Where To Go For Gorilla Trek in Africa
It is in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo that you will find mountain gorillas (Gorilla Berengei Berengei) in the whole world. These primates can be seen in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and 10 mountain gorilla groups habituate here as of 2015 making it 56 gorilla permits for visitors every single day. A gorilla permit costs US $ 750 per person per trek and part of this money is used for conserving these mountain gorillas.
Rwanda Gorillas In The Mist
Enjoying gorilla sightseeing will need you to abandon your bed a little earlier, you have to wake up early morning so we advise you find accommodation that is nearer to the park entrance. There will be a briefing about safety precautions as well as etiquette by your gorilla guide at 7am and thereafter proceed to the forest to begin the hike. They are called mountain gorillas for a reason so the element of hiking is inevitable and depending on your physical ability this can be tiring. You will be led to a specific ‘habituated’ mountain gorilla group that are certainly used to human presence by the amazingly friendly English speaking guides. Adventure can last from 30 minutes to couple of hours.
Gorilla groups are usually scattered over a thin area of thick vegetation and a fully grown silverback male gorilla may weigh as much as 200kg a size that almost triples that of an average man. This may send in a rush of adrenaline on first sight but this lasts only a few seconds. Mountain gorillas are unmoved by human presence and will be seen carrying on with their daily engagements though they will observe with keen interest. Playful young ones may once in awhile try to reach you but you may need to move away because it is illegal to be in less than 7 meters reach with these animals. This is mainly to protect both of you from zoonotic diseases.
What is the cost of A Gorilla Permit in Rwanda?
By 2015, a gorilla permit in Rwanda costs USD $375 for foreign residents, USD $750 non nationals and 30,000 Frw for the citizens of Rwanda. The price for trekking plus other services is largely determined by the choice of safari lodge or accommodation.
Rwanda Gorilla Groups
Mountain gorillas may only be tracked within Volcanoes National Park a distance of 116kms from kigali which is a section of the vast Virunga mountains. 480 mountain gorillas living at an altitude of 2,300 to 4,500 meters are said to be in the Virunga complex which is south of Virunga National Park in the DRC as well as in Volcanoes National Park and Mgahinga National Park located in Rwanda and Uganda respectively.
Gorilla families are grouped into 2 here in Rwanda, those meant for tourism and those meant for research. Gorillas meant for research are open only to researchers therefore tourists cannot access these. Among these are Pablo’s Shida’s and Beetsme. Ten gorilla families are solely left for tourism making gorilla tourism very exciting. Among these are Umubano, Karinsimbi, Ugenda, Susa group, Sabinyo, Amahoro, Hirwa, Bwengye, Kwitonda and the Agasha group. A maximum of 8 people can be accommodated per gorilla family. Below is a breakdown of each of these families.
- Umubano Group means “neighborliness”
The Umubano family is made up of eleven individuals namely; three Adult females, Sub-adult Silverback male and six baby ones. Umbano family was formed when the current leader of Umubano ‘Charles’ overpowered a dominant silverback ‘Ubumwe’ in the Amahoro group and broke away.
Charles felt he had to be his ‘own man’ as he grew into an adult and decided to stage a fight to challenge Ubumwe. Charles later won the nearly month long fight and took with him a few females thus forming Umbano family. Both silverbacks have learnt to respect and appreciate each other, they are also seen to have occasional interactions but not fights since then.
- Karisimbi group (Susa-B)
Also known as Susa-B, Karisimbi Group separated from the initial Susa (Susa-A) family. It is composed of 15 members who are normally seen on the slopes of Mt Karisimbi Volcano at a height of 4507m the highest peak of Rwanda. Forming their home in the higher slopes of the caldera, Karisimbi group can only be seen by serious hikers who may take a full day hike. These gorillas may even take on higher altitudes which will make the hiking more than a challenge but the conservation guides are always aware of their location the previous day. If the location is far away, hiking will be stopped.
- Ugenda group meaning ‘being on the move’
Residing in Karisimbi area, Ugenda family is made up of 11 gorillas and among these are 2 silverbacks. This group is always on the move a behavior from which its name was derived. Because of this, they do not have a specific location therefore tracking is usually prolonged so as to find them.
