Deep in the mud and thickets of northwest Rwanda live the mountain gorillas: stocky, black-furred beasts that share about 98% of our DNA. You can see these endangered, gentle giants on an extension to your safari or Kilimanjaro trek. It’s one of Africa’s most incredible–and exclusive–sights.
Here’s what to expect on a Rwanda gorilla trek.
What’s It Like?
Gorilla trekking is a true adventure. Expect to be mud-caked and sheened in sweat as you climb Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains, following your guide as they cut trails through the brush with a machete’s swing. All hikes begin in the lowlands, crossing through farmland to the jungle. The expedition will last between one to six hours, depending on which gorilla group you are tracking and where they are.
While most trekkers see gorillas, it’s important to note there are no guarantees–you may embark on an easy hike and be trekking all day, or you may set out on a challenging hike and find gorillas within an hour.
Once you find a group of gorillas, you’re given one hour to observe then eating, roaming, resting, playing in tree branches and possibly performing other humanlike behaviors. Your guide will likely clear the brush with their machete so you can get a clearer, closer look at these remarkable mammals.
Your guides will speak gorilla during the visit, too! Every guide is trained to ask the gorillas how they are doing by making a grunting sound. The gorillas answer back in a grunt that communicate “Yes, I’m cool,” or “No, give me space.” The guide then manages the visit appropriately.
How difficult is gorilla trekking?
The challenge of a Rwanda gorilla trek lies in the fact that gorillas don’t stay in one place. They may spend a morning low in the mountains or move continuously all day through dense jungle. You can choose whether to opt for a short or long trek, which will determine what gorilla group you’ll track.
Generally, anyone with a moderate level of fitness can go on a Rwanda gorilla trek. Expect to traverse dense and uneven terrain in a climate with high humidity. Local porters are available for travelers requiring assistance through the challenging landscape.
Why It’s Worth It
The gorilla is an icon of unity in Rwanda, and very few travelers get to experience the magic of seeing them in person. These enormous, graceful animals are at peace in their natural habitat. You can watch complex social dynamics play out between a mother and baby, siblings or a grumpy older male. Being so close to these highly intelligent creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife viewing experience.
“I have had wildlife experiences throughout the world – amazing wildlife experiences. I still rank being out in the midst of a family of gorillas as one of the most spectacular. The intimacy of this experience is extraordinarily emotional. Being less than 15 feet away from a group of gorillas – looking into their eyes is… it’s almost indescribable.”
– Craig Sholly, Senior Vice President, African Wildlife Foundation
The guides can identify individual gorillas, enriching your experience as you learn about their personalities and differences. Thomson guests Rick Genter and Maria Keinath wrote us a heartwarming letter detailing some exciting moments with Lucky, a silverback they spotted.
“The gorilla treks were a dream come true. We were downright emotional.”
– Thomson guests Rick Genter & Maria Keinath
Observing the younger members of the family, filmed by Thomson guest Robert Goodwin
A Rwanda trip extension starts at $6,000 per person, which includes all lodging, meals and services and permits. A limited number of permits are available per day. Thomson guests going on a safari or Kilimanjaro trek can make this a pre-trip or post-trip extension. In either case, we recommend five-days in Rwanda to get the full experience.
Gorilla Trekking Alternative: Golden Monkey Trekking
A limited number of gorilla trekking permits are available per day. This is an effective conservation practice, but it also means it can be difficult to get permits two days in a row. Those guests who only have one day of gorilla trekking can spend the other day with the golden monkeys of the Virunga Mountains. Russet-coated with black limbs, these smaller monkeys are a playful and curious bunch. Two troupes can be seen in Rwanda, numbering between 80 and 100 individuals total.
Once you find them your time with the monkeys is limited to one hour of observation as they interact, play, chatter, groom and move through their forested surroundings.
What Else Can I Do in Rwanda?
Due to the strenuous nature of gorilla trekking, most Thomson guests relax at the lodge after their trek. When guests pass through Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, they have a chance to visit the Genocide Memorial, where they can peruse interior exhibits as well as the beautiful memorial gardens.
Call us to add a Rwanda extension to your safari or Kilimanjaro trek or click the button below for a sample gorilla trekking itinerary.