Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Nestled among the misty rainforests in the heart of the Virunga Mountains, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park stands as a testament to nature’s majestic beauty and grandeur. This verdant expanse is not only a haven for a plethora of unique flora and fauna but is also home to the magnificent and elusive mountain gorillas. A visit to this park promises an unforgettable encounter with these gentle giants, an experience that often leaves travelers with feelings of awe and reverence. This guide serves as a comprehensive roadmap for those embarking on the awe-inspiring journey of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park spread across 160 square kilometers, is a part of the Virunga Conservation Area, shared with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park boasts ten volcanoes, ranging in altitude from 2,400m to 4,507m, with lush rainforest and bamboo forest coverings. But its crown jewel is undoubtedly the population of about 10 groups of mountain gorillas that are open to be visited by humans.
Trekking to see these majestic creatures is not just a tour; it’s a pilgrimage into the heart of nature. It’s a rare chance to come face-to-face with creatures that share 98% of our DNA, in their natural habitat. The treks vary in duration and difficulty, as gorillas move freely around the park. Some treks can last just a couple of hours, while others might take an entire day.
There are only a few places in the world where one can trek to view mountain gorillas, and Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular. Not only because of its relatively easy accessibility but also due to Rwanda’s conservation success story. The country has shown a remarkable commitment to gorilla conservation, which has seen gorilla numbers slowly increasing over the years.
In the subsequent sections, we will delve deeper into the nitty-gritty of the trek, covering essential details like the best time to visit, permit procedures, health precautions, and more. Whether you are an ardent wildlife enthusiast or a casual traveler, this guide aims to prepare you for what could be the most profound wildlife encounter of your life.
Gorilla Trekking Experience in Volcanoes National Park: A Traveler’s Journey
From the moment a traveler sets foot in Volcanoes National Park, the magic begins to unfold. The very air seems infused with an anticipatory buzz. But what is it truly like to embark on a gorilla trekking adventure? Let’s take a closer look.
1. Pre-Trek Preparations:
Briefing: Each trek starts early in the morning with a briefing at the park’s headquarters. Here, rangers introduce trekkers to the rules of gorilla trekking to ensure the safety of both the gorillas and the visitors.
Grouping: Depending on fitness levels and preferences, visitors are grouped into teams of 8. Each group is assigned a specific gorilla family to visit.
Gear Up: Wear appropriate trekking gear, which includes sturdy hiking boots, long pants, gardening gloves (for navigating through thorny vegetation), a rain jacket, and a hat. A walking stick can be handy for the steep ascents and descents.
2. The Trek:
Diverse Terrains: As trekkers plunge into the heart of the forest, they’re met with a variety of terrains – from bamboo forests to thick jungles, and sometimes even swamps.
Duration: The trek can range from as little as 30 minutes to as much as 7 hours, depending on the location of the gorilla group. The unpredictability adds to the thrill.
Trackers Ahead: Trackers are sent ahead early in the morning to locate where the gorillas slept the previous night and track their movements.
Flora and Fauna: While the gorillas are the main highlight, the journey can also offer sightings of golden monkeys, forest elephants, various bird species, and a plethora of unique plants and trees.
3. The Encounter:
The First Sight: Nothing quite prepares you for the moment you first lay eyes on a mountain gorilla. Whether it’s a massive silverback, watching over his family, or playful young ones swinging from tree branches, the sight is breathtaking.
One Hour with Gorillas: Visitors are allowed precisely one hour with the gorillas. This ensures that the gorillas are not overly disturbed and reduces the risk of them contracting human diseases.
Behavior: While in their presence, it’s essential to maintain a calm demeanor. Sudden movements or noises can distress the gorillas. The dominant silverback is the boss; his behavior determines the mood of the group. If he’s calm, the group is generally calm.
Photography: Taking photos is allowed, but without flash. The experience, however, is so surreal that many find themselves simply sitting and soaking in the moment.
Debrief: Once the hour is up and the group returns to the starting point, there’s a debriefing session. Visitors receive a certificate of participation – a memento of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Reflection: As trekkers leave the thick foliage behind and return to their lodgings, there’s often a sense of profound reflection. Many describe the experience as humbling and a poignant reminder of the intricate web of life we’re all a part of.
In essence, gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park isn’t just another wildlife encounter. It’s an immersive experience that touches the soul, altering perceptions and leaving an indelible mark on the heart. For many, it’s not just about ticking off a bucket list item but forming a deep, unspoken bond with our closest wild relatives.
Essential Info About Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Venturing into the heart of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park to witness the awe-inspiring mountain gorillas is an experience of a lifetime. However, to make the most of this adventure, it’s crucial to be armed with essential information. Here’s a detailed breakdown:
1. Permit Requirement:
Necessity: A permit is mandatory for every individual wishing to undertake gorilla trekking.
Cost: As of my last update in 2021, the cost of a gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda is $1,500 per person. However, prices may fluctuate, so it’s wise to check current rates with the Rwanda Development Board or through your tour operator.
