Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda at Volcanoes National Park

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is carried out at Volcanoes National Park which is situated in the northern part of Rwanda and covers a big part of the Virunga Massif that is 2300-4500 meters. The park inhabits about 480 species of the endangered Mountain Gorillas with different groups that were habituated and conserved for future prospects like education, research and tourism. Trekking starts at around 7:00-8:00 am till 6:00 pm and a maximum of only eight people is authorized to track per an hour on a daily basis.

Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park

Since   the park is known for the endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys alongside hiking tours to various mountains like the karisoke, kirisimbi, Muhabura and Bariske, it also covers an area of 160km2 in the rain forest and bamboo.

Gorilla trekking at Volcanoes National Park offers an unforgettable trekking experience for the tourists and it all begins as you climb the mountain gorillas natural environment. The breath taking vistas provided by the shadowed bamboo forest gives the first impression to the trackers who later get swallowed up in the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest.

In order to perfectly conduct your trekking activity, find the best gorilla group to trek depending to your fitness. It takes about 1-4 hours as you encounter the majestic silverback mountain gorillas and direct eye contact as they chew bamboo shoots.

While trekking in the verdant foot hills of the Virunga, expect to watch the Golden Monkeys, bird species in abundance as well as pinning down the Buffalos plus Elephants.

Volcanoes National Park has 10 habituated family groups of gorillas that can be tracked by the visitors which includes;

Susa gorilla group Family

This is the largest and most popular group well known for being studied by Dian Fossey during her research in 1967 to 1985.It derives its name from Susa River which flows through their home range. This group is the hardest to trek as it tends to range high into the mountains but the RDBs tourism and conservation tracker  have always located them  in advance the day before trek. Initially the Susa group consisted of 42 members but later split into the present day impressive number of 28 members with three silverbacks. The group is famous for its playful twins; Impano and Byishimo. Not forgetting  Poppy one of the oldest known habituated gorillas from the Dian Fossey’s  original group who is believed to have been born  in 1976.

Kirisimbi group.

This family is also known as Susa B, and is believed to have been split from the original group(Susa A family),consisting of 15 members. The kirisimbi group lives in the slopes of Virunga volcano; as it appears that they established their home range in karisimbi caldera. Tracking the Karisimbi family may sometimes be difficult as it’s only suited for more serious hikers because of its distant location.Just like the original group, the karisimbi are also hard to trek and it takes long to track. This may Lead to cancelation of the trek if the family is too far away. This trek is worth rewarding because the visitors get to see a lot, including some stunning scenery ,although the trek may be difficult.

Sabyinyo gorilla family group.

This group was named after the sabyinyo volcano, which means” the old mans tooth”.It  consists of  8 individuals with one giant silverback, Guhonda who is the largest and regarded as the commander of the group weighing 220kg.Guhonda is also well known for having kept its main challenger, Ryango out of the family to remain as a  lonely silverback This group is the easiest and  nearest to track inhabiting the gentle slopes of mountain Gahinga and Sabyinyo .

Amahoro (peace)  gorilla family.

This group   has a sizeable number of 17 individual suitable for trekking which live up to its, name, “peaceful” and are active, delightful to behold when you are in their presence. This peaceful consists of; 1 siverback; 2 black backs; 5 adult females; 2 sub-adult males; 2 juveniles and 5 babies.One must  endure  fairly steep climb to reach Amahoro,however the climb is well worth it, once in contact with this tranquil group.

Umubano group.

This group broke off from the original Amahoro after the dominant silver back ubumwe was challenged by Charles, now the leader of the Umubano. It consists of  11 members  ie,1 silverback; 1 sub adult male; 3 adult females and 6 babies. As Charles matured into a silverback of  the same rank as ubumwe, he  staged a fight because he could not stand being given orders and later challenged  Ubumwe.This fight went on for weeks and months whereby  he latter snatched  some females from  ubumwe and later settled after the formation of his group umubano. since then, he has commanded respect and recognition from ubumwe. No fights have ever existed between the two families again.

Agashya gorilla family.

This group is also known as the special group and it derived its name frm the first habituation which comprised of 13 members. This family today consists of 25 individuals with: 1 silverback; 1 adult females;2 sub adult females; 3juveniles and 7 babies. The group was formerly commanded by Nyakarima who was later challenged by Agashya meaning “the news” Agashya indeed made news by first watching and estimating Nyakarima’s strengths and eventually challenging him to a fierce fight by taking off with his whole group. This was a shock to Nyakarima and an unprecedented event in observed gorilla history. Agashya then moved up the volcano to secure his group and make sure Nyakarima did not track them. Agashya has since increased his group’s numbers by snatching from other groups and assimilating other lone gorillas, rapidly increasing the group from 12 to 25 individuals.

Agashya is known, at the first sign of trouble, to take his whole group up to the top of the volcano. Once, while we were taking a group of tourists to see Group 13 this exact scenario unfolded. Agashya felt that there was another silverback who was about to challenge him. In response, he took the group up the volcano. Every time we thought we were close to see them, Agashya would move the group further uphill. We did not reach them until the very top, where we finally got a chance to see them. By the time we got back to the car we had walked for 12 hours. While it was an exhausting day, it was magical to see gorillas at the top the world.

