Parc National De Volcans (Volcanoes National Park) is home to Rwanda’s Mountain gorillas. Mountain gorilla tracking in Rwanda is done at the park. It is the ultimate wildlife experience in Rwanda and the biggest pull factor for holidays in Rwanda. Any wildlife or primate enthusiast would love to sit on the cold floor of the forest and watch these giant apes as they go about their day. Dian Fossey brought the world’s attention to these gentle giants in the 1960’s when only 250 of them were estimated to be surviving. She had a research center at the park where she did her studies on the gorillas.

The 2019 census recorded 1064 individuals in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo. Half of these survive in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla national parks and the other half in Virunga national park (DRC), and Volcanoes national park. The rise in the numbers of these apes is one of Africa’s greatest successes in conservation and tourism has played a role in it.

Rwanda has over 20 gorilla groups but of these only 12 are open for gorilla tourism. These are visited daily by a group of 8 tourists. This means 96 gorilla permits are available daily in Rwanda. Each group has a silverback that leads it.

The gorilla trek

Volcanoes National park is in Musanze, which is a 2 hours’ drive from Kigali City. To make it easy and avoid risks, we recommend an overnight at any accommodation facility near the park.

On the tracking day, you arrive early at the Kinigi Park headquarters by 7 am for a briefing by a park ranger. After the briefing, you are assigned gorilla groups in numbers of 8 per group and at around 8.30 am you start the trek. The trek goes through farmlands and rural communities at the base of the forest. It can take from 2-6 hours depending on the location of the gorillas. This is usually determined by the family you trek. Volcanoes national park is less physically challenging and doesn’t require a certain level of fitness.

An advance team of trackers goes ahead of you and guides, who lead you through the forest trails in search of the gorilla family you are tracking. These communicate with the guides about the location of the gorillas when they finally find them. When you get to the gorillas, you are allowed an hour in the company of the gorillas for photography and learning their behavior. After an hour, you return to the lodge.

When an hour gets to the end, you will then understand why Dian Fossey wouldn’t after 18 years get want to get away from the magical apes and why she protected and championed their survival. The experience is rare, mystifying, and many always want to stay in the presence of the mountain gorillas (one hour is short).

Gorilla Permits

A gorilla tracking permit in Rwanda can be purchased online from the Rwanda development board at 1500USD or through your tour operator. The minimum age for any tracker is 15 years and below this, you can’t be allowed to track gorillas. We recommend booking in advance mostly during the peak seasons because then, permits are scarce.

Rwanda’s gorilla permits may be expensive but here are some of the reasons why you should track gorillas here.

  • Tracking in Rwanda is less physically demanding.
  • The vegetation in Volcanoes is less dense, this grants better visibility and photography.
  • Volcanoes National park is a 2 hours’ drive from Kigali city. This is about 4 times the drive from Kampala to Bwindi or Mgahinga gorilla national park. However, the 2 parks can be accessed from Rwanda or by flying which makes it easy (2-hour flight from Entebbe International Airport).

The fee of the gorilla permit in Rwanda may seem to be way too much for an hour encounter with the gorillas, but also to protect these primates is a costly undertaking. Your dollars will be put to good use. 10% of the revenue from the permits, is injected into community development and the rest into conservation.

Best time to track gorillas in Rwanda.

You can track gorillas at any time of the year. Mountain gorillas don’t migrate or hibernate. Only the wet season isn’t perfect because of the rains. Rains make the trails muddy and slippery and this makes the drier months of December to early March and June to September the best.