Is Gorilla Trekking better in Uganda or Rwanda

Rwanda Gorilla Safaris

Popularly known as the “Land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda offers the most fascinating exclusive gorilla safaris in East Africa.It is also one of the best places to see gorillas in the wild. Rwanda gorilla safaris offer exhilarating face-to-face encounters with the endangered mountain gorillas of the Volcanoes National Park. Seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s wild mountain forests like bisoke is a life changing adventure escapade that is gaining popularity among adventurous travelers looking for safari holidays in Africa. Bushwhacking through an endless expanse of thick foggy forest on the slopes of the majestic Virunga Mountains is an experience like no other.

With reason, Rwanda Gorilla Safaris are sometimes hailed as “life-changing.” Rwanda Gorilla Safaris will provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about these amazing apes in their natural habitat. Mountain gorillas are only found in three places around the world and besides Rwanda, mountain gorillas can be found in Uganda in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks, and in DR. Congo’s Virunga National Park: making the entire gorilla trekking journey in East Africa an exciting pastime.

While on Rwanda Gorilla Safaris, your skilled guides will train and introduce you to one of the fully-habituated gorilla families of the Volcanoes National Park; and you will be able to stay with them for an awe-inspiring hour, often crouching just a few steps away, while the gorillas go about their daily routines.

Rwanda gorilla safaris Destinations

The Volcanoes National Park

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Volcanoes National Park is a 160 square kilometer rainforest covering five Virunga volcano slopes on the Rwandan side of the tranquil and enticing Virunga Mountain Ranges. The park, also known as Parc des Volcans in French, is part of a 433-square-kilometer tri-frontier conservation unit that protects the entire Virunga volcano system. It also includes the southern portion of Congo’s Virunga National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park, which operate independently within their national boundaries.

Where can you go gorilla trekking

This breathtakingly beautiful and ecologically varied reserve is located on the Virungas, a chain of rugged free-standing mountains that range in altitude from 2,400 to 4,507 meters. The landscape surrounding the volcanoes is one of the most stimulating in Africa; Mount Karisimbi, the tallest of the Virunga mountains on the park’s western border, stands at 4,507 meters, moving east, other notable peaks inside the national park include Bisoke on the DRC border, Sabyinyo on the Uganda-DRC border, and Gahinga and Muhabura on the Ugandan border. Volcanoes National Park is a haven for endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, as well as a diverse array of animal and plant species. The Park was where renowned primatologist Dian Fossey pioneered gorilla tourism and conservation and mountain gorillas receive the greatest attention in the park.

However, Volcanoes is also home to the endangered golden monkeys which are also a popular tourist attraction alongside the mountain gorillas. Seeing these energetic, cherub-cheeked small primates swing through the bamboo trees is worth including on your Rwanda Gorilla Safaris. Moreover, other creatures such as the rare forest elephants, enormous forest pigs, buffaloes, black-fronted duikers, spotted hyenas, bushbucks, and a variety of small carnivores can also be found in Volcanoes National Park.

Volcanoes National Park is also a bird-watching hotspot, with over 200 recorded bird species, including at least 17 natives to the Albertine rift. Other birds in the park include the attractive francolin, Ruwenzori turaco, Red-faced woodland warbler, Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird, Odd weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared Apalis, and Archer’s round-robin among others.

Rwanda Gorilla Families

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has ten habituated gorilla groups for visitors to trek, as well as one set aside for research. Thus, 80 gorilla licenses are available each day for tourists to view gorillas a single day: and a group of only eight individuals can visit a particular gorilla family per day in Rwanda. Surprisingly, each gorilla group has different characteristics that are quite separate from one another. Below are Rwanda’s habituated gorilla groups that are open for gorilla trekking;

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Susa Gorilla Group (Susa A Group)

The Susa gorilla family is one of the most popular gorilla groups among tourists. Made famous by scientist Dian Fossey and her research activities, the gang now has 28 members, including three silverbacks and twins, Byishimo and Impano. The gorilla group had 42 members before splitting into two due to misunderstandings in the family. Susa gorilla family derives its name “Susa” from the adjacent Susa River in Kinyarwanda. The gorilla family prefers to dwell high in the mountains, making trekking them the most difficult – often taking a whole day. However, park rangers always know where they are, but if they walk too far away, tourists may be denied seeing them. The famed energetic young twins Byishimo and Impano keep this gorilla group active and entertaining to watch. But then there’s Poppy, one of the most accustomed gorillas in the group: if you are adventurous and physically fit, this is the gorilla family for you.

