ultra-promiscuous silverback who acquired all of the females from the Nyakagezi Group on the Ugandan side.
Many guides hold a fondness for Group Thirteen, likely due to its relaxed and approachable silverback in comparison to those in other groups.
The Amahoro Group, comprised of 21 individuals, and the Umubano Group, consisting of 14 members, both have an overlapping territory on Mount Bisoke. The Umubano Group is made up of eight silverbacks, one blackjack, and four adult females. The hikes required to reach these groups generally fall between the difficulty levels of those to reach Susa and Sabyinyo. Despite their territorial overlap, the Amahoro (Peace) and Umubano (Togetherness) groups have a harmonious relationship, most likely due to strong familial connections. Many individuals in both groups have siblings in the other.
The emergence of new gorilla groups, facilitated by the increasing population and successful conservation efforts, is a promising indicator. Tourists can visit several new groups, including the recently formed Geisha and Isimbi.
In 2006, the Hirwa Group was established by a silverback who had left the Susa group two years earlier. Consisting of 13 individuals, the Hirwa Group primarily resides in the foothills of Mount Sabyinyo on the Gahinga side. Around the same time, the Kwitonda Group crossed into Uganda from DR Congo due to the Congolese civil war. After initially staying in Mgahinga National Park, the Kwitonda Group displaced the smaller Uganda-based Nyakagezi Group, causing them to cross the border into Rwanda.
In late 2006, the Kwitonda Group returned to Rwanda and settled on the lower slopes of Mount Muhabura. The hike to reach them is relatively easy, similar to that of the Sabyinyo Group. In May 2021, the Kwitonda Group peacefully split into two sub-groups, with Karevuro keeping 20 gorillas and Kigoma taking 20, an unusual occurrence. The Kwitonda Gorilla family still consists of 2 silverbacks, 8 females, 2 black-backs, 3 juveniles, and 4 infants.
The Kwisanga Group, which comprises 18 members, is the latest addition to Rwanda’s gorilla groups open for trekking. The group was formed by gorillas that split from the Kwitonda family in May 2021.
The fascinating territorial shifts among the great apes in the rolling hills can be observed, such as the clashes between the Nyakagezi Group and Agashya/Group Thirteen. The latter group’s silverback poached all the females of the former, prompting the rest of the Nyakagezi Group to retreat back to Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park.
As a result, the time it takes to reach the gorillas from the trailhead varies depending on the movements of the different groups.
In Rwanda, there are twelve gorilla groups that have been habituated for tourist visits, which are Susa, Karisimbi, Isimbi, Igisha, Amahoro, Umubano, Sabyinyo, Agasha, Muhoza, Hirwa, Kwitonda, and the latest addition, Kwisanga. Additionally, there are a few other groups that are reserved for research purposes but are occasionally visited. These include Muhoza, which has ten members and one silverback, Isabukuru with 14 members and one silverback, Mafunzo with 12 members and one silverback, Musilikare with 19 members and three silverbacks, Ntambara with 11 members and one silverback, and Pablo with 24 members and three silverbacks. The time it takes to reach the gorillas from the trailhead is dependent on the movements of the different groups.
The difficulty level of gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a commonly asked question, and the answer is not straightforward. Several variables are involved in the trek, which could result in a challenging walk in the woods. However, it’s rare to see guides carrying tourists out of the woods. On the other hand, if everything falls in your favour, the gorilla trekking excursion could be as easy as a stroll in the backwoods.
There are two phases involved in the gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda. The first phase is a hike from the nearest car park to the park boundary, which usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the speed of the trekkers and the location of the gorilla group. This phase is typically an easy, flat walk from the car park to the park boundary, with the exception of the trek to the Susa Group, which involves a steeper ascent.
The second phase involves trekking into the forest to locate the gorillas. Before tourists enter the forest, the advance trackers usually have already located the gorillas. The duration of this phase can vary greatly, from 10 minutes to two hours, but typically takes around 20-30 minutes, especially for gorilla groups whose territory is closer to the forest border. This phase is more unpredictable and challenging, depending on the gorilla group’s location and the terrain’s steepness. The density of vegetation is a significant factor in the difficulty of the trek, as navigating through the jungle can be exhausting, especially when trying to avoid nettles. Additionally, recent rain can make the ground slippery and muddy, adding to the challenge of the trek.
