Rwanda Gorilla trekking Safari Information

 Rwanda Gorilla trekking Safari  information

In the whole world, travellers can only trek the endangered species of the mountain gorillas (Gorilla Berengei Berengei) in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. In Rwanda, these primates can be trekked in the stunning Volcanoes National Park. Approximately 480 mountain gorillas live in the Virunga massifs and reside on the altitude range of 2,300 to 4,500 meters in the hilly areas of  the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, as well as Virunga National Park (in the DRC).

In Rwanda, the Gorilla families are divided into 2; those for study or research purposes which are strictly accessed by scientists plus researchers only. Among these are Beetsme and Pablo’s Shida’s which have the highest number of gorillas. As of 2015, there are 10 Mountain gorilla groups habituated and maximum of 8 individual tourists are allowed to visit each habituated gorilla family. Among the ten habituated gorilla families that are for tourism purposes in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park include the Susa Gorilla group, Karinsimbi Gorilla group, Sabinyo family, Hirwa Gorilla Family, Amahoro Gorilla Group, Bwengye Gorilla family, Group 13 (the Agasha group) and the Kwitonda Gorilla group. Ugenda Gorilla Family, Umubano Gorilla Group. With a gorilla permit costing US $ 750 per person per trek, part of your contribution goes to conserving these mountain gorillas.

gorilla-trekking-in-virunga

How to book Gorilla permit in Rwanda.

Gorilla permits can be booked at the RDB Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office in person. However, booking Gorilla permit through tour operator is the best option and usually tour operators charge an extra fee between 20-50USD on top of US$750 and this happens when you only need a permit from them. The extra between 20-50USD per permit is attached to help them in administrative costs like make calls to RDB Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office, pick the permit from RDB Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office where the permits are sold officially and then deliver it to you. In case you involve us in the whole process of planning for your Rwanda gorilla safari, we shall not charge you the extra USD 50 because we understand that you will use our other services like guiding services, transfers among others.

The procedure is almost similar as above, except that the tour agencies tend to speed-up the process and most likely you will get you gorilla permit confirmation faster.

Contact us   and let us know of the dates you want to tour Uganda with the days you want to see the gorilla permits.

Afterwards  we shall  let you know if the days you want for your gorilla tour are available for gorilla tracking and tentatively book them for you (but with no guarantee).

We send you our bank details for you to send the money for gorilla permits.

It takes about 16 hours for us to receive the money from your bank and pay for your permits. We shall send you acknowledgement for the money and the official RDB Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office Receipt (by scan and email). Please ensure you pay the bank charges when authorizing the transaction.

We do not charge any fee for gorilla permits buying/booking if you are booking the rest of the tour (or a part of it) with us. In case we do charge, this is to cater for any costs like telephony, transport, etc. we incur to get you the permit.

Send us your passport details to register your gorilla permits. Usually, we only need the Full names, passport number, and nationality.

Let us help you book you Gorilla Permit and Safari (no fees on permits)

We register your names and get the gorilla permits. We send you scanned copies of your gorilla permit.

As soon as the payment has been received, the permits for gorilla tracking will be purchased. Getting a gorilla permit is not a guarantee of seeing a gorilla. However, the chances of seeing them are 98%.

Please note: You must be over 15 years of age to obtain a gorilla viewing permit.

What is the Cost for gorilla permit in Rwanda?

The cost of gorilla permit in Rwanda includes the park entry fees various according to nationality and seen below.

USD $750 per person for non-nationals

USD $375 for foreign residents

30,000 Frw for Rwandan citizens

Refunds/Cancellation Guidelines

The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) shall refund 50% of the gorilla tracking fee for any visitor showing signs of illness. Any sick visitor shall not be allowed to track the gorillas if declared unfit by the Warden in Charge. This only applies to visitors who have travelled all the way to the park.

How Much Does It Cost To See The Gorillas of Rwanda?

The most important fee is USD750 which is the actual cost of a gorilla permit per person per trek. Besides that, you have to spend on transport and accommodation. We do not encourage you to do it yourself because it can turn to become expensive safari and hence you can contact us to organize for you each and every thing at affordable price.

