Gorilla Trekking Tips
Gorilla tracking tips in Rwanda
The gorilla safaris begins at the arrival of the tourists at Kigali International Airport by air or on land, then, embark on the 3 hours drive through chocolate-coloured hills to the Volcanoes National Park in the northwest of the country. The park forms part of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of active and inactive volcanoes, which span Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and, together with the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, around 40 km away, is the only habitat on earth where mountain gorillas live.
For gorilla trekking, you need to buy a permit in advance of your visit from the Rwanda Tourism Board. Permits currently cost 750 USD a person per gorilla group, and you are allowed to be in the presence of the gorillas for a maximum of one hour and thereafter trek back to your lodge/ Camp.
There are 10 gorillas groups ranging in size from less than 10 individuals to over 40 open to tourists (the remaining seven are observed only by researchers) on the Rwandan side of the park. Each gorilla group is only exposed to a maximum of tourists for one hour each day. That means that less than 100 people get permits each day. However, children under the age of 15 years are not allowed to carry out Gorilla tracking.
Gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park
On the day of your gorilla tracking, you meet at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters at around 7am well prepared for briefing. Then you get assigned your gorilla group and a guide, based on your fitness level. You can opt for a short hike (which can range from 30 minutes to an hour), a medium one (anything from one hour to three hours) or a long one to the large Susa group, which can take the whole day. Your guide will be in contact with trackers in the park who know pretty much where each gorilla group is – so each morning they have a good idea of all the gorillas’ whereabouts.
At the beginning of our gorilla tracking adventure in Rwanda
You then head off into the park with your guide, ready to have what will probably be the most amazing wildlife experience of your life. To make the most of the ultimate bucket list adventure of gorilla safari, here are my 10 tips:
1. be realistic about your fitness level
Rwanda’s already at a high altitude (around 1500 metres about sea level), and you can hike up to over 3000 metres on steep paths. Be realistic about what you’re able to do. Hikes to the gorilla groups can take anything from half an hour one way to 10 hours. You’ll be placed in a group for the gorilla tracking based on the length of hike you’d like to do – so don’t choose the longest hike if you only exercise once a year, as you’ll slow everyone else down. If you are fit, and can handle hiking at a high altitude then opt for a longer hike – gorillas aside, it’s amazing just to be in the Central African rainforest, amongst moss-covered Hagenia trees, thickets of ferns and dense vegetation in a million shades of green.
2. Do research on gorilla groups before the actual tracking
It’s possible to request to see a particular gorilla group (depending on whether you are fit enough to do the hike to get to it). Do research on the gorilla groups in Rwanda and decide if there’s a specific one you’d like to see – for example, a group that’s just had babies.
3. Hire a porter (to carry your equipments like food, mineral water and so on) to accompany you when gorilla tracking
Near the entrance to the park will be a group of porters. Not only will they carry your bag for you and give you a walking stick (which is really helpful in slippery bits) but they also help you up and down slippery, steep parts of the hike. Even if you don’t mind carrying your own bag, and don’t need help, it’s a good idea to take a porter – most of them are ex-poachers who now make a living from gorilla tourism, so by paying one USD 10 to carry your bag, you’re supporting both the local community and gorilla conservation.