A Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
When one visits Rwanda, the first thing that comes to mind is the unforgettable gorilla trekking adventure into Volcanoes National Park’s mountain jungles to find the mysterious mountain gorillas. Uncountable travelers have said great things about the experience, but one that strikes a lasting note is that it is impossible not to be dumb-struck by the humanoid nature of mountain gorillas. Sitting in a cold Rwanda forest and staring into a beast’s eyes that share 98% of our DNA is like looking into a mirror, and the beast impassively stares back. No experience in any jungle can beat that.
Humans are intrinsically attracted to rarity and wonder at things that seem out of this world. Thousands of years ago, mountain gorillas occupied much of the east and central African rainforest, freely roaming the rift valley and volcanic slopes. Their range slowly dissipated with human development, repelling them into higher grounds and reducing their number nearly to extinction.
Today, mountain gorillas are endangered, with numbers merely above 1000 individuals. However, governments, NGOs, tour companies, and individuals at the forefront of gorilla tourism are committed to steadily raising those numbers. Gorilla trekking is one of the primary sources for funding gorilla tourism, and it’s successfully creating waves in the conservation news.
Rwanda has well-positioned itself to excel in conservation tourism, attracting thousands of travelers to come and get a piece of the trekking adventure in its one and only gorilla forest reserve, Volcanoes National Park. They’ve habituated twelve gorilla groups to human visits and a few others for primate research purposes.
Everybody is invited, and that’s why we’re writing this guide to gorilla trekking in volcanoes National Park to help you plan your adventure in Rwanda with fingertip information.
What To Expect On The Gorilla Trekking Experience
Volcanoes National Park protects Rwanda’s side of the Virunga Volcanoes chain straddling Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda’s borders in Rwanda’s northwestern region. About half of the world’s mountain gorilla population roam the Virunga mountain slopes between the three countries. The other half is entirely within the Ugandan side in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Jetting into the country through Kigali International Airport, expect to drive on the 100-kilometer well-surfaced road for two hours to reach the base town, Kiningi, where you’ll spend the night before your gorilla trekking adventure up the slopes of Volcanoes National Park the following morning.
The morning of your gorilla trekking experience, your driver will take you to the park headquarters briefing point, which is usually within a radius of a 45-minute drive of your lodge at the base of the park. There, you’ll get a briefing on what the trek expects of you, what you should expect and which gorilla group you will encounter. After the briefing, you’ll be split into small restricted groups, with a local expert tracker guide and two armed rangers (for security against jungle uncertainties) and transported to the trailhead into the jungle.
Rwanda gorillas live up the steep slopes, so expect to hike up uneven terrain into the thick misty jungle with unmarked trails to find the gorillas. Your physical fitness should be at least moderate to pull off this adventure; otherwise, we recommend that you hit the gym a few weeks before your trip.
Fortunately, you can hire a local porter to help you navigate the steep hike if you don’t trust your physical fitness—besides, it’s a great way to support the communities that live around the park directly. Porters come from villages around Volcanoes National Park that used to depend on the forest for livelihood entirely. Now that the forest is off-limits, they turn to gorilla tourism to earn a buck. Consider hiring one at about $20; they’re worth the price.
Wading your way through the thick forest, following the tracker’s footsteps, you may take about 30 minutes to 4 hours to find the gorilla family. The time is undetermined because gorillas move freely in the forest and are restricted only by the park boundaries. So it’s not easy to determine where they’ll be when you get them, although a team of rangers stays with them throughout the day and will be guiding your tracking team on their bearings to make it simpler for you to find them.
When you find the gorilla family, expect to spend at least an hour watching the gorillas eat, groom, socialize and ignore your presence. Your consciousness determines the quality of experience when staying with the gorillas for one hour; try to keep your attention to photography to minimal. However, your guide will furnish you with stories and information throughout your stay and will announce when you’ve used up your time.
Major gorilla trekking rules in Volcanoes National Park include keeping at least 10 meters (32 ft) away from the gorillas, waring a facemask, avoiding contact with the gorillas at all times, no flash photography, and no snacking around the gorillas. Observe these and follow the guide’s instructions, and your gorilla trekking experience will be as memorable as you expect.
The Cost of Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes
The cost of gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes is still the highest in the region, primarily determined by the gorilla permit price. Rwanda’s gorilla permit costs $1,500 per person per trek, yet, you must consider other gorilla safari elements like accommodation, meals, and transfers.
