Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda is the most selling and sought after tourist activity by thousands of travelers from different walks of life. Located in Musanze in the north-west of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park covers an area of 160 square kilometers and is protected and regulated by the Rwanda Development Board. The park is bordered by the Virunga National Park in the Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The park is made up of rainforests with five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga say Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabinyo with ranges between 2400-4507 meters above sea level. Volcanoes National Park inhabits a variety of flora and fauna. With 178 or more bird species recorded, the Volcanoes National Park is more renowned for inhabiting the endangered golden monkeys and mountain gorillas.
Mountain gorillas are in only three countries and four national parks, say Mgahinga Gorilla and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks of Uganda, Virunga National Park of the Congo and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. It is these three countries that the last 1000 or so mountain gorillas can be found in the whole world. The activity of walking or hiking the rainforests in search of the gorillas is what is termed as gorilla trekking.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is possible due to the availability of habituated gorilla families that travelers can visit. The park has about 12 gorilla families including among others are Amahoro gorilla families, Karisimbi, Kwitonda, and Umubano that travelers can visit on a daily basis. Each gorilla family can be visited by a maximum of 8 travelers per day and allowed only one hour with the apes. For one to take part in gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, one needs to purchase a gorilla permit so as to be allowed to take part in the activity. The gorilla permits cost $1,500 per person and they are a single entry permit. They can be purchased from the Rwanda Development Board offices or through a trusted tour operator. Given that the activity is much desired to be done by so many people, the demand is high and so booking way in advance is advised to travelers so as to secure one’s slot. Persons below the age of 15 cannot track gorillas.
Gorilla trekking is quite a strenuous activity as it requires people hiking the rainforest with varied terrain in search of the gorillas. This makes it important for travelers to be physically fit to a certain degree such that they can manage the hike. A little exercise everyday long before the start of the safari like jogging would do. It is also important for travelers to mentally prepare themselves to face not only the gorillas but also the vast rainforest and its terrain.
Travelers are advised to pack the essential gorilla trekking gear for them to successfully do a gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park safari. Some of the items include;
- hiking shoes that have a good grip on them and preferably waterproof for when it rains
- long sleeved shirts to protect from the thorny bushes
- long safari pants that can allow movement freely during the trek
- waterproof jacket
- waterproof backpack to safe-keep your items
- hand gloves to protect your hands from reactive bushes and also have a good grip on your hiking stick
- a hat
- insect repellant creams
- energy giving snacks, the hike can be quite hard and long sometimes
Making sure to also carry enough water, a hiking stick that you will get from either the lodge or at the start of the trek and a pair of binoculars to the birders could come in handy.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park starts very early at 7 am in the morning with a briefing by the park rangers over a cup of coffee at Kinigi, the starting area of gorilla trekking. Travelers are placed in groups of 8 and then allocated a gorilla family to track. gorilla family allocation is based on the physical fitness of the travelers. Travelers then embark on the search of the gorillas in their natural habit and once encountered, they spend an hour with them. Travelers are advised to utilize the allocated time fully and they can take pictures, videos of the gorillas and also just enjoy their presence as they play, feed, groom each other and make nests or whatever it is you find them doing. After the allocated time is elapsed, travelers trek back to the starting point. During the trek, travelers can sight a number of other animals in the park and a variety of bird species. The rangers also get to share their knowledge of the park and the animals and all that is within it. The trek can take any time between 30 minutes to four hours or more depending on the location of the gorillas.
There are rules and regulations to be followed when a gorilla trekking safari and they include among others;
- persons below 15 cannot do gorilla trekking
- sick persons with infections like flue shouldn’t do gorilla trekking
- maintain a 7-meter distance from the gorillas
- avoid direct eye contact with the gorillas
- do not touch the gorillas
- do not use flash photography
- do not surround the gorillas
- do not eat near the gorillas, this should be done at list 200 meters away
- keep the park as it was found, do not litter
- unnecessary noise shouldn’t be made in the park
- when a gorilla charges at you, do not run but instead stay calm
- always follow instructions from your park rangers and guides
Volcanoes National Park is just 3 hours away from Kigali international airport by road, thus very easy to access. The accommodation options in and around the park are sure to satisfy every traveler’s budget and preferences with the best service. Luxury, midrange and basic travelers are all catered for when it comes to lodging options.
Gorilla trekking Volcanoes National Park can be incorporated with other activities in the park and also in the region, say bird watching, visiting the Dian Fossey tombs, golden monkey habituation, game drives in Akagera national park or a canopy walk in Nyungwe National Park. Combining Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park with another in Uganda or the Congo could be rewarding in terms of experience. Volcanoes National Park is considered by some as one that is more appealing as compared to the other counterparts. You can visit all the three countries and find out which offers the best experience. Get in touch with a reputable tour operator to help you with the travel plan and organize it all for you.