It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve heard it, staring a mountain gorilla in the eye in this park is undoubtedly a magical wildlife encounter, that’s exactly why it is the epicenter of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. It is an outstandingly beautiful swathe of tangled forest on a gently sloping highland in the North-Western part of the country.
Every one that visits this UNESCO World Heritage Site has a unique meeting 170 bird species alongside both new world and old monkeys/apes. The big 4 are habituated gorillas, golden monkeys and L’Hoest’s monkey s and endangered red colobus. Most tourists come here because it is just two hours’ drive from Kigali International Park.
That aside, one has 90% chances of encountering its gorillas no matter the time of the year. This is partly because the park has a 0% poaching rate. Even better, the movement of the gorillas is monitored 24/7. This makes it easy to find them. Having been habituated, they are tolerant to the presence of visitors provided they are not noisy. If you are, they tend to shy away or protest. In this regard, you are advised to maintain silence during your time in the forest.
Although the hike is quite tough given the hilly nature of the landscape, there are easier families to access, and if you can pre-book at least 3months in advance, it’s certainly possible to trek the group of your choice.
The ranger guides here are very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the forest. Even better, they are very good at reading when the group is struggling and needs a rest.
Prior to your briefing at the Park quarters in the morning, you will be treated to enthusiastic Rwandese traditional dances; a perfect starter for the day.
After the briefing, you will be divided into small groups according to level of fitness. In an effort not to strain anyone, the slowest member will be allowed to set the pace for the walk. This means you can make it to and fro the forest without going through hell. Considering that some parts of the hike is a tough scramble up and down wet and slippery hills, you are free to hire a porter from a local village surrounding the park. She/He will carry your bag and equipment. Whenever you are overwhelmed by the dense undergrowth, he will pull you up. The best part of the story is that your efforts are eventually awarded with that national geographic moment when the tracker/ranger halts abruptly in front of you and motions for you to sink to the ground, and then slowly points….to the gorilla family you have been looking forward to meeting. In case you don’t register luck in seeing the gorillas on the first day, you will be allowed to re-do the experience the next day but at no extra cost.
Cost of gorilla trekking
Compared to Congo and Uganda, the gorilla permits here costs double, $1,500. However when you think of the number of people working to protect these endangered creatures, it is worth the spend. To give you an idea, each gorilla group has 2 guides, and 4-5 trackers who stay with them throughout the year making sure they are healthy and safe from poachers. That aside, you will get closer to the gorillas than you ever thought you would.
Golden monkey tracking
Volcanoes National Park is beautiful and lush, and fun to hike through. Some of the clients we have hosted here think the monkeys are much fun to track than gorillas because they are very curious and entertaining.The close proximity to Kigali International airport means that you could can trek them and fly out on the same day.
At the start of the tour, walking sticks will be provided for free to you. Having been habituated, most of the monkey families are not shy. They are comfortable around visitors. As such, taking photos is not that difficult. The standard time you will be allowed to spend with the monkeys is one hour. Don’t display food once in their prescence. It makes them restless.
The guides are just as much interested in you getting good photos as they are in educating you about the monkey group you are visiting. You will have ample time to learn about the ecosystem and accommodate extensive questioning. It is not possible for one to choose the monkey family they are to see in the high peak season. However you can in the low season.
What to wear
On the part of what to wear, rubber boots are a good alternative to hiking boots and gaiters. The forest has stinging nettles that give a strong itching on the skin. In this regards, wearing long pants and gloves are highly recommended.
Musanze Caves Tour
If you are in Musanze or Ruhengeri, this attraction is worth a stopover/great addition to gorilla tracking in Volcanoes N/P. It is a heritage site that used to serve as a palace to Rwanda’s kings in the prehistoric times. It has four spacious caves with small outdoor sections that run in between.
During the 1994 genocide, it was used by rebels as a hide out. Today, sections of it are occupied by bats, which adds to its appeal as an interesting sight to observe. The walk through them is not very strenuous because the terrain is relatively even.
A tour of this 2km long lava tube offers an intriguing insight about how lava flows underground, while leaving mineral deposits. Forget about the caves you have been to. It offers an absolutely captivating experience.Varying glimpses of light are allowed inside to allow you take in the beauty of the stunning contrasts. Of all the four caves, the first is the darkest due to its long length and limited inlets for light.
This cave system is not cold at all because it is barely under the surface. The team tasked with looking after it pay great care to safety. Prior to setting foot inside, they will provide you a hard hat to protect your head just in case you knock rough parts of the ceiling. You will also be provided with latex gloves to prevent your skin oil from damaging the caves. During your one-hour guided tour, the guides will show you areas occupied by bats and the astonishing rock formations. Your boots/shoes will get muddy. This isn’t much of a problem because the lodge we shall book for you cleans shoes of guests.
Hike to Diane Fossey’s grave
Most have seen the movie Gorillas in the Mist about Dian Fossey and her work with the endangered mountain gorillas in this area of Africa. Getting the chance to actually visit her camp from which she did her research and see her grave is very gratifying to those who hold her in high esteem.
Situated in the saddle area between two volcanoes; Mt Visoke and Mt Karisimbi, is a grave where the world’s foremost expert on mountain gorillas was buried in 1985. This followed her brutal murder by poachers, a cold act done in protest of her dedication to stopping the sale of gorillas in the black market. She was buried next to her favourite fallen gorilla, Digit, in an area surrounded by stretches of Hagenia – Hypericum forest.
Prior to her murder, this setting used to serve as a scientific base where she spent much of her life researching on mountain gorillas. In commemoration of this life changing dedication, the site offers a permanent exhibition on Fossey’s life & work. Here, you will find this heroin’s notebook showing all the gorilla nose-rings she drew and her fingerprints. The grave site has many memorials, skeletons of gorillas and memory lane photos of Dian Fossey. You can spend time here taking photos, and have a reflection on how far conservation has come thanks the foundation that Fossey laid. Without people like her, poaching would have brought the park on its knees. There would be no legacy or infrastructure, therefore no tourism.
Visiting this place before your gorilla tracking day will give you great knowledge of these wonderful giants before you come face to face with one!
It can be accessed through two trails, the original trail used by Dian Fossey, and a newer one. They join up after a while. Considering some stretches are fairly steep, the rangers will pull you up whenever you are overwhelmed by any obstacle. The ultimate destination is very informative on the life Fossey.
What to wear
The grave is located at 3,000meters above sea level, at a part of the park where rain is common. As such, wearing waterproof clothing that overlap your trousers is a good idea. To avoid ants from sneaking up into your pants, tuck your trouser into your socks. The hike begins with a walk past villages, locals and cattle.