Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Done in its one and only gorilla park – the Volcanoes National Park (Le Parc des Volcans), Rwanda gorilla trekking takes tourists on an epic safari adventure that takes tourists through thick foggy forest on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains to have one-on-one experiences with the mysterious primates

Considered one of the best gorilla trekking safaris in Africa, Rwanda gorilla trekking offers the most breathtaking personal and up-close with the endangered and giant mountain gorillas. Done in its one and only gorilla park – the Volcanoes National Park (Le Parc des Volcans), Rwanda gorilla trekking takes guests on an epic safari adventure that takes tourists through thick foggy forest on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains to have one-on-one experiences with the mysterious primates. Seeing them in the wild living in similar ways to humans, is an experience unlike any other. Over 1000 mountain gorillas are remaining in the world, with half of the population residing in the Virunga Mountains – a chain of volcanoes that span across Rwanda, Uganda, and DR. Congo. 

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About the Volcanoes National Park

Located in the northern region of Rwanda in Musanze district, Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s refuge for endangered mountain gorillas, as well as golden monkeys, and a plethora of mammal, bird, and plant species. The park encompasses approximately 160 square kilometers of afro-montane and bamboo forest, savanna grassland, extensive swamps, and five of the Virunga Volcanoes (Karisimbi, Gahinga, Bisoke, Muhabura, and Sabyinyo).

Of the five volcanoes, Mount Karisimbi ranks as the highest of all the eight Virunga Volcanoes and is popular for Rwanda hiking tours. Providing a natural cradle to over 380 mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park offers 10 habituated gorilla groups for gorilla trekking. The park was also the home base for renowned primatologist Dian Fossey, who pioneered gorilla tourism and conservation. One of the gorilla groups she studied appeared in the movie, “Gorillas in the Mist.”

Besides mountain gorillas, the Volcanoes National Park is home to golden monkeys, vervet monkeys, bush elephants, buffaloes, duikers, spotted hyenas, and over 200 recorded bird species including 17 Albertine Rift endemics. Rwanda gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park is very popular among tourists given its accessibility from the country’s main city – Kigali which is also the main entry into the nation (via Kigali International Airport). The Park is approximately 3 hours by road from Kigali, which makes it more accessible compared to Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks.

What Does Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Look Like?

There are 10 habituated gorilla families open for gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park and they include Agashya, Susa A Group, Karisimbi (Susa B), Amahoro, Umubano, Sabyinyo, Kwitonda, Bwenge and Ugenda gorilla families. Each of these gorilla families is trekked by only 8 visitors per day. Rwanda gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes starts early at 7:30 am, with a briefing at the park headquarters at Kinigi. The briefing is led by the park wardens and rangers and is mandatory.

Here, visitors will be taken through the various gorilla families in the park and the rules and regulations for trekking the groups. After the briefing, you will be distributed into groups of eight and assigned a gorilla family to trek; with a guide and armed ranger to lead you. By 8 am, you should be on your journey through the misty jungle in search of your gorilla group.

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
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The time and complexity of the journey you plan to do are important factors in deciding which gorilla family you will travel to see. Depending on the exact location of the gorilla family you’re following, your walk might last anywhere from one to five hours; however, the stunning views of monkeys, birds, and wild animals should keep you occupied. Given the rough, steep, and slippery conditions in the jungle, you should come prepared and in good physical shape to enjoy Rwanda gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park.

Even during the dry season, the landscape may still be slippery and muddy since it is humid beneath the forest canopy. The walk is fairly difficult, and you may struggle as you travel through the deep vegetation. Nonetheless, spending time with the mountain gorillas in the wild is well worth the effort. In pursuit of your gorilla family, your experienced guide and tracker will help you navigate through the forest pathways. There are also porters available to help you with your heavy luggage at $20.

When you eventually discover your assigned gorilla family, you’ll have up to an hour with them in which you ought to learn and observe their unique behaviors and lifestyle. Enjoy watching the giant, yet gentle apes forage for food, nurture their young and the juveniles play around and roam their natural habitat. Some may approach you but with no malicious intent. Mountain gorillas are inquisitive and aggressive; hence it is critical to follow your Guides’ lead and to remain calm when in their presence. After spending an hour with the mountain gorillas, trek back to the headquarters where your driver guide will be waiting to take you back to your hotel.

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What is the Cost of Rwanda Gorilla Trekking?

