Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is arguably the greatest wildlife experience on earth. The endangered mountain gorilla can only be found in certain parts of Africa such as Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – and there are only around 1,000 of these animals left in the wild.
While this number might sound like bad news, just a few short decades ago wildlife experts expected the gorillas to be extinct by the turn of the millennium and so today’s numbers are actually extremely encouraging.
One industry that is playing a big role in conserving these extraordinary animals is the tourism industry. For example, income generated from tourists who purchase gorilla trekking permits – which cost $1,500 USD per person – is being funneled back into gorilla conservation efforts as well as the local community to help build schools, hospitals and roads.
The goal from local governments, tourism boards and NGOs is to create a harmonious balance between economic growth and conservation. Having a strong tourism sector also incentivizes people to look for work in the industry and care for the mountain gorillas, rather than be tempted into poaching activities (which used to be a huge problem in this part of Africa).
Where are the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda Located?
The best place to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda is Volcanoes National Park, located in the northwest of the country. Within this national park there are 12 different gorilla families (otherwise known as troops) that tourists can see. Other troops are protected for conservation reasons.
Volcanoes National Park is home to the Rwandan section of the Virungas – a range of spellbinding volcanoes where the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo reside. The volcanoes extend for about 50 miles across the border of these three countries. It’s no real surprise that Volcanoes National Park got its name from this range!
The change in altitude across the volcanoes means that treks here take you through a range of different flora. You can experience everything from montane and bamboo forests, to open grassland and swampland. And the fauna within this park is just as diverse. Not only can you come face to face with mountain gorillas but you can also discover golden monkeys, buffalo, hyena and a variety of beautiful bird species.
With this precious wildlife comes some strict regulations to ensure the protection and wellbeing of the animals. There are only 96 permits granted per day for gorilla trekking in Rwanda and the maximum time tourists can spend with each gorilla troop is one hour per day. The best way to secure a gorilla trekking permit is to book with an authorized eco-friendly tour company such as Rwanda Eco Company or Enclose Africa Safaris.
Seeing mountain gorillas at Volcanoes National Park can only be done by booking with an approved tour operator. They will sort out all of the permits, logistics, guides and rangers for the trip. You should know that as a tourist you cannot venture into the park without an approved guide.
This is working out to be a fantastic system as it’s protecting Rwanda from over-tourism and keeping it as a premium destination. Visitors to Rwanda are happy to spend money in the knowledge that their footprint on the country will be a positive one. It’s a win-win situation that is improving the experience for tourists and benefiting the gorillas, as well as communities.
Best Gorilla Trekking Tour in Rwanda
There are some fantastic gorilla treks to choose from but one of the best is definitely the 4 Day Gorilla Trekking tour with Rwanda Eco Company. If you are short on time but still really want to tick this incredible experience off your bucket list then this tour would be an ideal way to go.
The tour includes a transfer from Kigali airport to your hotel. On the second day you will be visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial for a sober reminder of the past before heading to Musanza – the gateway to Volcanoes National Park. Day three and it’s time to go gorilla trekking! This can take a half day or a whole day depending on the movements of the gorillas.
On your fourth and final day a unique golden monkey trekking experience awaits you. Most of the morning will be spent searching for these cheeky primates. Golden monkeys are considered the second biggest highlight of Volcanoes National Park after the mountain gorillas. These monkeys are playful by nature and so you might get to see more action from them – oftentimes the mountain gorillas are sleeping, eating or just relaxing.
Then it’s back to Kigali to your hotel or airport if you are flying back home. While four days is certainly a short time, you will be surprised at just how much you can see and do. If you are interested in a more in-depth look at Rwanda, you can research their 21 Day Experience Rwanda Tour.
10 Tips for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
- Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can be experienced at all times throughout the year but the dry seasons are believed to be better. There is less rain and mud during these times of the year. The dry seasons are from December to February and from June to September.
- Make sure you book your gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda with a reputable tour company. Ensure this company is eco-friendly.
- You normally have to pay the $1,500 USD (per person) gorilla permit in advance with your tour company in order to secure the booking.
- Mountain gorilla sightings are pretty much 100% guaranteed as the park rangers closely follow and monitor the movements of the gorillas. So you won’t have to worry about not getting what you paid for.
- You will need to be a fit and confident hiker. The hikes within Volcanoes National Park can last up to four hours to locate the gorillas.
- The names of the 12 gorilla families that you can see in Volcanoes National Park are: Agashya, Amahoro, Bwenge, Hirwa, Igisha, Karisimbi, Kwitonda, Muhoza, Sabyinyo, Susa, Ugyenda and Umubano. You will be assigned with one of those families on your mountain gorilla trek.
- When you come across the gorillas they can be doing one of three things: moving through the forest, eating or sleeping. If you get the chance to see them moving, be very happy because this will show you the true capabilities of these strong and impressive animals.
- The young juvenile gorillas are super cute so make sure you bring your camera for these sightings. Seeing them play in the trees is very cool!
- Another unique experience to enjoy in Volcanoes National Park is golden monkey trekking. You will be able to marvel at how these monkeys move through the treetops and across the forest floor.
- If you have more time in Rwanda you should also check out the other national parks like Akagera National Park and Nyungwe Forest National Park. Both are just as beautiful as Volcanoes National Park.