Encounters of a Lifetime: Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda's Misty Mountains

March 18, 2024

Nestled in the heart of East Africa, Rwanda is a land of incredible biodiversity. Known as the "Land of a Thousand Hills," this small yet captivating country boasts lush forests, rolling hills, and a rich tapestry of wildlife. But it's the mountain gorillas that steal the spotlight, drawing travelers from around the globe to embark on an unforgettable gorilla trekking expedition. With only one thousand remaining in the wild, a gorilla encounter is rare and magical.

Few & Far offers two unique itineraries that take you into the heart of the jungle to see these creatures up close in their natural habitat; Rwanda Gorilla Trek and Masai Mara Wildlife Adventure and Rwandan National Parks.

Why Trek Gorillas in Rwanda?

Within the misty peaks of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park lies a sanctuary for these critically endangered species. Volcanoes National Park, in the northwest corner of Rwanda, is home to dense bamboo forests that have become a sanctuary for these special animals. This volcanic region is within the Virunga Mountain range, a chain of eight volcanoes spanning Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo. For centuries, these mountains have been inhabited by indigenous communities, whose traditions and way of life are deeply intertwined with the natural environment.

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. This journey is for the active traveler who wants a rare glimpse into the world of these gentle giants. Led by experienced guides and trackers, you’ll trek through the dense jungles of the national park in search of these incredible animals.

Rwanda Mountain Gorillas

As you trek through the forest, anticipation builds with each step, until finally, you catch sight of a family of gorillas, peacefully foraging amidst the foliage. Witnessing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring moment that leaves an indelible mark on the soul. There is nothing more profound than to sit and observe the gorillas for your designated hour with your gorilla family. There are 12 distinct gorilla families in Rwanda each being visited for no more than one hour a day. Your guides, trackers and porters will assist you traverse the terrain to meet up with your chosen group where you will learn about their unique characteristics and see them interacting with each other.  

Preparing for Your Gorilla Trek

Gorilla Trekking is unique and a true once in a lifetime experience. You’ll want to consider when to go, where to stay, permits, the best guide and if it’s the right fit for you. 

Gorilla trekking is a true “trek” and is a long walk or hike through the rainforest for many hours and many miles. Guides assist to keep you on paths and clear trees/branches as you navigate through the jungle. The paths can be uneven, wet, muddy, and oftentimes hard to navigate. Due to the duration of a trek and the jungle's natural and overgrown trails, this is best for those of a moderate to high physical fitness level. Guides can support you and offer paths that work best, but to enjoy the experience to the fullest it’s suggested that you’re comfortable with 5-10 mile walk/hikes through rugged terrain. Travelers must be 15 years or older to obtain a permit to trek. 

The rainforests of Rwanda are rainiest from March to May and September to November. The drier time of year is June - August and December - February, and this is when we suggest travelers visit. While these months are drier, they are not entirely rain free. This is a country full of rainforests and rain should be expected and planned for even in the dry seasons. Volcanoes National Park specifically receives 90 percent of all the precipitation in Rwanda. Pack that rain gear!  Rwanda is just south of the equator and its higher altitude created a tropical highland climate. Temperatures average from low 60 degrees to mid 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. 

A gorilla trek permit is legally required for all travelers when trekking in Rwanda. This permit has two purposes, one for the park to regulate the amount of travelers visiting gorillas any given day, and the second reason is to fund the significant conservation efforts to protect the gorilla’s natural habitat. It’s important that the parks limit the amount of travelers daily, monthly, and annually to maintain the pristine habitat for the animals, not just gorillas. You’ll also be provided with a guide, or a few, for your trek. They are skilled locals who know the local gorilla groups, know the forests, and will help you through this exciting trek. Few & Far will coordinate the purchase of permits for our travelers and securing a team of top notch guides. 

What to Expect on the Gorilla Trek 

You’ll arise early, long before the sun, to start your trek day. A private transfer from you accommodations will take you to the entry of Volcanoes National Park to meet your guides and check in with your permits. Your guides will discuss the trek ahead, ensure you feel comfortable and prepared before you head out.

Gorilla Trekking Etiquette and Best Practices

  • Hire local guides and porters to support sustainable employment but also to ensure you have the best guides who know these gorillas and the jungle best. 
  • Be respectful of the jungle: listen to your guides and stay on the trails. Do not take any leaves, flowers, sticks, etc. Do not leave any trash, clothing, or gear behind. 
  • Be respectful of the wildlife: be quiet, submissive, and calm. Listen to your guides and do as they direct you to and the gorillas will be unperturbed by your presence while you get to enjoy viewing them in their day to day practices. 
  • Be prepared; ensure you are prepared with waterproof hiking boots. Dress in waterproof layers. Bright colors and white are not advised, dress in neutrals to blend with the jungle. Wear long highking pants, and long sleeve shirts. Gloves and gators are recommended. Walking sticks and poles are encouraged. Hats and sunglasses are a must! 
  • While taking photos; do not use a flash. Prepare your camera or phone with a waterproof bag or cover. Long lenses aren’t necessary - mis zoom (24-70mm) are best. 

