Gorilla trekking through Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Virunga Mountains is one of the world’s most sought after wildlife experiences. It’s also one of the greatest, and responsible tours here have contributed to the growing numbers of mountain gorillas.
Africa’s easiest and most accessible gorilla trekking is the main draw card of a Rwandan safari. After arriving at the capital city of Kigali, you are only a few hours’ drive away from the legendary Volcanoes National Park and its habituated but still wild gorilla families.
It was on the bamboo-covered slopes of Rwanda’s Virunga Volcanoes that the late Dian Fossey studied the behavior of the endangered mountain gorilla for 20 years, followed by the filmmakers who shot Gorillas in the Mist. Now small groups of privileged visitors can experience one of the most memorable wildlife encounters on earth – gorilla trekking through the pristine Virungas rainforest. Her work really was the beginning of the habituation process of gorillas, a process that still happens today, during which gorillas adjust to small and very strictly controlled numbers of tourists coming in to observe them.
Mountain gorillas only live in the dense vegetation of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and along the dormant volcanic Virunga mountain range that stretches across Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest & Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Why Gorillas are among the best tours in Rwanda?
In terms of accessibility for gorilla trekking, Rwanda is easier than Uganda. Rwanda is a far smaller country than Uganda, which means it’s a short journey by road from the capital of Kigali to Volcanoes National Park and Rwanda has better roads.
Many visitors still choose the park because of its location near the capital Kigali. Some visitors have found safari bookings in Rwanda more straight forward. Some also claim that the roads in Rwanda are better and that the gorillas are easier to find.
The Volcanoes National Park is only two hours’ drive on tarmac road from Kigali and the international airport. For one visit to the gorillas, you will need a minimum of two nights’ stay, and three nights would be ideal.
Safe & Security
Rwanda is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world when it comes to tourism. The chances of being mugged or stolen in Rwanda may be lower than in your own country. Security is tight in Rwanda and police can be seen almost everywhere. Security in the national parks is equally tight and there are almost no cases of poaching in Rwanda today. Rebel elements from neighboring countries have no chance in the Volcanoes National Park given the heavy military and police presence. How about you the tourists? All tourists are escorted with armed rangers while tracking the gorillas.
Fossey Fund trackers and researchers protect and study roughly half of all the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, with the other half protected by the Rwandan national park authorities.
Mountain gorillas are very calm and peaceful creatures considering their size and strength. They are often referred to as “the gentle giants of the forest”. Gorillas are generally known to be gentle, peaceful and friend primates, and that the mere fact that they share 98% of their DNA with human beings only proves that they are more like us. Gorillas are social animals and only become aggressive towards humans when they feel threatened.
Gorilla trekking is absolutely worth the money, effort & time spent. Travellers that have experienced gorilla trekking will definitely agree with me that the experience of coming face-to-face with these gentle giants is very worth every effort, money and time put to planning the gorilla trekking holiday.
More Habituated Families
There are currently ten main groups that can be tracked in Rwanda; the Susa, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Hirwa, Kwitonda, Karisimbi, Agashya, Bwenge and Ugende
The groups vary in number from around 9 to 39 individuals and all currently have at least one silverback male. Of the seven groups, there are a couple that tend to be found on the saddle between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga which is around a two hour walk from the park entrance.
Whilst it is not possible to book a permit for a specific group, your chances of having a shorter walk are higher than in Uganda. Nothing is guaranteed though and you may find yourself tracking a group such as the Susa, first studied by Diane Fossey and often found on the slopes of Mount Visoke, a five hour hike away.
Availability of Permits
Despite the higher cost of a gorilla tour in Rwanda, permits must be obtained to visit the gorillas and, as only eight are granted per gorilla group each day, they are extremely limited.
We will secure permits for you as far in advance as possible and at least four months before you intend to travel. The permits currently cost around US$1500 per person, which entitles you to one hour with the mountain gorillas. This money goes toward conservation of the habitat, anti-poaching efforts and education of the local communities.
Rwanda has more than twice the number of habituated mountain gorilla groups than Uganda and so permits are generally more easily available.
Majority Gorillas live in Rwanda
The Virunga Mountains spanning the borders of Uganda, DRC and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park are home to over 600 mountain gorillas. Rwanda, known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, is one of the best places to see mountain gorillas.
Tracking gorillas in Rwanda is safe and relatively accessible. At the latest count, there are approximately 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild, with 604 in the Virunga Massif. The population is slowly increasing, thanks to concerted efforts between our governments, communities and NGOs.
Proper Health of Gorillas
Gorillas that come into contact with humans can be vulnerable to human diseases, which gorillas experience in more severe forms. Mountain gorillas can even die from the common cold. However, studies have found that mountain gorillas that are regularly habituated with researchers and tourists have survived better than unvisited gorillas; they benefit from the greater protection available in those areas and from regular monitoring. Increased survival is also largely due to better veterinary care of sick and injured gorillas.
Tourists are allowed to be in the presence of the mountain gorillas for strictly one hour, which is intended to minimize chances of disease, spread from the human’s to mountain gorillas. There are high chances of disease spread from humans to the gorillas because about 98%of their DNA is similar to humans.
In conclusion, Rwanda gorilla trekking is designed for visitors who are probably ready to come and visit in Rwanda and want to go for a tour of the Gorilla families in the Volcanoes National Park. All these are the reasons as to why Gorilla safari is still one of the best tours in Rwanda.