Booking: It’s advisable to book your permit several months in advance, especially if you plan to visit during peak seasons.
2. Best Time to Visit:
Peak Season: June to September and December to February are the dry months and are considered the best times for gorilla trekking. The trails are less muddy, and there’s a lower likelihood of rain.
Off-peak: April, May, and November are the rainy seasons. While trekking can be more challenging due to muddy trails, it’s often easier to secure a permit during these months.
3. Health Precautions:
Fitness: While the trek’s duration can vary, it’s essential to have a reasonable level of physical fitness since some treks can be strenuous.
Altitude: The park’s high altitude can affect some people. Stay hydrated, and consider spending a day or two in the area before your trek to acclimatize.
Vaccinations: Ensure you’re up-to-date with routine vaccinations. Additionally, consider vaccines for Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid, and Meningitis. Malaria prophylaxis is also recommended.
Gorilla Health: Remember that gorillas are susceptible to human diseases. If you’re feeling unwell, it’s crucial, for the gorillas’ safety, to skip the trek.
4. What to Wear and Bring:
Clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers to protect against nettles and thorns. Layering is advisable due to varying temperatures.
Footwear: Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are essential. They provide support and grip on the sometimes slippery trails.
Accessories: Gardening gloves can protect your hands, while a hat and sunglasses can shield you from the sun. Also, pack a rain jacket, irrespective of the season.
Equipment: Bring a backpack with essentials like water, snacks, a first-aid kit, and binoculars. If you’re planning to take photographs, remember that flash photography is not allowed.
5. Respect the Gorillas and the Environment:
Distance: Always maintain a distance of at least 7 meters (about 23 feet) from the gorillas. This is for their safety and yours.
Duration: Spend no more than one hour with the gorillas.
Behavior: Avoid direct eye contact with the gorillas, as they might perceive this as a threat. Also, keep your voice down and avoid making sudden movements.
Leave No Trace: Pack out all trash and ensure you don’t disturb the habitat.
6. Local Community Support:
Engaging with local communities or using community-based services can be an enriching experience. It not only enhances your understanding of the local culture but also contributes to local economies, furthering conservation initiatives.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is not just a tourist activity; it’s a journey into the world of these majestic creatures. Being well-informed ensures a responsible, enjoyable, and memorable adventure.
Safari Lodges in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, famous for its mountain gorillas, is not just a hub for wildlife enthusiasts but also boasts a range of luxurious to budget-friendly lodges that allow visitors to
immerse themselves in the park’s beauty. Here’s a detailed look at some of the noteworthy safari lodges in the area:
1. Bisate Lodge:
Nestled in the natural amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate Lodge offers six luxurious villas with stunning views of the volcanoes. Apart from its opulent design inspired by traditional Rwandan architecture, the lodge boasts a central fireplace, fine dining, Wi-Fi, and guided walks in the surrounding forest. The lodge is deeply committed to reforestation and community upliftment.
2. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge:
Located close to the park’s headquarters, this lodge offers cottage-style accommodations with breathtaking views of the Virunga Mountains. It features spacious suites, a library, and a games room. Each cottage has a private veranda, living room, and fireplace. The community trust runs it, ensuring proceeds from your stay support local initiatives.
3. Gorilla Mountain View Lodge:
A mid-range option, this lodge provides 30 chalets, making it one of the larger accommodations in the area. It offers a cozy restaurant, bar, and even a pool for relaxation. The rustic charm of the chalets, paired with modern comforts, ensures a delightful stay. Cultural performances in the evenings and guided nature walks are arranged by the lodge
4. Virunga Lodge:
Perched high on a ridge, Virunga Lodge offers panoramic views of the Virunga volcanoes and the twin lakes, Bulera and Ruhonda. The lodge’s ten bandas (cottages) offer the best in luxury with spacious rooms, private terraces, and en-suite bathrooms. The lodge operates on solar energy and aims to have a minimal carbon footprint.
5. Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel:
Situated at the base of the Virunga volcanoes, this boutique hotel is a blend of luxury and comfort. The hotel boasts a swimming pool, lush gardens, a restaurant, and a bar. Each of its 13 rooms is designed for comfort with a touch of elegance. It’s conveniently located near the park’s entrance, making it easy for early morning treks.
6. Kinigi Guesthouse:
Operated by the local community, this is a budget-friendly option for those looking for a simple yet comfortable stay. The guesthouse provides basic facilities, a restaurant, and clean rooms. The
atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Its proximity to the park headquarters is a significant advantage.
7. Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge:
It is located on the foothills of Mount Karisimbi, this lodge offers a blend of luxury and nature.
Amenities: From free Wi-Fi, a bar, and a restaurant to a sun terrace with mountain views, the lodge ensures a comfortable stay. The lodge’s design is inspired by African art, giving it a distinctive charm.
When choosing a lodge in Volcanoes National Park, consider the type of experience you’re seeking, your budget, and the kind of amenities you prioritize. Whether you’re looking for luxury surrounded by nature or a simple, budget-friendly base for your gorilla trekking adventure, the park offers something for every traveler.