VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK GORILLA GUIDE
Volcanoes National Park is one of only four forest reserves in the world that protect mountain gorillas and where gorilla trekking adventures occur. The park gives visitors a unique opportunity to trek and spend intimate moments with the critically endangered mountain gorillas on trekking adventures within the untamed jungle. The park encompasses a 62-square-mile(160-square-km) slice of the Virunga Mountains, including a string of nine volcanoes that extends into neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s side of the ecologically rich Virunga Mountains region, home to about half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. The park heavily protects 12 human-habituated gorilla family groups available for tourism and others reserved for research. Tourists can visit any one of the groups for a permit price of $1,500. A maximum of 8 people is allowed to see each group daily.
Gorillas may be the headline act, but there’s plenty more to see and do in Rwanda’s tourism jewel. Nature hiking enthusiasts can navigate a network of trails through the Virunga Mountains, including summiting the 3,711-meter (12,175-foot) Mount Bisoke, with its crater lake and rewarding cross-border views of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. History and mammal buffs can visit the prominent primatologist Dian Fossey’s grave and research center, which inspired the blockbuster movie Gorillas in the Mist.
A visit with the park’s population of golden monkeys is worth the USD 100 permit. These hyper, cherub-cheeked primates swing through the bamboo forests, occasionally swooping down to the forest floor for a particular choice bamboo shoot. Be warned that catching them on camera can prove tricky. Volcanoes are also home to forest elephants, buffalo, spotted hyenas, and nearly 200 bird species.
- A rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp, and heath, alive with the calls of 200 colorful bird species
- A chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif makes up the park: Karisimbi – the highest at 4,507m, Bisoke with its verdant crater lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura.
- The truly unique experience of tracking endangered mountain gorillas through the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest
- You’ll be hiking uneven, steep terrain through a damp rainforest flour and thick vegetation with no visible trails for about 1 to 6 hours to find a human-habituated gorilla family group.
- The Gorilla permit in Volcanoes costs $1,500 per person per trek, and only 8 people can track any of the twelve gorilla family groups available for tourism in the park.
- Hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, nature walks, and village experiences offer some extra adventures to add to your Rwanda gorilla experience.
We recommend that you secure your Rwanda gorilla trekking permit in advance, at least three to six months before your trip. Less than 90 permits are available each day in Rwanda, so book yours early from a licensed local tour operator or directly from the Rwanda Development Board. All trekkers must arrive at the park’s headquarters at the nearby Kinigi town at 0700, where you’ll present your permit to get which gorilla group you’ll trek after that.
Only adults above 15 years can obtain a license and track gorillas in Rwanda. However, you can leave your teenager at the lodge.
When To Go
The best time for gorilla trekking is during Rwanda’s two dry seasons: December to early February and June to September. The drier months make for a more pleasant (and less muddy) hike. Note that the gorilla tickets are scarce during the high season, and lodging is expensive, so secure your gorilla permit and where to stay well in advance to avoid rush-hour logistics.
The rainy months don’t have traffic, and visitors can take advantage of low-season pricing. And oh, temperates can be fickle regardless of when you go, so pack a jacket and rain poncho for those gloomy hours.
Getting There and Around
You’ll most likely jet into Rwanda via Kigali International Airport (KGL), a few minutes outside Kigali city. Most local tour operators will provide transport for the two-hour transfer from Kigali to Musanze, the country’s bustling gorilla tourism hub. Independent travelers can catch a public bus from Kigali’s Nyabugogo bus station to Musanze for less than US$5. Recommended lodges for gorilla trekking are in Musanze, where you can also rent a 4×4 with its driver for US$80 in Musanze to commute to the gorilla trekking trailhead the next day. There’s a bit of a distance you can walk between Musanze, the briefing point, and the trailheads at the park’s boundaries.
Tailored Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes
WHERE TO STAY
From USD 1,750 Per person per night, sharing
Located in the foothills of Mt. Bisoke, on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, this oasis of vacation lodging offers an eco-luxury experience accompanied by unique insights into the remotest parts of Rwanda. The lodge’s features include warm and attentive staff, breathtaking views from every well-designed and large suite, excellent food made primarily with local ingredients. The lodge is a 40-minute drive to the gorilla trekking briefing point.
From USD 1,210 per person per night, sharing
Perched on a 2,300-meter (7,500-foot) ridge between Lake Ruhondo and Lake Bulera, this remote lodge offers a bush-chic experience and breathtaking views. Luxury features include massive bathrooms with lake-and-mountain views, secluded and spacious patios, and a well-appointed common area with communal dinner. The lodge is about a 45-minute drive to the Rwanda gorilla trekking briefing point.
From USD 750 per person per night, sharing
Surrounded by swaying eucalyptus trees, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest awakens a wild spirit of adventure. A place that encourages you to gaze into the mirror through eye-opening encounters with majestic mountain gorillas and experience the story of Rwanda. Individual free-standing lodges and suites sit suspended over sprawling gardens at eye level with the tall eucalyptus trees and volcanic surroundings.
Singita Kwitonda Lodge
From USD 1,950 Per adult per night, sharing
Set right on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, Singita Kitonda’s eight luxurious suites feature a private heated plunge pool, wellness treatment area, fireplaces, and large timber-framed windows that welcome breathtaking scenery and volcano views inside. The lodge’s dramatic setting features woven ceilings and hand-fired terracotta brickwork crafted by local artisans. Its on-site vegetable garden provides fresh produce for Kwitonda’s farm-to-table culinary journey. Kwitonda is the closest to the park boundary, but trekkers have to drive 40 minutes to the park’s briefing point.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
From USD 280 per person per night, sharing
Sensitively designed and built using local, sustainable resources, the lodge’s 30 cottages are well spaced from each other and come complete with fireplaces and en suite bathrooms. The views from the lodge and your room are impressive – rugged, forest-covered mountains steaming with mist and mystery – and you will see birds and monkeys in the gardens as you stroll around and soak up the scenery. Daily performances of traditional Rwandan songs and dances add to the unique African atmosphere. The lodge is about a 40-minute drive to the gorilla trekking briefing point.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
From USD 970 per person per night, sharing
Surrounded by the tropical Volcanoes National Park rainforests, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge’s guests can unwind in their choice of stone cottage or suites, each with a large sitting room, fireplace, stylish ensuite bathroom, and private veranda. The stone buildings feature traditional terracotta tile roofs and polished wooden floors. Scrumptious menus can be savored in the cozy dining room or al fresco on the outside deck, with its breath-taking views of the Virunga volcanoes.