Researched by many as a life changing experience, this is certainly one of Africa’s bucket-list experiences that a person shouldn’t miss out when planning to visit Rwanda on your gorilla safari tour. Rwanda is fast becoming Africa’s best mountain gorilla trekking expert and one of the best destinations of Volcanoes National Park in the north west of Rwanda.
Volcanoes National Park is a haven for habituated mountain gorilla families, ideal for close encounters and wonderful photo moments with these gentle giants. Gorilla trekking is intimate, more like entering a family sitting room than racing around on safari. Perhaps more importantly, gorilla trekking safari has become an experience that powers up a memorable lifeline for the preservation and conservation of the last remaining mountain gorillas in Africa.
There are twelve groups/families of habituated gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Gorillas do not stay in the same spot hence the need to do some tracking before you spend your magical one hour with them. They usually climb higher up the mountain in the dry season, and descend in the wet season, so your tour guide might have a general idea of where the group you are tracking might be during a particular season or trek.
There are several good lodges in the region. A trek can be done over a stay of just two nights, though another night will allow you to relax and explore further attractions like visiting golden monkeys, or hiking the Dian Fossey tomb. All treks start from park headquarters in the village of Kinigi.
The gorilla tracking industry has developed widely over the last few years. The range of Virunga volcanoes form the Volcanoes National Park, the area made famous by researcher Dian Fossey and this area is generally regarded as the easiest option if your priority is purely seeing the gorillas rather than enjoying an extended tour of the region. Kigali, the capital, is just two hours’ drive south of the Virunga and with regular international flight connections, access is made very easy.
To trek into the rain forest and sit with a family of wild mountain gorillas, looking into the eyes of a huge silver back at close range eye to eye, watching babies cling to their mothers, laughing at youngsters playing in the trees, is a life-changing experience for a wildlife lover. To capture amazing photographs of such an encounter allows you to relive and share these rare moments in enduring images. Your visit to endangered mountain gorillas and other primates in their natural habitat in Uganda and Rwanda may also be a life-changing experience for them, as ecotourism is the main hope for protecting their future.
Tours start at 7:00am at the park headquarters entrance to the Volcanoes National Park, a huge, cloud-shrouded range spanning Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Once you have got your snaps, you can enjoy the privilege of observing an extraordinary animal close-up. One hour is not enough, but it is an hour that you will remember for the rest of your life. The playful young ones might occasionally stray closer than expected, but as long as you follow your tour guides instructions you will be just fine.
Gorillas are susceptible to human infections since their DNA is a 98% match with human DNA. Their immunity is not as strong as that of humans so even the slightest infection such as a common cold can be life threatening to the gorillas; hence they have various rules and regulations to have to follow during your trek.
Some of the things you will need on a gorilla trekking trip in Rwanda include: sturdy walking boots, thick gardening gloves to protect your hands from the bramble as you track, long trousers, a waterproof jacket, water and a snack, a walking stick, some money to pay porters to carry your backpack, a journal, a camera, binoculars and a few other things.
Photographs are one of the best ways to maintain memories of an exciting adventure, or important moments in life, also if you are a photographer, taking photographs of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat makes for a very exciting photo shoot, so do not forget to carry your camera. You might need pictures as evidence to prove that were you indeed in Volcanoes national park tracking gorillas.
Rwanda offers the easier trekking, your chances of a shorter hike are higher and you will have more flexibility on the day, with rangers allocating groups to troops according to fitness levels.
In Uganda the hikes are often longer and steeper, although some prefer this “wilder” challenge. Bwindi is stunningly beautiful and as a ‘forest’ is worth visiting alone even if you do not track for gorillas. Lastly, as a country, Uganda offers more ‘safari’ variety including big game and scenic highlights such as Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Permit costs in Uganda 700USD are cheaper than in Rwanda1500USD. Revenue from permits helps fund both gorilla protection and community support; porters and refreshments cost extra.
The intimate gorilla experience in both countries is very natural and okay to be a bit anxious about the whole experience, especially with your expectation of what it will be like when you finally see the gorillas. Although you will have been well assured that the gorillas are habituated, so chances are you have never seen one, habituated or otherwise, so a little anxiety is allowed just don’t let it overshadow the excitement and your ability to enjoy your trek through the forest.