The Impact of Gorilla Trekking on Conservation and Community

Beyond the thrill of encountering gorillas up close, gorilla trekking in Rwanda plays a vital role in conservation efforts and sustainable tourism practices. Monies from gorilla permits fund conservation projects aimed at protecting gorilla habitats, supporting local communities, and combating illegal poaching. Each community surrounding the Volcanoes National Park directly benefits from the revenue created by visitors coming to trek. On our Cofounder Sarah Dusek’s last visit to the region several of the local female porter's shared with her the significance tourism has made on their community. Now so many of the women have jobs because of the visitors coming and because they have jobs they are empowered to have a seat at the table making decisions about how their community spends the funds generated from the National Park. Sarah learned that now in the community she visited, women no longer die in childbirth because the community was able to buy an ambulance to enable women to get to hospital when in labor. This has revolutionized their community and saved tens of women’s lives. The impact of visitors coming to see the gorillas has been nothing short of miraculous. 

Beyond Gorilla Trekking

Many travelers heading to Rwanda for gorilla trekking are animal lovers! Golden Monkeys are also found in Volcanoes National Park, and can be an additional trek day added to your time.  While in Rwanda, consider trekking for golden monkeys and chimpanzees, too! Visit Nyungwe National Park on your trip to see chimpanzees. Similar to a gorilla trek, you’ll need a permit and a guide. The jungle is similar to that of Volcanoes National Park. 

Conclusion 

Venture to the Land of a Thousand Hills for a once in a lifetime experience to see gorillas up close in their natural habitat on a gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park. Make sure you’re correctly prepared by working with the Few & Far team to confirm all the details of your trip. 

Visiting these animals is also an investment in their conservation. Our trips are mindfully designed with nature in mind - this trip is a perfect example of visiting some of the worlds most special places and creatures, while respecting them and conserving them for generations to come. 

At Far & Few, we love sharing the world’s natural wonders with our clients. There’s plenty more world to see! Wherever, and however, you choose to visit the wilderness, we wish you well. Bon Voyage!

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the best months to go gorilla trekking?

The best months for gorilla trekking are during the dry seasons: from June to September and December to February. During these times, the trails are more accessible, and the weather is generally drier, making for a more comfortable trekking experience. 

  1. Is Rwanda safe for gorilla trekking?

Absolutely, Rwanda is safe for gorilla trekking. The country has a strong focus on conservation and tourism safety measures, making it one of the best destinations for this incredible experience. Additionally, the gorilla trekking areas are well-monitored and protected by experienced guides and park rangers, ensuring the safety of both visitors and the gorillas themselves.

  1. How strenuous is gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can be moderately strenuous, involving hiking through dense forests and uneven terrain to reach the gorillas' habitat. The trek's duration and difficulty vary based on the gorilla family's location and prevailing weather conditions. While some treks are short and easy, others are longer and more challenging, demanding a reasonable level of fitness and mobility. Nonetheless, park guides and rangers accompany visitors, adjusting the pace to the group's abilities while ensuring safety and enjoyment. Despite the physical exertion, encountering these majestic creatures makes gorilla trekking in Rwanda a rewarding and unforgettable experience for adventurers.

  1. How much does it cost to trek with gorillas in Rwanda?

Trekking with gorillas in Rwanda is an unparalleled adventure, showcasing the extraordinary beauty of nature and wildlife in one of Africa's most stunning destinations. Few & Far offers fully inclusive Rwandan itineraries for gorilla trekking, with prices typically ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 per traveler. This comprehensive cost covers various aspects of the experience, including permits to trek with the gorillas, luxurious accommodation at top-tier lodges or camps, transportation within Rwanda, delicious meals, park fees, and the expert guidance of experienced trackers and guides. The price may vary based on factors such as the duration of the itinerary, the specific lodges or accommodations selected, the number of gorilla trekking permits included, and any additional activities or excursions incorporated into the itinerary. While the investment may initially seem significant, it reflects the exclusivity, comfort, and personalized service provided by Few & Far, ensuring that your gorilla trekking adventure in Rwanda is not only unforgettable but also seamlessly orchestrated, making every moment extraordinary.

  1. Are you guaranteed to see gorillas in Rwanda?

While gorilla sightings are highly likely during gorilla trekking in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, encountering these magnificent creatures is not guaranteed. However, the chances of seeing gorillas are significantly heightened by the park's robust conservation efforts and the expertise of local guides. With twelve habituated gorilla families residing in the park, each with its own territory, the guides track their movements meticulously, ensuring trekkers have the best possible chance of an encounter. Despite this dedication, gorillas' movements can be unpredictable, influenced by factors like weather and vegetation density. Nevertheless, experienced guides adeptly interpret signs such as nests and vocalizations to locate gorillas efficiently, communicating with other trackers to maximize sightings. While wildlife encounters carry no guarantees, the dedication of local guides and conservation initiatives in Volcanoes National Park greatly enhance the likelihood of a successful and awe-inspiring gorilla trekking experience, offering visitors a rare glimpse into the lives of these incredible primates in their natural habitat.

  1. What to wear gorilla trekking?

When preparing for gorilla trekking in Rwanda, ensuring appropriate attire is crucial for comfort, protection, and safety throughout your adventure. Waterproof hiking boots with sturdy ankle support are essential for navigating the rugged terrain, while waterproof layers, made of breathable fabrics, guard against the rainforest's unpredictable weather. Opting for neutral-colored clothing helps blend into the environment and avoids attracting unwanted wildlife attention. Long hiking pants and sleeve shirts shield against scratches and insect bites, with lightweight, quick-drying materials ensuring ease of movement. Gloves and gaiters offer added protection from thorns and debris, while walking sticks or poles provide stability on uneven trails. Donning a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses shields from the sun's rays and overhead branches, enhancing comfort during the trek. By adhering to these clothing recommendations and being adequately prepared, you can optimize your gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda's rainforests, minimizing potential risks or discomforts while maximizing enjoyment.

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