Rwanda is one of only three countries where you can encounter the magnificent mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. Tracking these gentle giants through lush forests is a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience, unless you’re a researcher who does this every day. But for the rest of us mere mortals, it’s pretty darn memorable. This semi-comprehensive guide provides most of what you need to know to make the most of gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
About the Mountain Gorilla
The mountain gorilla is the largest primate species in the world. Adult males can weigh over 200kg (441lbs), which is more than some small cars. These peaceful animals live in high altitude forests along the volcanic ridgelines of central Africa. Due to threats like habitat loss and poaching, mountain gorillas are critically endangered. But don’t worry – they can still squash you like a bug if provoked.
Rwanda is home to approximately 30% of the global mountain gorilla population. These gorillas inhabit the steep, cloud-covered forests of Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda. Protecting these gorillas and their delicate ecosystem is key to preventing their extinction. Tourism revenue provides vital funds for conservation programs, so think of the permit fee as a donation to save these furry friends.
Why Gorilla Permits Are Necessary
A permit is legally required for anyone wishing to track gorillas in Rwanda. Apparently they got tired of surprise visitors. The permit system controls daily visitor numbers to each gorilla family group, minimizing disturbance. Permit fees also generate crucial income to protect gorillas and their forest home. Don’t even think about turning up unannounced – gorillas need their beauty sleep.
Gorilla Permit Costs
As of 2023, the permit cost for non-Africans is $1500 per person. That’s more than some monthly rents! East African residents pay $200, while other African nationals pay $500. Discounts up to 30% off are available during the low season from November to May. Hey, every bit helps when you’re saving up for that dream gorilla encounter.
How To Obtain a Gorilla Permit
Independent travelers can purchase permits directly online via the Rwanda Development Board website. Remember – gorillas sell out faster than trendy sneakers, so book early! Those traveling with a tour operator can have their agent handle permit bookings. Permits often sell out months in advance. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Daily Gorilla Permit Numbers
There are 96 gorilla tracking permits available in Volcanoes National Park per day. These are allocated across 12 habituated gorilla groups, with 8 permits per group. Additional groups exist but are reserved for research. So if you show up without a permit, it’s a firm no.
What the Gorilla Permit Includes
The permit grants park entry, a guided trek, and up to one hour with the gorillas. Think of it as your golden ticket to gorilla paradise! It does not cover porter fees, tips, accommodation, transport, meals or other activities. Budget accordingly.
Minimum Age for Gorilla Trekking
All countries require gorilla trekkers to be aged 15 years or above – no toddlers allowed! There’s no upper age limit, but participants should be fit enough to complete a long, strenuous hike at high elevation. Take those stairs two at a time in training.
Gorilla Permit Cancellation Policy
If travelers cancel their Rwanda trip or fail to show up, permit fees are non-refundable. Permits also cannot be transferred or resold, so no scalping allowed! Tour operators may allow rebooking with sufficient notice.
If a gorilla group can’t be accessed you’ll get a full refund. A 75% refund applies if the trek finishes without seeing gorillas. But let’s hope you don’t need it!
Visiting Rwanda’s Other National Parks
In addition to mountain gorillas, Rwanda offers chimpanzee and monkey tracking in Nyungwe Forest, and classic African safaris in Akagera National Park. Combine these with a gorilla trek over November to May and earn a 30% discount on permit fees. More reason to go ape in Rwanda!
When to Go Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Rwanda’s temperatures are relatively constant year-round due to its equatorial location. June-September brings clear skies but chilly high elevation temps. October-November and March-May see lush greenery but potentially more rain. Schedule flexibly!
Packing Tips and Advice for Gorilla Treks
– Wear sturdy hiking boots and waterproof clothing – no stilettos!
– Bring fitness and plenty of water – treks often last 6-8 hours.
– Carry walking sticks to navigate steep, slippery terrain. Don’t turn an ankle before the main event.
– Pack light – porters can be hired to carry bags.
– Stow cameras when near gorillas to avoid transmitting human germs. Selfie sticks definitely not allowed!
– Follow all safety guidance from rangers and guides. Maintain 7 meters from gorillas at all times. Look, don’t touch!
While an investment, gorilla tracking in Rwanda is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and worth the cost. Following the recommendations in this guide will help make the most of your gorilla trekking experience. Just don’t forget to respect the wildlife and enjoy the journey! Let’s do this.
