Gorilla trekking is undoubtedly one of a few unique wildlife experiences that shouldn’t miss out in your travel plan. The Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda is one the must visit destinations in Africa. It is such a special place, a favorite to tourists interested in primate watching adventures. Going on a gorilla trek in this Rwandan part of the Virunga Massif is of no doubt one of the of the exciting lifetime safari experiences that you can enjoy in the land of a thousand hills. The Volcanoes National Park is a favorite to luxury travelers given that it is the most accessible gorilla park. A journey from Kigali to the park takes just 3 hours drive along a smooth road.
What you should expect on a gorilla trek
When you think of taking a gorilla trekking safari, the first thing you should think about is to secure a gorilla permit. It is a must to have one if you are to be allowed to track one of the 12 habituated gorilla families that are resident on the park. You can obtain a Rwanda gorilla permit at US$1500 per person through a local registered tour operator. Alternatively, you can book a gorilla permit in person with at the reservation department of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Due to high demand, you are expected to book for a permit early enough before you embark on actual trip. In addition to permits, you are required to have a valid passport which you will be asked to present at the headquarters for verification.
In your packing list for gorilla trekking, the following items shouldn’t miss out-water proof hiking boots, long sleeved shirts/t-shirt, rain jackets, snacks, energy giving snacks, bottled water, gardening gloves, water proof day pack, insect repellents, first aid kit and walking stick which you can get at the park headquarters or at a lodge and others. In case you have heavy luggage, you will need to hire a porter to help you carry and this will allow you concentrate on your adventure.
The Actual Gorilla Treks
Gorilla treks in Volcanoes National Park start with early morning briefing on dos and don’ts that you have to observe at all times while in search for these amazing creatures. These are mainly safety measures that are aimed at safeguarding not only for mountain gorillas but also to visitors. Briefing is always done by one of the park officials and some of the rules and regulations you will be briefed on include;
- Only 8 visitors are allowed to track 1 habituated group and strictly only one hour is given to you to have a face to face encounter with these creatures.
- No flashlight camera is allowed when taking photos of gorillas and if your camera has. You are advised to turn it off before taking photos.
- Only persons above 15 years are allowed to track mountain gorillas.
- A distance of 8 meters must be observed at all times away from gorillas
- Cover your mouth when coughing and nose when sneezing and others.
Credit: by Sarel Kromer. [CC BY-SA 2.0]
It is during the briefing that you will be put in groups of 8 visitors to trek only 1 habituated gorilla group. Currently there are 12 habituated gorilla groups within the Volcanoes National Park. Most popular habituated groups include Sabyinyo, Susa A and Susa B (Karisimbi), Hirwa, Umubano, Amahoro, Bwenge, Ugenda, Agashya and Kwitonda.
Group allocation all depends on your level of physical wellness and age. Those above 45 years and those with physical problems in most cases are allocated to the easy to find group. And those of you who are physically fit, you can embark on challenging groups to track especially the Susa A family. Each group of tourists is assigned to a park ranger and a guide who are to lead you throughout the expedition in the forest. In case you are not sure of your physical fitness, there are porters for hire at the park headquarters and you can hire one at $15 or $20 but this depends on what he is to carry.
Treks to view mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is not easy to ascertain and can last you about 1 to 6 hours less or more depending on your level of physical wellness, location of gorillas and nature of habitat.
The original uploader was ECostello at English Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 2.5]
Please be in the know that gorilla trekking isn’t like game drive where you spend your time in a car while viewing the big game. With a trek to view mountain gorillas; you have to hike through the dense vegetation, steep slopes in search for these remarkable creatures. Because it is a strenuous adventure, you are always advised to come with packed lunch/energy giving snacks and adequate drinking water.
Once you come into contact with a group of mountain gorillas, you have only an hour to strike your imaginations with these rare creatures. It is during this time that you have opportunity to take as many photos as possible, explore more about their behaviors and body gestures.
When to go to trek gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
Mountain gorilla treks in Volcanoes National Park can be done at any time of year. When you think of trekking gorillas in this park, two seasons must be put into consideration and that is the dry and wet season. Each of these seasons comes with advantages and disadvantages.
Volcanoes National Park [CC BY-SA 4.0]
The dry season usually kick starts from June to September and December to February. The advantage with this season is that the habitat remains relatively drier making it easier for one to hike through the dense vegetation and steep slopes while in search for the rare creatures.
The wet season is equally good and usually starts from March to May and October to November. This season is characterized by heavy rainfall and the habitat becomes muddy and slippery making it challenging for one to hike through the steep slopes. However, it is a season that comes with plenty of forage for gorillas to depend on and they don’t move to far distance compared to dry season when there is shortage of food supply.