I and my family last month we planned to travel into Africa, and for my case I wanted to go to Tanzania, but as you all know that when planning a safari there is always a planner and who can advise on the best places where to go. My wife had a dream to go gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda. After a tough battle with my wife, decided us to include a visit to Rwanda after our Tanzania safari. Rwanda is one of the few places where the mountain gorillas can be seen in the wild. Connectivity from Tanzania was easy and though we used a flight, it is also possible to travel to Rwanda by boat. At the end of our gorilla safari in Rwanda we agreed that this tour was an unforgettable experience that we will tell the world.
There are 10 habituated mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda, 10 of which are visited on a daily basis for 1 hour by 8 tourists each. To protect the mountain gorillas from human infection, you have to do your best to keep 20 feet away. On a gorilla trek also note that the gorillas are on the same trails as you are, and will brush by your leg at times. The groups that are visited by tourists are habituated to humans and will mostly ignore you, allowing you to see them playing and eating at extremely close quarters. The video and photos I’ve uploaded will give you a much better sense for that than anything I can describe in words.
You should also do not visit the gorillas if you have communicable diseases such as flu which can be spread to these great apes that are dwindling in the world. Currently there are as few as 900 mountain gorillas surviving in only three countries im the world; Uganda, Rwanda and the unstable Democratic Republic of Congo. Though Uganda and Rwanda have developed mechanisms in protecting the mountain gorillas, the Democratic Republic of Congo faces civil strifes in the Eastern part where the mountain gorillas survive. I hope you have seen pictures of gorillas killed in crossfires between the rebels and government. I was informed in 2013, the M23 Rebels also controlled the Virunga National Park making collections from gorilla tracking permits sold out!
There are a few gorilla permits available everyday for those looking to enjoying a gorilla trek in Rwanda. Each gorilla group within not only Rwanda but Uganda & Congo is open to only 8 tourists a day. During the booking stage our travel agent advised us to make a decision early enough so that we can get our gorilla permits booked early enough. Some online guides mention that the prospective tourists should book gorilla permits at least 3-6 months before their trip. During the peak months of June – October and December – February there are few gorilla permits available and most days are fully booked.
Therefore it is advisable to make your gorilla safari booking early or apply for a gorilla permit that will offer you access to visit the groups well in advance, especially during peak times. There are only about 900 mountain gorillas left in the world, and fewer than 300 individuals live in Rwanda.
The Gorilla Trek
On our trek, we spent 3 hours tracking the mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda. The time spent on a gorilla trek is unpredictable! Some of the trackers took about 3 -6 hours to visit and get out of the forest. The gorilla trek is indeed an awesome experience! During our trip we managed to hike for only 1 hour on a cool but sunny day! The favorable weather definitely helped us manage the trek easily. Because of the location of the gorilla family we were assigned to, we found ourselves climbing uphill for what felt like a good portion of the 3 hours. We started off walking along a fairly clear trail but soon found that we were walking in the brush, sweeping aside branches that threatened to whack us, sidestepping elephant dung, climbing over fallen branches and tree trunks.
Our guide led us up the mountains at a very healthy click; even he acknowledged that we were moving quickly. I don’t know how someone unfit or with bad joints would have been able to maintain our pace. We did end up passing a group that was moving more leisurely, so perhaps the guides can tailor the trek to each group. Alternatively, we found out about the “African Helicopter” service; for a few hundred bucks (US) a visitor and can be carried through the forest.
Prior to my trek, I’d read that Bwindi is a more challenging hike than gorilla tracking in Rwanda. Yep, it’s challenging. Many hills, footing is not always certain, be prepared to go up and down steep mountains for a long time. It’s great for those who like being active, and it made finding the gorillas so much more rewarding.
Most gorilla safaris offered by tour operators start from Rwanda. Kigali lies in only a 3 hour driving distance from the capital, Kigali. This makes gorilla trekking significantly easier in Rwanda than in the other two locations with mountain gorillas, Uganda and the Congo. There are options for a day trip if you can wake up from as early as 5.00AM and 2 Days gorilla treks which is not possible with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For us we wanted to enjoy a more relaxed safari and therefore we opted for a 7 Days Gorilla Safari that included other adventures.
Tips to Enjoy Your Gorilla Trek
You should take the guide’s advice and tuck in your clothing. My group stumbled upon some safari ants and those guys managed to find the tiniest places to get to know you better. On the other hand, we found that we didn’t need gloves, though they appear on some lists as recommended items.
When the group eventually gets close to the gorillas, guides and trackers will do their best to help you get the best photos and views of the gorillas. That’s when you really get to go off the beaten path, climb over and through bushes with the guides’ machetes leading the way, trying to keep up with the wandering gorillas.
The gorilla groups range in their location, and move around a few miles each day. You can end up walking anywhere from about an hour to 4 hours each way to visit the group, depending on which group you are assigned to. We visited the Kwitonda group the first day, which was a group of over 20 mountain gorillas, about 1.5 hours away walking through dense secondary growth.
We visited the Sabyinyo group the second day, which was a close walk through a bamboo forest.
If you have more time, don’t miss a relaxing holiday along the Lake Kivu. The Rwanda gorilla trekking experience is much rewarding if you also visit the Lake Kivu where you can relax at the shores of the Lake enjoying the sunbathing and if interested take boat cruise along the Lake visiting several fishing villages.
We ended our trip with a Kigali city tour – Kigali is the Rwanda’s capital city and here we visited several craft crops and local markets. We shopped and enjoyed African fruits, local snacks and thereafter tonight we had to board our flight back to America. Therefore I recommend any one looking for African adventure to choose Rwanda the land of a thousand hills, the ultimate destination for gorilla watching.