Unleash Your Inner Adventurer: Gorilla Trekking Safari in Rwanda

Wander mist-covered mountain slopes in search of enchanted moments that only mountain gorilla family interactions can entertain!

Travellers who want a truly off-the-beaten-path wilderness experience should consider Rwanda. It’s a country that was made famous by primate researcher Dian Fossey, and the movie “Gorillas in the Mist.”

A gorilla safari has long been considered an add-on to the classical ‘Big Five’ safari experiences of Kenya and Tanzania. However, they are fast becoming safari destinations in their own right, offering unforgettable opportunities for up-close gorilla and chimpanzee encounters.

A select few visitors every year can see gorillas up close in the dense tropical rainforests of Volcanoes National Park, where trekking guides take guests high into the mountains to peer at the creatures as they play, forage and groom each other.

Track mighty mountain gorillas on an exclusive private guided gorilla safari in Africa:

  • The andBeyond experience
  • Tracking gorillas, and did you know
  • Gorillas don’t bluff when they chest beat
  • From tragedy to fragile success

andBEYOND EXPERIENCE 

Located in the far northwest corner of Rwanda, the Parc National des Volcans protects the steep rainforested slopes of the Virungas mountain range. And it’s here, you can surely expect the extraordinary. 

The lush slopes of these volcanoes provide a dramatic natural setting for one of the most thrilling and memorable wildlife experiences – seeing the mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. And seeing these magnificent creatures up close makes you understand how closely connected we are to them. And, once you see that, you understand, really understand, that we have a responsibility to protect them.

Rise in the cool of dawn and tuck in to a hearty breakfast. Peer up at the majestic mist-covered slope of the mountain, and soak up the anticipation as the guide briefs, and the trekkers get ready. 

Follow in the light steps of your nimble porter as the rainforest folds in around you. Stop, and take it all in; the sounds, the smells and the astonishing scenery. Traverse dense thickets, and bamboo forests that extend over a series of steep ridges and marvel at the ecological uniqueness and natural beauty of this secluded mountain haven.

Feel the rush of excitement as those dim shapes and faint sounds become actual living, breathing, free gorillas. Be rewarded by exhilarating moments as you get to view their complex social structure at work.

Savour every second of an hour with these great apes. Walk euphorically back to your heroes welcome, and a soothing massage. Sink into a comfortable seat in front of a crackling fireplace, and recount every moment of the encounter with your companions. Update your bucket list, and sleep like a baby.

andBeyond offers 3 different options for trekking gorillas in Uganda:

  • value
  • luxury
  • deluxe

Important note:

The guides will meet and brief groups of visitors at the gathering point before setting off. The walk can be challenging, especially during the rainy seasons, which are from March to May and then again in November and December. Depending on where the gorillas were last seen, the trek can take anywhere between 40 minutes to six hours. When the gorillas do emerge from the foliage, visitors are able to enjoy their company for up to an hour.

TRACKING GORILLAS & DID YOU KNOW 

Trekking permits may be cheaper to obtain in Uganda, and some people consider the experience there to be more rewarding. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t dismiss that the smaller size of Rwanda means that the areas inhabited by gorillas are easier to access. Kigali, the point of entry into the country for most visitors, is situated only a few hours from key gorilla tracking areas. Rwanda’s gorillas are also located in a smaller area and the gorilla families are more habituated to humans.

This home to the Grauer’s gorilla is also host to other near-mythical mammals, including chimpanzees, giant pangolins and a variety of antelope. It harbors exciting bird species, such as the Bates’ paradise flycatcher and white-crested hornbill. It nurtures giant trees, and is full of marvelously adapted insects. But, more than a gathering of organisms, this forest showcases what a tropical rainforest is all about: being a complex web of interactions. Keep a close look-out!

andBeyond suggestions:

