Seeing mountain gorillas deep in dense mountain forest jungles of Eastern Africa is by far one of the best wildlife experiences you will ever encounter. It is captivating and really emotional watching these fascinating human-like gorillas, which share 98% of our DNA. Hunted almost to extinction, mountain gorillas are critically endangers species whose numbers are progressively growing with the increase in gorilla tourism. Gorillas are found in the Virunga massif region – Africa, characterized with volcanic peaks stretching to cover borders of Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park), Uganda (Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National park) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – DRC (Virunga National Park).
Treks to visit gorillas in Volcanoes National Park are strictly controlled in order to protect the “now” growing gorilla population and hence require some good planning for travelers hoping to take part.
How To Book Your Gorilla Trekking Permit
A gorilla permits is a very important card while planning your gorilla safari in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. It’s a must for you to have your permit to see the gorillas. With increased numbers of visitors going gorilla trekking in Africa, there is high competition to acquire gorilla permits. All visitors planning to go see gorillas are advised to book and secure their gorilla permits at least six months prior to travel dates to guarantee date of interest.
In Rwanda, the RDB – Rwanda Development Board is the government institute the issues gorilla permits and issues to only registered tour operators. Rwanda gorilla permit cost $750 per person for non-residents, $450 for East Africa foreign residents with supporting work permits and $250 for residents.
A Uganda gorilla permit costs $600 per person for non-residents, $450 for East Africa foreign residents with supporting work permits and $100 for residents.
Uganda also offers a low season discount on gorilla permits in April, May and November for $450 per person for non-residents, $300 for East Africa foreign residents with supporting work permits and $50 for residents.
Congo offers gorilla permits in Virunga National Park for $450 per person for non-residents and $300 for East Africa foreign residents with supporting work permits. If you plan to go visit Congo gorillas, you will require a single entry visa of $100.
Gorillas can be visited all year round. With a tropical climate, you can expect rain any time of the year, but the dry seasons from December to March and June to October with little to no rain is definitely the best time to visit. The rainy seasons in April, May and October are challenging because the terrain is slippery and and makes hiking to the gorillas tough.
It’s advisable to have overnight at a hotel near the park head offices where briefing takes place. For clients interested in 1-day gorilla tours from Kigali, you must set off very early to catch the briefing.
At 7am all trekkers must assemble at Kinigi, Volcanoes National Park head offices, with your passport and gorilla permit for a briefing about what to expect during the trek and how to conduct yourself during the trek and while with the gorillas.
After the briefing, you will have a chance to choose a gorilla family you want to trek to. The choice is from a simple, medium and tough hike. All trekkers are divided into groups of eight people and appointed a gorilla family.
Trekkers are driven to their respective group starting points, where with accompaniment of a guide, teachers carrying machetes used to create hiking paths and porters, you start your hike to the gorillas.
Depending on the level of your group, the hike can last from 1-5 hours of hiking before you encounter the gorillas. But finally seeing the gorillas is such a wonderful experience!
What You Need to Know About Mountain Gorillas
Mountain Gorillas are a critically endangered species, which would have gone extinct had it not been for the conservation efforts of Dian Fossey, an American primatologist. In the late 1960’s the gorillas population was highly threatened by uncontrolled poaching, civil war, as well as habitat destruction.
Gorilla tourism, which was pioneered by Dian Fossey, is a fundamental source of income for gorilla conservation efforts.
Gorillas live in families or groups of 15-30 members of babies, juveniles and adults, also called black backs or silverbacks. The age varies. A dominant silverback gorilla heads each family.
Each gorilla family can only be visited once a day by a group of eight people for one hour. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is comprised of 10 gorilla families or groups, and hence, a number of 80 permits are available for trekkers each day all year round.
Gorillas are infants from birth to three years old, juvenile from three to six years old . While considered an adult at six to eight year old, females are mature enough to start reproducing at eight years old. Mature black backs silver from the age of twelve, becoming respected silverbacks.
The gorilla gestation period is for nine months and female gorillas will usually have about six babies in their lifetime.
Gorillas are vegetarian, feeding on thousands of forest species of plants from which they also get water.
Families of gorillas are nomads and they keep moving through the forest. They make new nests where they stay overnight. Gorillas never sleep in the same nest.
All gorilla families visited are habituated and hence used to seeing visitors come to watch them. When with them, they are always preoccupied with playing and the mothers feeding, with the silverback over seeing the family.
Mountain gorilla tourism in Rwanda is indeed a successful conservation story, both for the highly endangered species and local community living around Volcanoes National Park. Money earned from purchase of gorilla permits is used to run conservation projects in Volcanoes National Park, buy gorilla medications and pay gorilla doctors. It also funds rangers and guides, as well as security and patrols that monitor the national park for poachers.
Gorilla tourism, on the other hand, has created jobs for the community staying around the national parks such as guides, rangers, cultural entertainers, crafts and the porters among whom were ex poachers.
The opportunity to visit gorillas in Africa offers travelers a meaningful adventure geared towards a good cause. With a purchase of a gorilla trekking permit, you are helping save the critically endangered gorilla species.
Know Before You Go
Tours to visit gorillas in Rwanda range from 1-4 day short tours, to longer travel plans. Prices for a 3-day tour in deluxe lodges start from $1500 per person including gorilla permits/pass, accommodation, all meals, English guide and van. Contact Wild Rwanda Safaris to start planning your gorilla trekking trip.