Seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s untamed mountain jungles is a hot adventure item finding growing popularity with intrepid travelers interested in Africa for summer getaways. Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, via Rwanda’s capital Kigali, bushwhacking through a seemingly boundless expanse of the thick misty jungle on the slopes of the imposing Virunga Mountains, is an experience like no other.
Imagine, if you will, sitting silently under a barely illuminated forest canopy with a few leaves between you and a twenty-strong family of black-furred giant apes. Imagine looking into the familiar deep brown eyes of a 200kg silverback suspicious of your every move. Imagine its quiet grunts and mysterious snuffling’s, and sounds of moist gnawing’s, the chomp of its teeth, and the heaviness of its breath a few feet away from where it can smell your fear.
Imagine the hot flood of adrenaline, that unpleasant tingling in the back of your arms.
Mountain gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is a peerless wildlife experience and one of Africa’s indisputable adventure highlights.
We’ve put together a matchless guide to gorilla trekking in Rwanda with all the useful resources to help you plan a gorilla safari adventure, via Kigali, for your next summer holidays.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda’s Gorilla Sanctuary
A view of the imposing Virungas and the wooded slopes from Volcanoes National Park border at the base of the Volcanoes
Volcanoes National Park is a one hundred sixty square kilometer (160 km2 / 62sq mi) rainforest covering five Virunga volcano slopes on the Rwandan side of the serene and beckoning Virunga Mountains. Also known by its French name Parc des Volcans, the park forms part of a contiguous 433sq. km tri-frontier conservation unit protecting the entire Virunga volcanoes chain. It also incorporates the southern portion of the Congolese Virunga National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park which function separately within their national boundaries.
This immensely scenic and ecologically diverse reserve sits on a chain of steep free-standing mountains with altitudes spanning 2,400—4,507 meters, called the Virungas. The landscape around the volcanoes ranks among the most stimulating African landscapes.
On the DRC border, the tallest of the Virunga Mountains on the most westerly side of the park is the 4,507-meter Mount Karisimbi. Moving eastwards, the other prominent peaks within the national park are Bisoke on the DRC border; Sabyinyo, at the tripartite border with Uganda and the DRC; and Gahinga and Muhabura on the Ugandan border.
The park is a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, an impressive number of animal and plant species, and was the base for the celebrated primatologist Dian Fossey to set the stage for gorilla tourism and conservation. Mountains gorillas get the most hype than anything else in the park.
Gorilla conservation has proved that we can comfortably share this earth with our most feared beasts. Gorillas were almost wiped off the face of the earth by humans. Thanks to brave souls like George Schaller and Dian Fossey who dispelled the gorillas’ public perception as brutes. Dain and Schaller demonstrably established the deep compassion and social intelligence evident among gorillas and how closely their behavior parallels that of humans.
No one who looks into a gorilla’s eyes – intelligent, gentle, and vulnerable – can remain unchanged, for the gap between ape and human vanishes; we know that the gorilla still lives within us. Do gorillas also recognize this ancient connection?
Today more than one thousand mountain gorillas live large in two populations around the Virunga Mountains in East Africa. Not long ago those gorillas barely had a chance, but because of the attention and protection from nature lovers, conservationists, and three East African states. The desire to belong and bong with our evolutionary cousins started gorilla tourism. Thousands are heading to East Africa for the experience of trekking through the jungle looking for a nomadic gorilla family and spending at lead an hour observing them in their natural setting. Just like Dian and George did in the Virunga Mountains.
While the desire to come face-to-face with a mighty mountain gorilla may understandably lure most adventurers to the Virungas, there are good reasons to stay in the area once you’ve finished gorilla trekking. One of them is that the endangered apes share Volcanoes National Park with golden monkey troops. Watching these hyper, cherub-cheeked tiny primates swing through the bamboo forests is worth adding to your gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda.
The Virungas also present a variety of rewarding mountain climbing and hiking adventures. Fewer visitors embark on the more demanding day treks to the summits of Bisoke (famed for its beautiful crater lake) or Muhabura. Fewer still are up for the overnight hike to the highest point in the range, the summit of Karisimbi. To squeeze the most from the Virungas, reserve as much time as you possibly can, as this is absolutely a park that rewards those who linger.
Animal conservation buffs can also visit the prominent primatologist Dian Fossey’s grave and pioneer research centre and relive the “Gorillas in the Mist” movie set
Volcanoes National Park is also home to rare forest elephants, giant forest hogs, buffalo, black-fronted duiker, spotted hyenas, bushbucks, and several varieties of small predators.