  • Be respectful when you see the gorillas, be silent and submissive. Stay calm and do as your expert guide directs you – the gorillas will be unperturbed by your presence.
  • Take enough water and energy snacks. Your lodges should supply these, but if you have a particular energy treat that you like, it is worth bringing along, as treks could take hours.
  • For guests who might find this terrain too challenging, we are able to offer the solution of a local stretcher or sedan chair to the nearest tracking point. These need to be booked in advance, at an additional cost
  • For the photographers:
    • As you are close to the gorillas, long lenses aren’t usually the best to use (and they are heavy to carry), mid-zoom lenses such as 24-70mm are a good option. Also be aware that lenses can mist up due to the humidity levels.
    • Flash photography is not allowed, so make sure you have the correct light settings.
    • Keep your camera in a waterproof bag to avoid getting it wet.

WHAT TO WEAR WHEN GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA?

  • Good, waterproof walking shoes or boots are recommended (boots with ankle support are best) as trekking can be challenging at times.
  • Wear layers, starting with a quick-dry shirt on top, as it can get humid and muggy up in the mountains. A rain jacket or even a plastic poncho is also recommended, as rain comes and goes intermittently – some of the lodges do supply these.
  • Bright colours and white are not advisable as this will contrast very strongly with the prevailing forest and savannah colours, and could disturb gorillas at sightings. Camouflage clothing is also not recommended for travel in African countries.
  • Best to wear long, light weight hiking trousers and long sleeved light weight shirts. There are stinging nettles along the route, and you are at times required to trek off track, so shorts are not recommended
  • Gators or socks pulled over your trousers are recommended to keep sand and ants out of your boots.
  • Gloves can be useful as you may have to push long grass out of your path.
  • Walking sticks or ski poles are good for steeper areas in the hike.
  • Hat and sunglasses are a must.

AND, DID YOU KNOW…?

  • Gorillas are completely vegetarian! Bamboo and tree bark are some of wild gorillas’ favorite snacks!
  • Gorillas have opposable digits on both their hands and feet!
  • Gorilla noseprints are unique, just like human fingerprints!
  • Adult males can be about 6 feet tall when standing on two legs.
  • Humans and gorillas have similar respiratory systems, therefore it is possible to pass illnesses, like the flu or common cold, between us.
  • Young gorillas will often leave their family group around the age of 10
  • Males will grow silver hair on their backs around age 13, after which they’re considered “silverbacks”!

GORILLAS DON’T BLUFF WHEN THEY BEAT THEIR CHEST

The chest beats given by adult male gorillas reliably indicate their body size, a paper published in Scientific Reports found. 

The gorilla chest beat is one of the most emblematic sounds in the animal kingdom! Even working its way into our informal speech signifying overblown advertisement of one’s own achievements. However, until recently it was unclear what information gorillas were conveying when they gave these impressive displays. A team of international researchers show that chest beats reliably indicate the body size of the chest beater. Body size indicates competitive ability in gorillas. Therefore, this information is likely to be crucial for rival males.

Gorillas usually stand bipedally and rapidly beat their chests with cupped hands in rapid succession. Chest beating is a unique sound because is it not a vocalization, like frogs croaking, but rather a form of gestural communication that can be both heard and seen. The emanating drumming sound can be heard over one kilometer away. The presumed function of gorilla chest beats is to intimidate rival males.

Researchers recorded chest beats, and used a technique called photogrammetry to non-invasively measure body size of adult male wild mountain gorillas monitored by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. They found that larger males emitted chest beats with lower peak frequencies than smaller ones. In other words, chest beats conveyed information regarding the body size of the chest beater.

Rival males are likely to attend to the body size information transmitted in chest beats, as it allows them to assess the competitive ability of the chest beater, helping them decide whether to initiate, escalate or retreat in aggressive contests with others.

FROM TRAGEDY TO FRAGILE SUCCESS

In September 1967, Dian Fossey set up two small tents in the wilderness of the Virunga mountains in Rwanda, and began a pioneering study of endangered mountain gorillas, under the auspices of famed archeologist Dr. Louis Leakey.

