Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a captivating and unforgettable experience that allows you to encounter endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda ranks as one of the most rewarding wildlife encounters experience in Africa. Coming eye to eye with a great ape touches a nerve in most of humans. A big part of what makes it special, is that gorillas are so closely related to humans (the difference in our nuclear DNA is about 1.6%). Gorillas are also very rare. Their range is naturally restricted to a small niche area of forested highlands, and habitat loss due to the growing human population further threatens their future. Luckily money spent on mountain gorilla tourism goes a long way toward securing their survival. Rwanda is renowned for its conservation efforts and is home to several habituated gorilla families. Here’s some information to help you plan your gorilla trekking adventure in Rwanda 

Rwanda Gorilla trekking takes place in Volcanoes National Park, which is located in the northwestern part of the country. The park is part of the Virunga Massif, a volcanic mountain range shared by Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Permit Requirements:

To participate in gorilla trekking, you must obtain a permit issued by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Permits are limited and need to be secured in advance. It is advisable to book your permit well in advance due to high demand, as the number of permits per gorilla group is limited. Gorilla trekking permits in Volcanoes national park cost 1500 USD per person for all nationalities. Rwanda also offers promotional or discounted gorilla trekking permits for nationals, foreign residents, east Africans, Africans and MICE travelers which are valid to December 31st2023. Independent travelers who want to book a gorilla permit directly can do so online through the Rwanda Development Board website. If you’re traveling with an operator, however, it is more usual to allow them to make the booking. Please Note the trekking permits it does not include porter fees, tips to trackers and guides, or any costs relating to accommodation, transport, meals or other activities.

Trekking Experience:

Gorilla trekking involves hiking through the dense forests of Volcanoes National Park in search of a designated gorilla family. Treks can range from 1 to 4 hours, depending on the gorilla family’s location and movement patterns. The trek can be physically demanding and requires a moderate level of fitness.

Gorilla Encounter:

Once you locate the gorilla family, you will have a strictly regulated time (usually one hour) to observe and photograph the gorillas from a close but safe distance. Experienced guides and trackers will accompany you throughout the trek, ensuring your safety and providing insights into gorilla behavior and conservation efforts.

Conservation and Responsible Tourism:

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is part of a conservation-focused effort aimed at protecting these endangered primates and their habitats. Strict guidelines are in place to minimize the impact on the gorillas and their environment. It is important to follow the instructions of your guides and adhere to the rules and regulations set by the RDB to ensure the well-being of the gorillas.

Travel Considerations:

When planning your trip, consider factors such as obtaining a valid visa for Rwanda, arranging transportation to Volcanoes National Park, and ensuring you have appropriate travel insurance. Consult your healthcare provider regarding any necessary vaccinations or health precautions for visiting Rwanda.

Cultural Experiences and Additional Activities:

Rwanda is known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills” and offers breathtaking landscapes, cultural experiences, and wildlife encounters. You can visit nearby communities, explore local markets, and learn about Rwandan traditions and customs. Additionally, Volcanoes National Park is surrounded by beautiful scenery, and other activities such as golden monkey trekking, birdwatching, and hiking are also available. Additionally, Volcanoes National Park is surrounded by stunning landscapes and offers opportunities, including the ascent of Mount Bisoke.

Gorilla Families:

Volcanoes National Park is home to several habituated gorilla families available for trekking. Each family consists of several individuals, including a dominant silverback, adult females, juveniles, and infants. The number of trekkers allowed per gorilla family per day is limited to ensure the well-being of the gorillas and minimise human impact.

Best Time to Go:

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can be done throughout the year. However, the dry seasons from June to September and December to February are generally considered the best times to visit. During these months, the hiking trails are less muddy, and the weather is relatively favorable. Nonetheless, gorilla trekking is possible year-round, and each season has its unique charms.

Is It Possible To Cancel a Gorilla Trekking Permit?:

Should you cancel your trip to Rwanda or fail to turn up on the day, for whatever reason, the cost of your gorilla permit will not be refunded. It is also not permitted to sell or give a permit to somebody else, as your passport details will be checked against the permit before you go gorilla trekking. However, if you book your permit through an operator, then it is usually possible to reschedule to another day with a minimum of 30 days’ notice. An exception to the above is that people who fail to track due to unexpected movement of their allocated gorilla group will be given the choice of trying again the next day or receiving a full refund. If you track all day and fail to make contact with any gorillas, a 75% refund is due.

