Gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda
The mountains of Virunga that form a boarder point of the countries of Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda support a count of 480 mountain gorillas which is more than half of the global population of mountain gorillas. The other section of mountain gorillas (400) is known to thrive in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda. Rwanda features one gorilla protected area destination in the names of Volcanoes National Park which apparently supports a count of ten (10) groups of gorillas habituated for gorilla safaris in Rwanda
Taking a look into the gigantic silverback’s eyes and the silverback itself looking convinced that you are another member sheds off the anxiety that you would have accumulated during the trekking experience. It can be acknowledged that gorilla trekking safari which is now listed as the greatest African safari is a prime lifetime encounter that is beyond traditional wildlife viewing.
Planning your gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda
When to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda can be carried out at any time of the year. It can be noted that hiking the slopes of the Volcanoes tends to be challenging in the rainy season that stretch from the months of April through May and then November. Also on the raised altitudes of 2000m and above, the rain can fall anytime of the year.
The common time preferred by the many to undertake gorilla trekking in Rwanda is in the drier months that stretch between December and February and then from June to around Mid-September.
Rwanda Gorilla trekking Permits
It is advisable to avoid booking the gorilla permits in Rwanda on a short notice especially in the popular seasons as you can easily miss out. Prime Safaris has considerable expertise in Rwanda gorilla safari operations and thus can do all the required arrangements to ensure that you have the permit to track gorillas in Rwanda.
In Rwanda, there are always eighty (80) gorilla permits available per day to track gorillas in her Volcanoes National Park positioned in the North West with each permit costing about $750. Though this amount seems too much, do not resent it as it has provided Rwanda with a persuasive economic reason to justify the habitat conservation, paying the 24/7 guards for every gorilla family, infrastructure development for the communities surrounding and beyond among other things that have contributed positively to the transformation of Rwanda.
Rwanda does not offer discounted gorilla permits even in the rainy season. Her gorilla permits are fixed on $750 per person regardless of the season.
The gorilla permits in Rwanda are solely sold by the Rwanda Development Board which has offices both in Kigali and Ruhengeri. A range of booking agents including Prime Safaris can also help you to book a gorilla permit on the preferred date. Kindly note that the criteria for booking the gorilla permit is first come and first serve and you need to submit the passport details for gorilla permit printing.
How fit do I need to be to track gorillas in Rwanda?
It can be noted that there is no that kind of super fitness that is necessary for gorilla trekking encounter though a general fitness is required to avoid being inconvenienced by the challenging landscapes. The trek to the gorillas is conducted at a slow move with the speed of the slowest moving person in the group and breaks are made if required.
Depending on the respective gorilla family that you have been allocated to track and the timing of the year, the situation surrounding the gorilla trekking could be varying. Some gorilla families thrive on the raised slopes which presents a challenging landscape requiring some degree of fitness such as Susa A. For timing, the rainy season presents plenty of food on the lower slopes and very cold temperatures in the upper slopes prompting the gorillas to keep on the lower slopes of the mountain presenting an easy trek thus requiring no considerable fitness. The duration tends to be short since the gorillas can easily be spotted.
However, this does not guarantee you easy trek, gorillas still move and you find yourself hiking some impressive steep slopes for counts of hours. Also to note that few hikes through challenging landscapes offers you a more exciting experience Thant just a gorilla walk of 30 minutes and you are back.
The Rwanda gorilla trekking Safari experience in Volcanoes National Park
Even when mountain gorilla trekking is noted to be one time adventure of a lifetime, the Rwanda Development Board Staff at Volcanoes NP have conducted this activity over the years and feature considerable expertise that enables them to run smooth, safe and memorable operations making the mountain gorilla trekking highly organized and well structured.
What it’s like on a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda
Its morning of you long waited date and you wake up, have breakfast at your lodge and then set yourself ready with the items required for gorilla trekking. Make sure that the safari guide has gorilla permits and water supplies. You can carry packed lunch yourself. You drive to Kinigi Park headquarters which is the center of activities in Volcanoes National Park.
