Welcome to Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
What is gorilla trekking like in volcanoes national park?
Volcanoes national park runs a very smooth gorilla trekking operation. The treks are well organized and structured.
Here is a summary of how your gorilla safari will go;
On the day that you are scheduled to go gorilla trekking, your day start early with an early breakfast. Afterwards you will be taken to the park headquarters in Kinigi. At the headquarters you and others scheduled for gorilla trekking that day will be divided into groups of 8 and briefed on gorilla etiquette and safety. Afterwards you will be driven to the star of the trail and your guide will lead you as you track through gorillas along the designated trails and enjoy nature in the Virungas. Gorilla treks in the volcanoes national park, are uphill hikes, so even at an unhurried pace the altitude makes the trek a bit tiring.
It is very natural and okay to be a bit anxious about the whole experience, especially with your expectation of what it will be like when you finally see the gorillas. Although you will have been well assured that the gorillas are habituated, chances are you have never seen one, habituated or otherwise, so a little anxiety is allowed just don’t let it overshadow the excitement and your ability to enjoy your trek through the forest. Your anxiety will probably go away when you finally come face to face with the gorillas and realize you have nothing to fear. The playful young ones might occasionally stray closer than expected, but as long as you follow your tour guides instructions you will be just fine.
Gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park
There are ten groups/families of habituated gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Gorillas do not stay in the same spot hence the need to do some tracking before you spend your magical one hour with them. They usually climb higher up the mountain in the dry season, and descend in the wet season, so your tour guide might have a general idea pf where the group you are tracking might be during a particular season, but there are no guarantees that you will find them where you expect them to be.
These are the gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park:
- The Amahoro group: this group is usually found between the Karisoke and the Visoke peaks of the Virunga volcanoes. This group has about 17 gorillas. Together with the Umubano group of 11, they are the furthest from the park headquarters.
- The Sabinyo Group is usually found between Mt. Sabinyo and Gahinga. It has about 12 individuals, with a couple of silverbacks in the group.
- Agashya Group, formerly referred to as “Group Thirteen”, is often found close to the Sabinyo group, and has about 25 gorillas including two silverbacks.
- The Susa Group is the largest in volcanoes NP with about 40 individuals, including 3 silverbacks. This group is usually found high up on Mount Karisimbi, which makes for a relatively more challenging hike, but it is well worth the effort.
- The Karisimbi Group, which split from the Susa group a few years ago, can be found in the Mt. Karisimbi area. Tracking these two groups requires a full day hike.
- The Kwitonda Group has 18 members and was habituated in the DRC. They crossed the border into Rwanda in 2005, and are now open for visitation.
- The Hirwa Group has around 11 members including one silverback and a pair of twins.
- The Bwenge Group, named after the group silverback, has 11 members and can be a tough trek.
- The Ugende Group, whose name means “on the move” – because its 11 individuals are always moving to new areas is also quite difficult to track.
Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Guidelines
Gorilla etiquette, and all other guidelines on how to behave around gorillas are meant to ensure both your safety, and that of the gorillas.
Gorilla are susceptible to human infections since their DNA is a 98% match with human DNA. Their immunity is not as strong as that of humans so even the slightest infection such as a common cold, can be life threatening to the gorilla, hence the various rules and regulations. Some of these are pretty basic and should be easy to follow. Gorilla trekking guidelines in Rwanda include;
- If you have a cold, flu, or any other contagious infection, you should not go gorilla trekking.
- Only one group of tourists can visit the mountain gorillas each day and you can only spend an hour with them.
- You should keep a distance of 7m from the gorillas, and if the gorillas try to get close, try to move further away.
- Try not to make sudden movements ehil ein the presence of the gorillas and keep your voices low, so as to maintain a relaxed atmosphere for the gorillas.
- Do not eat or drink when you are with the gorillas
And many others.
What To Carry on A Rwanda Gorilla Safari
Appropriate gear, dressing and accessories are important for any safari trip to be successful.