FAQs on Rwanda Gorilla Permits
What is gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking involves hiking through Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park rainforest with expert guides to observe mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Gorilla families are habituated to human presence, allowing visitors to get within meters of these impressive primates and witness their daily activities for around one hour.
Why is a permit required?
A permit is legally required to control visitor numbers and minimize disturbance to gorillas. Permit fees also provide critical funds for gorilla conservation and local community development.
How much does a gorilla permit cost?
For non-African visitors, a permit costs $1500. Rwandans and East Africans pay $200, other Africans $500. Discounts up to 30% apply in low season when combining with other park visits.
Where do I buy a gorilla permit?
Permits can be purchased online via Rwanda Development Board website by independent travelers. Tour operators can also handle gorilla permit bookings for clients.
When should I book my permit?
Permits often sell out 6-12 months in advance, so booking as early as possible is recommended. Last-minute permits are hard to obtain.
What is included in the permit price?
The permit covers park entry, a guided trek, and one hour with the gorilla group. Other costs like meals, accommodation, porters and tips are extra.
Is there an age limit to track gorillas?
Yes, there is a minimum age of 15 years to track gorillas in Rwanda, no exceptions. Reasonable fitness is also advised given the demanding full-day trek.
Where do the gorillas live in Rwanda?
Rwanda’s mountain gorillas are found in the lush forests of Volcanoes National Park in the northwest near the borders with Uganda and DRC.
When is the best time to see gorillas?
Year-round, but the dry seasons from mid-December to February and June to September provide clearer weather. Permits are cheaper from November to May.
How close can I get to gorillas?
No closer than 7 meters, for safety of both humans and gorillas. Experienced guides ensure visitors follow rules and do not transmit diseases.
To go gorilla trekking in either Uganda or Rwanda, you need a gorilla permit.
Gorilla permit prices in Rwanda are as follow;
Non Residents – $1500
East African Residents – $1500
Rwandan Citizens – $1500
You can get in touch with The Rwanda Development Board (RDB)
RDB is the body that governs tourism in Rwanda. You can contact them via email or telephone using;
Tel: +252 57 65 14
Book through a travel agency
Tour operators are a reliable avenue of purchasing a gorilla permit. Tour operators know when and where to go to book and pay for your permits, and for many of then a gorilla permit is part of a safari package they offer.
A few things to note:
Because gorilla tracking is growing more and more popular by the day, it is important that you make your permit booking early so that you get one made for your desired date. The volcanoes National Park has only 10 gorilla groups, with each group receiving only one group of 8 visitors for 1 hour each day. Gorilla permits therefore tend to get finished early because everyone is trying to get a piece of the adventure.
Age limit: you must be over 15 years of age to be eligible for a gorilla permit.
Of refunds and cancellations: RDB refunds 50% of the gorilla trekking fee, if a visitor is found to be sick in anyway, or shows signs of illness while at the park. Sick people are not allowed to go gorilla trekking.
Time limit: A day of gorilla tracking basically runs from 7am to 7pm. There is briefing at the park headquarters at 7:00am, and gorilla tracking starts at 8:30 am. By 7pm all visitors should be back from tracking. Each tracking groups gets only 1 hour of interaction with the gorillas.
Accommodation: There are several hotels and lodges in the area, so you can book any with the information provided to you by your travel agency, or by contacting the hotels.
Passport information: you will be required provide your passport information to RDB or to your travel agency of choice for the purpose of writing out details on the gorilla permit. Be sure to provide accurate information.
But you can always be sure to find gorillas on your gorilla tour in Volcanoes National Park.
And finally, enjoy your 2 day Rwanda gorilla tour….
Gorilla Safaris in Rwanda
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.
Planning a Rwanda Gorilla Tour
There are a few things you need to consider as you plan your gorilla safari.
Best Time To Go For Gorilla Safaris in Rwanda
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.
Rwanda Gorilla Permits
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 tours early enough. A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs US $ 750.
How Fit Must You Be To Visit The Gorillas in Rwanda ?
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.
A typical day of gorilla trekking
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
Rwanda Gorilla Groups
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.
The gorilla trek
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.
Watching The Gorillas of Rwanda
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.