Is Gorilla Trekking Worthwhile?
Yes, gorilla trekking is absolutely worthwhile. You will never regret it. Various companies offer different types of tours across Africa, such as wildlife safaris, but my favorite experience by far was our recent gorilla trekking tour in the Volcanoes National Park. My wife and I did not know what to expect on this trip and were overwhelmed by what turned out to be an adrenaline-packed experience. It was a great privilege to visit these highly intelligent, strong, but gentle creatures.
Mountain Gorillas Were “Critically Endangered” until 2018
We met our tour guide bright and early for the trek and proceeded to the forest to start our hike. He explained mountain gorillas were “critically endangered” until 2018, which means they were on the verge of extinction. For the first time since 2008, when only 600 were left in the world, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) upgraded their classification to “endangered” from “critically endangered” as their numbers rose above 1,000; one step further away from extinction.
To protect the mountain gorillas, the government limits the number of tourists allowed to interact with the gorillas. He also explained the national policies in place designed to reimburse farmers whose trees or plants become damaged by these glorious creatures. This way, the gorillas can move about freely without fear of negative consequences. In addition, new employment opportunities created by the gorilla trekking tour business help the local economy.
“It’s a testament to the tireless work of the brave men and women who risk their lives every day to keep gorillas safe in their natural habitat, and also further proof that a joined-up approach to conservation is delivering results”, said Gorilla Organization Director Jillian Miller after the re-classification, “That means working with local communities in Africa to halt and reverse habitat loss, while also supporting vital ranger patrols to keep gorillas safe from immediate threats like poaching and insecurity.”
Safety First: Important Instructions for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
We received safety instructions before starting our gorilla trekking in Rwanda tour, including:
1. Avoid eye contact
2. Stay quiet
3. Disable the camera flash
4. keep a safe distance from the gorillas
Trekking With Gorillas in Rwanda
Our guide explained to our small group we might see a number of different species while trekking with gorillas in Rwanda. These gorilla families included Titus, Karisimbi, Amahoro, Hirwa, and others.
After climbing a bit, we saw our first family of gorillas, which were from the Hirwa family. They are truly astonishing creatures. The excitement in our group was palpable as we prepared to capture the moment with our cameras. We kept a healthy distance between us, which, as the guide explained, was to safeguard the gorillas from contagious human diseases. We remained very still and did not make eye contact as instructed.
The gorillas munched on bamboo leaves as we watched them. They carried on their interactions with little concern for their human visitors, though they observed us with interest. The little ones stole our hearts as we watched them play around their mother. Some did adorable impressions of their silverback gorilla father beating his chest. The male gorilla, less active than the others and weighing almost 500 pounds, sat alone, watching over his family. We watched in fascination throughout our rendezvous which lasted about an hour. Gorilla trekking is a life-changing experience.
Mountain Gorillas Share 98% of Their DNA with Humans
While watching the gorillas, I was struck by the similarities between them and us. Like us, mountain gorillas have 10 fingers, 32 teeth, forward-looking eyes, and sharp color vision. In addition, their gestures, mannerisms, and behaviors are very human-like. These knuckle-walkers are highly intelligent and are said to know the meaning of more than 2,000 words.
Is it Worth the Expense?
Rwanda is an example of ecotourism at its best. Yes, a trekking permit is expensive in Rwanda at $1500, but the amazing experience is well worth the price. Also, while you create lasting memories, you help preserve the gorilla wildlife and benefit the local economy at the same time. As the number of travelers who visit the gorillas increases, the relationship of the local communities to these animals grows stronger.
Put it on Your Bucket List
We enjoyed our experience immensely and highly recommend gorilla trekking in Rwanda for anyone who loves wildlife, hiking, and exquisitely beautiful nature. Most tourists who book trekking experiences are aged 50+ with a decent level of physical fitness. However, the tour guides tailor the excursions to meet the needs of those on the trek; some active adults can and want to climb mountains, while others prefer flatter terrain.
Talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, and actress, Portia de Rossi, did their first trek together in May 2018. Ms. de Rossi described the experience as
“the most shocking, exhilarating experience of my life; When you see something that could easily tear you apart with their bare hands choose to just tolerate you-it’s like no other experience”.
Is Gorilla Trekking in Your Future?
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a popular and unique wildlife experience that allows visitors to get up close with endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Why wait? Book a gorilla trek today if you seek an incredible experience that also intentionally boosts a struggling economy and preserves natural wildlife. A gorilla trekking adventure tour checks all the boxes.
Finally, an extravagant vacation you can feel good about.
Fun Facts About the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda
Rwanda is home to the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), which is one of the two subspecies of eastern gorillas. Here are some fun facts about these mountain gorillas in Rwanda:
Conservation Success: Rwanda’s significant conservation initiatives led to an increase in the mountain gorilla population in recent years.
Volcanoes National Park: Most of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda are found in the Volcanoes National Park, which is part of the Virunga Massif, a range of volcanoes that stretches across Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Family Structure: Gorillas live in tight-knit family groups led by a dominant silverback male. The family consists of several females, their offspring, and occasionally a few younger males.
Vegetarian Diet: Mountain gorillas are primarily herbivores, and their diet mainly consists of vegetation such as leaves, stems, fruits, and bamboo shoots.
Social Behavior: Gorillas are highly social animals and exhibit a range of complex behaviors, including grooming, playing, and communicating through vocalizations and body language.
Size and Strength: Adult male mountain gorillas can weigh up to 400 pounds (180 kilograms) and stand over 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) tall when they are on two legs. Despite their size and strength, they are generally gentle and non-aggressive unless provoked.
Gorilla Naming Ceremony: Rwanda holds an annual Gorilla Naming Ceremony called “Kwita Izina.” During this event, newborn gorillas are given names as a way to raise awareness about their conservation and celebrate the country’s commitment to protecting these magnificent animals.
FAQs About Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Here are some commonly asked questions and answers about gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
Is gorilla trekking physically demanding?
Yes, gorilla trekking can be physically demanding, as it involves hiking through dense forests and sometimes steep terrain to reach the gorillas’ location. The trekking duration can vary from 1 to 4 hours or more, depending on the gorilla family’s location on that particular day.
What is the best time to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda?
Gorilla trekking is available year-round in Rwanda. However, the dry season, from June to September, and December to February, is generally considered the best time to visit, as the hiking trails are drier and more accessible during these months.
Are there any age restrictions for gorilla trekking?
In Rwanda, the minimum age for gorilla trekking is usually set at 15 years old. This is to ensure the safety and well-being of both the gorillas and the trekkers.
What should I wear and bring for the trek?
You should wear sturdy, comfortable hiking boots and long trousers to protect against thorns and insects. Bring a light rain jacket, a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, and enough water for the trek. A small backpack to carry these items is also recommended.
Can I take photos during the gorilla trek?
Yes, photos are allowed during the trek, but without the use of flash to avoid startling the gorillas.
image source: Augustine Tours,
Augustin Ndikuriyo is a tourism entrepreneur and the founder of Augustine Tours, a travel company offering custom tours in East Africa for families, small groups, and solo travelers. His unwavering belief that tourism is a great channel for both educational and cultural exchange was inspired by a quote from St. Augustine, ” The World is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page”. Tour guides are well-trained locals who speak fluent English and truly enjoy sharing their knowledge with tourists.
originally published 11.10.2019