When it comes to gorilla trekking in Rwanda, age and fitness levels play a critical role in determining the level of difficulty. Generally, individuals under 40 who are moderately fit will not find the trek too challenging, with the exception of the Susa Group, which involves a longer and steeper ascent. However, for those in their 50s or 60s, the hike may be more demanding.
Even if you are someone who bikes to work every day, it is important not to underestimate the difficulty of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. The high-altitude environment can cause breathing problems, which may require frequent breaks. Many older travellers do find the trek to be quite arduous, but it is uncommon for them to turn back due to intimidation.
In summary, it is important to consider your age and fitness level before embarking on a gorilla trekking adventure in Rwanda. While the trek may be more challenging for some individuals, it is still a rewarding experience that many older travellers are able to accomplish with determination and perseverance.
The allocation of gorilla groups plays a crucial role in determining the difficulty of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Typically, the trek to the Susa Group is the most challenging, but it offers the most rewarding experience with approximately 30 gorillas. In contrast, the Sabyinyo Group is the easiest to reach and offers a reliable trekking experience.
Trekking to groups such as Kwitonda, Hirwa, and Group Thirteen is usually less demanding. However, walks to Amahoro and Umubano groups are more challenging, but not as demanding as the trek to the Susa Group. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the trek is not predictable, and any group might be more demanding than expected on a bad day.
Although it’s not guaranteed which group you will be allocated, the guides at Kiningi make a conscious effort to match individuals to the most suitable group, especially if you request it. Typically, the trekking party for the Susa Group comprises of under-30s, while the Sabyinyo party tends to have a different demographic.
When planning a visit to the gorilla highlands, it’s important to consider the challenges posed by uneven terrain and high altitude. Unlike the well-maintained footpaths found in urban areas, ascent paths and forest floors can be irregular and slippery, making it difficult for visitors to navigate. To ensure safety and comfort, it’s recommended to wear waterproof and sturdy shoes or hiking boots with good tread and ankle support.
Additionally, visitors should be mindful of the weather conditions in the region, especially during the rainy season from March to May when the terrain can become muddy and challenging to navigate. If you anticipate struggling with these conditions, it may be best to plan your visit during the dry season for a more enjoyable experience.
Altitude can be more tiring than many people realize, and this is especially true when trekking to see gorillas in Rwanda. At altitudes between 2,500 and 3,000 meters, even the fittest of trekkers can find themselves out of breath. This is particularly challenging for visitors who are used to lower altitudes and have just flown in. While altitude sickness is not a concern at this elevation, acclimatization can still be a factor.
The majority of Rwanda is situated above 1,500 meters, making altitude a common consideration for adventure seekers. To address this, we recommend that visitors who have concerns about altitude take a few extra days to acclimatize before embarking on gorilla trekking. The southerly Nyungwe Forest, located at an altitude of 2,000 meters, is an excellent place to do this before heading to the higher altitudes of the Virunga Mountains.
If you’re traveling to Rwanda to see gorillas by Overlanding from other parts of Africa, it’s wise to plan your itinerary to include a few days at medium-high altitudes before your gorilla trekking adventure. For instance, if you’re arriving from Kenya, spending time in Nairobi (2,300m) or the Maasai Mara (1,600m) is much better preparation than spending time at the coast, which is at a much lower altitude.
During the gorilla trekking hike, guides will typically offer visitors a walking stick to assist them on the uneven and slippery terrain. While the sticks are not factory-made, they serve as a valuable third leg and can provide essential support for trekkers.
If you’re planning to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda with luggage, it’s advisable to consider hiring a porter for around twenty dollars to carry your daypack and provide assistance on challenging paths. During the trek, the guide will lead the group at a comfortable pace that accommodates the slowest member, so there’s no need to rush. If you feel tired or need a break, don’t hesitate to ask the guide to stop. It’s essential to carry plenty of water and bring energy snacks such as biscuits, chocolate, and energy bars. These can be conveniently purchased at supermarkets in Kigali or Musanze.
