The Gorilla Trekking Experience in Rwanda
Rwanda gorilla trekking safaris will present you the jungles of Volcanoes National Park where you can meet the mountain gorillas as known to scientists as Gorilla Berengei Berengei. The mountain gorillas can only be found in the three countries of Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda inclusive. In Rwanda, the gorillas are resident in the Virunga massifs of the Volcanoes National park (Parc Nationale Des Volcans) with over 10 mountain gorilla groups habituated for gorilla trekking hence an attraction to many visitors coming to Rwanda with a motive of meeting these enchanting creatures almost every day. Of all Rwanda gorilla families, the Susa group is the best to track with the largest population of over 40 members but was recently reduced to 28 members after a split leading to the formation of Susa Group B! For an adventurous experience of trekking the gorillas in Rwanda, you need to obtain a valid gorilla permit from Rwanda Development Board which is sold at US $ 1500 per person per trek, part of your contribution goes to conserving these mountain gorillas.
When to go for Rwanda gorilla trekking
Rwanda Gorilla trekking tours can be done all year round though the hiking is a bit strenuous and yet adventurous during the rainy seasons from April – May and in November. However, the most commonly preferred season for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is during the drier months of December and February, and from June to mid-September.
Rwanda gorilla trekking permits
To be assured that you will experience the gorilla trekking adventure, you will need to secure a valid permit for trekking gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park. During the peak seasons mentioned above, it is quite difficult to obtain a permit and therefore, we recommend that you plan ahead and book your permit at least 3 months earlier to avoid final-day frustrations. This is why we are your perfect companion, we are dedicated to making all the arrangements for buying your permits. Contact us today A Rwanda gorilla permit costs US$ 1,500 per person, for a one-hour visit to a particular assigned gorilla family. However, there are special discounted gorilla permits for travelers spending a minimum of three nights in either Nyungwe Forest National Park or Akagera National Park during the months of November to May. The discount comes at a 30% discount – (US$ 1,050) per person.
Is there a fitness level required for gorilla trekking?
Well, fortunately, you may not need to be physically fit to a certain level to go for gorilla trekking in Rwanda. However, being honest with your trekking abilities will help to enhance your overall enjoyment of the experience as you will be assigned a gorilla group basing on that fitness ability. The whole experience of gorilla trekking doesn’t generally require a fitness level since throughout the trek, you will be walking slowly, and in groups, with time for peculiar breaks if needed. Depending on which group you track, and the time of year you go (gorillas tend to move down the mountains in the rains), you might find yourself walking on some pretty steep slopes for several hours. On the other hand, you could reach your group after a 30-minute stroll. It’s best to prepare for the most active option, however, and if nothing else, a few hilly walks before you leave would be beneficial.
What to Expect on the Gorilla Trekking Day in Rwanda?
The long-waited day of gorilla trekking finally reaches when you wake up to an alarm to set yourself up and be ready for the adventure. But wait, before you go into the jungle, take a chance to look at the highlight for the whole gorilla trekking experience right from the time you set off to the end of the tour in the afternoon hours of the day. It is very much recommended that trekkers book for nearby hotels and lodges that are closer to the park so that you can enjoy your sleep and wake up comfortably to set off for the altogether meetup for the gorilla trekking briefing from the park ranger guides and officials of the wildlife conservation authority. At exactly 7:00 sharp, all trekkers are expected to gather at the park offices for a guideline briefing about the expectations, Do, and Don’ts of Rwanda gorilla trekking adventures. In about just an hours, you will finish the briefing and be taken to the starting point where you will eventually begin the hike into the jungle. Visitors are led through to the jungle by trained expert guides as they clear the bushes and thicky forests to create a clear path till you finally come across the endangered and yet enchanting mountain gorillas. Depending on your physical fitness levels and strength, you may find the hike strenuous and tiresome, this is why it is recommended to specify your hiking abilities at the time of booking the tour package.
Once you mee the gorillas, you will be more than thrilled to them and they (gorillas) will as well be acquitted to human presence. On a very close range, you will be able to see that a giant mature silverback male gorilla is huge and heavy, and may weigh about 200kg, or even 3 times the overall weight of an average man, however, the anxiety normally disappears once you set eyes on the group. Normally the gorilla group will be scattered over a small area of thick vegetation. They will carry on with their interactions and even feed without any concern of their human visitors although they will be observing you with interest. Rarely one, normally a playful youngster, will boldly approach you with inquisitiveness, at times coming really close that you will need to move away. (You are not allowed to move less than 7 meters close to them; this is to safeguard the gorillas from contagious human diseases.) The climate in Musanze ( 1,700m above sea level) is mostly cold. Please carry along with warm clothing.
