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Planning for your gorilla adventure in Rwanda

The Virunga Mountains which straddle the borders of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda are home to about 480 mountain gorillas. This is more than half the world’s entire population of the primates (the rest are found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda).

The Rwandan part of the Virungas, in the Volcanoes National Park, gorilla groups are habituated now for gorilla safaris. This is more than anywhere else in the world!

 When to go gorilla trekking

Gorilla trekking safaris may be done throughout the year. But the hiking itself may prove to be more difficult during the rainy seasons from April to May and in November.

When you want to do gorilla trekking, the most popular period is during the drier months, between December and February, and from around June to Mid-September.

Securing your permits for gorilla trekking

Securing permits for gorilla trekking during these popular periods may not be easy at short notice. Therefore, we advise you to plan. As us about tour operators who will make all the arrangements for purchasing your permits.

Permits for gorilla trekking

Each day, a maximum of 96 gorilla trekking is available. But note that as of May 6, 2017, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) increased the cost of gorilla permits from USD 750 to USD 1,500. According to RDB, the new price is aimed to strengthen conservation efforts and support local community’s development.

What it is like on a typical gorilla trekking safari Rwanda over Uganda

On the day of your gorilla trekking, you are going to set off very early in the morning to track the primates from the edge of the forest. Your guide or driver is going to guide you from your lodge to the park headquarter which is found in Kinigi village. The guides speak excellent English, and are very good and experienced. They’ll be taking you to a particular group of ‘habituated’ mountain gorillas that they are quite familiar with, and are also used to human visitors.

You are going to be divided into groups of eight, and after some briefing on safety and gorilla etiquette, you are going to be driven to the start of the trail to reach your mountain gorilla trekking party. Your guide is then going to lead you along normally clear paths into the forest, in radio communication with the trackers which stay with the group so that they may be located. The altitude is above 2,500m, therefore even though the pace is unhurried; the hike may be tiring and may be steep in parts, taking between 30 minutes and a few hours. Do not be surprised when you feel a bit breathless because of this altitude. It is perfectly normal!

Majority of trekkers are normally a little bit apprehensive- a large silverback gorilla may weigh up to 200kg. This is three times the weight of the average man. However, this apprehension normally vanishes when you see and meet the gorilla group.  Sometimes the gorillas are going to be spread around some small area of dense vegetation. They are going to continue with their normal feeding and interactions, not caring about the visitors, although they watch with some keen interest. Sometimes one, often a playful youngster, is going to approach you with curiosity, often coming so close that you are going to be forced to move away.

When you are with your group, you should try not to make sudden movements, and keep your voice low.

Photography on a Rwanda gorilla trekking safari

When you are a keen photographer, taking your own images of mountain gorillas is among the most magical photo sessions you are going to ever experience. Remember that the light may be poor in the rainforest and that using flash is not permitted.

Meeting the Mountain gorillas

When you meet the primates for the time time, you will discover that the male gorillas are two times bigger than the female ones at about 6 feet tall and between 350 and 500 pounds. They mostly feed on afro-montane vegetation, each day eating around 75 pounds with large quantities of bamboo shoots, roots, flowers, fruits, and leaves. They have long muscular arms and the silverbacks(male gorillas) may stretch to 7 feet.

Trekkers always are briefed about rules and regulations to follow when trekking the mountain gorillas, and these include:

  • Maximum of eight visitors to a habituated gorilla family
  • You should keep your voice low when in the forest
  • Do not throw rubbish in the park
  • Observe a respectable distance of 7 meters from the gorillas
  • Switch off your flash photography
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke when you’re near the gorillas
  • Do not touch them. You ought to remember they’re wild animals
  • Lastly, you should not forget that they may charge and you shouldn’t panic in such a scenario. Instead just stay calm, crouch and slowly look down. The gorillas also are at risk of disease transmission.
  • Arrivals at park headquarters should begin as early as 6:30 am. Ensure you check in with your permit. Take your time also to mingle with fellow trekkers to become familiar with various gorilla rules.
  • Note also that trekking mountain gorillas need some level of fitness since it involves hiking uphill in search of the primates.  But enjoy the trekking since being in contact with the gorillas will give you a fascinating experience to remember!