Fortunately, most people who embark on gorilla trekking in Rwanda find the hiking experience less arduous than they had anticipated. In fact, in 99% of cases, any fatigue felt during the ascent vanishes once you catch a glimpse of the silverback gorilla, leaving you with an exhilarating adrenaline rush that makes the trek more than worth it.
To start your gorilla trekking and other activities in Volcanoes National Park, you’ll need to head to the park headquarters visitor centre located in the sprawling village of Kinigi. Kinigi sits at an altitude of 2,200m on the eucalyptus-strewn Virunga foot slopes, with its coordinates being 4* S 01°25.783, E 029°35.717.
To reach Kinigi, you’ll need to travel 12km north of Musanze/Ruhengeri on a surfaced road that’s signposted to the left of the Cyanika Road, approximately 300m past the Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima.
In order to take part in gorilla tracking and hiking in Volcanoes National Park, it is mandatory for all participants to arrive at the park headquarters by 7:00 am. Failure to do so could result in the invalidation of pre-purchased permits.
For those on private safaris that include gorilla trekking, it’s common to stay at mid-range to upmarket lodges located in or near Kinigi the night before the trek. This alleviates the need to rush to the headquarters by 7:00 am on the day of departure.
Alternatively, budget-conscious travelers often use Musanze as a base for gorilla tracking and other activities. However, there are now affordable accommodation options available near the park headquarters.
Regardless of the route you choose to get to the park headquarters, there is no public transportation available to take you from the headquarters to the car parks where you begin your gorilla trek. While it is possible to hitch a ride with another tourist group, this is not a reliable option. Therefore, even if you arrive at Musanze or Kinigi by public transportation, you will need to rent a 4×4 vehicle with a driver to take you to the trailhead. This can cost around $100 USD for a round trip, including waiting time. You can make arrangements in advance through tour operators or your lodging.
To track gorillas with a private vehicle, it’s possible to drive to Kinigi from Rubavu/Gisenyi or Kigali on the same day. However, to arrive on time at the assembly point of 7:00 am, an early start is required. From Kigali, allow at least 2 hours, and from Rubavu, allow 1 hour.
Many travelers prefer gorilla trekking in Uganda via Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, because it’s easier to reach Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from Rwanda, and the cost of the gorilla permit is lower. Driving from Entebbe International Airport to Bwindi can take up to 10 hours, but from Kigali, it only takes 3-5 hours, including border checks.
Volcanoes National Park does not offer any overnight camping or accommodation options. However, there are several lodges catering to all budgets located within a few kilometers of the Kinigi visitor center. For those on a restricted budget, it’s possible to stay overnight in Musanze and make their way to Kinigi early in the morning. Conversely, those with limited time and a high tolerance for early mornings may prefer to stay further away at a hotel in Rubavu/Gisenyi.
Luxurious lodges located at the foot of the Virunga Mountains offer exceptional accommodation in forest cabins with breathtaking views of unspoiled wooded mountains.
Starting at USD 1,750 per person per night, based on double occupancy
Nestled on a 43-hectare hillside property overlooking Bisate Village and the Virungas, Bisate Lodge sets the standard for accommodation in Rwanda and is one of the top safari lodges in East Africa. The lodge features dome-shaped villas with elegant furnishings and modern amenities.
To reach the lodge, guests must climb several steps, which is relatively easy compared to gorilla trekking. For those who enjoy hiking, the property has two nature trails along the eroded crater rim, providing excellent bird-watching opportunities.
The room rate includes a complimentary 20-minute massage, a village visit, and all meals and drinks except for premium spirits.
With prices starting at $750 per person per night, Gorilla’s Nest Resort offers a unique experience for those seeking a luxurious and exclusive stay in Rwanda. Surrounded by swaying eucalyptus trees, the resort features individual free-standing suites that sit suspended over sprawling gardens, offering stunning views of the tall eucalyptus trees and volcanic surroundings. Whether you’re looking to relax and unwind or explore the nearby natural wonders, Gorilla’s Nest Resort has everything you need for a memorable stay.
