Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda 

We are ready for our epic adventure! After having visited 125 countries we were looking for something we could not do or see anywhere else in the world and the rare and endangered mountain gorillas filled this desire. The world’s entire population of these magnificent creatures, estimated to be around 1000, live only in the Virunga Massif which spans parts of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo (DRC) and Bwindi in Uganda.  Our choice country to undertake this journey is Rwanda.

A week in Kigali gives us enough time to recover from our long flight. It’s an exciting day when Billy our safari driver/guide with Active African Vacations transports us from the country’s capital to the Virunga Mountain area.

Along the way we pass a scenic bonanza: villages, terrace farming, all with a mountainous backdrop…. confirmation of Rwanda being known as The Land of a Thousand Hills. 

We arrive at Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, our mountain lodging during of the trek. The next morning after an early breakfast the hotel staff fit us with gators and supply us with walking sticks. Billy drives us to the headquarters for Volcanoes National Park, the starting point for all Rwanda Wildlife Safaris.

We meet Beck, our National Park Ranger and Guide Jolie who advise us on the do’s and don’ts while visiting the gorilla family, and that they will accompany our assigned group of six on the trek (the maximum being eight).

A short drive brings us to the trailhead. Waiting are trackers who will lead the way to where scouts have already spotted our nomadic gorilla family’s location. Also waiting are porters for hire to carry day packs and for any needed aide, which we are quick to engage one.  

Our first almost hour walk is through farmer’s fields of potato and bean crops, interspersed with small pastures of munching cattle and goats.

A wall of jungle looms on the mountain slope and upon entering our focus is on foot placement along trails of slick mud, over and around boulders, and tangles of branches.  

Our trackers hack at the foliage with their machetes where it is too thick to advance….after an hour of jungle I’m thinking, “where-oh-where are you, gorillas?”.  

Suddenly we are asked to stop and to place our daypacks and walking sticks in a pile, as the gorillas are near and these items are rife with bad memories of poachers. Mandatory face masks are supplied as the gorillas are susceptible to human diseases. Our designated family is one of the ten habituated families in Volcanoes National Park, and it has taken up to three years to habituate each of these families. 

We quietly move ahead and soon hear snapping branches and see gorillas feasting on bamboo leaves. My heartrate increases at being in such close proximity to these highly intelligent and largest of all primates; a blend of tension, excitement and awe of being here.  

We are aided down an embankment where the surrounding thick jungle growth is spaced by a large rocky area awarding us a clear view of the family going about their daily routines.  

Babies make a game of crawling up and down their mother’s backs, juveniles wrestle, and plenty of grooming and resting going is on with adults, all members taking ample time to feast on the surrounding wealth of nourishing greenery.

A crash alerts us to their mighty male leader, known as a silverback for their grey growth along their backs that comes with age. This 400kg (880lb) fellow breaks hefty branches and stretches his 1.8m (6ft) frame to reach tasty bunches of top leaves, while his protective eye periodically scans the area.   

I look over at Silverback Rick (his Billy given nickname) and chuckle at how it suits his 74 years, and by extension my even more rotations around sun at age 79…us with 7 grandkids and 3 great-grandkids, and how surreal it is to be here.  

Movement nearby reveals a mother with a baby waddling behind. She stops a few feet from me and looks directly into my eyes and grunts softly, a connection that has me wondering what she is thinking. She turns and encourages her wee one to climb upon her back before proceeding past my feet.  

In a nearby bush Rick points to a stocky young’un falling backwards during a practice chest thumping, then tries again with more success. 

We both glance again at the juvenile 5 feet away who for the past half hour has been leaning sideways and scanning us all; by far the most curious about us humans.  

Our hour of spending time with this family group named Muhoza passes by all too quickly. 

We descend with a quieter demeanor and a few times are thankful for our porter’s arm as slippery patches going downward are even more prone to wipe-outs. Our minds flood with the sentiments and privilege of having witnessed mountain gorillas in their natural habitat – an outstanding and never to be forgotten experience. 

Our Flickr Photo Album Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Safari Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Safari | Flickr

Our You Tube Video youtu.be/zyXdhhnLpy4

If you go:  

Our 3 Day Gorilla Safari in Rwanda was booked ahead from Canada with Active African Vacations. We were very pleased with their service.     

Billy – Field Consultant and our Driver/Guide 

Our booking agent for gorilla trek was Haddy.  

This company, as well as some others, use PesaPal to process payments, and upon investigating this method we found it a reliable payment method to process our Visa card payment.

Some General Gorilla Safari Info:

A maximum of eight visitors per group per day are permitted to view a habituated gorilla family.  Group assignment is determined by fitness level of participants and location of the nomadic gorilla families on a particular day. 

The mandatory permits to visit the mountain gorillas are issued through the Rwanda government, which limit the number of permits to 80 per day between all tour companies offering these safaris – therefore it is highly recommended to confirm you gorilla permits ahead (usually through the booking company for your safari, but also can be obtained via the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Revenue raised by these permits goes a long way towards preserving the endangered gorillas and assisting local communities. 

 

Several mountain lodges, such as our Five Volcanos Boutique Hotel, make it more convenient than driving in from Kigali on the early morning start on trek day. As well as great service and meals, an unexpected bonus was our sopping wet and muddy shoes being whisked away and returned a few hours later unbelievably clean and dry. 

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