Volcanoes National Park is located in northern Rwanda, about 80 km from the capital, Kigali. Getting to the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda is quicker and easier than getting to Bwindi in Uganda. About a two and a half hours’ drive from Kigali, if you’re traveling on a tight budget you can catch a mini-bus taxi to Ruhengeri town, situated at the park entrance, or you can catch a taxi.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is slightly less strenuous than in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, because the gorillas move around a bit less. The open terrain amid bamboo forests also allows more light into the environment, making for better photo opportunities than in the heavily forested Bwindi. The gorilla trekking procedure in Rwanda is slightly different to that in Uganda. In Uganda, you purchase gorilla permits for a given gorilla family and then trek to that family, but in Rwanda the permit is not specific to a family and the gorilla group you are allocated is dependent on several factors. After being briefed on gorilla trekking, visitors are split into groups according to age, fitness level and the location of the gorilla families at the time, find the complete guide for visiting volcanoes National Park Rwanda to Enjoy 3 Day Gorilla Tour Rwanda.
Mountain gorillas are critically endangered, which makes the life-changing experience of visiting them in their natural habitat even more extraordinary and precious.
Getting to the Gorillas
In Uganda the gorillas tend to be found deeper in the forest in groups of between 10 and 20, with at least one silverback. In Rwanda groups range between 9 and 39 gorillas including at least one silverback. The trekking itself is generally more challenging in Bwindi (Uganda) given that the gorillas are more tucked away and after viewing the gorillas you often have to ascend steep slopes out of the forests. But in Rwanda some of the gorilla groups are often found closer to the park entrance, requiring a shorter hike. You can’t however request which gorilla groups you want to see and the location of the groups does shift further into the forests.
Finding the gorillas
Finding and getting to the gorillas is not always easy, nor are you guaranteed to see them. The trek to the gorilla groups takes you through very dense vegetation, on narrow trails up steep and often muddy slopes. The search for gorillas can last several hours, since the gorillas move around in the thick undergrowth shifting deeper into the forests at times.
Trekking experience starts early in the morning, driving to the boundary of the national park for formalities before continuing to a ranger’s station. You will be briefed by your range guides and filling you in on the family history and sharing their in-depth knowledge about mountain gorillas. The rangers usually trek to the site where the gorillas were seen the previous day and trace their movements from there to locate them. The gorillas are monitored daily which helps keep track of their locale, as well as their health and safety. After a fair amount (anything from 45 minutes to 8 hours), muddy tracks you will hopefully come face-to-face with a family group of gorillas in the forest. Usually you put your stuff down, try to remain silent and move in a little closer with just your cameras.
The really encounter
This is where the magic happens, as the unique and intimate gorilla encounter unfolds. You have an hour to observe these gentle apes at close range (up to about 7 metres) in their natural state and take photographs of them. Watching the untamed gorillas feed, groom, parent, play and interact is spell-binding. The striking resemblance between the way the gorillas behave and relate with one another and the mannerisms of humans leaves many onlookers awestruck.
After spending an hour with the gorilla family it is time to retrace your steps, trekking back to the ranger’s station. Along the way to or back from the gorillas the group usually pauses to eat. You generally carry your own packed lunch and water along with you. Back at the starting point of the trek you transfer to your vehicle and make your way back to your accommodation or to Kigali for departure.