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Gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda

Gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda

How gorilla-trekking safaris work

The Virunga Mountains that straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are home to around 480 mountain gorillas, more than half of the world’s entire population; the rest live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. In Volcanoes National Park, the Rwandan part of the Virungas, ten gorilla groups are currently habituated for gorilla safaris, more than anywhere else in the world.

Look into the eyes of a large silverback gorilla and he'll look back with a thoughtful, intelligent gaze, mindful that you're another individual. Any apprehensions or nerves you might have had during your trek will melt away the minute you see your gorilla family. Gorilla-trekking safaris offer a magical encounter that transcends any other “wildlife” experience we know.

Planning your gorilla-trekking safari

When to go gorilla trekking

Gorilla-trekking safaris can be done throughout the year. The hiking itself can be more arduous in the rainy seasons, during April–May and in November, but at an altitude of 2,000m and more, it can of course rain here at any time of the year. For more details, see Rwanda’s climate.

The most popular times for gorilla trekking are during the drier months, between December and February, and from about June to mid-September.

Permits for gorilla trekking

Securing permits for trekking gorillas, especially during the popular periods, can be difficult at short notice, so you should plan well ahead. We will make all the arrangements for buying your permits.

No more than 96 gorilla-trekking permits are available each day, each costing US$1,500 per person for a one-hour visit. Travellers who are also spending a minimum of three days in either Nyungwe Forest National Park or Akagera National Park between November and May are entitled to a 30% discount, reducing the costs to US$1,050 per person. Amongst other things, the permits pay for a 24-hour guard for each gorilla group (armed teams constantly track each habituated group – like royal bodyguards in the UK!). The fees also help to strengthen conservation efforts and to support the development of local communities.

How fit do I need to be to track gorillas?

You don’t have to be super-fit for a gorilla-trekking safari but it does help if you have a general level of fitness, if only to enhance your overall enjoyment of the experience. Depending on which group you track, and the time of year you go (gorillas tend to move down the mountains in the rains), you might find yourself walking on some pretty steep slopes for several hours. On the other hand, you could reach your group after a 30-minute stroll. Either way, walking will be at a slow pace, with time for breaks if needed, but it’s best to be prepared for the most active option, and if nothing else, a few hill walks before you leave home would be beneficial.

What kit should I take for a gorilla-trekking safari?

Paths on gorilla treks can be slippery, muddy and steep so sturdy walking boots are essential. Some people take thick gardening gloves because of the brambles and nettles along the way, and you should wear long trousers rather than shorts. A waterproof jacket may come in handy and take some water and a snack in case it’s a long trek. You might also find a walking stick or pole helpful; these are available at the start of the trek.

For a small fee of around US$10, porters are available at the trailheads to carry your backpacks and to offer a hand during tricky parts of the hike. Even if you don’t really need this service, hiring a porter is a helpful way to contribute directly to the local economy, and chatting to them as you walk can broaden your understanding of local life as well as enhancing your gorilla trek.

For keen photographers, a camera is a must: taking your own pictures of mountain gorillas is one of the most magical photo sessions you’ll ever experience. It’s as well to remember that the light can be poor in the rainforest and that use of flash is not permitted. You might also need to protect your camera against heavy rain.
Gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park...
...can be challenging...
...with treks lasting between one and four hours each way...
...but the rewards are truly magical.
Meeting gorillas is viewed by many as the holy grail of wildlife safaris.
Expect to get stunning pictures...
... and witness the remarkably human interactions of these gentle giants
If you're lucky you may get a close encounter with a silver-back male...
...or even some of the younger members of the family.
Gorilla family groups can range from a couple of individuals to more than 40 members.
Females have a gestation period of 8.5 months and nurture their young for several years.
Adult male gorillas weigh up to 440 pounds and can reach a height of six feet when standing on two legs.
Bamboo makes up the majority of the gorillas diet...
...and there is plenty of it.
Leave with your cameras full and memories to last a lifetime.
However, Rwanda is a mountainous country
...and the weather is not always on your side, so bring a waterproof!

Gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park...

...can be challenging...

...with treks lasting between one and four hours each way...

...but the rewards are truly magical.

Meeting gorillas is viewed by many as the holy grail of wildlife safaris.

Expect to get stunning pictures...

... and witness the remarkably human interactions of these gentle giants

If you're lucky you may get a close encounter with a silver-back male...

...or even some of the younger members of the family.

Gorilla family groups can range from a couple of individuals to more than 40 members.

Females have a gestation period of 8.5 months and nurture their young for several years.

Adult male gorillas weigh up to 440 pounds and can reach a height of six feet when standing on two legs.

Bamboo makes up the majority of the gorillas diet...

...and there is plenty of it.

Leave with your cameras full and memories to last a lifetime.

However, Rwanda is a mountainous country

...and the weather is not always on your side, so bring a waterproof!

The gorilla-trekking experience in Volcanoes National Park

Whilst a gorilla-trekking safari is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most visitors, the staff at Volcanoes National Park have years of experience behind them, so treks to see the mountain gorillas are well-organised and clearly structured.

