Every morning in the rolling hills of Central Africa a white blanket of mist covers the dense forest. It fills the valleys with a slow rolling fog that levels the low spots of the terrain. The damp mist lingers until the sun peaks over the mountains to warm the warm and cut through the mist.
Below the mist lives the last 880 mountain gorillas left on the planet. Shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo, the gorillas roam wild near where the countries meet in the highlands of Central Africa. A gorilla safari in Rwanda should be on everyone’s bucket list and here’s why.
Our Gorilla Trekking Experience
We left camp in the darkness of the early morning for a long drive deep into the national park. As the sky began to brighten we caught our first glimpses of the morning mist. Far below the windy red dirt roads cut into the mountain, we saw the mist fill the valley below. In the low stretches of the drive, mist covered the road so thick in spots the driver had to slow to a crawl. After two hours on a dirt track deep in the mountains, we made it to our trekking base.
From the base we ventured into the forest, lead by our guides. We were told it could take a few hours or even a full day to find the family of gorillas. To help our search efforts another group of guides set out into the forest early in the morning before we even reached the station to start tracking the gorillas. With their knowledge and the help of two-way radios, were got word that they were able to track down the gorillas after only a few hours of trekking in the forest.
As the morning went on the sun dried the mist above the forest and we by mid-morning we came to the spot where the gorillas were spotted. Our guides cut a narrow path through the thick brush toward our trackers. A quiet hush fell on our group as we knew we were getting close to the family of mountain gorillas.
First, we saw the dominant male of the group. The large Silverback was sat down in the middle of thick vegetation having his morning breakfast. We were able to get within a few feet of the gorilla under the supervision of our guides. He seemed comfortable with us being there and shortly after he was joined by more gorillas.
Next to join in on breakfast was a female and her young baby. She held her little one tight as she ate while we watched and took pictures. The forest was quite dark but we managed to get a few good shots of the baby.
We watched and snapped pictures standing just a few feet from the massive primates. In what seemed like only minutes our one hour with the gorillas was up. In efforts to not spread sickness, our contact time with the gorillas was only an hour. While we would have loved to spend all day hanging out with them, we managed to fill our memory cards with lots of great shots and take home with us memories that will last a lifetime.
The trek base to the base camp seemed much shorter than in the morning as we were all buzzing with excitement from our visit with the gorillas.
Gorilla Trekking FAQ:
Q: Is trekking with mountain gorillas ethical?
A: Overall trekking programs with the mountain gorillas have done positive things for the population and has actually lead to an increase in numbers. The most important part of getting a conservation effort going is getting people to care about these animals. Bringing visitors out to the gorillas has done that in a number of ways. The visitors provide jobs to the local community which are much more valuable than the food that could be had by hunting these animals. There is also a fee paid by visitors that goes directly to conservation efforts to protect to gorillas. While any human contact with wild animals has a sliding scale of ethics, the positives seem to far outweigh the negatives when it comes to gorilla trekking.
Q: Are the gorillas in Rwanda wild?
A: Yes, the mountain gorillas in Rwanda are wild. However, a few select families have been habituated to allow people to visit them. The habituation process involves a small number of people visiting the gorillas every day at the same time to get them used to seeing people and understanding that they aren’t a threat.
Planning a Trip to Trek with the Gorillas in Rwanda
Most international flights will land in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda (KGL). Alternatively, if the prices are high you could also fly into Nairobi, Kenya which generally has better connections and then make your way to Rwanda by land or regional flight.
For Americans and most Europeans, a visa is required to enter the country. Entry visas are $30 USD or you can purchase and East African Visa (EAC Visa) for $100 USD which also allows entry to Kenya and Uganda.
We suggest spending at least 2-3 nights in Kigali to see the highlights and get over jetlag before trekking with the gorillas.
Arranging your Gorilla Trek:
In order to keep the gorilla treks sustainable only a small number of people are allowed to visit each day. This makes arranging your trek challenging, we suggest booking your Rwanda gorilla trekking tour in advance with a quality outfitter to ensure you are able to trek. Trying to arrange this on your own is not advised and could leave you without a trekking permit on the days you need.
Other things to do in Rwanda
Kigali Genocide Memorial (Rwanda Genocide Museum)
In the early 1990’s Rwanda was host to a brutal civil war which included a mass ethnic genocide in 1994. An estimated 500,000 – 1,000,000 Tutsi people were killed. To truly understand the terrible things that took place in Rwanda, a trip to the Kigali Genocide Memorial is required. In addition to exhibits on the genocide, the memorial center is the final resting place to over 250,000 victims brought here from across the county. We suggest to come in the afternoon and leave the rest of your day open after your visit because it can be emotional and we didn’t feel like doing much afterward.
Hôtel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda)
The hotel in Kigali made famous by the Hotel Rwanda movie where nearly 1,000 people were spared from the genocide. Today it is still a functioning hotel.
Is Trekking with the mountain gorillas on your bucket list?
Of all the amazing things we’ve done in Africa, this ranks at the top. It’s very surreal to be this close to a giant gorilla. What really amazed us is how peaceful they were and how similar they are to us. All too often the term ‘bucket list’ gets used, but this is the real deal – Trekking with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda really needs to be on your bucket list.
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