7 Tips for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Rwanda Gorilla Trek

Rwanda is one of the three countries in the whole where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live. Mountain gorilla population is estimated to be less 900 individuals living in a limited range of habitats in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park of Uganda and the virunga volcanoes shared by Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.

Gorilla tracking being a leading tourism activity in Rwanda and also as a factor of growing socio-economic solidarity due to revenues generated from gorilla tourism entails a lasting harmony between the environment, gorillas and local communities. Ecotourism makes it possible for tourists to get close to the rare and critically endangered gorillas but under strict environmental rules.

Tourists who come for mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National park need to know how to effectively prepare all necessary requirements for the activity in advance.

  1. Booking a gorilla permit in advance of 3-4 months

Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda has a smaller share of the mountain gorilla population estimated to be about more than 200 individuals. Of these 10 gorilla families have been habituated to give tourists a close encounter with gorillas in their natural habitat under strict environmental rules and regulations.

Each gorilla family is visited by one group of 8 tourists per day meaning that a total of 80 gorilla trekking permits are sold out on a daily basis. In addition to the limited number of people, there’s high demand of gorilla trekking permits, a reason why you must book for one early. Tourists need to do that by contacting local tour operators or the Rwandan Development Board. A gorilla permit fee currently in Rwanda is at $750 per tourist.

This high cost of the permit generates a lot of revenues which are the power lines to foster community tourism development, to drive poverty out of the people living with gorillas and fund conservation of gorillas and their habitats. The other money is used in the general management of the national park human resource such as guides, conservation managers, wardens, trackers and rangers who provide maximum security. After securing your gorilla permit, you need also to book for the accommodations which range from high end, mid range to budget lodges, hotels and campsites.

2. Get good hiking boots and other necessary gears too wear

The timing of the season is one factor that determines what you need to bring or wear on your gorilla safari to Rwanda. December- February and June –September is the dry months but still t rainfall should be expected any time of the day. During this season, trails are quite dry and easy to hike due to sunny weather conditions. Though expect to trek for long hours since gorillas also increase movement in search of fresh vegetation.

On the other hand, the wet season is between March-May and October -November. This time trails are very muddy, slippery and difficult to hike but it comes with one advantage that treks tend to be shorter since gorillas move less. The vegetation is very green and good for photography.

Gorilla trekking takes place in moderate altitude volcanic mountains with the highest being Mt. Karisimbi at 4,507 meters above sea level. The terrain is steep and ragged with wet conditions which require trekkers have solid hiking boots, guitars, stretching stockings to enable tucking in long pants. This foot wear will keep you off the likely foot injuries from sharp rocks, thorny bushes, stinging nettles since trails used move up and down the muddy and boggy slopes.

In addition to the foot wear, you need rainproof jackets or bag to cover your camera equipment, long sleeved shirts, sweaters/ a coat, hut, gloves will help to keep you warm even when it rains. Then add insect repellants, sunscreen and hut.

Never worry though about what to pack regarding wearing gears during your gorilla trek in Rwanda. The most important thing is you to be physically fit to be resilient during long hours of trekking at the end of the day you will get your dirty clothing cleaned by the staff at the lodge.

3. Hire a porter (affiliated to the local community)

As the saying goes “good guests and good hosts, there is a local community organization providing porter services for tourists who need them. Some tourists may not carry their backpacks during trekking hence decide to pay an extra amount of $10 or more to a porter who will not only carry your backpack but also pull your arm during hiking where necessary. Tourism as a leading industry for job creation means that hiring a porter generates income for them. In return once the local communities benefit from gorilla tourism, there would be less encroachment and poaching of gorillas, reasons why mountain gorilla numbers are on the rise not only in Rwanda but also in Uganda and DR Congo (virunga region).

  1. Travel to Rwanda with enough money

As one of the qualifications when applying for a Rwandan tourist visa, you are required to show proof of enough money besides your pre-organized gorilla trekking package. This may or may not depend on the nights you desire to stay in Rwanda while on your gorilla trekking safari. In addition to the basic price of a Rwandan gorilla permit ($750), on your safari you have got guides, trackers, porters and hotel staff who all add a service to your gorilla trekking experience at one point. Tipping as a matter of a social tradition provides incentive for workers with regard to the quality of service offered to you whether it’s in the lodge you stay in or tour operator you traveled with. Hence you might have something to spend on say for instance purchasing a walking stick or hiring any other equipment, however be expectant and vigilant by asking the right way of giving gratuity especially when you inside Volcanoes National park.

  1. Be physically fit

Mountain gorilla trekking is done on foot by hiking through rainforests, bamboo which dominate much of volcanoes national park vegetation. The activity can last between 30 minutes or 8 hours depending on where the trackers locate a particular habituated gorilla family. In addition to the time of locating gorillas, the steep terrain characterized by muddy and slippery trails make the trekking experience for the physically challenged rather difficult.

Some tourists (old age) never made it to the gorillas after a heart attack or have been carried like babies after their body cannot make any step further due to strain of walking for long hours hence altering their experience. The hiking gears and energetic foods however much they may help, they cannot guarantee you strength on the steep terrain. I guess no one wants to have such an experience hence you must train or rehearse your physique in advance of your gorilla trekking safari. Note, however, tourists to avoid a bad experience must clearly explain to the Rwandan Development Board staff about their trekking capacity so that you are allocated to a gorilla family that is easy to find and trek. This can be done while booking your permit, you should also ask about the features of gorilla families so that you are able to choose according to your interests.

  1. Listen to the gorilla guides

As a matter of fact, gorilla trekking as a tourist activity has strict rules and regulations meant to limit human disturbance to gorillas and other wildlife as well. From the moment you reach at Kingi the main visitor centre in Volcanoes National Park, you are already in the territory for gorillas and expected not to confront the gorilla trekking guidelines whatsoever.

Your guides will always brief you about how to behave while with gorillas earlier before you enter the forest. Remember that although gorillas have been habituated, they are still wild and subject to charge when threatened. Do as your guide tells you to do, for instance staying in a tight group, remaining calm, or sited whenever gorillas exceed the limit distance of 7 meters. Keeping voices low also increases chances of spotting other wildlife such as birds, reptiles, monkeys, antelopes and large mammals like forest elephant, buffalo and warthogs adding a bit on your overall gorilla trekking experience.

  1. Stay focused and flexible

As you plan your gorilla trekking, there are some things to put in consideration such as good camera for photography and spare lenses and batteries. This applies also to other trekking gears; there is no need to buy heavy gears so that you keep your backpack light.

Whether you are a conservationist or someone who just wants to see gorillas and go back, there is a general trend of travel behavior known as ecotourism where tourists endeavor to keep destinations clean and natural as they were. While in Volcanoes National park Rwanda, you will appreciate the tolerance and peace of local people with nature, ecotourism ensures gorillas are conserved and also benefiting locals through jobs and income.

Mountain gorillas live amidst high human population densities, thus there are threats to their survival such as poaching, encroachment, habitat loss all which are caused by humans. All tourism stakeholders come at the frontline when it comes to conservation, it’s recommended to arrange a tour with a nature friendly tour operator or stay in an eco friendly lodge if we were to achieve the global goal of sustainable tourism development.

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