Everything you need to know about gorilla trekking in Rwanda, where to stay, tour operators, when to go, how to get a gorilla permit, gorilla rules and more.
|East African residents||Shs 250,000||30,000 Rwandese francs|
|Low Season Discounts in Uganda|
|East African residents||Shs 150.000||None|
For the value of money, many of the visitors to east Africa always mix gorilla trekking with a wildlife safari before or after the trek.
The gorilla permits need to be bought in advance as much as 6 months earlier. In case you are traveling during the high season or in large groups. The earlier you book, the more choices you have of where to trek and where to stay. Late booking might be possible only during the low season and there are just one or two people trekking, however the availability of gorilla permits is not guaranteed.
The high season is from June through October and the charismas as well as the New Year period.
Each of the gorilla family can be visited for one hour per day, with in Uganda, there is a off peak discount in April, May and November, and also these are both bookings in advance. There is also a minimum age requirement of 15 years to track the gorillas in both Uganda and Rwanda.
The gorilla permits can be bought in two years advance through Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rwanda Development Board or via a registered Rwanda safari tour company. More so, the advantage of booking with a tour operator is that they have close local knowledge of the accommodation facilities options and the nearness of gorilla families. These know the remote places well and their drivers are experts at selling slippery, and the steep dirt roads. In case you plan to range your trip, and most people do , the company will give travel references and also make all the activity and the accommodation bookings for you.
In case of booking the gorilla permit, you will need the following
The gorilla permit will have an exclusive serial number and the personal details written on it. And it is not transferable. You have to remember that you have to show your passport or another identification at the pre trekking briefing.
I wouldn’t let the weather forecast choose when is the best time for seeing the mountain gorillas since the wet is ever wet in the rain forest. The rain is not always too much and there will be a low lying mist and wet vegetation. There is always mud along the trails.
Forecasting of the rainy season is not an exact science but roughly speaking, the rainy seasons include March. April and October as well as November. The timing of your visit to East African region, might be very important to you in case you are planning a tour as part of your travels to Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda have enjoyed a round temperature of between 21 c and 21C throughout the year. In the higher altitudes of the mountain gorilla habitant, it can be so cold.
There is also Rwanda’s annual Kwita Izina which is the gorilla naming ceremony, it’s a beautiful time to visit the volcanoes National park. It is a celebration of Rwanda’s gorilla conservation, and the challenges these apes continue to appear.
The other factor to reflect on is the cost. Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda also cost the same price per person throughout the year. Uganda also offers discounted gorilla permits in May, April and November.
You will need at least three days to see the gorillas in Uganda. You can give one day for travel to the accommodation, one day got trekking the gorillas and the third day for traveling back, where you will opt for. It’s also possible to reduce the gorilla trek to 2 days in Rwanda.
You will also need to be up wake up early on the day of gorilla trekking and the day will be so demanding, and you will need to reach at your lodge by 6 or 7 pm on the day before your trek. You also need to note that it get dark so early on the equator and we only advise you to travel in day light hours, due to the long distance and the remoteness of the destination. You can also have an early night as you prepare for the next day.
In the evening after the gorilla trek, rest back, relax and relive your safari adventure in one of the lodges near the gorilla trekking areas before travelling back the next day or even the day after the trek.
There is also combining of the gorilla trek with some hiking, or bird watching and these are very common options. These areas that are around Bwindi impenetrable forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National park as well as Virunga National park that offers goof forest walks, bird watching, volcano hiking, community walks, and canoeing. In case you love the primates, why not then trek the golden monkeys and the chimpanzees can be seen in Nyungwe National park, Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National park, and also in Kibale National park.
Hiring a porter also means that you can pack all the camera equipment’s, the rain gear, snacks, and lots of water without worrying about how you will manage to carry the luggage up to the muddy slope through the bushy under growth. In areas were many of the people are substance farmers, pottering jobs are not valued. The fees for a porter will keep the idea of conserving the mountain gorillas in the forest. These jobs help in reducing the invasion into the protected areas to set the snares and also collect timber where the gorilla live. Again by employing the porters, you are not only helping them but also supporting the local community and the gorillas as well.
The cost of hiring a porter is between $10- $15. The tips can also be in smaller dollar notes or in the local shillings.
Note: Even though the rangers will escort you all the way to the park headquarters, most of the times, the porters will leave the group before you arrive there, so always make sure that you have the right amount of money for the tips since anytime they can leave.
There is also the Virunga lodge that is set on the hill with over 360 degree view of the volcanoes and the lakes. In case you are flapping out on a once life adventure, you must then stay here, it’s also a one hour drive from the park entrance in Kinigi.
