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Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

The Volcanoes National Park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth. This popular national park is one of the best destinations frequented by travelers who go on gorilla trekking expeditions into Africa.

Located in Northern Rwanda, the park hosts nearly a third of the world’s remaining population of the endangered Mountain Gorillas that live in its natural forested bamboo. The Volcanoes National Park Rwanda is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area, a biologically rich area that joins Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in the Congo to form a large Tran frontier park.

The Virunga Region hosts around 604 of the 1064 total population of the mountain gorillas left in the world. Apart from the mountain gorillas, the Volcanoes National Park provides habitat to some 62 species of mammals, around 276 species of birds, 70 species of butterflies, 7 species of reptiles including chameleons, geckos, and many more species.

Another popular attraction of the park is the unique endemic species of primate “Golden Monkeys” and these can only be found in this massif.

Gorilla Trekking in the Volcanoes National Park

When it comes to safaris to Rwanda, gorilla trekking never misses out on most travelers’ bucket-list experiences! But, prior to traveling, ask yourself what should I expect from a gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park?

The narrative about mountain gorilla trekking differs from one trekker to the other. With so many inspirational stories already told about this memorable wildlife experience, one would wonder what the entire process is like and this article provides such essential information.

Firstly, all-mountain gorilla trekking involves long hours of navigating through the tropical rainforest. This is not only in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda but also applies to the other 3 gorilla safari parks; the Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Southwestern Uganda. The 4 parks shelter about 1064 endangered mountain gorillas that still exist on earth, half of which are all confined in Uganda.

What You Need For Your Volcanoes Gorilla Trekking Safari

Before you set off for your gorilla trekking experience, there are a few things you have to put in mind short of which, you will not be able to execute your gorilla safari and if you are lucky, it will turn out to be a poor experience. But once you put the following in mind, your gorilla trek will move on smoothly.

Carry a valid gorilla permit

Just like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and the Virunga National Park; a valid gorilla permit is a must for your gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park. You can purchase a gorilla permit in Rwanda at $1500 per person through a reliable tour operator or directly via Rwanda Development Board.

The permit has to be organized before the gorilla trekking date. Failure to organize it prior will likely make it impossible for you to secure one for your gorilla trek.

Pack appropriately

Consider packing essentials if you are to have a successful and enjoyable gorilla trekking adventure in Volcanoes National Park. Your packing list should compose of long-sleeved shirts, long socks, trousers, first aid kit, insect repellents, waterproof hiking boots, daypack, camera with no flashlight, hat, sunglasses, energy-giving snacks, and plenty of bottled drinking water.

Choose the right accommodation

Choosing the right accommodation is key to a successful gorilla trekking experience in Volcanoes National Park. The lodges in and around Volcanoes National Park are available in budget option, mid-range, and luxury. Recently, Rwanda had two of its lodges feature in the top 10 African lodges.

They include among others Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Villa Gorilla, Kinigi Guesthouse, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, La Palme Hotel, Hotel Muhabura, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Garr Hotel, and Red Rocks Rwanda.

How a Gorilla Trek is Conducted in the Park

A gorilla trek is simply a hike with the main objective of encountering the mountain gorillas during your hike. However, it is a process that involves a number of things among which include the following;

Rise up early and be part of the morning briefing at 7:00 am

The briefing is one of the important stages you should expect to go through on a gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park. This requires you to rise up early, enjoy your cup of tea then connect to Kinigi where you will be briefed on the different set of guidelines for gorilla trekking. These safety measures are the same and apply to other gorilla safari destinations.

It is during a gorilla trek briefing that you will be put into different groups of 8 trekkers, assigned to 1 habituated gorilla family and a park ranger guide to accompany you. In case of any physical issues, it is advisable to communicate early such that you are allocated to the easy-trek gorilla family group. The actual gorilla trek commences at 8:00 am.

Some of the important gorilla trekking rules and regulations/guidelines/safety measures to take note of on a gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park include; maintaining a distance of 8 meters at all times from gorillas, only 1 hour of magical encounter, only 8 trekkers are permitted to track 1 gorilla family, a valid gorilla permit is a must-have, persons above 15 years are eligible to engage in this adventure, keep your voices low while on a trek to see gorillas and others.

Hiking through the rain-forest

A normal gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park involves hiking through the rainforest, steep slopes to search for mountain gorilla families. The length of the hike may vary significantly from 1-6 hours with 99% chances for you to meet the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild.

The variation depends on the speed of hikers, the location of gorillas, and the nature of the habitat. But the interesting part of it is that you will also come across a diversity of other primates, enjoy bird sight and other wildlife.

Since a gorilla trek requires physical wellness in you, there are porters and hiking sticks for hire but not a must. Porters play a significant role especially for trekkers with heavy luggage, they can carry them on your behalf and let you concentrate on your primate adventure.

The hiking sticks are available at the park headquarters for hire or you can request one from your gorilla safari lodge/accommodation facility if they have one. A walking stick eases your navigation through the steep slopes.

Encounter mountain gorillas

An encounter with mountain gorillas is undeniably a magical moment everyone patiently yarns for while on a gorilla trekking adventure. After a lengthy search and finally, you meet these humble creatures relaxed in their habitat, you will be allowed to have 1-hour face to face with them.

This also includes photography and in-depth learning about their daily behavior, body gestures, and a lot more. While interacting with the mountain gorilla group, a distance of 8 meters must be observed at all times.

The etiquette for gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park

There are many things that make up the gorilla trekking etiquette but here are some of the most important things to consider;

  • Maintain a 5 to 8 meters distance from the gorillas. However once the gorilla chooses to approach you, you just have to keep still so that you do not appear to be a challenger or an enemy in their territory.
  • No flash photography is permitted when taking gorilla photos. You have to make sure your camera can operate without a flashlight.
  • You ought to keep your voices low once you are in the presence of the gorillas.
  • You are not allowed to eat or drink in the presence of the gorillas.