Rwanda Gorillas are found in the Virunga Volcanoes and Rwanda has become a premier destination for gorilla tracking in East Africa. The mountain gorillas of Rwanda are protected in Parc Nationale des volcans (PNV) refered to Volcanoes National Park in English. Within the park, there are several habituated gorilla fanilies that can be visited by tourists.
Accessing Volcanoes National Park is a little easier to reach than other gorilla parks. This is due to that the park lies in a distance of just a 3 hour drive from Kigali City, the capital of Rwanda.
Parc National Des Volcans is the only Park in Rwanda that harbors mountain gorillas and it is one of the three Virunga parks protecting the mountain gorillas. The park covers an area of 46 square miles and has six volcanoes making it interesting for only gorilla trekking in Rwanda but also hiking adventures.
In order to visit the mountain gorillas, you will need to book a gorilla permit with the Rwanda Development Board or through a local tour operator. A gorilla permit costs only US$750 per person and it is always advised to book your gorilla permit 5 months in advance though last minute permits can be got through local tour operators.
For more about Rwanda Gorillas read the following
- Mountain Gorilla Families in Rwanda
- Gorilla Tracking Rules
- Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking has become a top bucket list adventure activity for most travelers who regard seeing mountain gorillas as a life changing wildlife experience. This is because of the fact that these apes are less than 900 individuals living in the wild. These live in limited range of habitats of Bwindi impenetrable forest National Park (Uganda) and the Virunga Mountains shared by Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.
Mountain gorillas also shares 95% of their DNA with human beings hence appear to be man’s closest cousin. This makes them very vulnerable to contract human infectious diseases such as colds/influenza and diarrhea because tourists trek every day and spend some time with gorillas in the forest.
Therefore, tourist contact with gorillas is highly regulated with strict environmental rules set. The highly priced gorilla permits means that few people will be able to afford the cost of gorilla trekking hence those few who can manage are expected to be responsible tourists who will not harm the ecosystems. Gorillas are also monitored on a daily basis by Veterinary Gorilla Doctors and rangers who provide security to the overall wildlife in Volcanoes national park, Rwanda.
Mountain gorillas were nearly getting extinct due to human activities such as poaching, civil wars, human diseases, habitat loss and encroachment. Before the advent of gorilla tourism in the 1970’s their numbers were less than 500 hence you have a privilege to come face to face with critically endangered gorillas in their natural habitat.
The reason behind gorilla tourism was mainly to generate revenues implying that gorillas were to pay for their conservation since there was limited donor funding that couldn’t fund conservation of gorillas and other wildlife living in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.
Thanks to conservation efforts, pioneered by Dian Fossey who inspired both the international community and local conservation organizations to come together to protect mountain gorillas. Over the past two decades their Numbers are steadily increasing so as number of tourists who come to see them hence gorilla trekking is becoming highly limited tourist activity in Africa.
Seeing mountain Gorillas, eye to eye encounter comes at a cost
In Rwanda, mountain gorillas are found in Volcanoes National park located in Musanze district northern province. The park’s moderate altitude volcanoes (between 2500- 4500 meters above sea level) covered by rain forests and large bamboo provide home to more than 250 gorillas. At least 10 gorilla families have been habituated making them easy to see by tourists than the wild ones.
For one to trek gorillas in Rwanda, a gorilla permit is a mandatory requirement for each trekker. Gorilla permits are very few due to high demand hence you must book and pay $750 in time a head of your real trekking dates. You need to contact a local tour operator or the Rwandan Development Board. After getting your permit you are guaranteed to see gorillas in their natural habitat with expert guides and trackers.
Apart from that monetary cost tourists have to incur to see gorillas, respect for nature (habitat for gorillas) is another. Through ecotourism as a conservation strategy, tourists are subjected to strict gorilla trekking rules and regulations which are meant to limit human disturbance of gorillas. Tourists must be briefed about gorilla trekking code of conduct every morning before going in the forest. This takes place at Kinigi, the main tourist center.
Only a number of 8 tourists can visit one gorilla family for one hour per day. A gorilla trek starts early in the morning, led by guides and rangers you enter the forest and search for the gorillas until found. Hence trekking through rainforests characterized by steep and slippery slopes requires a healthy body and fitness since gorillas move freely in their habitat range and locating them might take 8 hours.
Conservation of gorillas in Rwanda is a joint effort of the government, private partners, NGO’s and local communities. Revenues generated from gorilla tourism partly fund various community development projects improving the livelihoods of people. This is one reason why gorillas co-exist with people since financial benefits offer alternatives to forest resources like water, bush meat, wild honey and medicinal herbs. Poaching as well as habitat encroachment has reduced among local communities. Tourist experience has also been increased with good infrastructure such as roads, hotels and other local attractions besides gorillas. Gorilla trekkers also have options ranging from nature walks, birding watching and volcano hiking to cultural tours which are normally done after gorilla tracking.
“Gorillas in the mist”
One interesting thing about gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National park Rwanda is that the park was a former research base ground of late Dian Fossey hence you follow the footsteps of the legend. Dian Fossey was an American primatologist who dedicated all her entire life to conserve gorillas through introducing anti-poaching campaigns and habituating gorillas.
Although died in 1985, the legends never die her work to save gorillas is still alive and doing practical work in monitoring gorillas, working with rangers and funding conservation activities in volcanoes national park. After a gorilla trek, tourists usually hike to the Dian Fossey tomb between Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke to pay tribute. Also the movie, “gorillas in the mist” which was a tribute to her work and it features members of a Bwenge one of the habituated gorilla families.