Karisimbi Gorilla Group (Susa B Group)

Karisimbi is the gorilla family that split from Susa (Susa-A) after a long feud, earning the name Susa-B or, more colloquially, Karisimbi Gorilla Family. This gorilla family includes 15 individuals and is generally located on the slopes of the Karisimbi volcano. Trekking the Karisimbi gorilla troop is also challenging, and if they move too far on a given day, gorilla trekking efforts may be canceled. Nonetheless, trackers normally go ahead of the tourists to confirm the position of the gorilla family and then convey this information to colleagues leading the tourists. If you are in good health and can handle the long climb up the Karisimbi volcano slopes, you will be rewarded with the breathtaking beauty of these gentle gorillas

Amahoro Gorilla Group

The Amahoro Gorilla group was named so during the second edition of the Kwita Izina event in 2005. Every year, Rwanda hosts a global conservation event in which gorillas are given names based on their personalities, called Kwita Izina. Amahoro is a Kinyarwanda word that means “someone or something whose calm is truly inspirational.” And indeed, all 17 members of this gorilla group are truly peace ambassadors. They are highly tolerant of tourists and would only fight if they believe they are in danger. However, don’t stare their leader Ubumwe in the eyes if you don’t want to get into trouble; for it makes him feel like you want to dispute his authority, as it does most silverbacks. The last gorilla that did this received a lifetime beating. The Amaboro gorilla group is made up of 2 silverbacks, 2 blackbacks, 4 adult females, 4 juveniles, and 5 infants.

Agashya Gorilla Group

This group was known as “Group 13,” and it was led by Nyakarima before Agashya challenged him to a deadly duel, after which he fled with the entire family up the volcano. Gorilla researchers witnessed the first total takeover. Agashya continued to grow his family by kidnapping members from other groups and taking on loners after moving as far away from Nyakarima as possible. The group departs near the Sabyinyo gorilla group. When he detects a threat to the group, Agashya collects all members and flees to his preferred haven on top of the volcano. The Agashya gorilla group has grown from 13 to over 25 members. The gorilla family can be quite difficult to trek but when you do, you will be rewarded with mesmerizing moments with this remarkable group.

Umubano Gorilla Group

Umubano is a Kinyarwanda word that translates as “living together.” The Umubano gorilla group was previously part of the Amahoro group until Charles, the leader, rebelled against Ubumbwe, the Amahoro’s dominating silverback. As he grew older, he began to challenge the composed Amahoro group leader, and one day after a persistent clash with Ubumbwe, Charles decided to flee with several Amahoro family members to start his own. The gorilla family consists of 11 members with 6 infants and lives in the same area as the Amahoro family. Many tourists visit this gorilla group because of the ease with which they can be reached and the group’s distinct personality.

Hirwa Gorilla Group

This is a newer gorilla group that was formed after certain members of Group 13 and the Sabyinyo family decided to form their own. The Hirwa gorilla family can be found on the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo, where they are led by a dominating and protective silverback. The Hirwa moniker means “lucky one,” as the group was fortunate to have more members join them voluntarily. This uncommon group formation was observed in 2006 and currently includes twins. Trekking this group is easy, however, on some days, it may be difficult to locate this group.

Sabyinyo Gorilla Group

Guhonda, the formidable silverback, leads a small gorilla troop of roughly 8 individuals. Guhonda, at 220kgs, is possibly the park’s largest silverback. The Sabyinyo gorilla group lives in the surroundings of the Sabyinyo “Old Man’s Teeth” Volcano which also inspired the group’s name. Guhonda has kept his family together by keeping his rival silverback Ryango out of the group. Because they stay along the park’s perimeter, the group of playful kids is easy to see.