Gorilla Trekking Guidelines in Rwanda

  1. i) To minimize possible transmission of human diseases, visitors are asked to maintain a distance of 7m (about 22 feet) from the gorillas. If you are sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness, please do not visit the gorillas.
  2. ii) Viewing time is limited to one hour.

iii) Maximum 8 visitors per group.

  1. iv) Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited.
  2. v) Should you need to cough, cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas?
  3. vi) When with the gorillas, keep your voice low.

vii) Try not to make rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.

viii) If a gorilla should charge or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed, stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions.

  1. ix) Do not litter.

To enhance your enjoyment:

The security of our visitors is our highest priorities. There is no need for concern about personal security.

The climate in Musanze is changeable and you can generally expect both sun and rainfall during the day.

Musanze, at 1,700m above sea level, is generally quite cold, particularly in the evening, so warm clothing is advised.

Recommended clothing is long trousers and shirts when in the forest to avoid nettle stings.

Study walking shoes or hiking boots are essential. You may find raingear useful.

Bring a water bottle and a small snack although eating, drinking and smoking near the gorillas is forbidden.

Photography is permitted, although you may not use flash.

Porters are available to help you carry your daypack for a small charge.

Mountain gorillas live at high altitude and this may cause difficulties for some visitors. You should pace yourself, walk slowly and drink plenty of water. No one should feel deterred from making this trip.

What is the best time to track gorillas in Rwanda?

While Mountain gorilla trekking can be done  throughout the year in Rwanda the land of thousand hills, many tourists under taking gorilla trekking safaris to Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park often prefer  encountering the mountain gorillas during the high season in the months of  June to September and then December, January and February.

In Rwanda, the first rains start coming in late February through March, April and May and hence various travellers tend to avoid  undertaking gorilla safaris to Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park for fear of getting muddy and all wet while tracking the gorillas. However, during these months, because of the rains there’s plenty of gorilla food down slope and it’s much colder on the upper slopes. So the mountain gorillas keep on the lower slopes where they find it warmer and get food easily. So if you track the gorillas during these months, most likely your trek won’t be a long one – many trackers find the gorillas after 2 hours hike and by 2:00pm local time they are back to their respective lodges.

The seasonality of the tourists on Rwanda gorilla trekking safaris also depends on the general weather back in the tourism generating areas. For instance during summers season in Europe, the number of gorilla trekking safaris to Rwanda increase and then in winter season, it safaris greatly lower or decrease.

Weather / Climate in Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park

The climate in the Volcanoes national park is typically damp, with daytime temperatures averaging 50°F (10°C).

Dry Season: June to September and January and February are the driest months and best for gorilla trekking, but be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms at any time.

Rainy Season: The long rains are from mid-march to mid-May, when many roads become impassible. It also usually rains in October and November.

What to Wear to Gorilla Tracking in Rwanda

When planning for your gorilla trekking safaris to Rwanda to encounter the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat of Volcanoes national park, we advise you to come with a few things that are useful for you to attain your longa waited  ultimate experience that involves trekking mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s mountainous Volcanoes national park.

Have a small backpack as it is useful to help you carry your water, packed lunch, camera and binoculars.

You need light weight hiking boots for this activity/strong waterproof walking boots due to nature and altitude of the forest. So get shoes that come above the ankle bone.

Take a light jumper and lightweight breathable waterproof jacket/trousers as temperature is variable and weather conditions can change any time in Volcanoes national park.

Lightweight long wool socks which are comfortable for a mountain tropical forest

A few long-sleeved shirts/trousers. Please ensure that you trek in your long sleeved trousers/shirts to avoid insects such as safari ants entering your trousers.

Sweater for cool evenings and chilly mornings due to nature and altitude of the place

Bush hat with a brim for sun protection. Please carry a hat to protect you from the strong sun rays if it is hot.

You may also need to carry some Sunglasses too with neck strap

Sun cream is also necessary

Video/photo camera, extra lenses and Reserve batteries. Photography is an important component of your safari and make sure that you have your camera ready, charge your batteries very well and if necessary, carry extra batteries as you will need to take many photographs in the one hour you will have with the gorillas.

Films and torch-LED models are light weight and have a good battery life

Insect repellants to protect you from Mosquito bites as volcanoes national park has mountains and a tropical forest so many insects are accommodated there in.

Garden gloves that will protect you from germs and other items that may scratch your hands.

