Gorilla trekking safaris are some of the most adventurous safaris you could ever take in Africa. And there are only three countries on the entire continent where you have the opportunity to see mountain gorillas; Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.
Rwanda gorilla trekking is done in the Virunga Mountains. These mountain border all three gorilla habitat countries. Close to 480 of the world’s mountain gorilla population is found in the virungas, the rest are found in Bwindi impenetrable forest .
There are 10 gorilla groups in the Volcanoes National Park. These a habituated gorilla families that have been trained to tolerate human present making organized gorilla trekking possible and safe. And because it is safe you get to have the amazing experience of looking into a silver back’s eyes, or watching this magnificent creatures go about their day, taking care of their young, feeding, and simply being without worrying about being attacked or the gorillas hiding away from you. The entire experience is simply magical and definitely an adventure you can never forget.
There are a few things you need to consider as you plan your gorilla safari.
Even though Rwanda gorilla tours can be done all year round, some times of the year make for a better trip than others. April-May is the rainy season, which means the ground is constantly wet, and it is rainy and called. It can be quite challenging to hike through the forests in the rainy season.
The best time to go gorilla trekking is during the drier months of June-September and December -February. Although rain in these parts of Rwanda can fall at anytime of the year, these particular periods are drier than the rest of the year.
In order to track gorillas anywhere in east and central Africa, you need a permit. In Rwanda there are 80 gorilla permit available per day, the smart thing to do is purchase a permit for your desired dates of gorilla trekking early enough. A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs US $ 750.
While you do not need to be sportsman fit to go gorilla trekking, you will enjoy the experience better if you have a general level of fitness. You will be doing quite a bit of walking as you track the gorillas, you do not want to be too worn out from the trek to enjoy the gorillas when you eventually find them. If you are not quite fit, or used to walking much, a few hill walks would be good exercise for you as you prepare for your gorilla safari.
What should you expect?
So you have finally traveled to Rwanda for a gorilla safari. You are pumped and ready for your adventure to begin, but you could be wondering what to expect.
Well this is what a day of gorilla trekking looks like……
With your passport, gorilla permit, appropriate trekking gloves, boots, rain jackets snacks, walking stick and all other necessary supplies ready you will set of early morning for the park headquarters.
At the park headquarters, there will be a short briefing by the park officials before the tracking begins. Your passports and gorilla permits will be crosschecked to verify identity and ownership. If everything is found to be in order, you will be served a cup of coffee or tea and entertained by some traditional dancers as you wait for you guide to give you some tips and guidelines on how to conduct yourselves on the trek, and around the gorillas.
After the briefing, and entertainment, you will be divided into groups of 8 and each group assigned a gorilla family to track. If it’s a full house, there will be ten groups of 8, since Rwanda has 10 groups of habituated gorillas, and the maximum number of people per group is 8.
Rwanda Gorillas and Tourism Board
How are the groups assigned?
The groups are assigned basing on age, fitness and occasionally preference (you can request to track a particular gorilla family). When basing on fitness and age, those who are older, say, above 45, and those that are less fit will be assigned to the “easy to track” families which most probably do not wonder far from the trail, and are found closer to the park. The younger ones, and those that are more fit will be assigned to the more “challenging to track” families.
But you need to remember that gorillas are not very predictable, the usually hard to find family might be closer to the track on the day that you are assigned to it because its supposedly harder to find. So while the group assignments are helpful, it is not a guarantee that because a group is usually easy to find, you to will find it quite as easily on the day you go gorilla trekking. This makes gorilla trekking Rwanda experience less predictable, and more adventurous and exciting. If you are not sure about how fit you are, please let your tour guide know of your possible limitations. You can also pay a porter to carry you backpack and other things you might have with you.
Every group has a main guide and two scouts, who carry guns to ensure your safety. You might need protection from wild elephants or some angry gorilla! The scouts who will accompany you are well trained in how to get you to safe hiding places in case you encounter dangerous animals, or to fire to scare away the animals. So far there have been no cases of animal attacks on tourists, or animals being shot at. The worst that has, happened, and that is the rarest case, is hiding away from dangerous animals.
However the Volcanoes National Park would rather be safe than sorry, hence the well trained, and well armed scouts.
Aside from the scouts, every group will also benefit from the services of a tracker. Early morning before you set out to start your Rwanda gorilla trekking adventure, trackers will be sent out to find the location of the gorillas and assess where the gorillas might be headed. The trackers will update the tour guides of their respective gorilla groups on the movements of the family. This makes the tracking a lot easier.
Gorilla tracking can take a varied length of time depending on the group that is tracking, the general location of the gorilla family, the terrain, weather and a few other factors. Sometimes the tracking will take as short as 30 minutes, other times it will take as long as 7 hours.
As you hike through the forest, follow the lead of your guide. As you climb up the steep slopes of the volcanoes, and through the forest, you will need to pull your self up steep paths by grasping onto plant roots, branches, bushes, etc. a walking stick could also come in handy. You will get thirsty, so be sure to carry enough water. The trek through the forest can be tiring but the encounter with the gorillas is worth all the effort.
After the short or long trek, you will be relieved and happy to find the gorillas. The trackers will clear the brush away so you can get a clear view of these magnificent creatures. It is truly an amazing experience.
In order not to startle them into attacking or running away, you are advised to stay calm, quiet, and avoid sudden movements. Also avoid making eye contact with the gorillas, it can irritate them into thinking your up for a fight.
If you look a gorilla in the eye, and he begins charging at you, don’t run, stay still and lower your head as a sign of submission. This will show that you do not want a fight.
You will see the gorillas, either feeding, grooming, playing, or just being.
All of those are good photo opportunities so have your cameras ready to snap off shot after shot of amazing gorilla photographs. Do remember to turn off the flash lights and camera sounds.
After your one hour experience with the gorillas, it will be time to head back to the park, and back to your hotel.
A day of gorilla trekking in volcanoes national park should end before 7:00pm.