- Susa Group (Susa A)
There is a river called Susa that flows in the home range of these gorillas and it is from this that its name is derived. It stays in the higher ranges of the mountains and has proved to be the most challenging to trek. With an impressive family size of 28, Susa group has 3 silverbacks. Having one of the oldest habituated gorillas (Poppy born in 1976), this group had the biggest number of gorillas at 42 before it separated into 2 which would be seen scattered over the place once one visited. Dian Fossey is a researcher who conducted a research on this group and Poppy is said to be among the initial group that participated in the research.
Susa group is known for its very playful infant twins Impano and Byishimo born to a mother gorilla called Nyabitondore. Twins are normally dumped by their mother among gorillas because it is hard for them to take care of the two infants and occasionally it was thought that Nyabitondore would follow suit or ran mad from this huge task, however she proved every one wrong and the twins are doing well and can be seen playing amongst other gorillas.
- Sabyinyo group meaning “old man’s teeth”
Deriving its name from Sabyinyo volcano, this is one the groups nearest to the border of the park and can be easily reached.
It comprises 8 individuals including 1 silverback known as Guhonda, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles, a youthful female as well as a baby gorilla. Guhonda has a massive physical appearance, is strong and the biggest in the entire park. Ryango is Guhonda’s main competitor and Guhonda has maintained this by keeping him as a solitary silverback.
- Amahoro group meaning ‘peaceful’
Led by Ubumwe, Amahoro is the most calm gorilla group made up of seventeen members including a silverback, 5 adult females, 2 black backs, 2 juveniles, 2 sub adult males and 5 babies.
Ubumwe is so peaceful and easy going and this costed him some of his group members that were taken by Charles the leader of Umubano. You will have to maneuver some steep slopes this amazing Amahoro group.
- Hirwa Group meaning “lucky one”
This is one of the newest gorilla group formed on 17th June 2006. Trackers witnessed the creation of this group when some members from the Agasha and Sabyinyo group joined to form their own group. A small group at its inception, Hirwa group has today grown bigger comprising 9 members, Hirwa shows strength and keeps guard of all of them. The individuals include 1 Silverback, 2 Sub adult females, 3 Adult females and 3 Baby gorillas.
- Bwenge group
Featuring in the legendary movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ Bwenge group was established in 2007 making it one of the new gorilla groups as well. Bwenge who is the leader left his birth group at that time and was joined by other females thereby forming Bwenge family.
They are mainly located on the slopes of Karisoke volcano. The group that has 11 individuals has lost over 6 infants that died but today the group is getting stronger having had 2 successful births in the past couple of years and is also under the leadership of a strong silverback.
Trekking to visit this family involves trekking an ascent for over 3 hours and the trails can get muddy once in a while and they are pretty steep as well.
- Kwitonda group meaning ‘humble one’
This group moved from DRC and usually stays far away which makes trekking challenging. Made up of 18 individuals, ‘Kwitonda’ a silverback leads this family. Among these are also 2 blackbacks.
- Agashya group meaning ‘the news’
Agashya is made up of 25 members including; a Silverback, two Sub adult female, twelve Adult females, seven Babies and three Juveniles.
An extraordinary event in gorilla history let to the formation of this family. This group was formerly led by Nyakarima. Agashya then kept observing an estimating Nyakarima’s strength till one day he challenged him by putting up a brutal fight and managed to take the whole group with him which came as a big shock to Nyakarima. This made headlines and it was from this that a name was derived.
To protect his group from Nyakarima, Agashya moved up the volcano and has grown his group since then by snatching individuals from other groups and also incooperating the solitary gorillas. This is why there has been a drastic expansion of the group from the original 12 members to 25.
Agashya is also known for leading his group to the peak of the volcano when he senses danger. This once occurred when some tourists came to visit this family; Agashya imagined that an opponent silverback was among them and was about to attack him. He led his group further whenever they came nearer till they could not go any further.