Bwenge Gorilla Group

This gorilla family is also popular in the Volcanoes National Park; the group’s members even appeared in the play “Gorillas in the Mist.” Bwenge gorilla group was founded by Bwenge, the dominant silverback, in 2007 after abandoning his birth group and being joined by female members from other families. The group derives its name from the Kinyarwanda word “Bwenge” which translates as “wisdom.” The family consists of 11 people, but getting to them is tough because they reside on the slopes of Karisoke Volcano, up a steep and occasionally muddy hill.

Kwitonda Gorilla Group

With 18 members, including 2 silverbacks, this is one of the most challenging groups to trek. This group, led by Kwitonda (Kinyarwanda for “modest one”), descended from Gorilla groups in Congo. They dwell on the slopes of Mount Muhabura, but they wander in a broad geographical area, making trekking difficult but thrilling.

Ugenda Gorilla Group

The Ugenda gorilla group has 11 members, including 2 silverbacks, and resides in the Karisimbi area. Ugenda means “being on the go” in Kinyarwanda and was used to describe the group’s nomadic lifestyle. Trekking them can be challenging on some days due to their roving nature.

The Gorilla Trekking Experience in Rwanda

The Rwanda Gorilla Safaris begins at the park office in Kinigi. There is just one gorilla trekking session per day, which begins at 7 a.m. Visitors must be at the park office by 7 a.m. to be assigned to the gorilla groups they will be trekking. In the Volcanoes, one gorilla group can be trekked by a maximum of eight individuals per day. This is done primarily to avoid overstressing the gorillas and to limit the impact of the trekking on the ecosystem. Once the gorillas have been assigned, the park guides will brief the tourists on the gorilla experience, namely the dos and don’ts while with the gorillas and trekking through the park.

After the briefing, visitors and park guides will drive from Kinigi’s park headquarters to the park’s boundary, where the hike up the mountain range begins. All Rwanda Gorilla Safaris in the Volcanoes National Park is led by a park guide who has likely participated in gorilla habituation and can be easily identified by the gorillas. There will also be an armed soldier to protect the park against assaults by other habituated gorillas or other wild creatures such as buffaloes and elephants. Such meetings, however, are extremely unlikely.

Guidelines for Rwanda Gorilla Safaris

Only habituated mountain gorilla families may be visited and interacted with by tourists in the Volcanoes National Park. Habituation, on the other hand, is the gradual process through which gorillas become accustomed to the presence of people. This allows Rwanda Gorilla Safaris visitors to observe the gorillas without disrupting their everyday lives or natural behavior. Even though the gorillas are habituated, the Rwanda Development Board and regulatory bodies in Uganda and DR. Congo respectively have guidelines in place that restrict how people can engage with the animals. The following guidelines are non-negotiable for the protection and well-being of the gorillas and tourists;

  • While trekking mountain gorillas, your group is only given one hour to spend time with the gorillas.
  • To trek mountain gorillas, visitors to the gorillas must be at least 15 years old.
  • In both Rwanda and Uganda, the maximum group size for trekking gorillas is 8 persons (plus rangers and porters) per group.
  • Trekking gorillas in dense woodland at an elevation of over 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) might be difficult and the vegetation is frequently damp. Therefore, trekkers must be physically fit and in good health.
  • If you have Covid-19, diarrhea, the flu, or a cold, you should not go gorilla trekking. Most human diseases have no immunity in gorillas, and even minor human infections can be fatal. The Covid-19 outbreak has made us more conscious of the danger we bring to infant gorillas. If you become ill, you must notify the authorities, who will evaluate if you are fit to visit the gorillas. Remember that the endangered gorillas’ lives are more essential than your vacation.
  • Cover your nose and mouth if you need to sneeze or cough to minimize the transmission of infection.
  • Do not litter in the forest while trekking mountain gorillas. Diseases can be transmitted to gorillas by human waste.
  • Always keep a ten-meter distance between yourself and the gorillas. Gorillas do not like feeling surrounded. If the gorillas begin approaching you, the rangers may advise you to move away from them or stay still.
  • Gorillas may be highly inquisitive. Even if the gorillas approach you, do not touch them. Avoid making any unexpected movements while the presence of the gorillas.
  • Do not flee if a gorilla charges. Avoid making direct eye contact with the gorilla until it has walked away. Maintain your cool and crouch down gradually.
  • Keep your place in your group. Avoid crowding or surrounding the gorillas.
  • If you need to use the restroom in the forest, inform your guide, and he will dig a hole for you. Cover the hole later to keep sickness from spreading to the gorillas.
  • The use of flash photography is prohibited during gorilla trekking.