The park is also a bird-watching hotspot with more than 170 recorded bird species—at least 13 species are endemic to the Virungas and 16 species endemic to the Rwenzori Mountains. Some birding favorites include handsome francolin, Ruwenzori Turaco, Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird, Rwenzori bates, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared Apalis, red-faced woodland warbler and Archer’s round-robin.
A group of tourists and rangers (green uniform) trekking through the rainforest to find gorillas.
One moment you’ll be machete-bushwhacking through thickets of vines and bamboo, hiking up steep, rugged slopes full of sharp rocks, unyielding roots, and staggering ascents that transfer enormous amounts of strain to your pale, shaking thighs.
Joining the daily gorilla trekking excursions in Volcanoes National Park is the only way to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Countless travelers fly to this tiny nation (or its neighbor, Bwindi in Uganda) to spend sixty priceless minutes staring into the eyes of human’s evolutionary cousins.
Like chimpanzees, mountain gorillas are our closest ape relatives. Spending 60 precious minutes observing them can be like reading a lost chapter in our evolutionary history book.
No place is better suited for a jungle adventure mix of superb gorilla trekking and conservation tourism than Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. And with an insane price tag on permits at $1500, expect a royal treatment throughout your whole adventure experience.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park begins at 08:00 am, irrespective of the date or weather. Expect to spend a night at a forest lodge near the visitor centre and be up before daybreak.
A ranger briefing trekkers before they set eyes on the gorillas. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda – volcanoes national park
A ranger briefing trekkers before they set eyes on the gorillas. Short briefings are standard during the trek to keep you informed.
Expect to be at the visitor centre by 07:30 am for briefing and then drive a couple of minutes from the visitor centre to the trailhead to start your adventure into the wooded wilderness.
It is difficult to explain the simple euphoria that comes with the first time you set eyes on a mountain gorilla in the wilderness. Gorillas are enormous animals: a fully-grown silverback can weigh about three times as much as the average man. A shaggily luxuriant coat exaggerates their bulk. And yet, despite their intimidating size and appearance, gorillas are remarkably peach-loving creatures.
Indeed, by comparison with most primate experiences, gorilla trekking is a considerably more dangerous expedition. Imagine if these gentle giants had the character of common monkeys like baboons (or, for that matter, humans). Even more impressive than the gorillas’ size is their unfathomable attitude to their daily human visitors, which differs significantly from any wild animal.
A family of mountain gorillas in the bamboo forests of Volcanoes National Park, with the patriarchal silverback in the forefront. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Sitting 30 ft. away from a family of mountain gorillas in the bamboo forest of Volcanoes National Park, with the patriarchal silverback in the forefront.
Almost everybody who comes for gorilla trekking experiences an almost mystical sense of recognition when they look into their sunken polite eyes. On one of our guests’ visits, a female gorilla took leave from its chores to study them in detail. It got as close as its soft brown eyes stared intensely into theirs as if seeking out some connection.
Equally enthralling is how some curious gorillas try to interact with their visitors. Some often approach visitors and occasionally do a walk-by-touch with one of the guides in apparent recognition and greeting.
At one of our guest’s recent encounters, a photographic tripod raised considerable curiosity among youngsters and adults. One curious female walked up to the camera, stared ponderously into the lens, and then wandered off, evidently satisfied.
A curious youngster ponderously stares into the lens, before wandering off, evidently satisfied. Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.
A curious youngster ponderously stares into the lens, before wandering off, evidently satisfied
It is almost as if the mountain gorillas recognize their day-to-day visitors as a band of fellow great apes. They consider us too passive to pose any threat. Often a youngster will try to intimidate tourists with a chest-beating display as it walks past them. But it does that in the safety of knowing that they’ll accept its dominance: something it would never do to an adult gorilla.
However, there’s great concern about getting too close to the gorillas. Research has shown respiratory diseases can cross from humans to apes, as it is no different from the coronavirus. Rwanda’s vets and conservationists take no chances and have operating procedures to limit infections. All visitors must wear surgical masks to see the gorillas, sanitizing hands and shoes, and visitors should stay at least 10 meters (32ft) far back from the gorillas. Still, the reality is that there is little anybody can do to stop the gorillas from flouting rules of which they are unaware.
