Gorilla trekking in volcanoes National park
Since the park is known for the endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys alongside hiking tours to various mountains like the karisoke, kirisimbi, Muhabura and Barisoke, it also cvers an area of 160km2 in the rain forest and bamboo.
Gorilla trekking at Volcanoes National Park offers an unforgettable trekking experience for the tourists and it all begins as you climb the mountain gorillas natural environment. The breath taking vistas provided by the shadowed bamboo forest gives the first impression to the trackers who later get swallowed up in the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest.
In order to perfectly conduct your trekking activity, find the best gorilla group to trek depending on your fitness. It takes about 1-4 hours as you encounter the majestic silver back mountain gorillas and direct eye contact as they chew bamboo shoots.
While trekking in the verdant foot hills of the Virunga, expect to watch the Golden Monkeys, bird species in abundance as well as pinning down the Buffalos plus Elephants.
Volcanoes National Park has 10 habituated family groups of gorillas that can be tracked by the visitors which includes;
Susa gorilla group Family.
This is the largest and most popular group well known for being studied by Dian Fossey during her research in 1967 to 1985.It derives its name from Susa River which flows through their home range. This group is the hardest to trek as it tends to range high into the mountains but the RDBs tourism and conservation tracker have always located them in advance the day before trek. Initially the Susa group consisted of 42 members but later split into the present day impressive number of 28 members with three silverbacks. The group is famous for its playful twins; Impano and Byishimo. Not forgetting Poppy one of the oldest known habituated gorillas from the Dian Fossey’s original group who is believed to have been born in 1976.
This family is also known as Susa B, and is believed to have been split from the original group(Susa A family),consisting of 15 members. The kirisimbi group lives in the slopes of Virunga volcano; as it appears that they established their home range in karisimbi caldera. Tracking the Karisimbi family may sometimes be difficult as it’s only suited for more serious hikers because of its distant location.Just like the original group, the karisimbi are also hard to trek and it takes long to track. This may Lead to cancelation of the trek if the family is too far away. This trek is worth rewarding because the visitors get to see a lot, including some stunning scenery ,although the trek may be difficult.
Sabyinyo gorilla family group.
This group was named after the sabyinyo volcano, which means” the old mans tooth”.It consists of 8 individuals with one giant silverback, Guhonda who is the largest and regarded as the commander of the group weighing 220kg.Guhonda is also well known for having kept its main challenger, Ryango out of the family to remain as a lonely silverback This group is the easiest and nearest to track inhabiting the gentle slopes of mountain Gahinga and Sabyinyo .
Amahoro (peace) gorilla family.
This group has a sizeable number of 17 individual suitable for trekking which live up to its, name, “peaceful” and are active, delightful to behold when you are in their presence. This peaceful consists of; 1 siverback; 2 black backs; 5 adult females; 2 sub-adult males; 2 juveniles and 5 babies.One must endure fairly steep climb to reach Amahoro,however the climb is well worth it, once in contact with this tranquil group.
This group broke off from the original Amahoro after the dominant silver back ubumwe was challenged by Charles, now the leader of the Umubano. It consists of 11 members ie,1 silverback; 1 sub adult male; 3 adult females and 6 babies. As Charles matured into a silverback of the same rank as ubumwe, he staged a fight because he could not stand being given orders and later challenged Ubumwe.This fight went on for weeks and months whereby he later snatched some females from ubumwe and later settled after the formation of his group umubano. since then, he has commanded respect and recognition from ubumwe. No fights have ever existed between the two families again.
Agashya gorilla family.
This group is also known as the special group and it derived its name from the first habituation which comprised of 13 members. This family today consists of 25 individuals with: 1 silverback; 1 adult female;2 sub adult females; 3 juveniles and 7 babies. The group was formerly commanded by Nyakarima who was later challenged by Agashya meaning “the news” He first watched and estimated Nyakarima’s strength before challenging him in the fierce fight thereby taking the whole group away with him. Due to his wisdom and intelligence,he ensured maximum security and safety of the group, by taking them up the volcano such that his opponent, Nyakarima would not have access to them. Untill now, Tracking this family needs a lot of strength and good body fitness .Agashya group will continue moving uphill untill they sense no danger coming after them.This is only when you will meet the group in the place where they have finally settled.Therefore it may take aduration of about 12 hours to track them
This group got its name because of its movement from one place to another. Ugenda means, ”being on the move’’ and it has 12 individuals ie.2 silver backs and 11 gorillas. This group is fond in Karisimbi area of Rwanda and since they move from one place to another, it becomes very difficult to be tracked hence need for moving from one place to another in order to locate them.