Cost of a Gorilla Trekking Permit in Rwanda

To trek mountain gorillas on your Rwanda Gorilla Safaris, one must acquire a trekking permit. A gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda costs USD 1500. 10% of this fee is directed toward development programs in the surrounding communities of Volcanoes National Park. More so, the direct gain from gorilla tourism by villagers has prompted them to maintain the park, which was previously used for agriculture, firewood, herbs, hunting, and poaching, which deteriorated the gorilla habitat and contributed to the death of the gorillas, almost leading to their extinction. As a result, by purchasing a Rwanda gorilla tracking permit, you are helping to build local communities while also protecting mountain gorillas.

Book a gorilla permit

Packing List for Rwanda Gorilla Safaris

  • A decent pair of hiking boots,
  • A rain jacket/poncho
  • Gaiters, long leggings, and a long-sleeved shirt to defend against thorny plants,
  • A cap, sunscreen, and gardening gloves
  • A little backpack for carrying camera batteries, drink, and other essentials
  • Plenty of drinking water and packed lunch or snacks
  • A good camera with good batteries and binoculars
  • Insect repellent

Is Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda Safe?

Yes, gorilla trekking in Rwanda is safe. Mountain gorillas are not harmful, despite their large stature and unjust reputation. Besides, all gorilla trekking expeditions are led by trained ranger guides who spend most of their time among the mountain gorillas. You can only visit gorilla groups that have been acclimated to the presence of humans, which means they are used to having people around them and understand they are not a threat.

Gorillas are typically quiet and reserved creatures who spend most of their time feeding and caring for their offspring. They, like any other animal, can exhibit defensive behavior if they are unsettled, especially around their young. During your gorilla trekking excursion, your guide will recognize the signals, which may include mock charging – intense chest beating, and grunting. Always follow your guide’s instructions, but if you come across a hostile gorilla, crouch down, look away and keep appearing relaxed. However, during the pre-trek briefing, your guide will provide you with all this additional information.

How Difficult is Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda?

Gorilla trekking can be quite strenuous; expect muddy pathways, lush rainforests, and dense flora. Moreso, the experience requires one to come physically and emotionally prepared. Hiking can be treacherous and muddy due to the mist and continuous showers. You can, however, hire porters to help carry your daypacks and photographic equipment, and your ranger guides will do everything they can to make the walk as easy as possible for you. Altitude sickness is usually not an issue, especially if you spend a day acclimatizing before your gorilla hike. However, to avoid the altitude headache, make sure you pace yourself with plenty of drinking water.

Expect to be on your feet for at least five hours while on Rwanda Gorilla Safaris. If you’re in good shape and assigned to a remote gorilla family, you could be hiking all day. You may have traveled the day before, and the day begins early. Keep in mind that you will be at a higher altitude and will tire more quickly. Consult your doctor before booking your trip if you have any health problems, and bring your prescription with you.

When it comes to Rwanda Gorilla Safaris, age should not be a barrier, and people in their 70s and beyond are common gorilla trekkers. The rangers and porters have much expertise in guiding visitors through the jungle. Furthermore, enterprising Ugandans provide sedan-style chairs (called colloquially as stretchers in Uganda) to transport elderly or crippled guests into the mountains. Because this service is expensive, it should only be used in an emergency. Your day will be memorable for all the right reasons if you use common sense and maintain a fair level of fitness.

Best Time to go for Rwanda Gorilla Safaris

The dry season, from June through September, is the greatest time to visit Rwanda. This is also the greatest time of year to view mountain gorillas in Rwanda because the weather is pleasant, the trekking trails are less muddy and accessible, and the risk of malaria is low.

However, you also can trek to see mountain gorillas and visit Rwanda outside of these peak seasons but expect it to be more challenging owing to rain, and steep and muddy hiking pathways. One must be in reasonably excellent shape before embarking on one’s walk to search for the mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s deep, tropical jungles.