How Does it Look Like Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Ever after Seeing Ewan Mcgregor on gorilla trekking in Long Way Down, mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda made it to the top of my African bucket list immediately.
If you want to do gorilla trekking in Rwanda, you have to go to Volcanoes National Park. The park forms part of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of active and inactive volcanoes, which spans Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, and, together with the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, around 40 km away, is the only habitat on earth where mountain gorillas.
When the time was right I started planning about 8 months in advance, mostly because of gorilla permits. Gorilla permits in Rwanda are limited so the first thing I did, booked gorilla trekking permits for Volcanoes park to secure my place in a small group.
Price per gorilla tracking permit is high, 750 USD and all permits have to be booked at least six months ahead as number of visitors per day is limited to 7 -8 people per gorilla trekking group. Money has to be at least partially wired in order to get confirmation of desired booking date. This is not the only cost! There is separate charge for transport to the park, which costed 100 USD per car. Don’t pay it in advance as you will probably be grouped with other people and at the end I paid 25 USD for sharing the car with three other gorilla trekkers.
The Gorilla Trekking Day
The day of gorilla trekking started early. Woke up at 5 AM, had quick breakfast, then at 6 AM driver came to pick me up in Red Rocks Rwanda and on the way we picked up other fellow gorilla trekkers in their hotels in Musanze.
It is essential to bring along to gorilla trekking passport and gorilla trekking permit. Without those two documents, despite the payment, the park authority will not let you do gorilla trekking.
First we drove to Volcanoes park headquarters just a short drive from Musanze, where a guide and gorilla group was assigned to our group of visitors based on group fitness level. While guide was dealing for gorilla groups, we were waiting at the yard, drinking some tea and coffee and watched traditional performance of Intore dancers. All appeared quite touristy, but on the other hand, many tourists just spend two nights in Rwanda, strictly for gorilla trekking and this way at least they see a bit of Rwandan culture. It is also worth to mention that Volcanoes Park headquarters is also last toilet stop before gorilla trekking.
Our driver came back, happy as he managed to get Agashya group for us. We have chosen Agashya group, that consists of 23 gorilla members and its one of gorilla groups that is not so hard to find in the park – meaning maybe two or three ours trekking in steep, muddy forest to find them. The hardest group to spot in Volcanoes park, according to our driver is Sabinyo group. They wander in higher attitudes and treks can last 5 to 6 hours just to find the gorillas.
We got back in the car and were transferred to village Kinigi where gorilla trekking finally began. We were assigned an official park guide and ranger, and the trek began. Each group of gorilla trekkers headed to different direction. I was so excited to walk in the same forest as Dian Fossey! Have seen several times the movie Gorillas in the mist and this day for me felt like dreams came true.
Gorilla trek itself, except on certain parts wasn’t too demanding. The most tricky part was somewhere in the middle where terrain became steep, muddy and walking stick was a life saviour! I was also happy I packed garden gloves with me. There were many nettle alike plants on way! We hiked for about three hours when our guide told us we are close to Agashya group. During gorilla trekking in Volacaneos Park, along with guides there is another group of rangers already in the forest spotting the gorilla group and informing guides through walkie talkie where to go. So about 5 minutes before the location of gorillas we were told to leave our personal things, backpacks with another ranger, except for the cameras.
Then after several steps I finally saw first gorilla! It was just mesmerising, I was so excited, wasn’t sure what to do. Should I just watch and enjoy the moment or should I frantically snap photos to stock gorilla images! We got closer to the group that was scattered all around. Silverback was on his own, eating bamboo, some baby gorillas on the other side were playing with mother, then other gorillas were grooming each other. We all had high expectations and hopes about gorilla activity, but unfortunately at the time of our visit eating bamboo and grooming was all that was going on in Agashya group. Nevertheless, gorillas are amazing creatures! Very laid-back animals and eating bamboo seems to be the meaning of gorilla life. An hour passed by too quickly, but was totally worth all the money!
We hiked back to Kinigi Village and afterwards we stopped at souvenir centre because the guide had to prepare gorilla trekking certificates. Yes, after gorilla trekking in Rwanda each trekker gets a “gorilla trekking certificate” as a souvenir. Of course under all impressions from the trek I couldn’t help myself and bought a typical, tacky, overpriced t shirt 🙂
Gorilla Trekking Etiquette
Gorilla trekking guide will tell you more about how to behave when you’re in the presence of gorillas but here are some things to keep in mind:
- Dont point index finger into gorillas, they have bad experience with poachers and they might think you want to shoot them.
- Be quiet, do not talk at all.
- Dont make eye contact with gorillas – can be seen provocative to gorilla. If you make an eye contact with gorilla, immediately look down and act submissive
- If gorilla approaches you also act submissive and crouch down, but never try to move or run away!
- It is not allowed to take food, drink, cigarettes with you – you will leave your backpack and unnecessary equipment, clothes in a safe place about hundred meters before you approach gorilla area.
UPDATE 2017 – Gorilla trekking permits increased to 1500 USD
Is gorilla trekking in Rwanda on your travel bucket list?