The Rwanda Development Board sells gorilla permits. However, there’s a limited number of fewer than 100 permits available in Rwanda per day, making them scarce and in high demand. Still, a licensed local safari operator, like Encounter Africa Safaris, can purchase one on your behalf at the most challenging times. Although, you should endeavor to book yours in advance, at least three months earlier.
Because of the high cost of the gorilla permit, almost all safari lodges around Volcanoes National Park do not include the permit on their all-inclusive offers. When you book lodging, expect to pay for the permit separately, but the lodge will offer bed, meals, lodge activities, and sometimes, transfers to the gorilla point.
An all-inclusive room per night may cost less than $300 for budget, $300-$450 for midrange, and above $700 for an exclusive luxury lodge. Depending on the provider, transfers may cost about $80 – $300 per day, including the driver and gas/fuel.
Rwanda has positioned itself as a high-end destination; therefore, the cost of gorilla trekking triples that of Uganda and DRC. However, our consultants can help you determine an accurate price for your trip within the shortest possible time. Request a quote at firstname.lastname@example.org
Best Time to Go
Volcanoes National Park is elevated at 2,500 meters, surrounded by tropical weather and vegetation. It can rain anytime, and the heavier rains can disrupt your gorilla trekking experience. Avoid visiting Volcanoes during the heavy rains of March to April when roads are impassable, and trails become slippery.
The best time for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes is during the dry seasons between June and September. During the dry seasons, there’s less rain to disrupt the trek. Roads are navigable, and it’s easier to walk under the forest canopy; you can include other activities on your itinerary like nature hiking, birding, and a walk to legendary Diane Fossey’s grave.
Although the dry season is the peak travel season in the country, the park doesn’t feel overcrowded because the number of trekkers is highly restricted. However, if you want to take advantage of the low season pricing, book your trip for the wet seasons. During the rains, most lodges offer high discounts to harvest on the low number of travelers.
What To Pack For The Gorilla Trek
It’s cold and damp out there in the mountain, and you have to keep warm and dry during your stay. Your packing list should include a lightweight rain jacket, a sweater for the evenings at the lodge, a pair of warm socks, and maybe a scarf.
For trekking, you should pack a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking shoes, gaiters, trousers, and long sleeve shirt to avoid prickly plants pocking your skin, a waterproof backpack to keep your gadgets dry, and maybe a hut to protect your head. These should all be lightweight; otherwise, you’ll be sweating with the challenging hike up the slopes.
Find this link for a detailed packing list.
How to Get To Volcanoes National Park
Rwanda welcomes most visitors through Kigali International Airport (KGL), about 10km/6mi from the capital, Kigali. Volcanoes National Park is about 100 kilometers and 2 hours on the surfaced road. There are no scheduled domestic flights to the park. You’ll most probably use a 4×4 car to transfer across the country from the Airport.
The gorilla trekking activity in Volcanoes starts before 08:00, and all trekkers must report to the park headquarters in Kinigi by 07:00. Therefore, it is recommended to stay close to the park or in nearby Musanze.
Where To Stay
After booking your gorilla permit, where to stay looms high on planning your gorilla safari in Rwanda. Fortunately, accommodation in the Volcanoes National Park does not reflect the high price of the permit. Still, it ranges from exclusive safari lodges to comfortable boutique lodges and hotels that suit all tastes, budgets, and travel styles. Here’s a list of our best picks of where to stay in volcanoes for an excellent gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda.
Luxury, high-end ($700 over)
- Bisate Lodge
- Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
- One&Only Gorilla’s Nest Lodge
- Virunga Lodge
- Singita Kwitonda Lodge
Comfortable, mid-range ($300 – $700)
- Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel
- Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
Budget (less $300)
- Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge
- Villa Gorilla
- Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel
- Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge
- Ruzizi Tented Camp
Planning You Gorilla Trekking Safari in Volcanoes, Rwanda
Planning a gorilla trekking safari in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda’s premier attraction, should not be likened to planning a big city tour; neither should any East African safari. The challenging African travel logistics of getting gorilla permits, finding suitable accommodation with meals, and booking your transfers require a knowledgeable local operator.
With help from a local operator, you plan your trip based on your preferences and budget and yet still get to enjoy your trip knowing that everything is taken care of by someone with the local experience.
Plan your Rwanda gorilla safari with Encounter Africa. We’re local and have a sizeable sustainable travel footprint you can trust. Send us an email at email@example.com.