Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an exceptional experience that draws trekkers close to a family of rare mountain gorillas while in the dense tropical rain forest.
Rwanda is one of the big names when it comes to gorilla tourism. Located in Central Africa, this tiny country is home to a third of the world’s remaining population of the mountain gorillas.
One of the must do things while on a Rwanda safari is tracking the mountain gorillas. A visit to the Volcanoes National Park cannot be complete without visiting one of the habituated gorilla families in the park. Today the Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular national parks in Africa.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an exceptional experience that draws trekkers close to a family of rare mountain gorillas while in the dense tropical rain forest. Tracking the mountain gorillas in Rwanda like it is a case in Uganda; Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) involves trekkers hiking through the rainforests while in search for these remarkable creatures.
The fact that this primate adventure entirely takes trekkers on footwork and at end rewards travelers with magical encounter makes it among a few unique wildlife experiences.
Where to trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda
The Volcanoes National Park is the only national park of all the four pristine national parks in Rwanda where treks to view mountain gorillas are conducted. This 160 square kilometer protected area lies suitably in the Northern Province of Rwanda and if compared to other homes to the mountain gorillas, it is the most accessible destination to tourists. A journey from Kigali to the park takes trekkers only 2-3 hours to drive from Kigali International Airport to its park headquarters at Kinigi.
Habituated families in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla treks in Volcanoes National Park only take place in anyone of the 10 (ten) habituated groups. Each gorilla family rewards travel endeavors with distinct primate experience. Every gorilla family is visited by only 8 tourists. These include;
Agashya gorilla group
This is a special group and at the time of habituation, it comprised of 13 members hence the name 13 group. Today, Agashya consists of about 25 members and it is remarkably one of the easier families to track in Volcanoes National Park.
Susa A gorilla family is where Dian Fossey conducted her research for many years in Rwanda till she died in 1985. At the time, the Susa group comprised of about 41 family members but later reduced to about 28 after feud and split.
Susa B (Karisimbi) gorilla family
Karisimbi group broke away from the larger Susa group and comprises of about 15 individuals.
Sabyinyo gorilla family
This is ideal for visitors who wish to trek the easier groups in Volcanoes National Park. The hike to Sabinyo is moderate. Most elderly trekkers are allocated this family. The Sabyinyo group is one of the most remarkable habituated families with about 8 members.
Amahoro gorilla group
The word Amahoro is a Kinyarwanda word that denotes peace and so a visit to this habituated family allows you have peaceful and enjoyable time with its members. It is comprised of approximately 17 individuals.
Umubano gorilla group
The word Umubano denotes togetherness and initially, it was part of the Amahoro group. This group comprises of about 11 individuals.
The Hirwa gorilla group has an interesting to tell. Members of this family broke away from Agashya and Sabyinyo families to form one family. The Hirwa family comprises of 9 members.
The Bwenge gorilla group is known to live on the slopes of Karisoke Volcano. Its members featured in the popular movie “Gorillas in the Mist” that featured the life of the late Dian Fossey.
This habituated family thrives along the slopes of Muhabura Volcano. Hiking through this family is a bit challenging but exciting. It comprises of about 17 group members.
Ugenda gorilla group
This group derives its name from the word Ugenda that denotes mobile. Ugenda gorilla family is composed of about 11 individuals.
Planning your gorilla safari in Rwanda
To get the best out of your gorilla safari in Rwanda, you need to put some few things into consideration. Here are the most important factors that you must put into consideration;
- Book your gorilla permit early enough at least 4-6 months or even year before your actual gorilla trek. You can book your permit through a trust worthy tour operator or through reservationist at Rwanda Development Board. Booking a gorilla permit early enough allows you plan for your accommodation, means of transportation and many others.
- On actual trek, make sure you get up early enough to catch up with early morning briefing.
- Let your guide/tour operator know in advance about your level of physical fitness
- Hire a porter at $10-$25 (especially if you don’t trust your physical fitness).
- Pack appropriately starting with rain jacket or poncho, long trousers, long sleeved shirt/t-shirt, sweater, hat, insect repellent, gardening gloves, sunglasses, waterproof hiking boots, bottled water, energy giving snacks, camera with no flash light to mention but a few.
How to get a gorilla permit in Rwanda
Gorilla permits are a must-have tools if you are to trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda. To secure a gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda, you require $1500 to secure a gorilla pass for a day.
You can reserve your gorilla permit through a local tour operator or a reservation office at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
Please note that if you are looking to gorilla trekking in the peak months of June to September and December to March, it is important to book your trip well in advance. It is advisable to book at-least 4 months before the actual travel date.
Where to stay in Rwanda
There are many accommodation options for travelers looking to gorilla safaris in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
If you are a budget traveler, you can stay at the Hotel Muhabura, Kinigi Guest House or Virunga Hotel.
Since Rwanda has positioned itself to attract luxury travelers, several luxury lodges have been built in Rwanda. Luxury gorilla safari lodges include Bisate Lodge, the Virunga Lodge, One & Only’s Gorilla Nest and the Sabinyo Silverback Lodge.
If you are not looking to a very luxurious hotel, you can also look into staying in a midrange option and lodging options include Mount Gorilla View Lodge, Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, La Palme Hotel, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge etc.
When to go for gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Many people wonder about the best time to visit the Volcanoes National Park. The park is open all year round and gorilla treks can be conducted any time of the year.
However, the best months of the year for gorilla trekking in Rwanda start in June, August, September and December, January, February. These months attract the largest number of tourists and last minute bookings may not be available.
The peak season months are characterized by low rainfall making them perfect for trekkers to hike through the jungles and steep slopes while in search for these exceptional creatures.
Despite the fact the low season months attract less tourists, gorilla trekking is still a success. It is also possible to track mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park during the wet/rainy season that starts in the month of March, April, May and October, November.
To some who are looking for discounted prices for gorilla treks, you can easily get a huge discount on accommodation and transportation.
How to get to Rwanda
Tourists on gorilla safari can land at Kigali Airport where they easily connect to Volcanoes National Park a home to a section of mountain gorillas that today remain not more than 1004 in the world.
You can take your flight to Kigali International Airport using RwandAir. You can fly to Rwanda using RwandAir and to reach Volcanoes National Park, you need a good 4×4 drive car. Drive time to this park is 2-3 hours.