Le bamboo Gorilla Resort
This is a mid-range lodge which is a 20 minutes’ drive from the starting point for Rwanda gorilla trekking. This banda facility is also made of the volcanic rock as well as the gardens that are full of colourful flowers as well as the bamboo.
It’s located in the town of Musanze which is a 20 minutes’ drive from the start of gorilla trekking in Kinigi, it’s a tried and tested place with the pure bleed primatological connections. For the best, you might also decide that you want to book a cottage 12 where the famous primatologist Dian Fossey stayed between the visits to the Virunga Mountains.
I will also not forget my first meeting with the gorillas, it was a sound headed sight and the smell led sound which was in form of an awesome, musky- barnyard, human like scent. The surrounding air was lease by variety of screams that were followed by the regular rondo of the sharp pok-pok chest beats from a good silverback male hidden what appeared as an impenetrable wall of the vegetation.
Also part of the experience of trekking the mountain gorillas is also thinking where you will find them! As the name suggests, the mountain gorillas live at high altitudes. Here the dense jungle, muddy terrain and the altitude can be so tiring and some of the visitors will find the trek so challenging. You have to keep your own pace as you drink plenty of water. Always avoid getting dehydrated.
Immediately after enjoying the breakfast, the lodge will provide you with a packed lunch and lots of water. And also in case the weather looks good and friendly, before leaving for the hike, don’t forget the rain jacket since the rain might fall at any time.
This gorilla experience also starts with a morning briefing at around 7:30 to 8:00am and this will also depend on where you are to trek. You will also be told about gorilla trekking rules in order to protect the gorillas and their habitats. One of the main rules is that when you are ill, you are to tell the authorities. These will advise you whether you are healthy enough to go for trekking. You should also remember that the health of these gorillas is more important than your holiday; a flu or the cold can be dangerous to the gorillas.
After the briefing, you will leave the opportunity of hiring a porter for a day. This is also recommended. Even though, it’s only one family is found so near to the staring of the gorilla trek in Uganda, you will walk for 1 hour or more before reaching the gorillas. This country side is so beautiful and for me, the trek was as incredible as an experience.
The radio contact between the rangers as well as the information from the last day’s gorilla sightings will make it easy for the rangers to be guiding you to the right place to find the mountain gorillas.
As you approach with the ranger with in their range, the rangers will then ask you to leave your bags and so many non-essentials so that you can come close to the gorillas and your cameras should be ready. You will take time to enjoy the presence of these gorillas.
On seeing them, I was hit by the physical glory of the large jet black bodies that are against the green palette wash of the thick forest foliage. The Dian fossey, Gorillas in the Mist.
You will then spend one hour with the mountain gorillas and during this time, they may be chewing the bamboo, as they hang on the trees above the head, training each other, suckling their babies, sleeping, playing, farting or even having sex! So you can’t know what you will expect.
One of the most vital gorilla trekking rules is to always keep a distance of over 7 metres from the gorillas. There is also no guarantee that gorillas will be to this but you will move to the forest while you are with them. In case they come near you, the rangers will ask you to step back. , even when they walk into the forest, you might be asked to follow them for a little way. Some of the times, you will see the gorillas in a light clearing. And another time, they will be in the dark forest. So you need to consider this in case you plan to take lots of photos. You must always turn off your flash while taking photos.
It’s also known that the route that takes you back to headquarters is shorter, even though some of the hikes might need climbing back uphill’s in places. You get back to the base and get your gorilla trekking certificate.
RDB and UWA rangers are so knowledgeable and will take care of you as you are in the forest. These will also help you to negotiate the steep and muddy grounds too. Though you have questions about the gorillas or about the wildlife, plants, birds, you can feel free to ask. These guides also know each gorilla group and can also tell you the names and the habits of each gorilla member. There is also so much to learn from these beautiful and humble primates.
Tipping is optional, but much appreciated. The estimate can be from $15 to 20 per tracker or the ranger. These should be small dollar bills or the local currency.
Expectations on your gorilla trek – starting the trekking day in Rwanda
Coffee and tea are given at 7:00am to the trekkers and then will assemble in Kinigi where you will enjoy some entertainment that will be provided by the traditional intore dancers from SACOLA which is sabinyo Community Livelihoods Association.
Within Rwanda, the gorilla family will also be given to you in the morning. And this depends on how fit you are, and this will determine how to be allocated a gorilla family which involves a longer trek. The rangers will also give you the gorilla family depending on your health, general fitness, interests as well as age.
