Ultimate Guide to a Gorilla Trekking Tour in Rwanda

In this guide to a gorilla trekking tour and safari in Rwanda, you will learn about the prices of permits, the basic packing list, the best time to visit, and many more. Rwanda, the land of a thousand Hills, is a remarkable country with vibrant wildlife and birds, dramatic scenery, and outstanding landscapes, making it a truly desirable safari destination. Against the incredible vistas of mountain slopes and rainforest habitats, gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a jaw-dropping way to see the magnificent Great Apes in their natural habitat. With its high concentration of mountain gorillas and numerous habituated gorilla families, it is no wonder that gorilla trekking has become one of the most sought-after activities for locals and visitors. If you ever dreamt of witnessing these majestic primates in their natural habitat, Rwanda is the place to be.

Where can I see mountain gorillas on a Rwanda tour?

Volcanoes National Park is the crown jewel of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Located in the Northwest of the country, this Protected Area boasts an incredible 35% of the World’s remaining mountain gorillas with several habituated gorilla families. This, combined with the ease of accessibility from the Capital (Kigali) makes Rwanda every visitor’s number-one choice for gorilla trekking tours. The rolling hills provide a tranquil backdrop, making gorilla trekking experiences even more enchanting and unforgettable. Whether you yearn for a private gorilla adventure or a group tour, Volcanoes National Park promises a memorable gorilla tour.

Gorilla Trekking Tour in Rwanda

How a gorilla trekking tour are done in Volcanoes National Park?

Face-to-face encounters with endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park as they go about their day-to-day activities are carefully managed, by experienced trackers and Ranger guides. This team leads small groups of visitors up the bamboo-blanketed slopes for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the Giant Apes just meters away. Known as the largest living primates, Eastern Gorillas are widely spread across most of the Tropical rainforests of East and Central Africa. They are sub-divided into mountain gorillas (in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo), and the Eastern lowland gorillas (only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo).

For mountain gorillas, Rwanda is home to at least 35% of the approximate 1080 mountain gorillas in the wild. Thanks to the combined efforts between the Rwanda Development Board, local communities around Volcanoes National Park, and Non-Governmental Organizations, the population of these Great Apes is slowly growing. There are about 40 gorilla families in Rwanda, 12 of which are fully habituated for tracking while others are available for scientific research. Each of these families has one or several silverbacks, several adult females, blackbucks, and infants.

Habituated gorilla families

The habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park are constantly monitored and protected by Rwanda Development Board Rangers, and each of them comes into contact with visitors for a maximum of one hour each day. A total of 8 gorilla permits are issued each day for every habituated gorilla family hence making gorilla tours intimate and unforgettable. For this reason, a total of 96 gorilla permits are issued every day in Rwanda.

On the day of your gorilla trekking tour, you will converge at Kinigi Park Headquarters at 7:00 am. The day will start with a 30-minute entertainment from one of the local community dance Troupe and a briefing on the rules and regulations of gorilla trekking. This is then followed by allocation to one of the 12 habituated gorilla families, and this allocation is based on age, level of physical fitness, and personal preference (some visitors prefer long treks while others moderate or shorter treks). The 12 habituated gorilla families in the 160-square-kilometer- Volcanoes National Park are Muhoza, Karisimbi, Agashya, Umubano, Sabyinyo, Ugenda, Amahoro, Kwitonda, Bwenge, Igisha, Hirwa, and Susa. These families live in different locations of the Park and to find them, visitors will first drive for 20-30 minutes to their trailhead and then start on-foot search for them.

Nature walks

Guided walks/hikes to the different locations of these habituated gorilla families are led by a team of experienced guides and reach altitudes of 2500 to 4000 meters above sea level. Physical fitness and hiring of porters (optional) are recommended to lift your backpacks and camera equipment. The climax of these treks is an hour-long encounter with the mountain gorillas, who will most likely be just a few meters away from you and will go on with their daily lives (foraging, playing, grooming, and resting) under the watchful gaze of the dominant silverback (the leader of the family).

Booking Permits for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Permits for Gorilla trekking in Rwanda cost only $1500 per person per day. Nonetheless, special offers are available for certain categories of visitors at the time of writing. Please contact the reservations team at Native Africa Tours for more information on the discounted Rwanda gorilla permits and what you need to purchase them. Due to the high demand for gorilla permits in Rwanda, it is advisable to organize your trip at least six to twelve months in advance if you are interested in seeing the gorillas during the peak season or three to four months if you intend to visit in the low season.

