Gorilla trekking in Rwanda: how to and top tips

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is Africa’s most expensive wildlife experience, with permits now costing USD 1500 per person.

However, it’s also arguably Africa’s finest wildlife experience, an intimate and highly authentic journey to the kingdom of the world’s largest primates.

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda: How To and Top Tips

This article explains how to organize a gorilla trek independently and how to go about visiting one of the world’s final populations of mountain gorillas.

Although USD 1500 is very expensive, hardly anyone thinks that it’s not worth it. To stand eye to eye with these majestic giants is an experience you will never forget.

This article provides an in-depth guide to the gorilla trekking experience and compares Rwanda with Uganda.

This article will help you plan an independent gorilla trekking trip to Uganda.

Why Rwanda Over Uganda for Gorilla Trekking

The price is frighteningly high. USD 1500 is only for your permit, so add on accommodation, transfers, and everything else and you’re looking at closer to USD 2000 without flights.

It didn’t used to be this much. In 2017 Rwandan authorities doubled the permit price from USD 750, making it more than double that of Uganda.

So why visit Rwanda when you can see a troop of Ugandan mountain gorillas for only USD 600 per permit?

Gorilla trekking for those short on time

It’s the ease and simplicity of the experience that you are paying for, along with the amount of time you can save.

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is a landscape of towering volcanoes, exotic rainforest and swirling mist. Step into the trees and you’re in the heart of Africa.

However, reaching the park headquarters and trailhead is fast and straightforward.

Here’s how your itinerary can look:

  • Day 1 – Land at Kigali International Airport and take a two-hour transfer to a hotel just outside Volcanoes National Park.
  • Day 2 – Gorilla trekking.
  • Day 3 – Depart to Kigali, either spending the night or flying onwards, to another East African destination or back home.

So if you want to do big-game safari and gorilla trekking, yet can only afford ten days in Africa, Rwanda is recommended.

By comparison I’d recommend at least five days in Uganda in order to do one gorilla trek. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is much harder to reach and there’s a lot of wasted time with layovers or long bus journeys.

Shorter gorilla treks for those less confident

20 gorilla families live in Volcanoes National Park and half of these have been habituated to human visitors. All trekkers depart from the same park headquarters, where they are met with warm drinks and snacks before the mountain gorilla pre-trek briefing.

Guides and rangers ask trekkers what kind of trek they would like; they get far more say than in Uganda.

You won’t be able to pick a specific troop. However, you can ask for a short or long trek. With ten troops to visit there will always be one or two that are very close to the trailhead. The walk might only be 30 minutes, perhaps even less. That’s good news if you are not particularly fit or aren’t confident about the trek.

In Bwindi you can trek from four different locations and there is far less choice over the actual trek. Volcanoes is also a smaller park compared to Bwindi, again meaning less time actually trekking to reach a troop.

How to Plan a Rwanda Gorilla Trek

Prices for gorilla trekking in Rwanda

USD 1500. Ouch!

Obtaining a permit

Unlike Uganda there is no need to choose a location. All permits are for the same location. It is possible to purchase a permit from the Rwanda Tourist Board office in Kigali or Ruhengeri.

To do this you must pay the USD 1500 in cash. Rwandan tour operators can arrange your permit for a small fee; some will do it for free if you book a tour with them.

Getting to Volcanoes National Park

This is the easy part. From Kigali there are many daily minibuses to Ruhengeri, a large town that’s ten kilometres from park headquarters. The journey takes two to three hours and is all on good tarred road.

You might want to take a minibus going to Kinigi, a smaller town closer to the park. Private transport is not too expensive if you are in a group and allows you to travel direct from the airport to your lodge.

Where to stay for Rwanda gorilla trekking

Dozens of hotels and lodges can be found around Volcanoes National Park and Ruhengeri, but note that there are none in the park itself. The more upmarket lodges are found on the park boundary, with many of them offering stunning views over mist-filled rainforest.

However, I recommend choosing a lodge based on proximity to park headquarters. For example, Virunga Lodge is an amazing luxury lodge with the ultimate view, but it’s a winding one-hour transfer from the actual park HQ. Whereas you can stay in Kinigi at a local guesthouse and be just ten minutes away.

The best time to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda

This is a year-round activity. July and August are busiest with tourists while April and May are the wettest months. For April and May you can get a gorilla trekking permit in Uganda for only USD 450.

Tips for Rwanda Gorilla Trekking

  • Don’t spend too long taking photos – the experience is right before you, not in a camera screen.
  • Wear good footwear, preferably walking boots.
  • Take a raincoat, even if it is sunny when you set off.
  • Always take one of the wooden walking sticks offered by the rangers.
  • Relax. You will see the gorillas!

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