What to Pack:

When preparing for gorilla trekking, consider packing the following essential items:

  1. Comfortable Hiking Boots: Invest in sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with good ankle support. The terrain can be rugged and muddy, so having proper footwear is crucial for a safe and enjoyable trek.

  2. Long-Sleeved Shirts and Trousers: Wear lightweight, breathable, and long-sleeved shirts and trousers to protect your skin from scratches, thorns, insects, and exposure to the elements. Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics that dry quickly.

  3. Rain Jacket or Poncho: Pack a waterproof and lightweight rain jacket or poncho to protect yourself from rain showers or unexpected weather changes. Ensure it is easy to pack and carry with you during the trek.

  4. Layers for Variable Weather: The weather in the mountains can change quickly, so layering is important. Pack a combination of lightweight, quick-drying shirts, fleeces, and a warm jacket to adjust to temperature variations throughout the day.

  5. Hat and Sunglasses: Bring a wide-brimmed hat or a cap to shield yourself from the sun. Sunglasses with UV protection are also recommended to protect your eyes from the sun’s glare.

  6. Gloves: Consider packing lightweight gloves to protect your hands from thorny vegetation or for extra warmth during chilly mornings or at higher altitudes.

  7. Insect Repellent: Apply insect repellent containing DEET or other effective ingredients to protect yourself from mosquitoes and other insects in the forested areas. Mosquitoes may be present, especially in the evenings.

  8. Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Even on cloudy days, UV radiation can be strong at higher altitudes.

  9. Backpack and Daypack: Bring a comfortable backpack or daypack to carry your water, snacks, camera, and other essentials during the trek. Ensure it has padded straps for added comfort.

  10. Water and Snacks: Carry enough water to stay hydrated during the trek. Pack energy bars, trail mix, or other lightweight snacks to keep your energy levels up.

  11. Camera and Binoculars: Capture the memorable moments and the stunning gorilla encounters by bringing a camera with extra batteries and memory cards. Binoculars can also enhance your wildlife viewing experience.

  12. Trekking Poles: Consider bringing trekking poles for added stability and support, especially during steep and challenging sections of the trek.

  13. Medications and First Aid Kit: Carry any necessary medications, personal prescriptions, or medical supplies you may require. It is also advisable to have a basic first aid kit with essentials like band-aids, antiseptic ointment, pain relievers, and blister pads.

  14. Reusable Water Bottle: Bring a reusable water bottle to minimize plastic waste and stay hydrated. Some lodges or tour operators may provide refill stations.

  15. Extra Batteries and Power Banks: Ensure you have extra batteries or portable power banks for your electronic devices as charging facilities may be limited or not available during the trek.

  16. Cash and Identification: Carry some cash in local currency for tips, souvenirs, or any additional expenses. Bring your passport or identification for permit verification.                                                                                                                                                                    

Remember to pack light and only bring essential items to ensure ease of movement during the trek. Check with your tour operator for any specific packing requirements or recommendations based on the time of year and your specific itinerary. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an awe-inspiring adventure that allows you to connect with these remarkable creatures and contribute to their conservation. Remember to follow the guidelines, respect the gorillas and their environment, and cherish the memories of this extraordinary wildlife encounter. During mountain gorilla trekking, tourists typically stay in lodges or camps located near the park where the gorillas can be found. These accommodations are often basic but comfortable, and provide a convenient base for the trek. 

In Rwanda, the best hotels include Sabinyo Silverback Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Bisate Lodge, Virunga Lodge and Gorilla Mountain View Lodge. Some lodges and camps may also offer additional amenities such as restaurants, swimming pools, and bars. Additionally, many tour operators offer packages that include accommodations, meals, transportation, and gorilla trekking permits, so it is best to check with them for more information on where to stay during your trip.

During the low season, from November to May, a discount of 30% is offered on gorilla permits in Rwanda. This reduces the cost for non-African residents to US$1,050. However, the discount applies only to visitors who prebook at least two nights in either (or one night in each) of Akagera National Park and/or Nyungwe National Park.