Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is one of the top tour activities that travelers engage in when they visit the country in Volcanoes National Park. Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda is a landlocked country in Central-East Africa and one of the smallest countries on the African continent. Rwanda is bordered by Uganda in the North, Tanzania in the East, Burundi in the South and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the West. Rwanda’s capital city is Kigali, the cleanest city on the African continent.
Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, is one of the three privileged countries (Uganda and Congo) to inhabit the world’s remaining mountain gorillas in the world. Gorillas are ground-dwelling primates that are predominantly herbivorous and are inhabited in the lush forests and mountainous ranges of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo.
Gorilla Trekking is an activity that involves walking/hiking through the forest in search of the mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking is one of the most sought after activities in Rwanda, it is a thrilling and fulfilling adventurous activity that one can venture into when on a Rwanda tour.
Gorilla trekking can be done in the Volcanoes National Park located in the districts of Burera, Musanze, Rubavu and Nyabihu in Rwanda. Tourists can, however, trek gorillas from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda when from Rwanda since it is only about 4 hours drive from Kigali.
Volcanoes National Park, or as commonly referred to as Parc National des Volcans is a national park in the northwest of the country covering 160 square kilometers of rainforest encompassing five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains namely Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabinyo. All these five volcanoes are extinct. Volcanoes National Park was Dian Fossey’s base where she carried out her research on mountain gorillas at Karisoke Research Center for the 18 years she was there. Her detailed work can be seen in the internationally acclaimed film, “Gorillas in the Mist” shot in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
Reopened in July 1999 to the world after its closure in 1991 due to the war, the number of tourists flocking to visit specifically for gorilla trekking increases day by day. There are ten or more gorilla habituated groups open for trekking to tourists in this park, say;
The Susa group: This is the biggest mountain gorilla group in Volcanoes National Park inhabiting the lower base of Mount Karisimbi with currently 33 members and 2 silverbacks. This is the first group that Dian Fossey first studied. The twins in this group are a source of wonder and excitement, no wonder many tourists opt for this particular group to track despite the difficulty in tracking it.
The Sabinyo family: This currently has 13 members with 2 silverbacks. One of the silverbacks that leads this group is the largest in the Volcanoes National Park. For the fact that the group usually roams the slopes of Mount Sabinyo, it is one of the easy groups to track.
Amahoro family: Amahoro, meaning peace in the native Kinyarwanda language, is a peaceful group that has caused it to lose its members to the more aggressive silverbacks seeking to expand their families. The group currently has 18 members with 2 silverbacks residing on the slopes of Mountain Bisoke. Due to the terrain of the slopes, it gets hard to trek this particular group, it is advisable to try and keep fit if planning to trek this group.
Agashya Family: Formerly called group 13, the group got renamed after an overthrow of the then leader Nyakarima by another dominant leader-Agashya who leads till today. The name Agashya means ‘News’. The group has 27 members with one silverback as of now, a higher number from the 13 most probably because of Agashya’s aggressiveness. They can be found on the slopes of Mount Sabinyo as they roam around.
Kwitonda Family: With 23 members including 4 silverbacks, this group migrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and lives on the slopes of Mountain Muhabura. Kwitonda got its name from the late dominant silverback who was largely known for his humble character.
Umubano family: Umubano translates to ‘live together’. The family has 13 members with 2 silverbacks. This was formed by Charles a silverback from the Amahoro family who broke off to make his own family. The group lives in the same territory as the Amahoro group, the slopes of Mount Bisoke.
Hirwa family: Hirwa means “lucky one” This is a new group of 16 members with one silverback that was formed by members from the Sabinyo family and group 13. They roam between the mountains of Mount Gahinga and Sabinyo. This group also has twins born in 2011.
Karisimbi family: The group has 16 members with one silverback residing on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. It is a breakaway faction of the Susa family. This is the hardest group to trek because it resides on the upper slopes of Mount Karisimbi that is at an altitude of 4507m. this group is fit for those that are up to a physical challenge.
Ugenda family: has 11 members including 2 silverbacks. Just like their name which means mobile, the group is always on the move and hardly settles in one place. This group inhabits Mount Bisoke which is relatively easy to hike.
Bwenge Family: The word Bwenge means wisdom, and this group comprises of 11 members and one silverback. They roam the slopes of Mount Bisoke making it an easy group to trek as well. Bwenge group was formed in 2007 and was named after him. It should be noted that this group had six infants dying, which was rather unfortunate.
Titus Gorilla group: This group is avail be for gorilla trekking only when there is a shortage of gorilla tracking permits. This group is named after Titus, a gorilla that was born premature and witnessed the loss of his family to poachers. He was born at the time when Dian Fossey was carrying out research, he was fortunate to have a family that he got close to, providing him with protection and raised him. Titus died a natural death when he was 35 years.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can take up to 8 hours depending on the location of the mountain gorillas given that they do not stay in one place for long. That time frame involves hiking to where the mountain gorillas are located plus an hour spent with them and trekking back to the headquarters. Groups of 8 tourists are allowed to track a gorilla group per day, and persons under the age of 15 are not allowed to track the gorillas. Before the trek, tourists are briefed on the guidelines for a successful trek.
To trek gorillas in Rwanda, one needs to purchase a gorilla trekking permit. The permit you get dictates which group one gets to trek. The demand for these gorilla trekking permits is too high, so they get sold out very fast. It is for this reason that one has to book way in advance, at the very least 3 months in advance to guarantee you’re getting a spot. Gorilla Trekking permits in Rwanda currently cost $1,500 for all persons, including Rwanda citizens. To purchase a gorilla trekking permit, you can book through a trusted tour operator, or you can book directly with the Rwanda Development Board(RDB), a body of the Rwanda government. You can visit their website at www.rwandatourism.com.
Gorilla trekking can take place all around the year, it is, however, more advisable to plan one’s trek to take place during the dry season. The dry season months run from December- March, and June-October. It should be noted, however, that it can rain at any time of day. Small drizzles can also fall all throughout the day irrespective of if it is a rainy season or not.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can be done as an independent trip or you can have it as part of a safari to other national parks in the country like Nyungwe Forest National Park & Akagera National Park or any other park in the region.