Binoculars. Don’t forget that you are on safari and you want to have clear views of everything so during your trek in search for the rare mountain gorillas, you will have a chance to spot some other wildlife species like birds, primates and large mammals

A glove to grip vegetation and it’s also best to have different layers of clothes since the temperatures tend to change.

Energy Giving snacks. Gorilla trekking can take from 30 minutes to eight or so hours and that’s why a certain level of fitness is required. To add on that, we advise that you carry some energy giving snacks as supplements and lots of drinking water as you never know when you will return.

Hiring a Porter for your gorilla safari is a top tip -You will need a porter to give you a push on the way to the gorillas as trekking/hiking can take some time. You will pay some fee to a porter but it is worth it.

What to Expect during the Gorilla Trek (Actual Day)

After finalizing everything with your tour operator / agent and now your gorilla permit is ready, and you packed all the necessary gear like gloves, trekking boots, long sleeved wear, rain jackets, snacks and packed lunch, walking stick (if necessary), among others, this is what you expect on the trekking day.

Carry your passport with you as you head to the park headquarters for an early morning pre-tracking briefing by park officials. Your gorilla permits will be crosschecked with your passports to verify that you are the right owner of the permit. At this moment, you are expected to be ready with your packed lunch since no one is certain about the time you will take to see these gorillas.

A cup of tea/ coffee is served as you are being entertained by the local traditional dancers to give you a good start of a strenuous yet exciting day, before the ranger guide gives you tips on how to conduct yourself on this trek. After a quick briefing on safety measures and what to expect during the day, you will be grouped in groups of 8 people maximum and each group is assigned one gorilla family to trek. Rwanda has 10 gorilla families, hence 10 groups of 8 people each are the ones allowed to track on a particular day.

Assigning of the groups to trek highly depends on the fitness and age of the visitor. For example, those above 45 years and the ones with less fitness are assigned the ‘easy to find’ gorilla families which do not wander far away from the trail heads. However, even those with special interests about specific groups may inform their guides to help them negotiate with rangers before assigning the groups such that they may be assigned those specific groups too.

Being wild animals in their natural habitat, what may be regarded as easy to find may not necessarily be, as animals may wander far as they search for food and therefore, it is not a guarantee that they must be near or easy to find. Even those which are allocated to the physically fit and energetic tourists, that are always regarded as strenuous to track, may be easily tracked on a particular day which makes the total experience interesting and un predictable.

Each gorilla tracking group consists of a main guide and two scouts who carry AK-47 guns, one walking in front and another behind the group. The reason for armed scouts is for protection in the forest against wild elephants or angry, wild gorillas. The scouts are trained to fire shots into the air first in order to scare away the animals but this is only done on rarest occasions when all other options like hiding away from such dangerous animals have been done. However, we have never heard of any case where such animals attacked the tourists and the scouts had to fire bullets though on many occasions, they advise to hide or remain still until the animals go away. However the policy of the National Park is to be safe rather than sorry.

Your group will also have a pair of trackers who will have been sent out in the early morning (prior to your arrival in the park) to find the location of your specific gorilla family and to assess where they may be headed. Trackers communicate the gorilla’s movements to the guide so that he can decide on the best approach to meet the gorilla family.

If you do not trust your fitness, please endeavor to let your guide know such that he may help you to hire a porter at the park gate. A porter is hired between $15 to $20 depending on what he is going to carry.

How easy it to Find the Gorillas

The length of your overall experience and the amount of time it will take to actually meet your gorilla family is said to vary widely. It may take as little as 30 minutes to find your gorilla family and as long as 2-8 hours.

The forest is verdant, humid and somehow light and there are no discernible trekking paths. The terrain is full of hills and steep volcano slopes where you will be required to pull yourself up steep grades by grasping onto branches, plant roots, bushes and more. Follow the lead of the guide as to the best path and form to take. If you need a break, let your guide know. It is also advisable that you carry with you some energy giving snacks and bottled mineral water to quench your thirst and give you more energy.

What happens when i encounter Mountain Gorillas?

Once your group finds the gorilla family the clock starts ticking.

You are advised to stay quiet, move slowly and avoid sudden movements in order not to irritate the gorillas. Instead sit down and avoid looking directly into the eyes of the gorillas as this may also irritate them thinking that you want to fight them.