Located on community land at an altitude of 2,515m on the foot slopes of Mount Sabyinyo, just a 10-minute drive from the park headquarters, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is a luxurious lodge that offers world-class amenities and services to its guests. The lodge was built and is managed by Governors’ Camp, a renowned Kenyan luxury safari camp operator.
The community land on which the lodge is situated is owned by the Sacola Community Trust, which leased it to Governors’ Camp. As part of the lease agreement, Governors’ Camp pays a community fee of approximately US$100 per person per night, and the community receives a share of the lodge’s profits.
The rates at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge start from $970 per person per night, sharing, and include full-board accommodation. However, please note that the rates do not cover massage treatments, premium spirits, gorilla-tracking permits, transfers to/from Kigali, and community fees. If you’re looking for an exclusive and unforgettable experience in Rwanda, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is the perfect destination.
Experience the ultimate in luxury accommodation at Singita Kwitonda Lodge, located on the edge of the stunning Volcanoes National Park. With rates starting from $1,950 per adult per night, sharing, this lodge offers a unique and unforgettable experience.
Singita Kwitonda Lodge boasts eight luxurious suites, each featuring woven ceilings and terracotta brickwork crafted by local artisans. Guests can enjoy a farm-to-table culinary experience, showcasing the best of locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients.
One of the standout features of this lodge is its proximity to the park border. Singita Kwitonda Lodge is the closest lodge to the park, making it the perfect choice for guests who want to experience the park’s natural beauty up close. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, nature lover, or simply seeking a luxurious escape, Singita Kwitonda Lodge is the ultimate destination.
Experience bush-chic luxury at Virunga Lodge, with its spacious and opulent suites boasting breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and lake. Starting at $1,210 per person per night for shared accommodations, this lodge is the perfect retreat for those seeking a truly indulgent getaway.
Located just a 45-minute drive from the briefing point, Virunga Lodge offers easy access to a range of exciting outdoor activities and adventures, from hiking and mountain biking to wildlife safaris and birdwatching. Whether you’re looking to unwind in the tranquility of nature or explore the wonders of this unique landscape, Virunga Lodge is the ultimate destination for luxury and relaxation.
At just USD 720 per person, Amakoro Songa Lodge is the perfect choice for travelers seeking affordable yet comfortable accommodations. This charming lodge, which opened its doors at the end of 2016, is located approximately 3km off the main road that leads to the Kinigi Visitor Center.
With its cozy rooms and inviting communal spaces, Amakoro Songa Lodge offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere that’s perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation. Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, you’ll find everything you need to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable.
In addition to its comfortable accommodations, Amakoro Songa Lodge is also ideally located for exploring the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding area. From hiking and trekking to wildlife safaris and cultural tours, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here. So why wait? Book your stay at Amakoro Songa Lodge today and start experiencing the beauty and wonder of this amazing destination!
Discover a one-of-a-kind lodging experience at the Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, starting at just USD 300 per person for single occupancy per night. This unique hotel is located at the entrance to Kinigi from Musanze and boasts a selection of charming and cozy rooms built from lava stones.
Each room at the Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel features modern amenities like heating, air conditioning, a mini-fridge, and tea and coffee facilities, ensuring a comfortable and convenient stay. Plus, with garden-facing terraces out front, you’ll be able to take in the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape from the privacy of your own room.
Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, the Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel is the perfect choice for those seeking a truly unique and memorable lodging experience. So why wait? Book your stay today and start exploring all that Kinigi and the surrounding area has to offer!
Experience the natural beauty of the Rwandan Virungas at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, starting at just USD 230 per person per night. This stunning lodge is situated on a breezy open saddle that connects Sabyinyo and Bisoke, offering breathtaking views of all six volcanoes in the region.
