Tourism is definitely one of Rwanda’s largest foreign revenue sources with gorilla tracking dominating the percentage of the earned revenue each and every other year. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is the biggest of all the tourism activities and attracts thousands of tourists who journey into the wilderness of Volcanoes National Park to have close encounters with Rwanda mountain gorillas which are found in Volcanoes National Park (Parc Nationale Des Volcans) at a place called Ruhengeri, north-west of Rwanda. On a contrary, many tourists prefer trekking in Rwanda compared to the neighboring countries because of a number of reasons that i will mention later on. This definitely proves that Rwanda is indeed a good destination for mountain gorilla trekking and you should have it top on your destination list. This Rwanda gorilla trekking review highlights almost everything you need to know about gorilla trekking in Rwanda especially in terms of scheduling your gorilla tour, choosing where to stay, choosing the best of gorilla trekking companies plus a lot more. In this same article, i also advice and give out a few tips to visitors planning for Rwanda gorilla tours in the future just like i did in my Uganda gorilla trekking review.
Why Rwanda for Gorilla Trekking?
Besides being among the world’s only three countries with mountain gorillas, the short distance between Kigali to Volcanoes National Park still remains a huge factor why most tourists opt for trekking in Rwanda! Even in the park itself will you notice short distances between trekking areas and accommodation facilities. This is the main reason why Rwanda has shorter gorilla tours that can even last for a day (1 day gorilla tracking) or two (2 days gorilla tracking) depending on your preference. In Rwanda, it is very possible to arrive in the morning, track gorillas and depart on the same day because you only need 3 hours by road to reach Volcanoes National Park or just a few minutes by chartered flights! 2 or 3 days of a gorilla safari means more activities for you implicating packages that stretch from 10 days on wards are really long that they usually combine them with activities from other countries.
Another reason why tourists choose to trek gorillas in Rwanda is because the country is organized, not corrupt and very secure. The $1500 permit fee is kinda high but this money helps in conserving these mountain gorillas further of which you are certain that the money is going to do what’s it is intended to do and not being misused. Try to look at the payment in a view like you are purchasing permits to help with the conservation of these mountain gorillas. With Rwanda, your money will do it’s rightful purpose because corruption is very rare and unheard of.
I would also credit Rwanda for it’s smooth roads! All the roads leading to national parks are tarmacked hence, you are guaranteed of a smooth ride even when rain falls irrespective of the season.
Choosing an Operator
So many companies can organize for you gorilla tours in Rwanda but it becomes challenging to single out a company that will reward you something extra-ordinary, reason why i recommend you only deal with gorilla trekking companies / companies that specialize more in selling gorilla trips. These companies are experienced, knowledgeable, will always have the perfect answer for all your questions and will present well drafted itineraries for your gorilla safari which all adds up to your likelihood of having a memorable tour in Rwanda.
Endeavor to inquire with at least 10 operators, compare their respective packages carefully basing on factors like price, accommodation options and more before you single out one to confirm your Rwanda gorilla trekking safari with.
Where to find gorillas in Rwanda
Like said previously, mountain gorillas in Rwanda can be found in Volcanoes National Park (Parc Nationale des Volcans) at a place called Ruhengeri, North-West of Rwanda. This national park is found along the Virunga conservation area and has long been known as a haven for mountain gorillas in Africa, holding five of the total eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Gahinga, Bisoke, Muhabura, Karisimbi and Sabyinyo). Volcanoes NP was the base for American zoologist, Dian Fossey for close to 18 years before her sudden death in 1985.
Till today, the mountain gorillas in this park have been conserved and habituated successfully which is why Rwanda has managed to appear among the top destinations for mountain gorilla trekking for so many years. Some blogs have gone ahead to name Rwanda the best place for mountain gorilla trekking where as some whites believe it is the only African country with mountain gorillas.
Buying Rwanda gorilla permits
Rwanda gorilla trekking permits are issued by Rwanda Development Board and can be purchased through direct contact with the body or through any of the Rwanda safari operators (recommended). Each permits costs $1500 for all nationalities as effected on 6th May 2017. This fee is constant through out the whole year and have no seasonal discounts unless specially arranged with an operator.
Apparently, about 56 gorilla permits are issued everyday to track the 7 mountain gorilla groups of Rwanda with a limitation of 8 tourists per group. As per cancellations and refunds, Rwanda Development Board usually refunds 50% of the fee paid for gorilla tracking to any tourist who shows any signs of illness. Sick visitor are always denied the opportunity to track mountain gorillas because gorilla tracking is a very physical activity and requires a certain level of fitness. However, the discount only applies to tourists who have journeyed all the way to the park and not the ones who fall sick from their respective countries or withing Rwanda but outside the tracking area. Passport details are usually required so that your issued permits hence, ensure to accompany them with your booking funds so as to enable your operator purchase the permits for you.
As per Rwanda’s recent adjustments that rose permits prices to $1500 from $750, you can book a whole gorilla family at $15,000 for tracking implicating, you stand a better chance of tracking mountain gorillas with your entire family together if only you manage to afford the $15,000 booking fee.
Since 2015, checking for Rwanda gorilla permits online has been quite easy because of the gorilla permits checking system that was unveiled by RDB. This has made it possible for tourists to check for availability of permits for desired dates in advance from the comfort of their homes and plan their safari well before even inquiring with any operator.