Gorilla tracking rules and guidelines
With the gorillas sharing up-to 98% of human DNA, this makes them very vulnerable to human infections, especially the respiratory diseases, this is why before you go for gorilla trekking, you must test free of such contagious diseases, else, you will be refrained from going for the trek. According to zoologists, the mountain gorillas don’t have a strong immune system like us humans to deal with such infections, just a common cold could eventually prove life-threatening. In summary, various rules for gorilla trekking are therefore in place to help protect and conserve the population and life of these endangered species. These among others include the following;
- Only one group of tourists can visit the mountain gorillas each day and once you’ve found them, you’ll have just one precious hour in their company. If you have a cold, flu or other contagious infection, you shouldn’t go gorilla trekking.
- You should keep a distance of 7m from the gorillas, although of course the gorillas themselves are unaware of this and will often get very close, in which case you should try to move away.
- When you’re with your group, you should try not to make sudden movements and to keep your voices low so that the group remains relaxed. Although these mountain gorillas are now used to seeing people, do bear in mind that they are still wild animals and can sometimes react unexpectedly, so always heed your guide’s and trackers’ instructions.
- You won’t be allowed to eat or drink when you’re with the gorillas.
What Should I Pack for a Rwanda gorilla trekking safari?
The fact that the whole gorilla trekking experience leads you through the muddy and sturdy paths, you are advised to pack good sturdy hiking boots as well as sturdy gardening gloves to help protect your hands against the brambles and nettles of the thorny plants. You should also include long trousers and long-sleeved shirts, BUT NOT shorts. A waterproof jacket may come in handy and take some water and a snack in case it’s a long trek. You might also find a walking stick or pole helpful.
For a small fee, porters are available at the trailheads to carry your backpacks and offer a hand during tricky parts of the hike. Even if you don’t really need them, hiring a porter is a helpful way to contribute directly to the local economy and chatting to them en route can enhance your experience both of local life and of your gorilla trek.
Can I enjoy Photographic Moments during Gorilla trekking?
If you’re a keen photographer, taking your own pictures of mountain gorillas is one of the most magical photo sessions you’ll ever experience. Do bear in mind that the light can be poor in the rainforest and that use of flash is not permitted. You might also need to protect your camera against heavy rain.
Rwanda Gorilla Groups that can be visited
The various groups and their locations will obviously change from time to time: mountain gorillas often climb higher in the dry season and descend during the rains, they might move on due to pressure from wild gorillas and individuals will often join other groups. When tracking gorillas, it’s possible to request to visit a specific group once you are at the park headquarters, but this can never be guaranteed. These are some of the groups currently habituated for gorilla safaris in Volcanoes National Park:
- The Sabyinyo Group has about 12 individuals, including two silverback gorillas, and is usually found relatively close to the edge of the forest (about 20–40-minutes’ walk), between Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
- Agashya Group, also known by its former name Group Thirteen, usually lives close to the Sabyinyo Group but can range very far and high. It has about 25 gorillas with 2 silverbacks.
- Usually living between the Karisoke and Visoke (sometimes called Bisoke) peaks are the Amahoro Group, with about 17 individuals, and the Umubano Group, which currently has 11 members. Both are usually further away from the headquarters than the Sabyinyo and Agasha groups, but easier to reach than the Susa Group.
- Originally studied by Dian Fossey, the Susa Group was the largest, with about 40 individuals, including 3 silverbacks. After a split (creating Igisha Group) in 2009, Susa now has 28 members. In the summer months in particular it can be a tough trek to reach this group high up on Mount Karisimbi, but it’s well worth the effort because of their number and because, uniquely, it has two sets of twins, which is very rare..
- The Karisimbi Group, which split from the Susa group a few years ago, also lives in the Mt. Karisimbi area of Volcanoes National Park and is also suited to visits from more serious hikers. Both of these groups can potentially involve a full day’s trek. This group also underwent a split in 2012, and now has 11 individuals.
- The Hirwa Group has around 11 members including one silverback and another pair of twins. Together with the two pairs of twins in the Susa group, these are the only known surviving twins of mountain gorillas in the world. They’re also usually found on the slopes of Sabyinyo, and tend to be one of the easier groups to trek to.
- The Kwitonda Group has 18 members and was habituated in the DRC. They crossed the border into Rwanda in 2005, and were carefully tracked and are now also being visited on a regular basis, although they are known to range far.
- The Bwenge Group, named after their silverback, has 11 members and can be a tough trek – they’ve had a lot of in-fighting and have lost a few family members, and they move around a lot, and faster.
- The Ugende Group do the same, so it’s often a harder trek. The name means “on the move” – its 11 individuals shift regularly.
- Karisimbi Group were formed after the Karisimbi group split in 2012, and includes Poppy, the oldest living female (though she went missing at the end of August 2018, so her future looks a little uncertain). They have 14 members