You can also want a short hike of over 30 minutes, a medium one from 1 hour to 3 hours and the longer hike to the large Susa group, which might also take the whole day.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda also starts with 45 minutes’ walk as you slope down the farm land. The back ground of the volcanoes is so beautiful and the air is also pure. You will also find the steeper and thick bamboo at the park entrance.
Also depending on group that you are with, the trekking time usually takes 30 minutes to 4 hours. Gorilla trekking is also less active in Rwanda than in Uganda.
The Gorilla trekking Rules
The roads that lead to the gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda and Rwanda are generally good but the traveling is slow than the American and European roads. For instance the secondary roads are bumpy and slow, most especially as you approach Uganda’s gorilla parks. You need to get well prepared for the long car journey all day. The 4×4 drive vehicles are needed for these kind of routes in the rainy season.
Bwindi which is home to the world’s largest population of mountain gorillas is over 8 hours’ drive from Kampala or Entebbe. And in case you have never visited this destination, the drive is so fantastic to view the African life in the trading centres that you by pass.
In case you have got some time to spare, you can make a detour for the safari in Lake Mburo National park or visit Queen Elizabeth National park
Also Bwindi Community Hospital has got a good page on public transport ways for those wanting to reach Bwindi from Kampala.
In case you want to fly, a return ticket from Entebbe to Bwindi costs $450 with Aero Link Uganda. This is also a 1 and half hour flight with in a small aircraft, you will enjoy the islands on Lake Victoria, the swampy marshlands, mist covered valleys, and the trading centres.
This one and a half hour flight in a small aircraft is out of this world! You pass over the islands on Lake Victoria, swampy marshlands, trading centres and the mist covered valleys of south-western Uganda. You will also view the peaks of the volcanoes nearing the distance. It’s also known that the distance from Kisoro or Kihihi is about 30 minutes and this depends on where you are to trek.
More so, in case you don’t have time for the long road drive, the flight to Kigali as well as a short drive is also the easiest option. The drive to volcanoes national park which is home to Rwanda’s mountain gorillas and this takes two hours from Kigali on the good roads. As you come back, you will understand well why it’s called the land of 1000 hills.
It’s also easy to fly to Kigali and then drive across the border to view Uganda’s mountain gorillas. Both of these options can take less time than driving from Kampala.
What to pack for gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda
Since the porters are so affordable, this means that you are free to pack all the gorilla trekking equipment, clothing, water without worrying about how you will be able to carry it. Below is the recommended list for gorilla trekking;
The mornings in the volcanoes and the mountains can be so cool and the night time can also be cold. You will then experience the mist as well as rain as you check the mountain gorillas. It can also be somehow hot from the sun or the hiking uphill’s. the layered cloths are recommended and the moisture type of clothes.
The prominence of the mountain gorillas will be so important in case you like photographing the wildlife. You will want to get the best photos of this once lifetime experience to show the family as well as the friends that you left back home.
Within Uganda, it’s hard to get good photos under the dark canopy of Bwindi forest. Also in case you are lucky, you might come across your gorilla family in a clearing.\\In Rwanda, the vegetation is more of bamboo and the short grass and this can make good photography, even though the skies may still be overhead grey.
You will as well be on the move, so it’s also better to get so organised before you start your gorilla trek. In case you hire a porter, you can be able to take a fair bit of the kit with you.
The mountain gorillas are also classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red list of endangered species. In the recent days, the mountain gorillas are so much threatened not only due to the demand for their meat, or their infants, but also a high demand for the lush forest in which these live. For those poor communities that live around the gorilla habitants, it is the forest that provides them with many of their basic human needs, and in the war torn areas of DRC. The needs are inflated.
Gorilla conservation is the first conservation option in Uganda and Rwanda. Gorilla tourism has helped in bringing the mountain gorilla population back from extinction but also threats to their survival that are still very real. The highest threat to the gorillas come from humans, the illegal logging of the rain forest, encroachment of the land for farming , poaching, and the risk of transmitting the diseases by the humans. In additional, political instability is also a major factor that affects the Congolese population of the mountain gorillas in the DRC region of the Virunga Volcanoes.
Active conservation also involves going out into the forest, on foot, or day after day as you try to get the poachers, killing the poacher’s dogs that spread rabies in the park and also cutting down the traps.
The gorilla population in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC has also increased from the low census record of 245 gorillas in 1981 to the estimated 880 individuals in 2013.
The rangers have continued to protect these gorillas. Poaching of the gorillas is also very rare these days, and the poachers will become caught as they kill the animals.
