How To Gorilla Track In Rwanda

September 25th 2015  |  Community Safaris, Conservation Safaris, Rwanda, Wildlife Safaris  |  by  Richard Smith
How To Gorilla Track In Rwanda

A round up of Gorilla Trekking FAQ’s in Rwanda

Gorilla tracking in Rwanda is extremely easy going for safari beginners, you can accomplish it in a long weekend.

Our clients have gorilla trekked on honeymoon, as a graduation holiday, an add on to a classic family safari, a long weekend getaway with a difference, and a ‘bucket list’ trip for solo travellers; it truly is a once in a lifetime experience.

Rwanda is a much smaller country than the other ‘gorilla country’ Uganda, so lends itself better to a short trip in combination with a safari or beach stay elsewhere in East Africa. The main gorilla trekking hub, Volcanoes National Park is only three hours’ drive on tarmac road from Kigali and the international airport. There is a 11 hour travel time to Kigali from London. For one visit to the gorillas, you will need a minimum of two nights’ stay, and three nights would be ideal giving you two gorilla trek days.

Luxury gorilla tracking hotel at Kigali, Image credit Serena, Kigali Rwanda

Luxury hotel at Kigali. Image credit: Serena, Kigali, Rwanda

1 How do I get gorilla permits?

a gorilla permit, Image Credit Volcanoes National Park , Rwanda

An example of a gorilla permit, Image Credit Volcanoes National Park , Rwanda

Before booking your trip, have your gorilla permit organised. Visitor numbers are strictly controlled so that a habituated gorilla group will have a maximum of eight visitors a day to minimise disturbance. We recommend you book early, and that you buy two permits. Each allows you to spend an hour with the gorillas – use one for photos, the other to just enjoy the moment. Rwanda has more than twice the number of habituated mountain gorilla groups than Uganda and so permits are generally more easily available. We can book these on your behalf to ensure tie up with your travel arrangements seamlessly.

2 What age can I gorilla trek?

You have to be 15 to track gorillas in the wild, there is no upper age limit.

3 Where can you gorilla trek in Rwanda?

Gorillas group hug, Image credit: Volcanoes Safaris

Group hug, Image credit: Volcanoes Safaris

Given the large number of gorillas on the Rwanda side of the Virunga Massif, this is probably the best place in Africa to see them. Volcanoes National Park (or its French name, Parc National Des Volcans – Rwanda is French speaking) has ten habituated gorilla families comprising around 160 individuals. These include Susa, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Kwitonda, Hirwa, Agashya, Bwenge and Ugyenda.

4 When is best time to go gorilla trekking?

Young chimp, at Kybura Gorge, Rwanda. Image credit Volcanoes Safaris

Young chimp, at Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda. Image credit: Volcanoes Safaris

The best time to go for a double-header primate holiday is June as there is an overlap with peak chimpanzees tracking season in Nyungwe Forest in the south.

Climate and weather chart in Rwanda

Climate chart in Rwanda

More generally, high season in Rwanda is the dry winter months of June to mid-September, the rest is low season, but Rwanda can be visited all year round as the infrastructure is surprisingly good. The rainy seasons tend to run from March to May and then again between October and November, but like anywhere, it is hard to predict exactly and it can vary in different areas – rainfall in the mountains is generally greater than in other, lower areas.

5 Is there accommodation close to the gorilla tracking area?

View from Virunga Lodge Virunga Rwanda Volcanoes Safaris

Lake view from Virunga Lodge, Virunga ,Rwanda, Image credit: Volcanoes Safaris

Although the Volcanoes National Park is one of Rwanda’s most visited areas, it still feels like the very edge of the known world. There are just a couple of luxury lodges here, both full of character and highly recommended. Virunga Lodge, pictured, has more recently been joined in the area by Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.

