Can I trek gorillas in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda twice?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions from tourists who wish to trek gorillas twice in the Volcanoes National Park. Unlike Uganda, this might be possible in Rwanda, giving you a chance to spend ample time with the Mountain gorillas.
Yes, you can trek Mountain gorillas in Rwanda twice; however, it cannot be done on the same day but can be done in two days, with trekkers tracking one family on the first day and another gorilla family on the second day. The reason why trekking twice cannot be done in one day is that there is a limited number of trekkers that are allowed to trek the gorillas per day, and the trek time is unpredictable, running between 2 to 6 hours, which makes it hard for you to trek the gorillas twice in a day.
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Rwanda encourages tourists to trek gorillas twice while in the country, and one of the reasons why you should trek twice is that on the second day, you will be able to notice all the things about the gorillas and their natural habitat that you missed out on the first day, you also get chance to spend more time with the gorillas and take as many photos of the gorillas as you can because taking pictures of the primates is a bit tricky and hard, and if you are planning on trekking twice, we suggest that you also plan exploring other destinations in the country like the Nyungwe forest national park for the canopy walk and chimpanzee trekking and the Akagera national park for a game drive.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes starts as early as 7:30 a.m. with a briefing at the park headquarters, and it is during the briefing that tourists are divided into groups and assigned to different family groups. This is the best time to air your concerns, and those who need to be more fit are assigned to the gorilla families closer to the park headquarters.
Volcanoes has 10 habituated families, and only eight people are allowed to trek a group per session, meaning that 80 gorilla permits are printed daily. Gorilla trekking can take 1 to 6 hours, depending on the location of the gorilla family on that specific day. Therefore, there is no minimum or maximum time spent on gorilla trekking.
Gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla treks in Rwanda are offered in the Volcanoes National Park, which has over 400 gorillas with 10 habituated families that are open for trekking to the public. Volcanoes National Park is a 2 to 3 hours drive from the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali, at about 105 kilometers. It is located in the northern part of Rwanda within the Virunga region.
The Mountain gorillas live in groups led by the dominant male silverback. When allocating gorilla families in the Volcanoes National Park, fitness, accommodation, and preferences are considered, and the permits are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. The gorilla families in Rwanda are divided into two: those for research purposes and those open for trekking to tourists. The gorilla families in Rwanda include:
The Susa group: The Susa family group, comprising 28 members currently was named after the Susa River and is usually found in the hilly areas of the national park. This group is famous because of Dian Fossey’sFossey’s research and has three silverbacks. It previously had 42 members, but the family split into two after a feud. It is considered one of the hardest groups to trek, and it can take a whole day trekking, but it is also a fun group to trek with the oldest habituated gorilla and the playful twin gorillas.
Sabinyo gorilla family: This is an extremely small gorilla family with 8 members led by Guhonda, who at 220kgs is considered the largest gorilla silverback in Volcanoes. The gorilla family is named after the Sabinyo volcano mountain. Sabinyo gorilla family is easy to trek and spot because Guhonda keeps the family closer to the park edges.
Kwitonda gorilla family: Kwitonda gorilla family is one of the hardest groups led by the silverback Kwitonda, and it is believed to have originated from the Democratic Republic of Uganda. The Kwitonda group lives around Mountain Muhabura’s slopes, which makes it hard to trek the group, which has 18 gorillas.
Ugenda group: The Ugenda gorilla group has 11 family members with two silverbacks, and these are always on the move, making it challenging to trek it due to the constant movements made by the group.
Hirwa gorilla family: The Hirwa gorilla family is one of the newly introduced gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park. The group was formed in 2006 and was named Hirwa because gorillas joined the group voluntarily and willingly. It currently has 16 members. The group can be found along the slopes of Mount Sabinyo.
Karisimbi gorilla family: The Karisimbi family was formed after breaking away from the Susa group and is found along the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. Due to its location, it sometimes becomes hard to trek, and in cases where the gorilla family moves a bit farther, the trek for the day is canceled. Karisimbi has 15 gorilla members and is sometimes referred to as Susa-B.
Other gorilla families in the Volcanoes National Park include the Bwenge gorilla family, which was formed in 2007 with 11 members and lives along the slopes of the Karisoke volcano, making it hard to trek the family, the Agashya gorilla family with 25 members is also known as Group 13 and a difficult one to trek due to its constant fleeing when it senses danger, the Amahoro group with 17 family members that are led by the silverback Ubumbwe and is the calmest family to trek and the Umubano gorilla family that consists of 11 family members and is the easiest to trek because it requires less effort to get to the gorilla group.
