KIGALI – The Volcanoes National Park, Africa’s foremost destination for gorilla trekking is now open after several months of closure due to the deadly Corona Virus. Since mid-June, the park has been open to tourist visits and you can plan your next meeting with the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild of the Virunga Massif!
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is by far a unique and the most rewarding wildlife experience visitors on Rwanda tours should not miss out on. Volcanoes National Park straddles northwestern Rwanda about 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali’s capital city. It is home to a section of rare mountain gorillas that today account for not more than 1004 on earth and only exist in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Volcanoes National Park covers an area of about 160sq.km and its establishment in 1925 was to offer refuge to mountain gorillas and protect their natural habitat. Volcanoes National Park forms part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) that also covers Mgahinga National Park in southwestern Uganda and the Virunga National Park in eastern DRC where mountain gorilla trekking is also conducted.
Gorilla trekking process
Tracking the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park involves hiking through the dense vegetation and steep slopes while in search for endangered mountain gorillas in the wild. Gorilla trekking is a strenuous yet also the most rewarding primate adventure that requires you to be physically well. A trek to view mountain gorillas can last you about 3-6 hours but depends on your hiking speed, nature of habitat and location of mountain gorillas. A gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park usually starts with briefing at 7:00am on the set safety measures and actual trek begins at 8:00am. Visitors are accompanied by a professional park ranger guide after you have been assigned to gorilla group to trek.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is not only about viewing mountain gorillas in the wild but it also gets you opportunity to see other wildlife species. Volcanoes National Park is a home to over 200 bird species and many other primates, mammals, unique flora most of which will be spotted while on a trek to view mountain gorillas.
Where to go for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is only conducted in habituated gorilla families, each of which offers trekkers a unique experience. Every habituated gorilla family is assigned to visitors to trek in a group of 8 visitors each day. The habituated groups that have been set for gorilla tours in Volcanoes National Park include the Susa A, Susa B (Karisimbi), Agashya (13 Group), Kwitonda, Bwenge, Hirwa, Sabyinyo, Umubano gorilla family, Uganda, Amahoro gorilla family, Titus gorilla group and many others set for research.
When to go gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park can be done at any time of the year. However, it is best to visit Volcanoes National Park to trek mountain gorillas during the dry season which starts in the months of June, July, August, September and December, January, and February. During the dry season, gorilla habitat remains relatively drier which makes it a bit simpler for trekkers to hike through the dense rainforest and steep slopes of Volcanoes National Park while in search for mountain gorillas. But you can also pay a visit to Volcanoes National Park to trek mountain gorillas during the wet or rainy season and this usually begins in the months of March, April, May and October, November. The challenge with rainy or wet season is that there is plenty of rainfall and the habitat normally becomes muddy, slippery thus making it a bit challenging to hike through the slippery steep slopes and dense rainforest.
Gorilla Trekking Rules and Regulations
Gorilla trekking rules and regulations serve as guidelines or safety measures not only to ensure survival of mountain gorillas but also to safety of trekkers while in the wild with these creatures. Visitors are always briefed on the set gorilla trekking safety measures early in the morning at Kinigi park headquarters prior embarking on actual trek. They include among others-gorilla trekking is restricted to only 8 visitors per gorilla family per day, only persons above 15 years are allowed to take park in gorilla trek or obtain gorilla permit, no visitor is allowed to trek gorillas when he or she is sick or not feeling well, visitors are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke while on trek to view mountain gorillas, a distance of 7 meters should be kept at all times away from gorillas, keep your voice low but feel free to ask as many questions as possible and many others.
Packing list for gorilla trekking
Visitors going for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park are required to pack appropriately starting with essentials first. In your packing list, make sure you include water proof hiking boots that are light weight and offer support to your ankle, water proof day back, drinking water, energy giving snacks, camera but with no flashlight and if it has, please turn it off when taking photos, gardening gloves, long sleeved shirts, trousers, walking stick-this can be got at the park headquarters or lodge, first aid kit to mention but a few.
Gorilla trekking permits are a must to have for every trekker intending to trek mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Visitors can obtain their gorilla trekking permits at $1500 per person through a recognized, reliable and trustworthy tour operator or through a reservationist at Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park comprises many accommodation options ranging from luxury to budget. They include Mount Gorilla View Lodge/Bisate Lodge/Virunga Lodge/Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (Luxury), Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge (Midrange), and Kinigi Guesthouse (Budget).
Getting to Volcanoes National Park
A gorilla visit to Volcanoes National Park starts with you landing at Kigali International Airport and then driving to northwestern Rwanda to the park for about 2-3 hours. Alternatively, drive from Kabale/Bwindi National Park or Mgahinga National Park which is about 3-4 hour drive via Katuna or Cyanika border.
In summary, the popular Volcanoes National Park is one exceptional destination that allows you get close to mountain gorillas while in the wild-a magical encounter you need not to miss out in Rwanda.