The magical hour with the gorillas is undoubtedly expensive, and getting there can sometimes be exhausting work. The hike up to the volcanoes bamboo forest habitat involves steep, slippery slopes in dense vegetation at high altitudes.
In retrospect, only reasonably fit adults can visit the more accessible gorilla groups. In decades of operating gorilla trekking adventures, we have yet to meet anybody who has gone gorilla trekking and regretted the financial or physical expense.
Wearing a facemask is compulsory when seeing mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park.
Wearing a facemask is compulsory when observing mountain gorillas.
Gorilla Trekking Regulations and Protocols in Rwanda
Tourists are allowed to spend no more than an hour with the gorillas. They’re not allowed to eat, urinate or take-a-shit anywhere near the gorillas or even let a gorilla watch them crap.
Tourists are also under strict orders not to approach the gorillas but to observe a 10-meter (32-ft) distance between them. This rule may be difficult to enforce with curious youngsters (and adults) who often approach human visitors to feed their humanoid curiosity.
All visitors should have tested NEGATIVE for COVID-19 72 hours before the excursion and wear a fresh surgical mask near gorillas. Purely sanitize hands and shoes before approaching the gorillas.
Smoking is not allowed anywhere within the national park boundary because you may litter, cause a fire and annoy other tourists when you smoke.
Gorillas are susceptible to many human diseases. Researchers have long feared that a tourist carrying infectious diseases might infect a gorilla on a visit. Resulting in the possible death of the whole troop should they have no immunity to that disease? Avoid gorilla trekking in Rwanda if you think you’re carrying a potentially airborne infection such as flu or a cold. Please, turn away from the gorillas should you feel the urge to sneeze.
Are mountain gorillas dangerous? To the best of our knowledge, habituated gorillas have never hurt any tourists, but there is always a first time. According to research, an adult gorilla has the strength of 20 strong men. It’s immensely stronger than a person and will act per its social codes. Therefore you must listen to your guide at all times regarding correct protocol in the presence of gorillas.
Seeing mountain gorillas in the wild up-close. An elderly woman watching mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda adventures
It is difficult to explain the simple euphoria that comes with the first time you set eyes on a mountain gorilla in the wilderness.
Rwanda Development Board (RDB) issues eight permits per day for each of the twelve human-habituated gorillas groups in the Volcanoes National Park. That makes a daily total of 96 gorilla permits.
These habituated gorilla groups stay within tracking range on a more-or-less permanent basis. Still, gorillas free-range in about 0.75-to 16 square miles; they could be anywhere at any day.
You’ll not be allocated a specific group in advance. Still, the guides at the visitor centre generally make an effort to match people to a group based on their apparent fitness — Sabyinyo and usually Agashya (Group Thirteen) being the least demanding hikes and Susa, Isimbi or Karisimbi the most challenging.
A gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda, including park entrance, costs $1,500. The pass is strictly for trekkers above 15.
You can buy the permit in advance through the RDB office in Kigali, IREMBO official website or through our reservations office. You can also buy the gorilla permit at last-minute travel depending on availability. However, that’s far-fetching, especially during the peak seasonal months of June to September.
RWANDA Chimpanzees & Gorillas
There is no guarantee that a gorilla permit will be available on any day. Availability is highest during the main rainy season of April and May when gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park gets less attention from the swarm of summer adventurers.
Still, you may need to wait for days or even weeks in the peak season of June to September. We strongly recommend our guests book 6-12 months ahead when we can guarantee availability.
Park regulations require all trekkers to check-in at the park headquarters at Kinigi at 07.00. Here, they can enjoy a complimentary tea or coffee and use the last clean flush toilets. Before you head out, a park warden will allocate your trekking party to one of the eight habituated gorilla groups. If you want to visit or to avoid any specific group, it helps to be there a little early, so you have time to chat with the rangers.
A briefing is held at around 07:30 am, after which you must drive to the appropriate trailhead. Hence, the actual gorilla trekking generally starts between 08:15-08:30 am or as late as 09:30 am for the more distant groups.
Seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Tourists can only approach gorilla groups that have been habituated for tourism. Rwanda has 12 habituated gorillas groups available for tourism and a few for research.
Tourists can only approach gorilla groups that have been habituated for tourism. Rwanda has 12 habituated gorillas groups available for tourism and a few for research.
Habituated Gorilla Groups in Volcanoes National Park
Note that the number of individuals in a gorilla group may change at a particular time, but we try to be as accurate as possible.