Fossey named her two-tent facility “Karisoke,” after the nearby mountains Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke. Now, nearly 50 years later, and some 30 years after her murder there, her work has led to one of the world’s most significant conservation success stories, and to hope for the future of her beloved gorillas.

According to census results released, the population of critically endangered mountain gorillas living in East Africa’s mountains has grown to over 1,000, a huge success story at a time when many other African species are experiencing a reduction in numbers due to poaching and habitat destruction.

Gorilla populations in East Africa have been steadily increasing since 1981, when their numbers reached a perilously low 242 individuals. The growth over the last three decades is attributable to the hard work done by governments, local communities, and non-profit conservation groups.

“One of the primary lessons the Fossey Fund has learned over the nearly 50 years since Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center, is that conservation can only be achieved through a long-term, on-the-ground presence,” says Dr. Tara Stoinski, Fossey Fund president and CEO/chief scientific officer. The Fossey Fund has been able to maintain this presence despite considerable challenges, such as civil wars, global economic instability, and limited resources. The mountain gorilla likely would be extinct without this concerted effort made on its behalf over the last 50 years

More than a building: How their new Ellen Campus is giving women “a say in their own destiny”

As they work to develop the Ellen DeGeneres Campus, they are measuring the project’s impact through “5 Es”: education, emotion, environment, economy and equity. For the last of those “Es,” equity, their goal is to promote gender equity by hiring a 35% female construction workforce with 35% female leadership.

Currently around 100 of the construction workers on their Campus are women. While Rwanda is known for its gender equity—in fact, they recently broke their own record for number of women in government—women are still underrepresented in the construction field. But as Martine Dushime, a member of the project’s leadership team and quantity surveyor on the project, explains, “We aim to help change that with our Ellen Campus, which has female supervisors, female bricklayers and even female heavy equipment operators.”

Rwanda & Uganda Gorilla Trekking Itineraries

RWANDA ITINERARY / DAY 1: KIGALI
Upon arrival at Kigali Airport you will be met by an &Beyond representative who will drive you to Kigali Serena Inn. Vibrant and colourful, Kigali is the bustling capital city of Rwanda. It spreads out over four scenic ridges and the valleys in between, with the city centre located on one hill, and the government and administrative quarter on another. The highest hill, Mt Kigali, sits at 1 850 m (6 075 ft) above sea level. Kigali’s peaceful, tree-lined streets are clean and safe, and the city boasts a selection of hotels, restaurants, shopping centres and markets. Kigali is the perfect starting point for an unforgettable gorilla trek – one of Africa’s most fascinating wilderness experiences. Spend one night at Kigali Serena Inn. Accommodation is in a standard room with an ensuite bathroom. Your stay includes bed and breakfast.

Rwanda / DAY 2, 3 & 4: PARC DES VOLCANS
After a scrumptious breakfast you will be driven to Parc des Volcans where you will spend three nights. The rainforests of the Virunga Volcanoes are the last refuge of the Mountain Gorilla. The Virungas span Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the Parc National des Volcans being the Rwandan element of this ecosystem. The lush slopes of the volcanoes provide an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is perhaps the most poignant and thrilling wildlife experience to be had anywhere – to see the Mountain Gorilla in its natural habitat. Roughly half of the world’s wild population of Mountain Gorillas are resident on the Rwandan slopes of the Virungas. Seven habituated families of gorillas are visited, and these families have from seven to over thirty-five individuals in each group. Rise in the cool of dawn and look out on the misty peaks of the mountains. Tuck in to a hearty breakfast. Peer up at the majestic mist-covered slope of the mountain and soak up the anticipation as the guide briefs and the trekkers get ready. Follow in the light steps of your nimble porter as the rainforest folds in around you. Stop and take it all in; the sounds, the smells and the astonishing scenery. Feel the rush of excitement as those dim shapes and faint sounds become actual living, breathing, free gorillas. Savour every second of an exhilarating hour with the great apes. Walk tired and exhilarated back to your heroes welcome and a soothing massage. Sink into a comfortable seat in front of a crackling fireplace and recount every moment of the encounter with your companions. Update your bucket list and sleep like a baby.