The cost of Rwanda gorilla trekking starts with the cost of a Rwanda Gorilla Permit costs $1500 per person. This cost includes park entry fees, guide fees, and the one hour spent with the mountain gorillas. More so, some of the proceeds from the gorilla permits are directed to the conservation efforts for these giant apes and their natural habitat. Rwanda gorilla permits are issued by the governing body – Rwanda Development Board and they can be booked either directly or through a reputable tour operator. Rwanda gorilla safaris are the most sought-after Rwanda safaris, hence if you are planning your gorilla tour, you ought to book in advance not to miss out on the amazing experience.

Besides the cost of gorilla permits, other costs to plan for a Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tour include accommodation and meals which range between $300 and $5000 depending on the type of accommodation preferred (budget, midrange, luxury, and ultra-luxury accommodation). On the other hand, transport and transfer costs range between $150 to $300. Other costs include the cost of porters ($15 to $20), souvenirs, and other related costs.

Best Time to Go Rwanda Gorilla Trekking

Rwanda gorilla trekking is possible all year; nonetheless, the best time to visit is during the dry season, from June to September, when the jungle is less muddy and the pathways are less treacherous. Still, keep in mind that it might rain at any time of year in the tropical rainforest. The wettest months in Rwanda are April and May, which provide muddy paths, although you may still monitor gorillas during this period as long as you come prepared. The rainy season is good because the park is less crowded and during the rainy season, the gorillas descend to the lower slopes making them easier to spot.

Gorilla Families in DR Congo

Where to Stay in the Volcanoes National Park

There are various safari lodges in and around the Volcanoes National Park that travelers may utilize during their visit and range from ultra-luxurious, to luxury to mid-range, and budget accommodations. Whichever type of accommodation you plan to stay in while on your Rwanda gorilla trekking tour is entirely dependent on your budget and preferences. Nevertheless, here are some of the most popular places to stay;

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

Set about 3 kilometers from the main gate of the park, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is a luxury community-owned lodge hidden deep in the foothills of the huge Virungas. It’s also a great location to unwind after a hard day of trekking mountain gorillas in the deep forest. The lodge comprises 9 chic cottages fashioned of local stone and terracotta, all opulently furnished and boasting a serene environment to relax and marvel at the stunning landscape. Guests at the lodge can enjoy the private terraces with views of the volcanoes, enjoy the fireplace and unwind in the spa.

Virunga Lodge

Established in 2004, Virunga Lodge is one of Rwanda’s first luxury safari lodges located high atop a peak with panoramic views of the Virunga Volcanoes and the surrounding areas. The classic, handcrafted designed lodge makes it the top option for gorilla trekking boasting 10 beautiful bandas. Each banda has its private patio with ecstatic views of the massif. Of these luxury bandas, three of them each have their private apartment, and the overall guest experience is distinguished by exceptional service, regionally inspired cuisine, and a personalized butler.

Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel

This five-star hotel is located in Musanze, formerly Ruhengeri province, a few kilometers from the Kinigi – Volcanoes National Park headquarters. The lodge provides 13 luxurious high-end rooms and a VIP cottage with stunning views of the volcanoes. Each facility has en-suite facilities, comfortable double/twin and single beds, air conditioning and a flat-screen TV, a fridge, and a kettle. The hotel also has a classic restaurant, a pool, and a traditional wellness center, among others.

Other places to stay while on Rwanda gorilla trekking tours include Bisate Rwanda Lodge, One & Only Gorilla’s Nest Lodge, Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Gorilla Mountain View Lodge, Tiloreza Volcanoes Eco-Lodge, and Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, to mention but a few.

What to Pack for a Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tour?

  • A lightweight day pack
  • Surgical face masks
  • Comfortable hiking shoes suitable for the steep and muddy slopes of the Volcanoes National Park
  • A rain poncho in case of rain
  • A warm sweater or jacket
  • Long trousers and long-sleeved shirts to protect you from the sharp branches and thorns in the forest
  • A pair of binoculars to help you spot monkeys, birds, and other creatures in the forest
  • A good camera and extra batteries
  • Insect repellent, sunscreen, and a sun hat
  • Packed lunch and plenty of drinking water
  • A walking stick
  • Toiletries

Other Tourist Activities in the Volcanoes National Park

  • Golden monkey trekking
  • Visiting Dian Fossey’s Grave
  • Explore the Musanze caves
  • Nature walks
  • Visit the Iby’iwacu Cultural Village
  • Hiking one of the five volcanoes in the Park
  • Bird-watching
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