The most difficult to reach of the permanent groups is the Susa Group, the one initially studied by Dian Fossey on Mount Karisimbi slopes. Until recently, it comprised more than 40 individuals, including four silverbacks, making it for a time the second-largest group of mountain gorillas in the world. Following a 2010 split into Karisimbi Group (with 10 members) and another in 2014 forming Igisha Group (35 members), Susa now contains 19 members. Karisimbi group split again in 2012, creating the 16-member Isimbi Group.
The above bunch are generally the first choice for most physically fit visitors. Still, it takes quite some drive time to reach them—about a 90-minute drive from Kinigi to the starting point. It would be best if you prepared for a strenuous hike. The ascent from the car park to the forest boundary, though not as steep as it used to be from the new starting point, will also take the best part of an hour.
It will take no more than 20 minutes to reach the gorillas from the boundary on a good day; on a bad day, you might be looking at 2 hours or more in either direction. A few visitors report taking as long as 7 hours to locate the habituated group in the dry season.
If you have to prepare your mind before the trekking experience, ask at the Kihingi visitor centre. The record from the previous day will indicate how deep the gorillas are, as they generally don’t move too far in one day.
At the other end of the harshness scale, is the trek to the Sabyinyo Group, whose permanent territory lies within the Volcanoes National Park, on a lightly forested saddle between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga. Depending on exactly where the gorillas are, the walk from the car park to the forest boundary is flat to slope gently. It will typically take 20-30 minutes. Once you’re in the forest, the gorillas might take anything from 10 minutes to an hour to reach. Still, generally, the slopes aren’t too daunting, though they can be slippery after rain.
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The Sabyinyo Group consists of 15 individuals with two silverbacks. Led by the dominant male Gihishamwosti, who, in 2020, took over from Guhondo, the heaviest gorilla (of any race) ever measured, at 220kg.
The Agashya Group (also known as Group Thirteen) spends most of its time on the same saddle as the Sabyinyo Group. It is usually as easy to reach as the Sabyinyo Group in that area. Still, it sometimes moves deeper into the mountains, and the hike can be significantly longer.
Group Thirteen’s former name dates back to the first habituation date when they numbered 13 gorillas. Still, today it numbers an impressive 26 individuals. It includes 13 adult females serviced by an ultra-promiscuous silverback, who acquired all the females from the Nyakagyezi Group on the Ugandan side.
Group Thirteen seems to be a favorite of many of the guides, probably because its silverback is more relaxed and approachable than those in other groups.
The Amahoro Group, numbering 21, and the Umubano Group, with 14 individuals, share an overlapping territory on Mount Bisoke. Umubano has eight silverbacks, one blackjack, and four adult females. The hikes to reach them are typically intermediate in difficulty between Susa and Sabyinyo.
Despite their territorial overlap, the Amahoro (Peace) and Umubano (togetherness) groups have a pretty harmonious relationship, probably because they have solid familial links. Several individuals have brothers and sisters in the other group.
An indicator that conservation efforts are now bearing fruit is the proliferation of new gorilla groups. The increasing population encourages splits in older groups. Several new groups are open to tourist visits, including the most recent, Geisha and Isimbi.
The Hirwa Group, comprising 13 individuals, was formed in 2006 by a silverback who had broken away from the Susa group about two years earlier. It usually inhabits the foothills of Mount Sabyinyo on the Gahinga side. At about the same time, the Kwitonda Group crossed into Uganda from DR Congo, probably due to the Congolese civil war. For a while, stayed in Mgahinga National Park, forcing the smaller Uganda-based Nyakagyezi Group to cross into Rwanda.
The Kwitonda Group strolled back into Rwanda in late 2006. It now inhabits the lower slopes of Mount Muhabura, a relatively easy hike (comparable to that for the Sabyinyo Group). In May 2021, the Kwitonda group split into two sub-groups with Karevuro keeping 20 gorillas and Kigoma taking 20, an unusual peaceful splitting. Kwitonda Gorilla family remained with 2 silverbacks, 8 females, 2 black-backs, 3 juveniles, and 4 infants.
The latest addition to Rwanda’s gorilla groups available for trekking is the Kwisanga group with 18 members, formed by gorillas that split from the Kwitonda family in May 2021.
The great apes of these rolling hills have interesting territorial shifts; the Nyakagezi Group clashed several times with Agashya/ Group Thirteen, whose silverback poached all the Nyakagezi females. The rest of the group beat a retreat back to Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park.