RWANDA / DAY 5: DEPARTURE
After a scrumptious breakfast you will be driven back to Kigali Airport for your outbound flight.

UGANDA ITINERARY / DAY 1: ENTEBBE/KAMPALA
Upon arrival at Entebbe Airport you will be met by an &Beyond representative and transferred by road to Lake Victoria Serena. Uganda’s steady economic growth is visible on the modern streets of Kampala, the country’s eclectic capital, with its melting-pot of restaurants, entertainment venues and upmarket hotels. Located on the wetlands that once made up the favourite hunting grounds of King Mutesa I, the city is famed for its seven beautiful hills. It is also home to the palace of the King of the 13th century kingdom of Buganda, as well as magnificent tombs, mosques and cathedrals. Spend 1 night at the Lake Victoria Serena Resort. Your stay includes breakfast.

DAY 2-4: BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST / UGANDA
After breakfast you will be transferred to the airport for your scheduled charter flight to Bwindi. An ancient rain forest, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest extends over a series of steep ridges in the Virunga Volcanoes mountain range. Its impenetrable nature, which is due to the dense growth of herbs, vines and shrubs that covers the valley floors, makes it the ideal habitat for the mountain gorilla. Declared a World Heritage Site due to its ecological uniqueness and natural beauty, the forest is home to roughly half of the world’s total gorilla population. With terrain that varies from swamp and bamboo forest to dense thicket, this beautiful area poses both challenges and rewards for anyone interested in an intimate glimpse of the life of these fascinating primates. Tuck in to a hearty breakfast overlooking the majestic mist-covered slope of the mountain. Soak up the anticipation as the guide briefs and the trekkers get ready then follow in the light steps of your nimble porter as the rainforest folds in around you. Stop and take it all in; the sounds, the smells and the astonishing scenery. Feel the rush of excitement as those dim shapes and faint sounds become actual living, breathing, free gorillas. Savour every moment of your exhilarating encounter with the great apes. Walk tired and exhilarated back to the lodge for a hero’s welcome and a soothing massage. Sink into a comfortable seat in front of a crackling fireplace and recount every highlight of the experience with your companions. As eyelids grow heavy, update your bucket list and sleep like a baby. Spend 3 nights at Clouds Mountain Lodge . Your stay incudes all meals and selected local drinks.

UGANDA / DAY 5: DEPARTURE
After a scrumptious breakfast you will be transferred to the airstrip for your scheduled flight to Entebbe. Upon arrival in Entebbe you will be transferred to your international flight.

Tracy Burrows114 Posts

    Tracy Burrows is the founder of the Out There Global platform featuring both cost effective and luxury best cultural vacation ideas & experiences from around the world. From Jan 2014 – Dec 2016 she managed the LatestSightings.com blog (a United Nations World Summit Award Winner: Culture & Tourism 2016 & National Geographic partner). She was also consulting editor at MOZambique Magazine, and a contributing writer at Sawubona Magazine (South African Airways inflight magazine), and Africa Geographic. Prior to her career she obtained a tourism research, and marketing degree, and also graduated from a 2 year ‘Management in Development Program’ in San Diego California. She also acquired a qualification in journalism and media and since it’s been all about culture, adventure and multi media! Her nourishment comes from all those who have impacted her, including: family; friends; and strangers alike. Thank you for joining our journey, and we hope you enjoy finding an immersive experience and the culture & adventure in the destination! Aside from Out There Global Magazine, Tracy has also run a Public Relations, and SEO business since 2010 for small business.

    3 Comments

    • Sue Reply

      May 19, 2023 at 2:10 pm

      Brought to tears again, happy tears and don’t know where to go from the choices

    • Mark Reply

      May 19, 2023 at 2:12 pm

      Had no idea gorillas were vegetarian I would have booked ages ago had I known lol

    • Juls Reply

      May 20, 2023 at 7:29 am

      What a beautiful story in the success of conservation! It can be done

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