If you arrive early before 8am, you catch up with the Kinyarwanda traditional performances which are conducted free of charge taking you back to the Rwandan traditional society. A small tip can be appreciated. Rwanda Development Board also arranges a hot cup of coffee at the station at a zero cost thus you can warm yourself to neutralize the coldness of the mountains.
This is followed by allocation of gorilla families and then briefing in your respective gorilla groups. You are briefed by the Park ranger guide about the general conduct of gorilla trekking. Communication is in English and is very fluent.
You then embark in your vehicles and transfer to the trial heads from where you start the trek in search of gorillas in the forests. In a group of eight (8), you follow clear foot paths made in the forests and the ranger is always communicating with the trackers over the radio in order to locate the respective gorilla family.
The area is over 2500m in elevation and though the trekking pace is not fast, the hiking on some parts can be tiring and challenging due to terrain. The trekking duration can last from 30minutes to the whole day. It is normal at times to feel a bit breathless at certain points.
The eventual encounter with the gorillas is memorable. The gigantic Silverback gives you a rather magical welcome though with its frightening nature covered with its typical shyness. In reality, it has the capacity to tear you up as it’s over 3 times more than the average man in terms of weight. You marvel on how they are spread all over foraging not overly concerned about your coming. They normally glance at you and embark on their routine. At times, the youngsters approach you so close that at times you have to take steps away.
Rwanda Gorilla tracking etiquette
It can be noted that Mountain gorillas comprise 98% of man’s DNA and as a result they are prone to disease contraction. The human infections especially the respiratory ones are dangerous to gorillas because the gorillas do not feature the immune system to neutralize such diseases like that of humans. In fact, a common cold to a gorilla can be threatening.
There are various rules that have been put in place to ensure proper conduct of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. These include;
- On tourist group of eight (8) people can be allowed to track one gorilla family.
- Upon reaching them, one hour is availed to you to maximize your experience
- In case, you have flue or cold or any other contagious infection, save yourself from tracking gorillas that day
- A minimum distance of 7m should be observed between the gorillas and the gorilla trekkers. Since gorillas are unaware of this and attempt to draw closer to you, kindly try to take steps away to maintain the distance.
- On the moments with the gorilla group, the voices should be kept low and the sudden unnecessary movements avoided ensuring that mountain gorillas are relaxed.
- Even though the mountain gorillas are habituated, the fact remains that they are wild animals and thus can react if they feel not safe. Always follow the rangers instructions; including desisting from running, crouch down and allow them to pass avoid looking straight in their eyes.
- The hands have to be washed before heads for the gorilla trekking encounter.
- Desist from Littering in the gorilla habitat
- Do not attempt to smoke, eat or drink when you are closer to gorillas
- It not permitted to use flash photography
- After the tracking, keep the until you reach 200m away
- In case you want to use a bush toilet, let the range know such that he can dig for you a hole using his Panga and has to be 30cm deep and then you close it after use.
What kit should you take for a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda?
- It can be noted that the paths in the mountain gorilla habitats tend to be slippery, steep and muddy which makes the study walking shoes important.
- Gorilla trekkers also need to have thick gardening gloves since you can get hold of a tree with nettles and thorns while looking for support through challenging hiking sections.
- Long trousers and long sleeved shirts are necessary to save your body from the thorny bushes
- A waterproof jacket might be carried along in case it rains during the trek
- For challenging trekking gorilla groups, it is better to take along a walking stick for extra support
- Do not forget packed lunch and sufficient water as the trekking duration can be longer than expected
- In case of heavy baggage, less expensive porters are available at the trailheads to help you out with the weight. In fact, porters are local people with in and by hiring them you are contributing to the community development
Photography on Rwanda gorilla Safaris
Taking photos with mountain gorillas is a living testimony of your encounter with them and there is no limit to the number of pictures one should take during his / her one hour with gorillas. However, it can be noted that light or flash photography is prohibited as it is too sharp in the rain forests and not good for the gorillas especially when the all eight people take flash photos at a minute interval for one hour. Thus, photos have to be taken without flash. A camera gear is also required to save your camera from rain.