Meeting the mountain gorillas of Rwanda
When you meet the gorillas you’ll have the chance to spend between 40 minutes to one hour quietly observing them in their natural habitat.
The gorillas are likely to be just a few metres away from you and they will continue to go about their daily lives - feeding and interacting with each other, under the watchful gaze of the silverback. We promise that this is something you’ll never ever forget!
You should talk in a low voice while you’re with the gorillas and you must try not to make any loud noises or sudden movements. Of course you’re going to be excited, but you should try to express this quietly.
You’re requested to keep a five metre distance from the gorillas and you must not touch them under any circumstances.
Even though the gorillas are used to seeing people on a daily basis, they are wild animals and they can sometimes react unexpectedly. It is essential that you listen to the instructions from your guides and trackers at all times.
Duration of the mountain gorilla trek
You’ll have up to one magical hour with the gorillas, however this never feels long enough and we recommend that you consider doing two treks.
No two gorilla experiences are ever the same and a second trek offers the opportunity to track a different family in a different area of the park.
On a second trek you’re more likely to put the camera down, relax and enjoy the experience.
Meet the mountain gorillas of Rwanda
Photography of the gorillas
Taking photographs of gorillas is challenging, due to the light conditions and the fact that the distance between you and the gorillas is unpredictable.
Your time with them is limited, therefore you should ensure that you’re as prepared as possible to get the best photos.
Your choice of camera is completely up to you – we’ve seen some excellent photos which were taken with an iPhone 6s, however a DSLR that can shoot at a high ISO is recommended.
As you’re required to be at least seven metres from the gorillas, a 70-200mm lens is ideal. A 2.8 lens is even better as the light in the forest can be very poor at times.
Flash photography is not allowed so make sure that you disable the flash on your camera or mobile phone before you get to your group of gorillas.
Your time with the gorillas is precious so you should plan your shots rather than shooting away wildly. We recommend that you find a balance between absorbing this incredible experience and taking photographs of these fascinating creatures.
Don’t spend the whole time looking through your camera lens – you should focus on the experience as well as taking your photographs.
Wayfairer Top Tip - Make sure that your batteries are fully charged and you have plenty of space on your memory cards. You should also make sure that you have waterproof bags or covers for your camera as the rainforest climate means it can rain any time of year.
Gorilla Permits in Rwanda
Visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda is strictly managed to protect these critically endangered animals in their natural habitat and increase their chance of survival.
A permit is required to trek with gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. As there are only 12 habituated gorilla families available to see, and only 8 people who can visit each gorilla family each day, the gorilla permits are strictly limited to 96 per day.
Rwanda gorilla permits sell out months in advance, so you’ll need to obtain your permit early to secure your preferred dates, especially during the busy months.
Although the rainy season of April to May and October to November are not as competitive, the dry seasons of December to March and June to September are extremely popular and permits sell out quickly.
On the actual day of the trek, you will be allocated a gorilla family to track, based on your age, fitness level and number of pre-booked treks. Some gorilla families are harder to track and require a high level of fitness, while other families require shorter trekking times.
Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Prices
The permits currently cost US$1500 per person (as of May 2019). We can secure your gorilla permit at no extra cost when you book your gorilla safari holiday with us.
The price includes park entrance, expert guides and trackers, the security of a tourism police force in the parks, and one precious hour of time with the gorillas.
Tipping your guides and trackers on your gorilla trek is optional, but not necessary, and is entirely at the discretion of the traveller.
Refunds/Cancellations of Gorilla Permits
You will be refunded 50% of the gorilla tracking fee if you are showing signs of illness, as you will not be allowed to track the gorillas if you are declared unfit by the Warden in Charge.
Gorillas can be easily infected by human diseases, and as they don’t have the necessary immunity to fight these diseases, any sick people can be a huge threat to the gorilla population.
Age Restrictions for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Due to safety reasons, you must be at least 15 years of age to track gorillas in Rwanda.
Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park
We recommend staying close to Volcanoes National Park - you'll be close to the park headquarters (you must arrive at 7:00am for your pre-trek briefing), and you'll have the chance to soak up the spectacular natural beauty of the Virunga region.
Here are our top picks for a luxurious lodge stay near Volcanoes National Park:
As one of the most sought-after lodges in all of Africa, Virunga Lodge is the leading gorilla lodge in Rwanda.
Set high on a ridge, with panoramic views over the Musanze Valley, Lake Bulera and Ruhondo and the Virunga Volcanoes, you’ll be able to soak up the breathtaking sights from the comfort of your luxurious banda cottage.
There are only ten bandas with each one featuring a private terrace to watch the sunrise, a cosy fireplace, a luxury shower room, and colourful Rwandese fabrics and furniture.
You’ll also have your own personal butler to assist you with your stay, from cleaning muddy boots to booking complimentary massages.
Located only a 40-minute drive from Volcanoes National Park, the lodge is a magnificent base from which to see the mountain gorillas of Rwanda.
Besides meeting the famous residents of the region, there’s plenty to do around the lodge. You can explore the property on the maze of trails and terraced gardens winding down the mountain slope, including treks to the Karisimbi or Visoke Volcanoes and Dian Fossey's grave.
There’s also the brilliant Dian Fossey Map Room, filled with fascinating sketches, old maps and books about the famous residents of Volcanoes National Park.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
Hidden deep in the foothills of the mighty Virungas, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is an exceptionally luxurious lodge in a prime location.
Set only three kilometres from the main entrance to Volcanoes National Park, you’ll be well-placed for your trek to see the mountain gorillas.
It’s also the perfect place to return to after a long day of trekking in the dense forest. There are only 9 stylish cottages, made from local stone and terracotta, and you’ll adore the tranquility of the property.
There’s an onsite spa to soothe aching muscles, and you’ll melt into your beautiful cottage with a gorgeous fireplace and large private decks with stunning views of the volcanoes and forest.
Sip on freshly brewed coffee on your deck in the morning, watch the glorious sunset each evening, or take out your binoculars for the chance to spot some of the 600 bird species flying around the forest.
As Rwanda’s first ever community-owned lodge, Sabyinyo is committed to driving socio-economic and conservation initiatives around the National Park, and there are plenty of opportunities to visit local community projects.
What to pack for a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda
It’s important to come well prepared for the incredible experience of tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda, however you don’t need to overpack with too much gear. Note that domestic flights usually have luggage limited to 20 kilograms per person and it’s best to use a soft case or holdall to maximise space.
Here's our advice on what you should pack for a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda:
- Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support. Make sure your shoes are well worn-in before departing to avoid any nasty blisters.
- Light, breathable, waterproof jackets and trousers, and long-sleeved shirts. It’s important to wear light, long layers due to the variable weather and to avoid any bites from insects.
- Warm layers for the chilly mornings and cold nights.
- Long, lightweight woollen socks.
- Wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses for sun protection.
- Toiletries such as sun cream, insect repellent, after-sun, bite relief cream and lip balm.
- Garden gloves to protect your hands as you grip the vegetation during your trek.
- A small backpack to carry your water, lunch, extra clothes, binoculars and camera.
- Camera with extra lenses and batteries. Bring more memory than you think you need.
- Binoculars to have a clear view of everything and to spot other wildlife such as birds and monkeys.
- Snacks - the trek can be quite strenuous, lasting anywhere from two to nine hours, so bring some snacks for extra energy.
- A reusable water bottle to limit waste - you’ll need to bring plenty of drinking water on your trek.
- Multi-way travel adaptor. Rwanda uses plug types C (two round pins) and J (two round pins and a grounding pin), and operates on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz standard frequency.
- Supplies for local community projects. Take a look the Pack for a Purpose page for Rwanda, which recommends supplies you can bring to donate and drop off at partnering hotels, lodges and schools.
Plan your Rwanda gorilla trekking safari