The first thing you will do while booking permits is request for availability on the dates you intend to trek the mountain gorillas. If availability turns out positive and accommodation availability is also confirmed positive, you can go ahead to make (a deposit) for your Rwanda Gorilla safari. However, if you are interested in booking gorilla permits alone, we shall charge you a commission to cover our administrative costs. You can then go ahead to start packing for your gorilla safari, undertake some simple exercises, get the necessary vaccinations (mostly Yellow Fever), and book your Visa for the land of a thousand Hills.

How long does gorilla trekking tour last in Rwanda?

Gorilla trekking tours typically last between two and eight hours and include one hour of watching and photography. While the duration of searching for these Giant Apes in their natural habitat can vary based on the movement/location of the allotted gorilla family, the time you will spend watching and taking photos of them as they go about their daily routines is fixed at one hour. It should be noted that even if the mountain gorillas are spotted early into the adventure, you will still spend one hour with them before returning to your Lodge for the next activities.

When Is the best time to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

Between June and September or December to February, gorilla trekking adventures in Rwanda are at their peaks. These months are optimal for gorilla trekking in the region. Even with these conditions, each season (wet or dry) can offer visitors extraordinary experiences as you are about to discover;

Dry season (December to February and June to September)

The Dry season in Rwanda is characterized by warm/hot temperatures, reduced precipitation levels, and low humidity, including in the Northern Province where Volcanoes National Park is found. These conditions make forest trails less muddy and slippery, vegetation sparser, and less challenging to navigate through the forest, making it an ideal time for gorilla trekking. In Rwanda, there is no “bad” season for gorilla trekking as these adventures can be done year-round. The dry season also brings breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, making gorilla treks even more magical.

Wet season (March to May, then October to November)

The wet season is also a special time for Volcanoes National Park as it brings a remarkable change in the landscape as rainfall levels increase bringing about greener vegetation. However, the increased rainfall levels make hiking trails muddier and more slippery, making it more difficult to navigate through the forest searching for the Giant Apes. This however doesn’t mean that gorilla treks are not done during these months, as these adventures are done all year round.

While everyone keeps saying the wet season is the least-favored month to trek the mountain gorillas, it is also important to note that Volcanoes National Park is a tropical region. This, combined with the high altitude and dense vegetation in the Protected Area means rainfall can be experienced all year round, regardless of the season. However, the only difference is the higher rainfall levels during the wet months.

Another good side of gorilla trekking in the wet season is the possibility of enjoying discounted rates on accommodation. The wet season coincides with the low season hence there are higher chances of spending less than you could if tracking in the dry season, which is also the peak season.

Gorilla Trekking Tour in Rwanda

Tips for making the most of your gorilla trekking experience

Having a smooth and memorable gorilla trekking experience isn’t impossible if you follow some of these tips;

Booking your gorilla safari in advance

Gorilla trekking is a popular activity in Rwanda and beyond, especially during the peak months. Therefore, booking in advance ensures you get a gorilla permit, get accommodation in your preferred Safari Lodge, and plan for transportation. We recommend booking for permits at least 6 months in advance to avoid last-minute disappointments.

Arriving for your gorilla tour on time

Getting to the Park Headquarters (Kinigi) on time (at least at 7:00 am) gives you a chance to enjoy entertainment from one of the local community groups and attend briefings on the rules and regulations to be followed. It is not advisable to miss out on the briefing, which will make your adventure smooth and memorable.

Listen to advice and instructions from your Ranger guide

The Rwanda Development Board Ranger Guides who lead gorilla trekking tours in Volcanoes National Park are experienced and knowledgeable. They will provide incredible insights about the unique mountain gorillas, other wildlife, and birds in the Park while ensuring safety protocols are followed to the dot.

Patience is important

Forget what everyone has told you about gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, it is simple. Remember that mountain gorillas are wild animals and the duration of trekking or even sightings aren’t 100% guaranteed. However, the high anticipation as well as the eventual sighting of the Giant Apes after several hours of searching make the wait worthwhile.

Savor the moment

While searching for and spending time with the mountain gorillas is the highlight of these adventures, the journey/trek itself, with the sweeping jungle and surrounding beauty is equally mesmerizing and rewarding.

What else will I see during a gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda?

While spotting the endangered mountain gorillas is the primary focus of gorilla tours, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park boasts a rich forest environment which ensures that there’s always something else to see. Apart from the endangered Giant Apes, you can also expect to see a plethora of birds (there are over 180 species of birds in the Park), butterfly species, and unique tree species, you can also expect to spot other mammal species (that include golden monkeys, spotted hyenas, leopards, duikers, and forest buffaloes) among others.

