Hidden deep in the cloudy highlands of Rwanda, the mountain gorillas are some of the greatest creatures you can see on a trek.
With our entire bodies soaked in mud and rain, my friend Jessica and I hiked through the dense rainforest of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. We had trekked for more than one hour under the heavy rain, and our legs were about to give up. Yet, the motivation of spending 60 minutes with one of the most endangered creatures on planet earth made any discomfort quickly disappear.
Once you come across the mountain gorillas, the moment becomes more intimate. It’s a full hour of calm and silence. You sit with your camera, enjoy this quick instant, and realize this is one of the greatest privileges in nature.
Planning a gorilla trekking in Rwanda might be expensive. Yet, the rewards are priceless.
A success story for animal conservation
The mountain gorillas are the world’s most endangered ape, threatened by human behavior and deforestation. There is no exact number of how many are left, but experts believe the number is growing each year, and right now, it should be just under 1200 – with 380 of them living in Rwanda.
Even though Rwanda does not have the largest population of gorillas, Rwanda is considered one of the greatest conservation success stories in Africa.
The money collected by the local authorities is used to keep a balance between animals, nature, and local communities. Also, with the increased tourism in the region, other businesses can develop and see the importance of travelers coming to Rwanda.
Yes, the gorilla permits in Rwanda are the most expensive in the world (1500 USD per permit). However, when you compare the work rangers and experts are doing for the community, you can see how the money is well invested.
Spending an hour with the gorillas
An organized gorilla trekking is the only way to get the rare opportunity to see the life of these giant primates in the wild. Travelers wanting to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda must arrange one of the 96 given daily permits weeks in advance. Additionally, accommodation and transportation should be planned accordingly, as demand is relatively high, and this is not an activity you plan a couple of weeks ahead. Fortunately, tour operators and lodges easily arrange all these things for you.
On your trekking day, you must arrive at the Kinigi park headquarters in Volcanoes National Park at 7:00 am. Once there, you will be welcomed with warm coffee and a briefing on how the trekking will be.
With 12 gorilla families inhabiting the Volcanoes National Park, the 96 people will be divided into groups of 8 – if you are lucky, you might even end up in a group smaller than 8.
According to your fitness level, the rangers can also put you in groups that end up hiking for up to four hours. If you prefer to see the gorillas as quickly as possible, 30-minute treks are possible.
It does not matter how long the trek is; once you reach the gorillas, you will spend 60 minutes with them. Your ranger will put a timer, and you will have to move on once the time is up.
Read more: Visiting the Akagera National Park in Rwanda
INSIDER INFO: During my visit to the Volcanoes National Park, only 30-40 people were doing the trek that day. My guide Anthony (from Home to Africa Safaris), talked to the rangers and put me in a different group without anyone else joining. That was by far the biggest highlight of my gorilla trekking.
Doing a gorilla trekking in Rwanda is one of the best things anyone can do in their lifetime. It is a magical moment that lasts forever and is the purest way to see these incredible primates without causing harm.
Read more: How to plan a gorilla trekking in Uganda
Know Before You Go
Gorilla trekking tours in Rwanda start from 1-4 days and go to multiple country tours. Prices for a simple 3-day tour, including the gorilla permit, start from 2500 USD per person and should include permits, accommodation, all meals, an English guide, and a 4×4 vehicle.
Like most tours in Africa, if you combine gorilla trekking tours with safaris, national parks, and cultural tours, the final price per day goes as low as 200 USD per day (without gorilla permits). I went to Rwanda with Home to Africa safaris, and together, we did a tour of Akagera National Park, Lake Kivu, and Volcanoes National Park.
Read more: What to bring and wear for gorilla trekking