The very first national park to be created in Africa, Volcanoes National Park has forested slopes which are spectacular and full of drama. A chain of free-standing volcanoes are home to local snake spirits, active volcanoes and the place where Dian Fossey lived – and died – for Mountain Gorillas. With peaks reaching nearly 4,500 metres, rare forest elephants and a network of rugged trails, this is a park that is as spectacular as it is thrilling and despite its popularity, it is still the best place to see Mountain Gorillas.
Straddling the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, the massif itself includes six active and three extinct volcanoes so wherever you look there is a photograph waiting to be taken. Whilst the gorillas are the draw, an extra day or so spent at one of the lodges will allow you to explore the rural villages dotted around the region, taking in a few lively markets and traditional Intore dancing – something which the region is also famous for.
There are ten habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park available for gorilla trekking, (Sabinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Susa, Kwitonda, Karisimbi, Agashya, Bwenge, Ugyenda and Hirwa). Most groups are half-day walks but Susa can take all day. Tracking here is usually easier than at Bwindi as the afro-montane forest is lighter. There are eight permits available daily for each group and each permit costs $1,500 per permit, per person. Every group is different, some with large numbers in the group, others smaller and given the habitat and terrain, it is unlikely you will see the groups in their entirety all at once!
The gorilla treks in Rwanda vary enormously. Some groups are very close and can be reached in around an hour, whilst others are on the far side of the park and can take all day. That said, as the gorillas obviously move around they are in a different place each day so it is impossible to predict how long it will take you to reach them. They can also move as you trek towards them, even when you are there, so you need to be prepared. If you are doing more than one trek, the rangers will try and ensure you see a mixture of groups to get a range of gorilla experiences.
On the morning of your trek, you will be allocated a group and your ranger will then go through the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking after which you head out to the park. Some groups can be accessed directly from the park with a short walk to the start of the trail, but others might require a drive to the start of the trail further away. Our guide will always be there to take you to the gorilla treks and will then meet you at the end to drive you back to your lodge.
Stay 7 meters away from the gorillas when you find them, designed to stop germs passing from humans to gorillas, but also these are wild animals and like any wildlife, you should keep your distance. The gorillas have gotten used to the presence of humans through the ongoing habituation process and the guides and rangers are there to keep an eye on things. Bear in mind that sometimes the gorillas will move around and as they have not been told about the 7 metre rule, they can get much closer. Whilst this should not be encouraged, they are inquisitive animals, particularly the younger ones. Should they approach you, follow your guide’s instructions.
You can visit the gorillas at any time of the year. However, you may find the walking easier outside the rainy seasons April, May and November.
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