Therefore the time it takes from the trailhead to reach the gorillas depends on the movements of the various groups.
Rwanda currently has twelve habituated gorilla groups frequently visited by tourists, including Susa, Karisimbi, Isimbi, Igisha, Amahoro, Umubano, Sabyinyo, Agasha, Muhoza, Hirwa, Kwitonda, and the latest addition, Kwisanga. However, there are a handful of other groups left for research and are sometimes visited, including;
Therefore the time it takes from the trailhead to reach the gorillas depends on the movements of the various groups.
It is one of the most frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking in Rwanda and perhaps the most difficult to answer. So many variables are involved in gorilla trekking; you could be in for a genuinely exhausting walk in the woods. Indeed, we rarely see guides carry tourists out of the woods.
On the other hand, everything could fall in your favor, and the gorilla trekking excursion will be no more than the proverbial stroll in the backwoods.
The trek to see the gorillas in Rwanda has two distinct phases. The first phase is the hike from the closest car park to the park boundary, a 30-60-minute walk depending on the trekkers’ speed and the gorilla group’s location.
The second phase is the trek into the forest searching for the gorillas, which the advance trackers usually have located before tourists reach the forest edge. That might take anything from 10 minutes to two hours, but 20-30 minutes is typical, especially for those gorilla groups whose territory lies closer to the forest border.
The first phase of the trek is predictable. It is usually relatively flat and undemanding unless you trek to the Susa Group, which involves a longer and steeper ascent.
The second phase is more difficult to predict because it depends on the exact location of the gorillas on the day of trekking and the steepness of the terrain en route.
Vegetation density is a huge factor determining how challenging gorilla trekking in Rwanda can be. Bending and crawling through the jungle can be tiring, especially if you have to dodge vicious nettles. The weather too, especially if it has rained recently, in which case everything will be muddier and quite slippery underfoot.
At the risk of stating the obvious, age and fitness levels are critical factors in the difficulty of gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
Even the elderly can make the trek up the mountain jungle but you have to have some moderate fitness level to pull-off the adventure experience.
At the risk of stating the obvious, age and fitness levels are critical factors in the difficulty of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Susa Group aside, moderately fit people under 40 seldom feel a significant strain. Still, a high proportion of trackers are in their 50s or 60s, in which case the hike might be somewhat tougher.
Nonetheless, don’t underestimate how tough gorilla trekking in Ruanda is, even if you bike to work every day. Undoubtedly, you may still have to take regular breaks due to problems with high-altitude breathing.
Although many older travelers find gorilla trekking quite arduous, it is very unusual that they are so intimidated to turn back.
An important factor in determining how difficult the hike will be is which group you are allocated and how far from the starting point it forages. Adventure to see gorillas in Rwanda at Volcanoes National Park
An important factor in determining how difficult the hike will be is which group you are allocated and how far from the starting point it forages.
An important factor in determining how difficult the gorilla trekking in Rwanda will be is which group you are allocated. As a rule, the trek to the Susa Group is the most demanding (but also the most rewarding, with around 30 gorillas), while the Sabyinyo Group is the most reliably easy to reach.
Treks to Kwitonda, Hirwa and Group Thirteen are also usually relatively undemanding. In contrast, the walks to the Amahoro and Umubano Groups tend to be more difficult but not as tough as the treks to Susa Group. Unfortunately, it’s clear-cut; any group might be unusually demanding (or easy) to reach on a bad day.
Additionally, we cannot guarantee which group the park warden will allocate to you in advance. However, the guides at Kinigi make a reasonable effort to match individuals to the most suitable group, especially if you ask them. Generally, the trekking party for the Susa Group usually consists of lean-looking under-30s. In contrast, the opposite holds for the Sabyinyo party.
Pushing through the thick jungle vines to reach the gorillas can be challenging sometime, but that’s the whole thrill about this African safari adventure. Seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda – Jungle trekking adventure
Pushing through the thick jungle vines to reach the gorillas can be challenging sometime, but that’s the whole thrill about this African safari adventure.
Uneven Terrain, Weather, & Altitude Conditions
Two further factors are uneven terrain and high altitude. Most visitors to the gorilla highlands live in towns and cities with paved roads and sidewalks. The animal packs back home are serviced by neatly maintained footpaths. They are new to walking on the more irregular and seasonally slippery surfaces typical of the ascent paths and forest floor.