Ugenda group.

This group got its name because of its movement from one place to another. Ugenda means, ”being on the move000’’ and it has 12 individuals ie.2 silver backs and 11 gorillas. This group is fond in Karisimbi area of Rwanda and since because they move from one place to another, it becomes very difficult to be tracked hence need for moving from one place to another in order to locate them.

Bwenge family.

This group is led by one silverback, Bwenge, who left his natal group  and was joined by females from other groups. This group was formed in 2007 having 11 members with one silverback. They suffered death of sick infants which gave them hard time, however, the group is now growing strong with two successful births in the past two years and a strong silver back leader. The group is mostly found in the slopes of Karisoke volcano and the trek to see them is very tough, as one has ti hike up the hill. The trails are sometimes muddy and very steep.

Hirwa Group.(meaning”lucky one”)

This group exhibits its strength and holds its own amongst all the other established groups. The  group now has 9 members .Its   was formed in 2006 when trackers witnessed the gorillas emerging from two different groups  of group 13 and Sabyinnyo. This group is also called the Lucky one  and it consists of: 1 silverback; 3 adult females; 2 sub adult females; and 3 babies.

Kwitonda Family

The word”kwitonda” means “humble one”. This group contains 18 members led by a silverback called “kwitonda”, having two silverbacks and one  black back. Having migrated from DRC, the group tends to range far making it moderately difficult to trek. This group is also hard to track like Susa B

Gorilla Trekking Permits

Book your gorilla trekking permits at least 1-4 months in advance for the high seasons of June-September or December to February. These permits are booked on first come, first served basis all year round and availability for permits for a particular date is not allowed. A delay in payment or confirmation of the permit s especially for a specific date may cause disruption in your booking. To make it easier, know your travel dates and the day you want to trek then apply with all your information as soon as you can catch up with your trip.

Since gorilla trekking is done all year round, you can secure yourself a gorilla permit 1-2 months in advance for the months; March –May, or October –November.

The Gorilla trekking Permit in Rwanda cost US$ 1500 per person interested in tracking the Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda. These are obtained by contacting the Rwanda Development Board or book them through an authorized Tour Operator Agency. Trekking Gears

When planning for any trekking excursion in the volcanoes national park, one must carry along some useful  thing that will make you attain your lifetime ultimate experience  that involves trekking  or hiking visit in Volcanoes National Park. These include;

  • Have a small backpack as it is useful to carry your water, packed lunch, camera and binoculars.
  • You need light weight hiking boots for this activity/strong waterproof walking boots due to nature and altitude of the forest. So get shoes that have good ankle support (the ones that come above the ankle bone).
  • Take a light jumper and lightweight breathable waterproof jacket/trousers as temperature is variable and weather conditions can change
  • Lightweight long wool socks which are comfortable for a mountain tropical forest
  • A few long-sleeved shirts/trousers. Please ensure that you trek in your long sleeved trousers/shirts to avoid insects such as safari ants entering your trousers.
  • Sweater for cool evenings and chilly mornings due to nature and altitude of the place
  • Bush hat with a brim for sun protection. Please carry a hat to protect you from the strong sun rays if it is hot.
  • You may also need to carry some Sunglasses too with neck strap
  • Sun cream is also necessary
  • Video/photo camera, extra lenses and Reserve batteries. Photography is an important component of your safari and make sure that you have your camera ready, charge your batteries very well and if necessary, carry extra batteries as you will need to take many photographs in the one hour you will have with the gorillas.
  • Films and torch-LED models are light weight and have a good battery life
  • Insect repellants to protect you from Mosquito bites as Bwindi is a tropical forest so many insects are accommodated there in.
  • Garden gloves that will protect you from germs and other items that may scratch your hands.
  • Don’t forget that you are on safari and you want to have clear views of everything so during your trek in search for the rare mountain gorillas, you will have a chance to spot some other wildlife species like birds, primates and large mammals
  • A glove to grip vegetation and it’s also best to have different layers of clothes since the temperatures tend to change.
  • Energy Giving snacks. Gorilla trekking can take from 30 minutes to eight or so hours and that’s why a certain level of fitness is required. To add on that, we advise that you carry some energy giving snacks as supplements and lots of drinking water as you never know when you will return.

Hiring a Porter for your gorilla safari,  is a top tip -You will need a porter to give you a push on the way to the gorillas as trekking/hiking can take some time. You will pay some fee to a porter but it is worth it.

The Best Time to go for Gorilla Trekking at Volcanoes National Park.

For one to enjoy tracking gorillas at Volcanoes National Park, they should visit Rwanda during the dry season in the months of December to March which is the most lengthy dry period with about 29 degrees Celsius  while from March to May, July to September the country will be experiencing the rainy season. Rwanda has appropriate weather conditions annually with the dry season being more favorable since it is more easy and cheaper to track gorillas. The landscape during this period is very fine to comfortably support the movement of the guests/visitors.