There is also the Rwanda’s annual Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony which is so interesting for visiting volcanoes National park. It’s a celebration of Rwanda’s progress in gorilla conservation, and the challenges these apes face continuously
In case you trek to view the mountain gorillas, you may be also interested in knowing that each and every gorilla permit fee goes to the communities that live around the national parks. The benefits of this are so many including; the local communities receiving a physical benefit from tourism in remote parts of the country where there are a few employment opportunities. This direct financial incentive will encourage the local people in supporting tourism. Entering the national park is also controlled. Before the national parks were gazetted, the people entered the forest in order to collect firewood, set snares and hunt and also burn charcoal. More so the promotion of farming outside the protected areas as well as the development of the other alternatives to charcoal are some of the projects that conservation organizations have promoted in the local opportunities.
The removal of the Batwa people from the gorilla habitant was also another great step that the authorities took in the 1990s, when the gorilla population faced with extinction. The batwa culture and their way of life are so unique and by visiting and supporting the batwa projects, you are contributing to gorilla conservation.
In the past years, many of the people from all over the world dedicated their lives to the conservation of the mountain gorillas. And in 1885, American primatologist Dian Fossey was found dead in her own home with in volcanoes National park and she is believed to have been murdered by one of the poachers she fought in her protection of the gorillas. The mountain gorillas are protected than ever, and their numbers are increasing slowly and each year. The rangers have put their lives in danger in order to protect these gorillas.
In case you want more information about the conservation and initiatives in and around the national parks of Rwanda and Uganda as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The gorilla trekking tourism and variety community tourism initiatives have helped in raising funds and creating the awareness of the plight of the critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Trekking mountain gorillas are professionally organised and also well-developed making it an ecotourism adventure. This is the number one tourist attraction in both Rwanda and Uganda. Wherever you decide to stay, there are many good range accommodation types for you. The rangers are well trained and will look after you and give you useful information. These have also got to know the gorilla population closely. These also speak good English and in Rwanda they speak French.
The drive to see the gorillas in Uganda is so lovely directly from Kampala though it takes a full day. Even though you are to trek in bwindi forest or Mgahinga, the last hour is always magical en route.
The gorilla trekking permits are cheaper in Uganda and also gives off peak season discounts. This country has also got lots of things to see and also do before or after gorilla trekking. These two countries are close to each other and you can also trek the gorilla in both countries.
Rwanda also is famous for easy flying in and do the gorilla trek and then after fly back same day. Though I wouldn’t recommend it. The short drive from Kigali to volcanoes is 2 hours’ drive and it’s not scenic as that of Uganda. Though the road network is better than that of Uganda, although the permits is higher in cost, you might the save the money and enjoy a shorter trip instead.
.The Muzungu highly recommends gorilla trekking in both Uganda and Rwanda. Both experiences are fantastic. I loved hacking through the rainforest in Bwindi and I loved the bamboo forest of Rwanda. I know people who have tracked the mountain gorillas dozens of times. They continue to go back because every experience is so different. Likewise with tourists and travellers, some decide that if they are travelling all the way to East Africa, then why not trek both Uganda’s mountain gorillas and Rwanda’s gorillas too?
It’s also known that mountain gorillas and human beings share 98% of the same genomic material. The male mountain gorillas can grow to six feet tall and also weighs between 350 to 500 pounds. As the male gorilla grows, its hair on the back becomes silver in colour, thus giving it a name silverback. The adult male will be ten times as stronger than the strongest human. The silverback’s arm also stretches 7 feet wide. These mountain gorillas also connect through sounds like the roars, shouts and grunts. These adults also eat up to 75 pounds of leaves, bamboo, flowers, roots as well as shoots each and every day as they move around the forest.
It was in 1902 when the western world came to be aware of the mountain gorillas. However, this is how the westerners were introduced to these apes! The King Kong which is the gorilla terrorises 1933 New York which was a screen shot from the film.
Back then, the German explorer Captain Von Berenge was hiking the Rwanda side of Mountain Sabyinyo when he and his friends saw a group of mountain gorillas. These killed two of them and them and recovered one of the bodies that included a young male gorilla of five years and this was bigger than what the Germans had ever seen. Some of these animals’ remains were sent to Europe for the analysis, where they were recognised as a new species. Different from the low land gorillas of West Africa. This sub specie became known as Gorilla beringei Beringei.
The information of the new species also appealed to hunters to Rwanda. In the prime day of mountain gorilla hunting, Sweden’s Price Wilhelm is also informed to have killed over 14 mountain gorillas in the year 1920 – 1921.