It’s not a problem to look a gorilla in the eye, but if he begins charging at you, hold your ground but lower your eyes to indicate that you do not want a confrontation but rather you are submissive. Prepare your cameras and get ready to take as many photos as you want but please remember to remove the flash lights and sounds.

The gorillas may be feeding from the ground resting, moving around or up in the trees playing about in the branches. Try to get yourself the best view for photographs and learn all their behavior. Follow them in case they are moving but at a recommended distance which should be not shorter than 7 meters. The most important thing is you staying near your guide and following his instructions always.

The trackers will often clear the brush with their machete so you can get a clearer and closer look at the gorillas. It is incredible how graceful and peaceful these animals are, especially considering their incredible size. You’ll be amazed when you see the silverbacks (mature males) get up and move around showing control over the territory.

Habituated Mountain Gorilla Groups in Rwanda

Habituated-Mountain-Gorilla-Groups-in-Rwanda

In Rwanda, the Gorilla families are divided into 2; those for study or research purposes which are strictly accessed by scientists plus researchers only. Among these are Beetsme and Pablo’s Shida’s which have the highest number of gorillas.

There are also ten habituated gorilla families that are for tourism purposes, so these are available for trekkers to visit. At most 8 people are allowed to visit each of the habituated gorilla groups every day and you may spend at most one magical hour. Among these gorilla groups are these include:

  1. Susa Gorilla Group – this is the gorilla group that was researched by the American conservationist Dian Fossey. The group named after River Susa which flows in the habitat range of this gorilla group. The family is the most challenging but highly rewarding to trek since it normally stays up in the higher ranges of the mountains however the experienced guides in the park will know in time the movements of the group before the next trackers. Sometimes tourists have been barred from tracking the group because of its distant location. This group is very impressive with a family size of 28 gorilla individuals with three Silverbacks. This was the biggest gorilla group prior to separating into two. The group had 42 individuals and when visited trekkers would watch so many gorillas scattered in the entire area. This group is famous for its infant twins; Byishimo and Impano which are pretty playful. It as well has one of Rwanda’s oldest habituated gorillas like Poppy who was born in 1976. Poppy is thought to be among the gorillas which were in the initial gorilla group that Dian Fossey’s conducted her research.
  2. Karisimbi Family (Susa-B)-This family separated from the initial Susa (Susa-A) family and today it is referred to as Susa-B or the Karisimbi Group. It has 15 individuals and normally found on the slopes of Mt Karisimbi Volcano (4507Meters) the highest peak of Rwanda. Karisimbi Group is better appropriate for serious hikers. It seems that they have formed their home in the higher mountain slopes of Karisimbi caldera. So visiting this group may take a full day hike. The group at times moves to higher altitude making the tracking pretty challenging. But, RDB tourism plus conservation guides will be a aware of the location of the gorilla group the previous day. Tracking the gorilla family at times can be stopped due to its faraway location.
  3. Sabyinyo Gorilla Group- Sabyinyo can easily be reached and it is led by a strong silverback Guhonda. This is the biggest silverback of all the gorilla groups, since it is very massive in physical appearance. Actually Guhonda has maintained his main competitor, Ryango, from his group as a solitary silverback. In comparison to other gorilla families, Sabyinyo has fewer members although it is similarly impressive. This particular group derived its name from Sabyinyo volcano and it actually means an “old man’s teeth”. The Sabyinyo is among the groups found nearest to the border of the park with 8 individuals that include one Silverback which is the biggest in the entire park and the other three Adult females, a youthful female, two Juveniles as well as a Baby gorilla.
  4. Amahoro Gorilla Group- Amahoro which means “peaceful group” is the most calm gorilla groups. This group has seventeen individuals with one Silverback, two Black-backs as well as five Adult females plus 2 Sub-adult males, 2 Juveniles and 5 Babies. Ubumwe, the silverback of this group is peaceful, really easy going as well as serene; he has sadly lost some group members to the Umubano group led by Charles.
  5. Umubano Group- Which means “neighborliness”, the Umubano family comprises of 11 gorilla members with a Silverback; a Sub-adult male as well as three Adult females and six Babies. Umubano were initially members of Amahoro group however separated following Ubumwe the then dominant silverback being overpowered by Charles who is the current leader of Umubano. As Charles grew into an adult silverback just as Ubumwe, he couldn’t stand taking orders around so he decided to fight and eventually challenged Ubumwe. This fight went on for some weeks and nearly months. Eventually, Charles was able to take a couple of females from Ubumwe hence forming a group; the Umubano. From that time, he commands a lot of respect and appreciated by Ubumwe. On a number of occasions interactions between these two silverbacks have been witnessed, however, no fights have been witnessed since that big fight.
  6. 13 Group (the Agasha Group)-During its first time of habituation, the group had 13 members hence its name. Today the group has nearly 25 members with one Silverback; twelve Adult females; two Sub adult female; three Juvenile as well as seven Babies. Previously this group was led by Nyakarima who was overpowered by Agashya whose name means “the news”. In fact Agashya made headlines by first observing and estimating the strengths of Nyakarima and finally challenged him to a brutal fight taking away his entire group. This greatly shocked Nyakarima and was an extraordinary event in witnessed gorilla history. Then Agashya shifted up the volcano to safe guard his group and ensure that Nyakarima didn’t find them. Since then, Agashya has increased the number of members in his group by snatching some from other groups and incorporating other solitary gorillas, speedily the group expanded from 12 up to 25 individuals. Agashya is also known, at any first sign of danger, to take his entire group to the peak of the volcano. One time, while some tourists had gone to observe the Group 13 this identical scenario occurred. Agashya imagined that there was an opponent silverback which was about to fight him. In reaction, he led his group to the volcano.
  7. Kwitonda Family-This group has 18 members and it is led by Kwitonda the silverback whose name means the “humble one” it also has 2 silverbacks plus a blackback. It moved from the DRC, and normally stays far away which makes it challenging to trek. This along with the Susa B is some of the most challenging groups to find
  8. Hirwa Group; which means “lucky one became renowned on 17th June 2006 after trackers witnessed its creation when some members from 2 separate families the Group 13 and the Sabyinyo group joined to form a smaller group at the time. Fortunately some other gorillas also joined this group and today the Hirwa group has nine individuals: one Silverback; three Adult females; two Sub adult females as well as 3 Babies. Although it is the newest gorilla group and hence the easiest to trek. Hirwa shows strength and well safeguards its members
  9. Bwenge Family-This family has 11 members with a Silverback. It is majorly seen in the Slopes of Karisoke Volcano. Bwenge is the silverback that leads the group which was established in 2007 after he left his birth group and was joined by other females coming from other gorilla groups. The group has faced some challenging times; which included the death of six infants. Today this group is becoming strong with two successful births in the past couple years as well as a strong silverback leader. This trek to visit the group is challenging and includes an ascent of nearly 3 hours. The trails at times are muddy and pretty steep. It seems this is the group which featured in the legendary movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.
  10. Ugenda Family- This Group lives in Rwanda’s Karisimbi area. It consists of 11 gorillas including 2 silverbacks. The name the group acquired means “being on the move” since the family was constantly moving from one place to another. Because it is constant moving, tracking it is normally challenging and involves prolonged movement in search for them.

Do I have to be fit to take part in tracking the gorillas?

Mountain Gorillas stay up in the montane forest therefore trekking them is done on the higher altitude that offers a diversified vegetation and landscape. You’ll need a good fitness level as well as the will to climb the slippery slopes through the dense undergrowth.

Is there guarantee that I will always see the gorilla?

It is not 100% guaranteed seeing mountain gorillas in Volcanoes national Park but also important to note is that, we have never had cases where visitors on Rwanda gorilla trekking Safaris to Volcanoes national Park fail to see the Mountain gorillas during their trek. To make sure that you see them, trackers leave at day break to establish their location, movement and then they radio the gorilla’s GPS co-ordinates to the park head offices such that by the time you set off the guide has an idea of where the gorillas are. These trackers follow the gorillas even as they move.

What is the minimum and maximum age for trekking gorillas?

The minimum age for gorilla trekking is 16 years and this is the standard limit. It applies in Uganda as well as Rwanda and it is strongly enforced in all the National Parks. However there isn’t a maximum age for trekking but what matters are you able to physically fit to walk or hike the hills.

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