It will help enormously to wear waterproof solid shoes or hiking boots with good tread and solid ankle support.
Furthermore, suppose you think you might struggle in these conditions. In that case, there is a lot to be said to avoid the rainy seasons, particularly March-May, when conditions can be dauntingly muddy.
Don’t underestimate the tiring effect of altitude. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda occurs at 2,500-3,000 meters high. Not high enough for altitude sickness concerns but sufficient to knock the breath out of any trekker, no matter how physically fit they are. Especially travelers that fly in from a low altitude.
Most of Rwanda lies at above 1,500m. For travelers that have more time on their adventure holiday in Rwanda and have altitude concerns, we would advise them to stay a couple of days at the southerly Nyungwe Forest (altitude 2,000 m) to acclimatize for the Virunga altitudes.
Likewise, if you are over landing from elsewhere in Africa, plan your itinerary so that you can spend your pre-gorilla trekking days at medium-high altitudes. For example, when flying in from Kenya, a few days in Nairobi (2,300m) or even the Maasai Mara (1,600m) is far better preparation than the time at the coast.
If you have luggage, hire a porter for twenty bucks to carry your daypack and maybe hold your hand up difficult paths. Once on the trail, the guide leads the trekkers at the slowest person’s speed. So, take it easy, and ask to stop whenever you feel worked up. Carry and drink plenty of water and energy snacks you can buy biscuits, chocolate, and energy bars at supermarkets in Kigali or Musanze.
Fortunately, most people who trek gorillas in Rwanda find the hiking experience far less demanding than they feared. In 99% of cases, whatever exhaustion you might feel on the way up will vanish with the adrenalin spike that follows the first sighting of a silverback gorilla!
Guides will generally offer tourists a walking stick at the beginning of the hike—it is not industrially made. Still, it works as a third leg on uneven and slippery ground.
The drive through Rwanda splendid countryside to the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is something to look forward to. Adventure safari in Rwanda to see gorillas and how to get there.
The drive through Rwanda’s splendid countryside to the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is something to look forward to.
Gorilla trekking and all other activities in Volcanoes National Park start at the park headquarters visitor centre in the sprawling village of Kinigi, which lies at an altitude of 2,200m on the eucalyptus-strewn Virunga foot slopes
Kinigi lies 12km north of Musanze/Ruhengeri, along a surfaced road signposted to the left of the Cyanika Road about 300m past the Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima.
All participants in gorilla tracking and other hikes must be at the park headquarters by 07.00, or they risk invalidating any permit bought in advance.
Most all-inclusive private safaris stay at one of the mid-range-to-upmarket lodges scattered in and around Kinigi the night before they go gorilla tracking or do another hike. That eases the pressure to be at the headquarters by 07.00 on the morning of departure.
By contrast, budget-conscious travelers tend to use Musanze as a base for gorilla tracking and other activities. However, there are also now some genuinely affordable options close to the park headquarters.
Either way, there is no public transport from the park headquarters to any car parks from where one enters the thick woods to start gorilla trekking. While individuals may beg a lift with another tourist group, this is not foolproof. That means that even if you get as far as Musanze or Kinigi using public transport, you will need to rent a 4×4 with a driver to get you to the trailhead. A vehicle can cost around US D100 in both directions, including waiting time. You can arrange it in advance through tour operators or with your lodge.
It is possible to drive to Kinigi from Rubavu/Gisenyi or Kigali on the day you track with a private vehicle. However, you need a very early start at the assembly point by 07.00. Allow at least 2 hours from Kigali or 1 hour from Rubavu.
There are a good number of travelers that prefer gorilla trekking in Uganda via Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, simply because it’s easier to reach Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from Rwanda and spend much less on the gorilla permit. Driving to Bwindi from Entebbe International Airport can take almost 10 hours, but it takes just 3-5 hours, with border checks, to reach Bwindi from Kigali.
There is no accommodation, even overnight camping within Volcanoes National Park. However, several lodges catering to all budgets spread within a few kilometers of the Kinigi visitor centre. On a restricted budget, overnight in Musanze makes their way to Kinigi early in the morning. In contrast, those with limited time and a high tolerance for very early mornings sometimes base themselves further off at a hotel in Rubavu/Gisenyi.
Exclusive lodges at the base of the Virungas offer superb accommodation in woodland cabins with stunning views over a boundless vista of wooded mountains unmarked by human hands.
