Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is the most accessible gorilla trekking destination in Africa, the park is located North of the Rwandan capital Kigali and its 2 and half hour’s drive by road, named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif: Karisimbi – the highest at 4,507m, Bisoke with its verdant Crater Lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhavura which supports some of Africa’s top rainforests which is home to the Endangered Mountain gorillas.
Tracking endangered African Mountain gorillas through the tucked jungle is a highlight of any visit to volcanoes national park, the park is home to over 200 species of colourful forest birds and exclusively rare golden monkeys that occupy the bamboo zones of the forest.
Within the boundaries of Volcanoes National Park is Buhanga Eco-Park, an ancient forest holding Rwanda’s most intriguing folklore and Musanze caves, formed 62 million years ago after the last estimated volcanic eruption.
Hiking the dormant Volcanoes, canoeing in Lake Bulera and Ruhondo, Mountain biking with African rising stars and village experiences are some of the highlights of your visit to Volcanoes National Park.
Mountain gorilla groups
Volcanoes national park has two groups of mountain gorillas, the habituated mountain gorillas are the ones that are available for tourism, and gorilla habituation is the process by which researchers start following the mountain gorillas from the first time they have their eyes on them until 2-3 years with the purpose of making them used to human beings, then the park also has wild mountain gorillas in the park, those are not known and usually they are solitary and the numbers are not known.
There are twelve gorilla families living in the Volcanoes National Park, which are fully habituated, with a few others habituated solely for scientific research. The groups, or troops, consist of at least one silverback along with several females and youngsters the groups for tourism include the Agashya gorilla family, Sabyinyo gorilla family, the Titus gorilla family, Amahoro gorilla family, Susa A gorilla family, Umubano gorilla family, Karisimbi gorilla family, Hirwa gorilla family, Kwitonda gorilla family, Bwenge gorilla family and Ugenda gorilla family.
Mountain gorilla permits
Eight tracking permits are issued per troop per day, meaning the encounter is as intimate and as unobtrusive as possible. With only 96 permits available each day in Rwanda, it is highly recommended to book in advance with a reputable tour operator, Visitors gather at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters in Kinigi at 7 am, and are allocated a family group on the day according to fitness levels, as well as being briefed on protocols and rules for visiting the gorillas.
Hikes up to their various locations can last anything from 30 minutes to four or more hours, reaching an altitude of between 2,500m and 4,000m. Porters are available to carry backpacks and cameras, as well as to offer a helping hand along the route.
Trek to the mountain gorillas
Usually the evening after dinner one of the lodge staff will take orders for breakfast and picnic lunch, at 6 O’clock you will depart for the park offices where the verification of mountain gorilla permits and allocation of gorilla families is done, while you are having briefing with the lead guide a team of trackers will already be in the forest tracking the gorillas using the previous nests, fresh broken branches, after the briefing your lead guide will communicate with the trackers using a walk talky or a radio call in the process they will give the guide directions on where to start the trek, then after you will get in to your cars and drive close to the park boundary where the trailhead is and then you will start your trek to the forest depending on where the mountain gorillas are, the trek can take anything between 2-4 hours in general, meaning if you find the gorillas after 30 minutes you will spend 1 hour viewing them and then trek back for 30 minutes meaning the whole experience will take 2 hours or more approximately up to 6 hours, the trek will require some physical ability as the gorillas leave in the mountains and there is usually hiking up the hills and down the hills.
Actual encounter with the mountain gorillas
As you approach the mountain gorillas you will see smiles on the faces of your guide and he will let you know that it’s time to take your last sip of water or bite you will hear the massive movement of vegetation and sometimes sound and then you shortly meet with the trackers and then you will immediately have your first glimpse of these magnificent gentle giants the families are usually comprising of the Alpha male called the silverback, females, sub-adults, babies and black backs (young males) without the silver colour, the colour comes as a result of maturity at the age of 12-14 and it’s possible to have more than 1 silverback mountain gorillas in one family but there will be one dominant male, you will continue to view the gorillas feed, play, eat and sleep for the period of 1 hour and after you will say your goodbye to the gorillas and return to the trailhead to meet your guides and transfer to your lodge or next destination.
Gorilla trekking age limit and how easy is the trek?
Gorilla trekking involves trekking on foot and the age limit to be able to secure a mountain gorilla permit is 15 years and above, Mountain gorillas move around in very dense jungles at areas of high altitude between 2500-4000 m above sea level. That said, generally speaking, anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can do a mountain gorilla trek. The toughest aspects of the trek will be the tricky terrain and high humidity levels. People who may have special issues as to why they can’t trek in the mountains will have the opportunity to be carried on chairs to the gorillas and back for a fee between 300-500 USD for the particular trek so that they can also have the chance to see the mountain gorillas.
Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park
The encountering of Mountain gorillas is ultimately guaranteed and doesn’t really depend on the weather conditions in the national park. However, trekking becomes more challenging during the rainy season when the hiking trails become very slippery in heavy rain and this implies that hiking is slightly more convenient in the Dry season which is usually from June to August, and to a lesser extent in early September, December and February.
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