Trekking the gentle giants of the East-Central African jungles is one of the most popular activities enjoyed in Volcanoes National Park. Searching and spending time with the endangered mountain gorillas is an exceptional experience, a perfect gift from Mother Nature. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park boasts not just one of the best gorilla trekking experiences in Africa but is interestingly one of the best places to trek the mountain gorillas in the whole World.
Although portrayed as aggressive, mountain gorillas are generally calm, gentle, and peaceful creatures that only charge when threatened (by poachers or other wild animals especially leopards). Typically very social animals, these Great Apes live in groups known as troops or families that usually have up to 30 individuals. When you talk of size, a matured male gorilla (silverback) weighs about 200 kilograms and grows up to 1.4 feet in height. Given the endangered status of these creatures and their vulnerable natural habitats, daily encounters with them are always carefully managed by experienced trackers as well as Ranger guides who lead a small group of tourists through different vegetation zones to spend a remarkable time with mountain gorillas, at a reasonable distance.
The World’s population of these Giant Apes currently stands at about 1100 individuals and about 650 of them are in the Virunga massif (where Volcanoes National Park is found alongside Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda and Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo). For Volcanoes National Park, a total of 12 gorilla families have been fully habituated and opened for trekking while others were set aside for research purposes. Each of these families is comprised of silverback/s, adult females as well as infants, possibly blackbacks, and juveniles. These Giant Apes are closely monitored and protected by Park Rangers attached to Rwanda Development Board with each gamily only trekked by a group of 8 visitors and only one hour has to be spent in their presence.
For this reason, only 8 gorilla permits are issued for each gorilla family thus expect a less crowded encounter as you will notice with other activities like game drives. Given the limited number of gorilla permits (only 96 per day), it is always important to book 3-6 months in advance.
Booking Gorilla Permits for Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla permits for Volcanoes National Park cost $1500 per person and are only issued by Rwanda Development Board. Travelers can therefore contact RDB (via the online portal, send an email, or call their office), although the easier and less stressful way of booking the permits is by contacting a credible Tour Operator.
The process of trekking mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
A typical day of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park begins with gathering at Kinigi Park Headquarters as early as 7:00am to be briefed on the rules and procedures to be followed while trekking or spending time with the mountain gorilla as well as allocation into habituated gorilla families. The 12 families in this Protected Area are Amahoro, Agashya, Bwenge, Uganda, Umubano, Igisha, Kwitonda, Sabyinyo, Susa, Muhoza, Karisimbi, and Hirwa.
Gorilla trekking adventures go to different places within Volcanoes National Park for half an hour to about five hours or more, until elevations of 2500 to 4000 meters above sea level. As you ascend, treks become more difficult while you lose your breathtaking but the reward is an hour encounter to watch and photograph the Giant Apes as they go about their daily routines.
What to wear or carry for Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
A pair of sturdy hiking boots and gaiters are handy for maneuvering through the jungle while searching for mountain gorillas. Also crucial are gardening gloves for protecting your hands as you hold onto vegetation during trekking, a good camera (should be non-flash) for storing memories of the gorilla trekking adventure, insect repellant, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses for sun protection, a first aid kit, long-sleeved shirts as well as breathable and lightweight safari pants for protecting arms/legs from vegetation scratches. A warm sweater is also handy for the cols nights and mornings in Volcanoes National Park that even get worse in the rainy seasons, pair of binoculars is helpful for sighting small and far creatures in the forest (like butterflies and birds) while trekking the mountain gorillas and don’t forget toiletries (like wet wipes, sunscreen, toothbrush and toothpaste, hand sanitizer, lotion, and deodorant)
The best time to go gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
The best time of the year to go gorilla trekking within Volcanoes National Park is the dry season: January, February, June, July, August, September, and December when precipitation levels are lower. This means the jungles are warmer and the forest trails drier/less muddy or slippery hence more comfortable to search for the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Also, this season makes it more exciting to combine gorilla trekking tours with wildlife viewing in Akagera National Park, when the best animal views are guaranteed as they converge around watering points.
Where to stay before or after gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
While gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is always a dream come true for many travelers, spending overnights in most accommodation facilities is an experience that is second to none. Most of these places boast breathtaking views, spacious bedrooms, provide mouth-watering meals, and most importantly make your stay as memorable as possible. Therefore, our top picks are Bisate Lodge, One & Only Gorilla’s Nest, Amakoro Songa Lodge, Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Kinigi Guesthouse, Bishop’s House, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Muhabura Hotel, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Villa Gorilla, Virunga Lodge, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, La Palme Hotel and so much more.