Deep in the heart of Rwanda’s thousand hills exists a creature so precious and rare that tourists the world over come each year to catch a glimpse. It is the critically endangered mountain gorilla, and more than half of the almost 700 remaining in the world make their home in Rwanda’s stunning Volcanoes National Park. These highly sociable primates sleep in trees but spend most of their waking hours on the ground, moving less than 1km a day and remaining easily accessible. Let an experienced gorilla tracker guide you through the towering Hagenia and Bamboo trees, weaving vines, and flowering Lobelias of the park to their tiny oasis, where you will spend one hour face to face with man’s closest living relatives in their remarkable natural habitat.
Visitors can follow one of the park’s seven habituated gorilla families as they go about their daily lives in troops of anywhere between 8 and 39. Watch a mother tenderly feed her baby while the younger gorillas frolic in the bushes around her. Feel the cautious stare of a 200kg silverback on you as he keeps a protective eye overhead. Witness a youngster put on a chest-beating display to playfully signal his dominance.
During your hour with the gorillas you will come to experience the inspiration for the film Gorillas in the Mist and understand why the late American primatologist Dian Fossey made it her life’s mission to live with, study, and protect these gentle giants.
A trek to the heart of Volcanoes National Park could also bring you into contact with golden monkeys, buffalo, bush duiker and a vast array of bird species. For conservation reasons, each gorilla family can only be seen by one group of eight tourists per day. This is a once in a lifetime wildlife experience that should not be missed.
To track mountain gorillas in Rwanda entails booking a gorilla trekking permit well in advance. Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda cost US dollars 1500 per person and this offers you one hour in the company of the mountain gorillas excluding the trekking time.
Accommodations for both luxury and budget tourists are available as well as transportation and can also be reserved while booking your Gorilla tracking permit.
Rwanda Gorilla Trekking guidelines
The drive to the park headquarters in Kinigi takes about 5-10 minutes from the 5 volcanoes Lodge. Registration is a simple procedure during which the park staff also determine who will visit which gorilla family. An experienced park guide will then explain the trekking procedures as well as the dos and don’ts for the one hour with the gorillas. After the briefing, the visitors board their respective vehicles with their park guide in order to drive to their personal starting point for the trek. Porters are available for a fixed amount of FRw 10,000 (approximately US$20) to carry backpacks, and can even give a push to less physically fit trekkers.
The usual trekking time is 3-5 hours, even though some groups take up to 8 hours in order to find their designated gorilla family high up in the slopes of the volcanoes. The guides allow frequent stops so that the visitors have a chance to rest and take photos along the way.
Once with the gorillas, it is important to note that a 7m distance should be kept at all times, even though this is not always possible, particularly if the gorillas move towards the group. Visitors are further required to stay in tight groups, to be as quiet as possible, not to smoke, eat or drink, not to use a flash when tak-ing pictures, and not to touch the gorillas under any circumstance. It is important to remember that they are still wild animals, even though they might look very peaceful and cuddly. Sometimes the gorillas charge themselves or the visitors. If such an incident happens, visitors are required to follow the guides’ example, and to crouch down slowly, not to look the gorillas directly in the eyes, and to wait for the animals to pass. It is imperative not to try to run away or to take pictures and make unnecessary moves.
Generally, gorillas are very susceptible to human diseases. Hence, if a visitor is feeling ill or carries a contagious disease as simple as a flu, he/she will be asked to pass on the trek and stay behind. While in the presence of the gorillas, visitors are required to turn their head away and to cover their nose and mouth if they feel the urge to cough or sneeze. Also, it is important not to leave any rubbish in the park, since foreign items can harbor diseases or other contaminants. If a visitor needs to use the bathroom, the guide will dig a hole that will be filled afterwards.
The maximum time allowed with the gorillas is 1 hour. Nevertheless, it is possible that the gorillas become agitated or nervous, in which case the guide will stop the visit a bit early.
The weather is unpredictable in the volcanoes so that it is advisable to wear different layers of clothes that can be removed during the hike. Rain jackets and comfortable hiking boots are recommended. You are advised to wear trousers, long sleeves shirts, jackets, proper hiking shoes, stick or jeer.