For activities, your gorilla trekking adventure can be spiced by adding other activities such as golden monkey tracking, Hike to the Dian Fossey Gravesite, Volcano climbing (Bisoke and Karisimbi), and bird watching. It is also possible to add Musanze Cave Tours, visit the Ellen DeGeneres Campus in Kinigi, tour the Twin Lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo, or visit the Gorilla Guardian Village (also known as the Ibyi’wacu Cultural Village).

What should I wear and bring for a Rwanda gorilla trekking tour?

When heading out on a Rwanda Gorilla Trekking tour, it is important to be prepared for different weather conditions, and for this reason, here is what you need to wear and bring with you;

Dress in layers for your gorilla trek

Regardless of season, the weather can change drastically in Volcanoes National Park, hence it is a good idea to dress in multiple layers that you can remove or add as required. For this reason, we advise having a long-sleeved shirt/blouse, long safari pants, and a warm sweater. The clothes you choose should be in neutral colors such as beige, brown, or dark green.

Sun Protection

Whether you are undertaking your gorilla trekking adventures in the wet season, the sun rays through the forest canopy can sometimes be strong. It is therefore recommended to wear a wide-brimmed safari hat, carry sunscreen, and consider having sunglasses.

A good camera

There is nothing more memorable than capturing the majestic sight of mountain gorillas as they forage, rest, groom each other, play, or nurse their babies, hence don’t forget your camera. Having a pair/s of binoculars will even enhance your experience more.

A First aid kit

Your basic first aid kit (with blister medication, tweezers, plasters, liniment, and bandages) shouldn’t be left behind during the gorilla trekking tour. If you are prone to high-altitude sickness, also consider taking medicines before the adventure or at least carrying them with you. Remember that the endangered mountain gorillas live in areas of high elevation between 2500 and 4000 meters above sea level.

Sturdy hiking boots

The rugged terrains, mountain slopes, and thick vegetation are some of the conditions you can expect in Volcanoes National Park. These all require a strong pair of hiking boots to properly maneuver through the jungles while searching for the Giant Apes. Ensure that the shoes you carry aren’t brand new to avoid blisters and also, ensure that they offer enough ankle support.

A good waterproof backpack

A typical Rwanda gorilla trekking tour involves carrying your passport (which will be checked at the Park Headquarters during the briefing to ensure personal details match what is indicated on the gorilla permit). You also need to carry drinking water, some snacks, a rain jacket, your hat, a packed lunch (optional), and others and you need a good backpack that can contain all these items.

Gardening gloves

You will need to hold onto tree branches and vines while hiking/searching for the mountain gorillas. So gardening gloves are useful for protecting your hands from getting scratched during this incredible experience.

Sturdy hiking boots with gaiters

You need good shoes that can suit most of the climates of the jungle. For this reason, you will need a pair of comfortable, lightweight, waterproof, and breathable materials so your feet don’t feel too hot or get blisters during your unforgettable adventure.

Wide-brimmed hat

Anyone who has undertaken gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda will agree that nothing spoils an adventure more than a red sunburn. Therefore, a wide-brimmed hat will offer protection from the sun which sometimes starts in the morning and proceeds to the early afternoon or from afternoon to nightfall.

Waterproof and lightweight rain jacket/poncho

Regardless of the time you visit, you will notice that rain showers are an integral part of a visit to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, hence a rain jacket or poncho is a must-have. While some Safari Lodges will provide you with a poncho on request, you shouldn’t rely on them as you might not be lucky on the day you need it.

Long cotton socks

Another important item for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is comfortable hiking-style socks of mid to long length. The socks you pack should be long enough to tuck your pants into them when trekking mountain gorillas through the jungles of Volcanoes National Park so crawlers don’t get into your trousers.

Waterproof and sizeable backpack

It doesn’t matter if you are trekking Rwanda mountain gorillas for the first time or a repeated adventure, any respectable visitor should know how crucial it is to have the right kind of backpack. For this reason, having the right backpack will make or break your gorilla trekking experience because they are a perfect example of gear you should have on hand. Besides keeping your things safe and secure, a good backpack will provide access to what you need without a hassle.

Other personal items such as a reusable water bottle, flashlight, toiletries (tissue packs, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, face wipes, hand and body lotion, and hair comb/brush), snacks, a first aid kit, wildlife and bird guidebook, and books/journals are important for any gorilla safari.