Gorilla Tracking Accommodation in Rwanda
Ranging from luxury, mid range to budget travelers, Rwanda has got plenty of options of accommodation to choose from. Your gorilla safari in most cases is determined by your choice of accommodation but among the most prominent safari lodges include Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Sabinyo Silver Back lodge, Virunga lodge to mention but a few.
What Gorilla Conservation & Events exist in Rwanda?
The ceremony of naming gorillas locally known as ‘Kwita Izina’ is one of the most famous gorilla events which take place annually. Various celebrities and public figures usually grace the occasion and deciding to take a gorilla adventure during this time gives you the opportunity to participate in this exceptional event. Rwanda has lots of gorilla conservationists like The International Gorilla Conservation Project, The Dian Fossey Foundation and so much more.
What it feels like trekking Gorillas in Rwanda?
Mountain gorillas have a very close likeness to human beings and seeing this not only will leave you in awe but will also make your adventure such an unforgettable encounter.
Home to about 480 gorillas Virunga Mountains in Rwanda habours almost half of the world’s mountain gorillas. Others will be found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park which is located in Uganda and Congo. With over Ten gorilla families located in the Volcanoes National Park , a gorilla trek is one adventure you do not wish to miss while I Rwanda. You will come across a bold silverback gorilla that finds no shame in looking straight into the eyes of its visitors. Gorilla groups will always be seen to move in large groups containing juveniles, mothers, babies and silver backs and at times black backs. This experience is magical, you need to try it.
What Is The Best Time To See The Gorillas of Rwanda ?
Gorilla tracking is done all year round but knowing when to go is very important when planning your travel. April, May and November are the rainy seasons here in Rwanda therefore it is important to note that if you are to come during this time you may need to carry warm clothing, walking boots as well as a rain jacket. Rain is expected any time during this time. February, June through September and December are the drier months and most people prefer to come during this period in time. Tracking trails around this time are less muddy and slippery compared to the rainy season. With this we believe you will be able to plan accordingly and see your dream turn into reality.
What you should do in order trek gorillas?
Gorilla adventure will be fun only if you are fit enough because it involves moving on steppes and at times for a long time. During the trekking, breaks are given so that you regain some of your energy however when you get so tired and your legs cannot carry you anymore, there are porters in place who can carry you the rest of the way at a stipulated fee.
Gorilla groups that are close to the park may take you a 30 minute trek however those that are far may take you couples of hours. The ranger in most cases assigns you what gorilla group you will see. During the wet season, gorillas relocate and the trek becomes abit more challenging because of the muddy trails and having to walk for a distance before you get to them. Remember after this trek, the sight of the gorillas is surely worth it.
What you should expect on your gorilla safari
You assemble at the park’s headquarters in Kinigi village after a very early morning hot but delicious breakfast as provided from where you sleep. Here you are briefed about the rules and regulations that govern gorilla watching and gorilla groups are assigned as well by the ranger.
From here you head out into the forest with the forest guide to begin the adventure. From resting silverbacks to gorilla mothers feeding their young ones, you will enjoy every bit of your journey through the forest. Make sure you do not miss breakfast because this is a strenuous exercise.
What you may need to pack for Your Gorilla Tour.
Carrying the right clothes for your journey is one way you will enjoy gorilla tour. Therefore it is important not to miss some of the trekking gear; Long and short sleeved shirts, khaki clothes, Sandals, Jeans, Sweater, socks, Walking Boots, Gloves, Rain jacket, and a safari hat. You may carry other fun things to add color to your trip. A walking stick will be provided for the trek which is used on the steep slopes of the mountain. Do not forget a camera to capture every moment.
Photography while on a gorilla Safari
You will need to share with the people you left at home about the experience you got while gorilla tracking and which better way than taking photographs. A camera is a must have on this journey. Make sure it is fully charged or carry with you extra batteries incase this one runs out. While taking pictures of the gorillas, you will need to remove the flash because it disturbs the gorillas a lot and may decide to walk away before you have got enough of them.
Travelling as a group is the best because each of you can have turns taking pictures of yourselves as well as the animals. Remember to move with a water proof material to protect the camera in case it rains.
We wish you a happy stay here in Rwanda.