From USD 1,750 per person per night, sharing
Styled in dome-shaped villas sprinkled on a 43ha hillside property overlooking Bisate Village and the Virungas, Bisate Lodge singlehandedly raises the bar for accommodation in Rwanda and would rightfully rank among the finest safari lodges in East Africa.
Getting to the lodge requires climbing several steps, but it’s a piece of cake compared to gorilla trekking. Suppose you’re after a bit more walking. In that case, you’ll be interested in the two nature trails on the property following an eroded crater rim, both of which are excellent for birding.
Room rate includes a complimentary 20min massage, village visit, & all food & drink except premium spirits.
One&Only Gorilla’s Nest
From $750 per person per night, sharing
Nestled in swaying eucalyptus trees, Gorilla’s Nest is no doubt a perfect wilderness resort. Individual free-standing suites sit suspended over sprawling gardens at eye level with the tall eucalyptus trees and volcanic surroundings.
The best forest lodges for gorilla trekking holidays in Rwanda’s Rainforests
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
From $970 per person per night, sharing
Silverback Lodge is one of the ideal lodges near Kinigi, set on community land at an altitude of 2,515m on the foot slopes of Mount Sabyinyo, only a 10min drive from the park headquarters. The Sacola Community Trust, which owns the land, leased it to Governors’ Camp. The long-serving & award-winning Kenyan luxury safari camp operator built the lodge & also manages it. They levy a community fee of roughly US$100pp/night, and the community also receives a cut of the lodge’s profits.
Rates include full-board accommodation but exclude massage treatments, premium spirits, gorilla-tracking permits, and transfers to/from Kigali & community fees.
From $1,950 per adult per night, sharing
Built on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, Singita Kwitonda’s eight luxurious suites feature woven ceilings and terracotta brickwork crafted by local artisans and a farm-to-table culinary experience. Kwitonda is the closest to the park border.
From $1,210 per person per night, sharing
Virunga lodge offers a bush-chic experiences and luxury suites with massive bathrooms overlooking a stunning lake and mountain views. It is about a 45-minute drive to the briefing point.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge in Rwanda
Mountain gorilla view lodge stands on the breezy open saddle that connects Sabyinyo & Bisoke
Amakoro Songa Lodge
From USD 720 per person
Amakoro Songa lodge opened at the end of 2016, sits about 3km off the road to the Kinigi visitor centre.
Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel
From USD 300 per night
The lodge is the first accommodation you reach entering Kinigi from Musanze and offers a selection of small and appealing rooms built from lava stones. The rooms have heating, AC, mini-fridge, tea/coffee facilities, & garden-facing terraces out front.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
From USD 230 per person per night
The lodge stands on the breezy open saddle that connects Sabyinyo & Bisoke & offers superb views to all 6 of the volcanoes in the Rwandan part of the Virungas.
Best time of the year to see gorillas in Rwanda
The best time for seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda, most importantly, is when you can get a gorilla trekking permit. They are like gold dust, often selling out over a year in advance in peak months. That is where the specialist tour operators come in and swoop the magical availability wand. They usually buy in bulk and save some for last-minute bookers.
It rains all year round in the Virungas, between November or March and May. Tourists tend to stay away during those times, but the gorillas are always there.
Though trekking can be done throughout the year, The best months for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is in the dry seasons, mid-December to early February, and June to September. It is during this time that trekking is more comfortable.
What to wear:
What to Pack for the Gorilla Trekking Safari
How to book an all-inclusive Rwanda gorilla trekking safari.
You can trust safari vacations and travel services to plan with you a private all-inclusive Rwanda gorilla trekking safari using age-old expertise that has an excellent trail. We’ll take care of everything, pick you up from the airport, manage your journey, and make sure you’re at the airport for your flight back home. Your trip manager will be in direct contact with you throughout your journey, and you’ll be travelling in private vehicles, staying in private rooms and we assign you to a driver.
Safari vacations and travel services designs itineraries in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC with over 10 years of experience and we are proud of our reputation for executing some of the most highly-rated vacation experiences. Our local consultants plan with you your preferred itinerary using expert ground knowledge. We take care of all the local logistics like permits, accommodation, and transport. And also, manage your entire trip, from start to finish.
For inquiries, advice on how to plan for this safari, booking the hiking permits; organizing transport and accommodation, get in touch with safari vacations and travel services, we help you to avoid inconveniences after you have arrived for the safari.