Cost of a gorilla trek safari in Volcanoes National Park
Numerous factors determine the cost of a gorilla safari, including the cost of a gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport. The cost of a gorilla permit depends on the travel season because Rwanda currently offers discounted gorilla permits during the low season, at least until December 2023. The gorilla costs $1500 for non-residents, $500 for African residents and citizens, and $200 for East African citizens. Note that the cost of a gorilla permit does not cover other expenses like transport, personal purchases, transport, accommodation, and meals.
It is also important to remember that although the permit cost is slightly high, the money obtained from the permits is used to protect the gorillas, conserve their natural habitat, and support the different conservation groups and other community programs.
Gorilla permits can be purchased from the Rwanda Development Board, which issues the permits, or from a trusted tour operator like us to help you purchase your permit. We not only help with the purchase of the gorilla permit, but we also help in arranging the safari trek.
Rules and regulations followed during gorilla trekking
Several rules and regulations are to be followed during a gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park, and this is because there is a need to protect the gorillas from extinction. The gorilla trek rules and regulations include:
- Avoid making sudden movements with the gorillas because the gorillas might interpret this as a challenge.
- Only 8 people are allowed to trek gorillas per session, and this is to reduce the number of people who trek the gorillas and to avoid disrupting their behaviors.
- After locating the allocated gorilla family group, every group gets to spend an hour with the gorillas.
- You are supposed to keep a distance of 7 meters from the gorillas for your safety and the protection of the gorillas.
- Littering in the national park is not allowed, and you are to keep your rubbish with you until it is placed in the dustbins. It is important also to remember that Rwanda has a ban on polythene bags, so it would be wise not to carry any while on a safari in the country.
- Tourists are to dig 30cm holes when the need arises to use the toilet, and after, the hole is to be covered to prevent the spread of diseases to the gorillas.
- Flash photography is not allowed, and it is better to turn off the flashlight before the start of the trek so that you do not forget.
- Gorillas rarely attack, but in cases where one approaches you, especially the dominant silverback, you are advised not to run, not look at it in the eyes, but assume a submissive position and walk backward slowly.
- Avoid smoking, do not put on sunglasses, you are not allowed to feed the gorillas, and avoid making noise when with the gorillas.
Activities carried out in Volcanoes National Park
Several other activities are carried out in Volcanoes National Park besides gorilla trekking, and these include:
Hiking: If you are in great shape and would like to enjoy more exciting activities, you can hike up one of the volcanic mountains within the park. Karisimbi and Bisoke are the most commonly climbed volcanoes, best carried out during the dry season.
Golden monkey trekking: The Volcanoes National Park is also home to the endangered golden monkeys, which can be trekked throughout the year. Golden monkeys feed on bamboo shoots and insects and live along the park’s lower slopes, making it easy to trek them.
Bird watching: Volcanoes have over 200 recorded bird species 13 of which are endemic, which can be seen throughout the year. Some of the bird species that you should look out for include the Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Dusky crimsonwing, strange weavers, collared Apalis, red-faced woodland warbler, and Grauer’sGrauer’s rush warbler, among others.
Visit Dian Fossey’s grave: After she died in the 1980s, Dian Fossey was buried in Volcanoes National Park. She is considered one of the most important people who helped create awareness about gorillas, and she not only focused on research but also tried to stop the baby trafficking of gorillas.
Packing list for a gorilla trek in Volcanoes, Rwanda
Packing for a gorilla trek in volcanoes is like packing for any other African safari. Things that shouldn’tshouldn’t miss out on your packing list include long-sleeved shirts, trousers at least two pairs, waterproof hike boots and make sure that they are fitting, toiletries, wet wipes, insect repellent, sunscreen, a sunhat, rain jacket, a sweater, warm socks, gaiters, scarf, sandals, your documents, a camera, flashlight, extra batteries for both the camera and flashlight, first aid kit fully stocked with essentials like painkillers, stomach medicines, binoculars, diarrhea tablets, cotton, band-aids, plasters, spirit and iodine among others. You can also pack a few personal items, but make sure you pack a lot of luggage that will be hard to carry. A day backpack will be needed to carry the day-to-day items while trekking, and you can always hire a potter to help you carry your luggage for a fee to enjoy your trek.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is an all-year-round destination experiencing two seasons: the wet and dry season. The wet season is characterized by rains and slippery and muddy trek routes, making it hard to trek the gorillas; however, it is the best time to trek gorillas with discounted gorilla permits. The dry season, which is June to September, is the best time to go gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park, and this is simply because the trek routes are passable; the gorillas can be seen easily, but you need to note that the dry season is also a peak season and you need to be ready for the large crowds and the hiked accommodation facility costs.
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