Cosy lodgings and four poster luxury Image credit: Virunga Lodge, Rwanda

Cosy lodgings and four poster luxury Image credit: Virunga Lodge, Rwanda

In September 2015, Wilderness Safaris announced their intention to offer a luxury lodge from which visitors could track gorillas. Bisate Lodge, will be built close to Volcanoes National Park and is scheduled to open in mid-2017

6 Am I fit enough for gorilla tracking Rwanda?

Tracking takes place in groups of no more than eight and the hike usually lasts between one and four hours, with up to an hour’s face to face contact allowed, but a trek to the furthest group can take around seven hours. The walks will be taken at a reasonably slow pace and no-one gets left behind, but you need enough stamina to keep going until you find the gorillas and then to trek back.

You will be trekking at a height of 4,000ft (1,200 m) which is similar to the peaks of Ben Nevis (Scotland) Mount Diablo (California), Grouse Mountain (Canada) and Mount Vesuvius (Italy). Some people will be affected by altitude which can be countered by a few days beforehand doing other activities, either in the area or somewhere like the Masai Mara or Serengeti, which are both well above sea-level.

lady in a gorilla sedan chair with porters http://carolyntravels.com/

A sedan ride in style. Image Credit: Carolyn’s Travels

It’s not just for the young and fit, we’ve arranged for clients to be carried to see the gorillas on a sedan chair where needed.

7 Am I healthy enough for gorilla tracking Rwanda?

Gorillas can die from the common cold, and you will be asked to return your permit if you have any respiratory infections. In these instances the Volcanoes National Park will refund 50% of your permit fee.

8 Can I get some help with my gorilla trek?

You can hire a local porter for US$10-20 a day to carry your kit. This is well worth doing as they will carry all your water for the day, your camera kit and backpack. Hiring porters also supports the local economy.

9 How to take gorilla photos

Juvenile gorilla Image credit C. Culbert Wilderness Safaris, Rwanda

Juvenile gorilla’s expression captured perfectly. Image credit C. Culbert Wilderness Safaris, Rwanda

Gorilla trekking in potentially wet undergrowth is quite hard going physically. Before you go, try and take some long woodland walks with your camera kit in wet conditions to test your stamina and that your gear is waterproof. The light conditions are dim and gorillas have dark faces so to get the detail in expressions make sure your camera is set on a fast speed; flash photography is not allowed.

10 Is the gorilla tracking steep and muddy?

Relaxing mountain gorillas, mother and baby in undergrowth, gorilla tracking Rwanda

Relaxing mountain gorillas, mother and baby, Rwanda

The tracking in Rwanda is not as steep as some neighbouring countries and the bamboo forest on the lower slopes is typically lighter and drier than rainforest – that said it can be muddy and full of nettles! Groups in Volcanoes National Park are assigned gorilla families according to the hikers’ fitness levels and the gorillas sometimes make it very easy as they occasionally come out to feed in the cultivated foothills.

11 Why are gorilla permits expensive?

The permit value goes to the park to protect and grow the gorilla habitat forest, each permit is a vital contribution to ensuring gorillas are protected for generations to come. While still critically endangered, conservation efforts are working and mountain gorilla numbers are rising.

12 Am I guaranteed a gorilla sighting?

Since we started in 1999 our clients have had a 100% success rate in seeing the mountain gorillas. The park rangers get up early to home in on where the gorillas slept the night, all you have to do is follow your guides to that day’s gorilla family ‘camp site’ and enjoy an hour’s company with the gorilla family. Gorillas typically move in a leisurely fashion, spending long periods sitting still relaxing, if they are moving when you get to them, you will follow them.

What Next?

The Aardvark Safaris team has lived and worked in Africa, many have done a gorilla track in Rwanda and can help get you in the right place at the right time to maximise the enjoyment and diversity of wildlife. All you need to do is email us or call us and tell us what you’d like to see and we’ll do the rest, giving tips and advice, and then putting together a full detailed itinerary.

2 responses to “How To Gorilla Track In Rwanda”

  1. Rosie Ponniah says:

    I would be grateful if you could advise the possibility of combining a gorilla trek in Rwanda with a trip to see the wildebeest migration in late June/early July.

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