What to Take
Planning prior to the trek is recommended and part of it involves carrying the necessities with you. Need to know what to wear for gorilla trekking in Rwanda? I recommend waterproof trekking trousers, long sleeved shirts, rain coats, trekking boots, gloves, a cap, sunglasses, packed snacks, drinks, cameras with two extra batteries and a walking stick. These items might be many but you need to figure out a way of carrying all of them with you. As for edibles, there are no stopping points in the forests hence, you are advised to pack enough snacks and drinks with you.
When to go for gorilla trekking
The best time to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda is definitely during the dry months of the year. Rwanda has two dry seasons and two rainy seasons! The first dry season stretches from June to mid-September and the last starts in December till end of February. I recommend you visit Rwanda gorillas between June to mid-September because this is the driest of the two seasons and besides, so many travelers slot their safaris for this period too implicating the prices of all the tourism services in Rwanda are likely to shoot up by a certain percentage.
Traveling in the rainy months will guarantee you lower rates and if you are a typical budget traveler, these months are definitely ideal for you. Still, i believe the best time to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda is the time you feel is perfect for you. Your job leave could favor months outside the ones we recommend yet you feel like trekking Rwanda gorillas which might be quite a hard scenario for you. The only advantage of trekking during dry months is the huge numbers of mountain gorillas that roam freely in the national parks vis-a-vee the situation in rainy months. Visiting gorillas during the dry season is ideal unless you feel your only free months fall among the rainy months of Rwanda’s season and besides, even if it rained! The roads to all Rwanda national parks are all tarmacked and you are guaranteed that you will reach your safari lodge without any transport uncertainties. As for the wetness in forests, the sun could easily come up, dry out the soil and life moves on. Please watch the Rwanda gorilla trekking video below.
Best gorilla families to visit
Rwanda currently has over gorilla families which are; Susa Group, Karisimbi Family, Amahoro Gorilla Group, Sabinyo Gorilla Group, Umubano Group, Ugenda Family, Hirwa Group, Bwenge Family, Kwitonda Family and Agasha Group. Of these 10 gorilla groups, about 7 are habituated and available for tracking with Susa Group emerging as the best of the groups (has over 41 mountain gorillas). Purchasing permits for the best groups like Susa will guarantee you a more rewarding sight hence, you should always emphasize it when dealing with an operator else you might end up being slotted for the less visited mountain gorilla groups.
Is there Gorilla habituation experience in Rwanda?
Apparently, the gorilla habituation experience cannot be carried out from Rwanda. This activity is only carried out in Bwindi, Rushaga sector. The only way to be part of a gorilla habituation experience is by combining your gorilla safari with a visit to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. However, gorilla habituation experience in Rwanda could be made available anytime soon depending on what RDB decides. I will update this Rwanda gorilla trekking review upon receiving updates about it.
Tracking Time limit / Pre-briefing
As per rules, there is a gorilla tracking time limit that is usually announced during pre-briefing meetings in the morning before gorilla trekking. You are required to assemble for pre-briefing meeting from one of the announced spots at the Kinigi park headquarters from to 7:00 – 7:30 am. During this time, you are advised and cautioned on how best you can trek gorillas. Many tourists often keep quite during this meeting which isn’t right! If there is anything you would like to know, try your best to let it all out so that you get the perfect answer from the rangers themselves. Also try and pay thorough attention to the meeting as you may miss out on listening to vital information. Communication is usually made in English and French with the availability of translators on some occasions.
About the time for Gorilla tracking, you sure cannot track outside the reserved hours. Your tracking time stretches from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm in the evening of which all visitors are expected to have returned back to the starting point by this time. Tracking at night or close to night can be dangerous hence, not allowed by Rwanda Development Board.
Where to stay / Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Lodges
There are quite a number of accommodation facilities in Volcanoes National park that range from luxury to mid-range then budget. Apparently, some of the Rwanda gorilla trekking lodges include: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Mountain Gorillas’ Nest lodge, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel,
Le Bambou Gorilla Village, Virunga Lodge, Kinigi Guesthouse, Villa Gorilla and more places. Some of the most popular facilities include: Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Le Bambou Gorilla Village and Virunga Lodge. I recommend you seek for accommodation facilities from any of the three unless your budget is tight.
Please note that most of these accommodation facilities are located in between Musaze and Ruhengeri, which are the nearest places from the park. You could opt to make the 3 hours return journey to Kigali and enjoy a slumber night at Serena Hotel Kigali or rather head to Lake Kivu Serena in Gisenyi. In Rwanda, the only destination that seems a bit distant is Nyungwe Forest National park else most of the nice accommodation facilities are not so far away from Volcanoes National Park.
Gorilla conservation in Rwanda
Gorilla conservation in Rwanda has been in place for a while since the era of Dian Fossey. Since then, various gorilla conservationists have established themselves in Rwanda. Despite the Dian Fossey Foundation emerging as the most popular and recognized of all, the International Gorilla Conservation Project also launched in Rwanda a couple of years ago plus a few other conservation projects.
Over to you
If you are to ask me about the Rwanda gorilla experience, i would give it a 5 star anytime! You might not know it until you get there personally to be part of the experience and besides, the nature and beauty of Rwanda will make you fall in love with the country on first sight. The volcanoes near Ruhengeri (town where gorilla tracking is carried out from) will reward you the best sights of natures beauty. These gorilla safari companies should organize you a successful gorilla trekking safari at the best rates in case you intend to trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Otherwise, i wish you the best gorilla tracking experience in Rwanda.