Guidelines for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Feeding of mountain gorillas is prohibited in Volcanoes National Park. Remember that these creatures might view litter or droplets as food hence spreading germs and diseases.

Do not make noise to get mountain gorillas to move, stand up, or otherwise react to pictures as you will instead startle them or make them angry hence cutting your viewing time short. Also, avoid noise while searching for mountain gorillas as you will scare away other residents of the Park such as birds and primates.

Left-over food, and rubbish (in the form of bottles, cans, polythene paper, wrapping paper) shouldn’t be thrown in the forest, as you are not only degrading the natural environment but also increasing the risk of germs and diseases.

The habit of imitating mountain gorillas (facial expressions or chest-beating) is prohibited, as it is likely to anger the Giant Apes. Your adventure is likely to be abruptly stopped once Rangers notice a change in mountain gorilla behavior, even before the one hour has ended.

Gorilla trekking is limited to visitors aged 15 years and above and this is for a reason. The minimum age for these adventures is 15 years because younger children aren’t able to handle gorilla treks. Also, children’s behavior is not predictable hence you can’t tell whether they will maintain silence or scream on sighting the mountain gorillas.

More Regulations

Do not approach mountain gorillas closer than 7 meters to reduce the chances of spreading diseases to the Giant Apes and vice versa. Even when mountain gorillas, especially infants get closer (because they don’t know about the 7-meter rule), slowly extend behind without startling them or drawing attention towards yourself.

No more than 8 tourists should trek/visit a habituated gorilla family at any time. This means that for all the 12 habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park, a combined total of 96 visitors can trek them in one day.

Flash photography is prohibited as it is likely to scare the mountain gorillas and cut your viewing time short.

Where to stay during your Rwanda Gorilla trekking tour or Safari?

Volcanoes National Park is not just known for its incredible gorilla families, but also a plethora of accommodation facilities. However, we recommend choosing Lodges that are close to the Park, because you will be expected to be at Kinigi Park Headquarters at 7:00 am for briefing. Nonetheless, whichever accommodation option you choose, make sure to plan your transfer early and be at the briefing point on time.

Additionally, Lodges close to the allow guests to soak up the breathtaking natural beauty of the Virunga massif while those further can provide views of Lakes and other natural features. Our top picks for accommodation close to Volcanoes National Park include Virunga Lodge, One & Only Gorilla’s Nest, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Bisate Lodge, Singita Kwitonda Lodge, and Amakoro Songa Lodge for guests looking for a luxurious option.

If you are looking for midrange accommodation, we recommend Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Bishop’s House, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, and La Palme Hotel among others. The accommodation facilities for budget gorilla trekking tours include Kinigi Guesthouse, Muhabura Hotel, and Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge among others.

Getting to Volcanoes National Park for your Gorilla trekking tour or safari

Located approximately 116 kilometers from Kigali, Volcanoes National Park is a must-visit destination for gorilla trekking adventures. There are two ways of getting to this incredible Protected Area- Air and road transport. Most journeys usually begin (and end) in Kigali City. However, Air transport (by Helicopter) is the faster and more convenient option for traveling to the Protected Area and is perfect for visitors limited by time or interested in enjoying aerial views of Rwanda’s countryside. Flights can be chartered to Musanze Airstrip, hence you can leave overnight in Kigali (if you arrive earlier than 2 pm).

Helicopter Flights 

Helicopter flights can be operated between Kigali International Airport and Musanze Airstrip, a 20-minute drive from most Safari Lodges surrounding Volcanoes National Park. Although more expensive, this is undeniably the easier and more convenient way to travel to this stunning gorilla trekking destination. Helicopter flights take about 30 minutes and will deliver you to Musanze Airstrip, where a representative from Native Africa Tour will meet you at the Airstrip and transfer you by a Safari Vehicle directly to your booked Safari Lodge. The less costly but time-consuming option is driving (self-drive or chauffeur-driven car hire) to Volcanoes National Park. This makes it a feasible option for travelers on a budget. This Park is about two and a half to three-hour drive from Kigali through a tarred and well-maintained road.

In conclusion, Rwanda Offers a gorilla trekking experience like no other. The high concentration of the Mountain gorillas and the thrill of sighting them in the wild is an experience to cherish. While you are planning your trip, explore our ultimate guide to gorilla trekking in Rwanda with information on where to see these Giant Apes, the best time to see them, where to stay during your gorilla safari, and what to pack for the safari.

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