Each room at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge is designed to provide maximum comfort and relaxation, with modern amenities like heating, hot water, and comfortable bedding. With its idyllic location and panoramic views, this lodge is the perfect retreat for those seeking a peaceful and rejuvenating escape.
In addition to its stunning views and comfortable accommodations, the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge is also ideally located for exploring the wonders of the surrounding area. From gorilla trekking to hiking and birdwatching, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here. So why wait? Book your stay at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge today and start experiencing the beauty and wonder of the Rwandan Virungas for yourself!
Planning a gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda can be a challenge, especially when it comes to timing. The most important factor is securing a gorilla trekking permit, which can sell out over a year in advance during peak months. However, with the help of specialist tour operators, you may still be able to find availability, as they often buy permits in bulk and save some for last-minute bookings.
While it rains year-round in the Virungas, from November to March and May, tourists tend to stay away during those times. However, the gorillas are always there, and if you don’t mind a bit of rain, you’ll have a more solitary experience with the forests and mountains to yourself, along with the guides and the gorillas.
For those seeking the most comfortable trekking conditions, the best time to visit Volcanoes National Park is during the dry seasons from mid-December to early February and June to September. During these months, the weather is more favorable, making the trekking experience more comfortable and enjoyable.
Regardless of the time of year, gorilla trekking excursions in Volcanoes National Park occur all year round, with an outstanding record of sightings. So why wait? Plan your gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda today and start experiencing the magic and wonder of these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat!
When preparing for a rainforest trek, it’s crucial to wear appropriate clothing and gear to protect yourself from the elements and potential hazards. Start by donning sturdy hiking boots or walking shoes, thick trousers, gaiters, and a long-sleeved top to shield against stinging nettles. As the weather can be chilly at the beginning of the trek, consider wearing a sweatshirt or jersey as an additional layer of protection. While gorillas are accustomed to visitors, it’s best to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, as the terrain can be muddy and treacherous.
When traversing thorny vegetation, it’s wise to bring along a pair of old gardening gloves to help you grip and protect your hands. Carrying a walking stick or staff can also provide additional support and stability. As you want to keep your hands free, pack only the necessities in a simple backpack that can be easily carried on your back. In case of rain, it’s advisable to bring a poncho or lightweight raincoat, along with sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Overall, being well-prepared with the right gear and clothing can make your rainforest trek a safer and more enjoyable experience.
To protect your camera gear during the trek, consider sealing it in a plastic ziplock bag or carrying a waterproof backpack that can shield it from moisture and potential damage.
It’s recommended to bring snacks for the trek, such as energy bars and biscuits, which can be easily packed in your backpack. Additionally, some lodges provide sumptuous lunch packs for the day. Staying hydrated is essential, so it’s advisable to carry at least one litre of drinking water and even more if you’re visiting the Susa Group during the dry season.
Binoculars may not be necessary to see the gorillas as you’ll be in close proximity to them. However, if you’re a birdwatcher, carrying binoculars might be helpful. Keep in mind that the trek through the thick vegetation tends to occupy one’s attention, making it less likely to use binoculars.
If you’re carrying heavy gear or a bulky backpack, hiring a porter at the car park for a fee of around 20 dollars is a practical option. Hiring a porter is not exploitative but rather beneficial to the local community. Refusing to hire one for ‘ethical reasons’ denies income to the poor locals and hinders their ability to benefit from tourism.
Don’t forget to bring your passport (or a copy that the park will keep) for check-in. You’ll need to present it, so keep it in a safe place during your trek.
While it’s possible for independent travelers to plan a Rwanda gorilla safari in a couple of days, booking accommodation, transport, and gorilla permits can be a logistical headache for those unfamiliar with local logistics, despite the plethora of information available online.
To avoid the stress of planning, Trek Africa Expeditions can work with you to create a private, all-inclusive Rwanda gorilla trekking safari using their years of expertise. They’ll handle all local logistics, pick you up from the airport, manage your journey, and ensure you arrive at the airport for your return flight home. Throughout your journey, your trip manager will stay in contact with you, and you’ll travel in private vehicles and stay in private rooms.
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