Some of the things you will need on a gorilla trekking trip in Rwanda include: sturdy walking boots, thick gardening gloves to protect your hands from the bramble as you track, long trousers, a waterproof jacket, water and a snack, a walking stick, some money to pay porters to carry your backpack, a journal, a camera, binoculars and a few other things.
Photographs are one of the best ways to maintain memories of an exciting adventure, or important moments in life, also if you are a photographer, taking photographs of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat makes for a very exciting photo shoot, so do not forget to carry your camera. You might need pictures as evidence to prove that were you indeed in Volcanoes national park tracking gorillas.
All in all gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is definitely an adventure not to be missed.
Tracking gorillas in East Africa
(Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic republic of Congo)
Uganda, Rwanda and DRC are the best destinations in Africa for gorilla trekking adventures. Selecting which country to go to depends on your preferences. If you are looking for a short gorilla safari experience- Rwanda, if you are longing for a much longer safari, with lots of variety-Uganda, if you are looking to test how brave you are- gorilla trekking in DRC is just the thing for you.
If you want to track and see lowland gorillas, then DRC is the place to go. If you want to track and see the magnificent and sought after mountain gorillas, Uganda and Rwanda are the best destinations.
What is the difference between lowland and mountain gorillas?
Well aside from the fact that one group is found in the lowlands, and the other in the mountains, these gorillas differ is physical appearance as well. While lowland gorillas are smaller with brownish-Grey coats, mountain gorillas are huge and have black coats. In terms of population, there are lowland gorillas than mountain gorillas. The numbers are over 100,000, and about 800 respectively.
Where do you go to see lowland gorillas?
The best place to see lowland gorillas is the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the north of the DRC near the Congo-Gabon border. The coat of a gorilla permit in Congo is included as part of the total cost of the trip.
What should you consider if you want to see mountain gorillas?
Rwanda and Uganda are the best places to track mountain gorillas and this is what you should consider when choosing whether to go on a Rwanda or Uganda gorilla trekking safari;
Gorilla permits in Rwanda cost USD 750 per person, while in Uganda, gorilla permits go for USD 500 per person. The permit gets you a full hour of time spent with a family mountain gorillas.
Access: In Rwanda you have it is easier to access gorilla trekking opportunities. The drive from the airport in Kigali to Volcanoes National Park is short, so you can easily combine a gorilla trekking trip with a visit to neighboring Tanzania, and the further away Kenya. In Uganda on the other hand, while you can combine the trip with safaris to the neighboring countries as well, the drive from the airport to to either Bwindi impenetrable forest or Mgahinga gorilla national park is very long.
We therefor recommend that if you intend to trek in Uganda then you should perhaps book an 8 day safari, if you cannot and can only enjoy this adventure for a couple ideas, then Rwanda is your place to be.
How difficult is the trek?
Tracking gorillas in either countries is quite tiring, and can be challenging. You might have to hike for hours before you find them. However Rwanda is considered by many to have easier tracks than Uganda.
The altitude also contributes greatly to the strain of the hike because the trekking happens at an altitude range of 8000-10,000ft. It is not high enough for altitude sickness, but it is high enough to be tiring and get you out of breath quite fast. Rwanda generally lies at an average altitude of 5000ft, and western Uganda is equally hilly and mountainous so spending a few days in the area, or in similar areas such as the Nairobi or Masai Mara, could be good preparation for your gorilla tracking adventure.
Are the gorillas in Uganda different from those in Rwanda?
No, the gorillas in either country are pretty much the same so is the gorilla trekking system. The only difference is in the number of gorilla families. Rwanda has 10 habituated gorilla families, while Uganda has 11 habituated gorilla families. The gorillas move freely in between countries.
There are a number of lodges and hotels in both Uganda and Rwanda where you can stay for the duration of your gorilla safari.
In Uganda, you can stay at the Buhoma lodge, Bwindi lodge, traveler’s rest, and a number of other places. In Rwanda, you can stay at Sabyinyo silverback lodge, Virunga lodge, mountain gorilla lodge, and a few others in the area.
You can never go wrong with gorilla trekking. It doesn’t matter which country you choose for your gorilla safari, it will always be fun and adventurous!