Having been allocated a specific group of “habituated” mountain gorillas, you’ll walk in groups of no more than eight people, the distance and terrain determined by the location of “your” group. The pace is unhurried, but be aware that the slopes are often steep, and the altitude, at over 2,500m, can be tiring.

Any apprehension you may feel is likely to vanish when you see the gorillas as they go about their day-to-day routines, feeding, interacting with each other – and even watching you with interest. All the same, it’s important to bear in mind that they are vulnerable to such things as human colds, so there are strict rules in place to protect them.

Mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park

The various gorilla groups and their locations will obviously change from time to time. Mountain gorillas often climb higher in the dry season and descend during the rains; they might move on due to pressure from wild gorillas, and individuals will often join other groups.

When tracking gorillas, it's possible to request to visit a specific group once you are at the park headquarters, but this can never be guaranteed. These are some of the families currently habituated for gorilla safaris in Volcanoes National Park:

  • Originally studied by Dian Fossey, the Susa Group – also known as the Kurira Group – is the largest, with 38 individuals, including three silverbacks. In the summer months in particular it can be a tough trek to reach the Susa Group high up on Mount Karisimbi, but it’s well worth the effort because of their number and because, uniquely, it has a set of twins, a very rare occurrence in the world of gorillas.
  • The Sabyinyo Group has about 17 individuals, including two silverback gorillas, one of which, Guhonda, is the largest in the park. The group is usually found relatively close to the edge of the forest (about 20–40-minutes' walk), between Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
  • Agashya Group, also known by its former name Group Thirteen, was re-named when the dominant silverback Agashya won leadership over Nyakairima in 2010. The group usually lives close to the Sabyinyo Group but can range very far and high. It numbers about 22 gorillas.
  • Usually living between the Karisoke and Bisoke peaks are the Amahoro Group, its 19 individuals under the calm leadership of Ubumwe, and the Umubano Group, which currently has 13 members. Both are usually further away from the headquarters than the Sabyinyo and Agasha groups, but easier to reach than the Susa Group.
  • The Kwitonda Group has around 23 members and was habituated in the DRC. Having crossed the border into Rwanda in 2005, the group is known to have a much wider range than others. It was named for their dominant silverback, Kwitonda, who died in 2012; silverback Akarevuro is now in charge.
  • The Hirwa Group, meaning “lucky”, has around 18 gorillas, which came together from the Agashya and Sabyinyo groups. The group includes one silverback and one of only a few surviving pairs of mountain gorilla twins, Isango Gakuru and Isango Gato.

Our top picks for holidays to Rwanda

We'll always tailor-make your Safari for you. Here are some of our favourites to inspire you.


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Golden Monkey Safari

12 days • 5 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO KIGALI AIRPORT

Combine four key areas of Rwanda on this excellent-value trip, for a true wildlife and cultural experience. The perfect itinerary for those who want to see all the highlights of Rwanda.

US$9,020 - US$10,850 per person

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Mona Monkey Safari

9 days • 3 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO KIGALI AIRPORT

This example of a luxury holiday explores the wildlife of Nyungwe Forest, the scenic shores of Lake Kivu and the mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park, all accompanied by a private guide and vehicle.

US$10,820 - US$15,070 per person

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L'Hoest's Monkey Safari

7 days • 3 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO KIGALI AIRPORT

Meet three iconic primates – gorillas, chimps and golden monkeys – and explore Rwanda's fascinating culture on this excellent value privately guided adventure.

US$5,090 - US$5,980 per person

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Gorillas and Serengeti Safari

11 days • 4 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO KILIMANJARO AIRPORT

Combine three iconic experiences – mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and the Serengeti plains and awe-inspiring Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

US$11,690 - US$13,700 per person

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Gorillas and Maasai Mara Safari

9 days • 3 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO NAIROBI AIRPORT

This trip combines two of Africa's most unforgettable wildlife experiences – Rwanda's mountain gorillas and Kenya's Maasai Mara.

US$10,420 - US$13,410 per person

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Mountain Gorilla Safari

5 days • 2 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO KIGALI AIRPORT

Staying in great-value lodges, with a private driver-guide and 4WD, this adventure includes two treks to get up close with groups of mountain gorillas.

US$5,510 - US$5,950 per person

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Gorillas and Migration Safari

9 days • 3 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO KILIMANJARO AIRPORT

This luxury safari combines two iconic wildlife experiences: trekking to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, then flying to the northern Serengeti in search of the wildebeest migration and spectacular river crossings.

US$15,810 - US$22,300 per person

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The Highlights of Africa

17 days • 7 locations
CAPE TOWN AIRPORT TO KIGALI AIRPORT

An epic adventure taking in some of Africa’s most incredible sights and wildlife experiences, from Cape Town to the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, the Maasai Mara and an encounter with mountain gorillas.

US$13,300 - US$17,330 per person

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Silverback Gorilla Safari

4 days • 1 locations
KIGALI AIRPORT TO KIGALI AIRPORT

Fly into Rwanda and you can be trekking to meet a family of mountain gorillas the next morning. An itinerary like this could easily be combined with a safari in Kenya or Tanzania.

US$8,800 - US$12,640 per person

View all holidays in Rwanda

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