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- On August 19, 2015
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Rwanda is one of the African countries that have had an unfriendly history of the genocide that claimed the lives of many native Rwandese, destroyed the countries image at the international scene and discouraged tourists visitation. However for the last one and a half decade, the Rwandan government through the Rwanda Development Board has tremendously changed the once bad image to a better one which has made Rwanda one of the most visited African destinations especially for gorilla safaris and tours.
Mountain gorillas are among the endangered species on the planet only remaining in three countries Rwanda inclusive. Currently, they are the major tourist attractions in Rwanda and for any adventurous tourist interested in viewing these rare species in their natural setting, Rwanda is the best destination to go to. The Rwandan government in collaboration with other organizations has played an important role in ensuring the protection of these incredible species.
These rare species reside in the Virunga volcanoes that cuts across Uganda, Rwanda and democratic republic of Congo however Rwanda is more blessed to have al most half of the 880 mountain gorillas in volcanoes national park which is the only place where gorillas can be easily tracked, accessed and interacted with. The park has seven gorillas groups and therefore anyone on a gorilla safari can’t fail to trek and miss any of them.
Of all the gorilla groups in volcanoes national park, Susa group has 41 gorilla members and is very famous for her twins Impano and Byishimo. The park is just a 2 hours drive from Kigali and all those interested in participating in gorilla safari treks there should make their booking in in time because of the high demand and in order not to be disturbed.
Best time for a gorilla trekking tour
Gorilla safaris in Rwanda can be made at any time of the year however it’s very challenging during the wet season because of the wet slippery grounds that makes hiking especially in the hilly areas difficult and sometimes impossible. Therefore for one to have a better gorilla safari experience, its better to go tracking in the dry seasons of December, February, and June- September.
Price of gorilla permits
They are currently at $750 and can only be obtained from Rwanda Development Board offices In Kigali or through tour operators. For conservation reasons, only 80 gorilla permits are issued daily therefore in order not to miss a gorilla tour, you should make early bookings. The permits are inclusive of park entrances, guide fees and an hour of interaction with the gorillas. To be on a safe side, its better to make as many consultations as possible especially if it’s your first time in the country.
The trekking process
This largely depends on the gorilla group allocated to trek, the time/season of your visit and the day’s weather. Some gorilla groups can be got just after a 15 or 20 minutes hike but if you are unlucky, you might take 4-5 hours of hiking before finding them. In the wet season and on a rainy day it’s even worse because the rain slows you down especially while on a hill or muddy area. Sometimes the rain makes a gorilla safari impossible therefore mind a lot on the time of the year you visit the country.
Volcanoes national park being in a hilly environment, there are many chances of uphill hiking and this is why the elderly and all those who cannot walk for longer distances are allocated to gorillas families that are near or that can be accessed after a short period of time.
For tourists coming from colder countries, Rwanda might seem to be hotter and therefore to adjust to the countries temperature while on a gorilla safari, it’s better to first spend a few days there before the trek.
The gorilla trekking day
On this day, you are expected to wake up early and report to the park headquarters by 7:00 am at Kinigi for briefing about the code of conduct while hiking and while interacting with the gorillas and other necessary safety measures. The 80 people are then divided into 8 groups and allocated to individual guides who keep in touch with the park headquarters by use of communication gadgets or radio calls to report any emergencies.
As you hike, the guides explain about all the outstanding wildlife species in the forest because the gorilla safari is not just about gorillas alone. It encompasses the forest, the vegetation types there, the people around and much other interesting wildlife encountered on the hike.
The trekking codes of conduct
Having identified the gorillas, you are supposed to behave well around them because they are very sensitive mammals and since they share around 94.5% DNA like humans, they easily understand most of human’s behavior towards them. You are not allowed to get to close to them especially if have any infection that can easily be transferred to them for example cough and flue. This is one of the reasons why only one group of 8 people is allowed to visit a gorilla group each day. Getting to close to them might also be dangerous because they remain wild animals and can therefore attack you incase you invade their privacy a lot.
Distances of 20-30 meters from them is recommended and if they attempt to get closer, just move back peacefully and gently without shouting or making a lot of noise.
You are given a maximum of an hour to interact and take photos however meals are not allowed during this time and during the whole trekking process because you can easily raise their appetite and trigger them to attack you.
Vital gorilla trekking tools
Raincoats or water proof jackets are a necessity because of the unpredictable rains that can drop any time of the day. It’s also very important to wear body covering clothes and hand gloves to ease movements through the thick rough bushes and prevent skin irritation as well as a walking stick for support while going up hill. Boots or strong shoes are highly recommended so that you do not get stuck in the mud incase of a down pour. You can also pack water and some few snacks because if you take a long time hiking, you are given a break to have your snacks.
Generally if you are planning for a gorilla safari to Africa, Rwanda will give you an impressive gorilla experience you can never forget in your life time. Its so amazing to learn to view how these rare species and one of mans closest live their lives in the famous Virunga volcanoes. Just prepare yourself and head to Rwanda for a magical gorilla safari and tour experience.