And according to Wikipedia in 1921, keen to study about the gorillas in order to regulate if killing them for the museums was also right, the explorers club former President Carl Akeley that led a trip to Mt Mikeno in the Virunga Mountains at the verge of the Belgian Congo. In this process of collecting many mountain gorillas for the zoos, Akeley’s boldness was basically changed and for the rest of his life, he worked for the formation of a gorilla preserve. In 1925, he inclined King Albert 1 of Belgian started what we know as the Virunga National Park which was Africa’s first National park.
There was a poster showing the fast King Kong film of 1993, once you have seen a mountain gorilla, you will also know how fantastic this image was. The mountain gorillas are the calmest creatures ever.
Later on the British colonisers of Uganda followed suit, and for many of the years, there was no one allowed to visit the mountain gorillas till Walter Baumgartel was also given approval to start visits for the tourists for the traveller’s rest inn, in Kisoro Uganda, which is a faculty you can stay. Baumgartel also wrote that up among the mountain gorillas, all his personal meetings with the peaceful giant apes in southern Uganda. The primatologist stayed at the traveller’s Rest Inn as he studied the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, as George Schaller and many their famous characters. Many of the gorillas that are seen in the zoos are the low land gorillas of the West Africa.
Are these mountain gorillas so dangerous?
Also forget the King Kong, the mountain gorillas are so peaceful just like humans, they have got their limits. In case they feel insecure, they might send out a warning. In case you tracking the mountain gorillas, you will be visiting the habituated groups that are used to being close to Human beings.
Where to find mountain gorillas in Rwanda?
Kinigi is also the starting point for tracking all of Rwanda’s habituated gorilla groups. The mountain gorillas in Rwanda mainly live in Volcanoes national park with in the Virunga National park which has got over 6 volcanoes that measure 125 sq km. these mountain gorillas also live at an altitude of between 2,500-4000metres. The area was made well known by the American primatologist Dian Fossey who lived all her life in the park studying these mountain gorillas.
Rwanda has got 5 gorilla families which are fully habituated and are available for the visitors by the public. These also include; Amahoro, Hirwa, Kwitonda, Agashya, Sabyinyo , Umubano and the Susa family.
Each of the gorilla family has got at least 1 male silverback gorilla, the blackbacks which are the young males, many females, and young ones. The latest family is the Susa family with 38 gorillas, these tend to live high in the mountainous areas so they are the hardest family to track.
With these seven gorilla families and there are only 8 visitors that are allowed to visit a group per day. This means that there are a total of 56 permits to track the gorillas in Rwanda on a daily basis.
Different things to do after gorilla trekking in Rwanda
The safari starts and ends in Kigali city and includes a permit worth $600 per person in the final costing. You will get a chance to enjoy gorilla trekking volcanoes national park and you will get chance to visit the twin lakes.
Day 1: Arrival and transfer to Volcanoes National park
Day 2: Gorilla trekking & a visit to the twin lakes
Day 3: Departure back to Kigali
Day 1: Arrival and transfer to Volcanoes National park
Upon your arrival, you will be picked from the airport by the guide and then he will drive you to Kigali city to enjoy the city tour. You will visit the genocide memorial site and the museum and many more. Have lunch and then drive to volcanoes national park and this will take two hours. On arrival, check in at the lodge and have dinner and an overnight
This national park also lies in the north western Rwanda. Its well-known for its gorillas tracking and a home to the mountain gorillas. It has also got five of the eight volcanoes of the mighty virunga mountain including; Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga, and sabyinyo that are covered in the bamboo and rain forest. In the park, it’s where you can do the golden monkey trekking as well as Dian Fossey visit.
Dinner and overnight at Mountain Gorilla view Lodge/ La palme Hotel/ Muhabura Hotel
Day 2: Gorilla trekking & a visit to the twin lakes
Wake up so early in the morning and then have breakfast. With your packed lunch, you will proceed to the headquarters for a briefing and then start your trek with the guidance of the park rangers. This trek will take 3-8 hours and this will depend on the movement of the mountain gorillas. You will then be given 1 hour to spend with them as you take photos. You will the enjoy your packed lunch from the forest and later after the trek, you will visit the twin lakes in the evening and after relax.
Dinner and overnight at Mountain Gorilla view Lodge/ La palme Hotel/ Muhabura Hotel
Day 3: Departure back to Kigali
Have breakfast and after drive from Volcanoes national park that takes 2 hours. Have lunch with in Kigali on your arrival. After you will be transferred to the airport for departure flight.
END OF SAFARI