Best Gorilla trekking in Rwanda 2021

Best Gorilla trekking in Rwanda 2021: Rwanda is one of the 3 destinations in Africa where we find the only existing wild mountain gorillas in the whole wide world along with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is only done on Volcanoes national park which is located in the north western part of Rwanda in Musanze district of Rwanda. Volcanoes national park is strategically located on the Virunga Mountains covering most of the Virunga Mountains of Bisoke, Sabinyo, Karismbi, Gahinga and Muhavura. This park is also bordered by Mgahinga national park in Uganda and Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Volcanoes national park covers an area of about 160 square kilometres of the rainforest on the Virunga Mountains.  

Best Gorilla trekking in Rwanda 2021

Mountain gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park

Mountain gorillas are said to share 98% of human DNA and as such are very vulnerable to catching human infections, particularly respiratory ones although they do not human kind of immune system to deal with such as a common cold could eventually prove life-threatening to a mountain gorilla. Various rules for gorilla trekking are therefore put in place to help protect these endangered primates species for example one group of tourists can visit the mountain gorillas each day and once you see them, you view them at a distance of about 6 to 7 meters away. There are various gorilla families in Volcanoes national park and their locations will obviously change from time to time given that mountain gorillas often climb higher in the dry season and descend during the rains, also they tend to move on due to pressure from wild gorillas and individuals will often join other groups. 

Some of the available habituated families in Volcanoes national park include;

Sabyinyo Group has about 12 individuals including two silverback gorillas. This group is usually found relatively close to the edge of the forest about 20–40-minutes’ walk between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga.

Agashya family also known by its former name Group Thirteen, usually lives close to the Sabyinyo Group but can range very far and high. It has about 25 gorillas with 2 silverbacks. 

Amahoro group;  they usually living between the Mount Karisoke and Bisoke peaks with about 17 individuals while the Umubano Group, currently have 11 members. Both are usually further away from the headquarters than the Sabyinyo and Agasha groups, but easier to reach compared to the Susa Group

Susa group originally was studied by Dian Fossey and it was the largest group with about 40 individuals, including 3 Silverbacks. After splitting with Igisha Group in 2009, Susa group now has 28 members. During the summer months in particular, it is usually tough to trek up high on Mount Karisimbi to find this group. However, it is worth the effort because they are interesting to see and unique in a way that they have two sets of twins, which is very rare among the gorilla families.

Karisimbi Group is yet other group that split from the Susa group a few years ago. They also live in the Mount Karisimbi area of Volcanoes national park. This family is quite higher and suitable for serious hikers. Both of these groups can potentially involve a full day’s trek taking 8 hours trekking. This group also underwent a split in 2012, and now has 11 individuals.

Hirwa Group has around 11 members including one silverback and another pair of twins. Together with the two pairs of twins in the Susa group, these are the only known surviving twins of mountain gorillas in the world. They’re also usually found on the slopes of the Sabyinyo, and tend to be one of the easier groups to trek in Volcanoes national park.

Kwitonda Group has about 18 members and was initially habituated in the Democratic Republic of Congo before crossing the border into Rwanda in 2005 and were carefully tracked so now they are being visited on a regular basis, although they are known to range far.

Bwenge Group: named after their silverback, has 11 members and can be a tough trek – they’ve had a lot of in-fighting and have lost a few family members, and they move around a lot, and faster.

Ugende Group; this group also move a lot so they are often a harder trek. The name “Ugende” means “on the move” and it is 11 individuals shift regularly.

Isimbi Group was formed after the Karisimbi group split in 2012 and includes Poppy, the oldest living female despite the fact that she went missing at the end of August 2018. This group has 14 members.

Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes national park

A maximum of about 96 gorilla trekking permits are available on a daily for visitors to visit. The Rwandan Development Board has increased the costs of the gorilla permits to US$ 1,500 per person and visitors get to spend an hour with the gorillas. The US$1,500 is aimed to strengthen conservation efforts and support the development of local communities. However, visitors who are also spending a minimum of three days in either Nyungwe forest national park or Akagera national park are entitled to a 30% discount on a gorilla permit reducing to US$ 1,050 per person. Amongst other things, the permit includes park entry fees and ranger guides for each gorilla group. Gorilla trekking permits are best purchased months before you travel date to avoid missing out on the permit. 

Gorilla trekking starts early morning with a briefing from the park officials at the park headquarters Kinigi where you will be briefed and provided information and guidelines taken for gorilla trekking, thereafter you are allocated with a gorilla group to trek and this is when you are allowed to choose from the above gorilla families to on the day of trekking. However, the time taken to trek them is not guaranteed. You will be divided into groups of 8 people per group before you are driven to the start of the trail to reach your mountain gorilla group. Your guide will then lead you along generally clear paths up into the forest, in radio communication with the trackers that stay with the group so that they can be located. The altitude at Volcanoes national park is over 2,500 meters, so although the pace is unhurried, the hike is tiring and can be steep in parts, taking from 30 minutes to a few hours. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit breathless at this altitude, it is perfectly normal! While a Rwanda gorilla trekking safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience any traveller, the ranger guides at Volcanoes national park do their best to find them for you given the several years of experience, hence treks to the mountain gorillas are well-organised and clearly structured. 

On finding them, spend an hour with them before descending. Each gorilla family is headed by a silverback gorilla and the heaviest male silverback gorilla weighs up to 200kg. Often the gorillas will be spread around a small area of dense vegetation while they feed and interaction, calm around their visitors and watching you with interest, others can be playful especially the young ones approach you with curiosity, sometimes coming so close that you will have to move away. You should try not to make sudden movements and keep your voices low so that the group remains relaxed too. Although these mountain gorillas are now used to seeing people, do bear in mind that they are still wild animals and can sometimes react unexpectedly, so always follow your guide’s and trackers’ instructions. You won’t be allowed to eat or drink when you’re with the gorillas.

Photography on a gorilla trekking safari, during the one hour you have with the gorillas, taking pictures of mountain gorillas is one of the most magical photo sessions you will ever experience. However bearing in mind that the light can be poor in the rainforest and the use of flash is not permitted. You might also need to protect your camera against heavy rain.

How fit do I need to be to track gorillas?

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda does not need a lot of experience to hike although it helps to be very physically stable. You basically need a general level of fitness because the Virunga Mountains are quite steeply. Trekking is usually at a slow pace with time for breaks. You are also allocated a group depending on your ability to trek so if you do not want to trek longer hikes, travel to Rwanda during the rainy season when the gorillas tend to move down the mountains. You could reach your group after a 30-minute stroll however visitors are advised to always prepare for the most active option.

What to pack for a Rwanda gorilla trekking safari

Paths on gorilla treks can be slippery, muddy and steep so tough walking boots are essential. Some people take thick gardening gloves to avoid hand cuts while touching on tress and sharp thorns. You should wear long trousers and long sleeved shirts, a waterproof jacket for the changing weather conditions, take some drinking water and a snack in case of long treks. Walking sticks are usually provided however you can travel with your own. Porters are also available at the park in case you need help with your luggage during hiking at an extra cost. Even if you do not really need the help of the porters, hiring a porter is a helpful way to contribute directly to the local youths of the community.

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