This group is led by one silverback,Bwenge, who left his natal group and was joined by females from other groups. This group was formed in 2007 having 11 members with one silverback. They suffered death of sick infants which gave them hard time, however, the group is now growing strong with two successful births in the past two years and a strong silver back leader. The group is mostly found in the slopes of Karisoke volcano and the trek to see them is very tough, as one has to hike up the hill. The trails are sometimes muddy and very steep.
Hirwa Group.(meaning”lucky one”)
This group exhibits its strength and holds its own a mongst all the other established groups. The group now has 9 members .Its was formed in 2006 when trackers witnessed the gorillas emerging from two different groups of group 13 and Sabyinyo. This group is also called the Lucky one and it consists of: 1 silver-back; 3 adult females; 2 sub adult females; and 3 babies.
The word”kwitonda” means “humble one”. This group contains 18 members, also led by a silverback called “kwitonda”, having two silver backs and one black back. Having migrated from DRC, the group tends to range far making it moderately difficult to trek. This group is also hard to track like Susa B
Gorilla Trekking permits
Book your gorilla trekking permits at least 6 months in advance for the high seasons of June-September or December to February. These permits are booked on first come, first served basis all year round and availability for permits for a particular date is not allowed. A delay in payment or confirmation of the permit s especially for a specific date may cause disruption in your booking. To make it easier, know your travel dates and the day you want to trek then apply with all your information as soon as you can catch up with your trip.
Since gorilla trekking is done all year round, you can secure yourself a gorilla permit 1-2 months in advance for the months; March –May, or October –November.
Previously the costs for gorilla permits were classified into three with the park entry fee inclusive as;$750 per person for non-nationals, $375for foreign residents and, Rwf 3000 for Rwandan nationals, but the Rwanda Development Board(RDB) increased the permit rates by 50% for all the visitors i.e. from $750 to$1500, which started immediately this year(2017) in May. This increase does not affect those who booked before the announcement for the increase.
However, you can make bookings through the travel or tour agencies, and Rwanda tourism office when you are out of Rwanda.
When planning for any trekking excursion in the volcanoes national park, one must carry along some useful thing that willmake you attain your lifetime ultimate experience that involves trekking or hiking visit in Volcanes National Park.these include;
- Have a small backpack as it is useful to carry your water, packed lunch, camera and binoculars.
- You need light weight hiking boots for this activity/strong waterproof walking boots due to nature and altitude of the forest. So get shoes that have good ankle support (the ones that come above the ankle bone).
- Take a light jumper and lightweight breathable waterproof jacket/trousers as temperature is variable and weather conditions can change
- Lightweight long wool socks which are comfortable for a mountain tropical forest
- A few long-sleeved shirts/trousers. Please ensure that you trek in your long sleeved trousers/shirts to avoid insects such as safari ants entering your trousers.
- Sweater for cool evenings and chilly mornings due to nature and altitude of the place
- Bush hat with a brim for sun protection. Please carry a hat to protect you from the strong sun rays if it is hot.
- You may also need to carry some Sunglasses too with neck strap
- Sun cream is also necessary
- Video/photo camera, extra lenses and Reserve batteries. Photography is an important component of your safari and make sure that you have your camera ready, charge your batteries very well and if necessary, carry extra batteries as you will need to take many photographs in the one hour you will have with the gorillas.
- Films and torch-LED models are light weight and have a good battery life
- Insect repellants to protect you from Mosquito bites as Bwindi is a tropical forest so many insects are accommodated there in.
- Garden gloves that will protect you from germs and other items that may scratch your hands.
- Binoculars. Don’t forget that you are on safari and you want to have clear views of everything so during your trek in search for the rare mountain gorillas, you will have a chance to spot some other wildlife species like birds, primates and large mammals
- A glove to grip vegetation and it’s also best to have different layers of clothes since the temperatures tend to change.
- Energy Giving snacks. Gorilla trekking can take from 30 minutes to eight or so hours and that’s why a certain level of fitness is required. To add on that, we advise that you carry some energy giving snacks as supplements and lots of drinking water as you never know when you will return.
- Hiring a Porter for your gorilla safari, is a top tip -You will need a porter to give you a push on the way to the gorillas as trekking/hiking can take some time. You will pay some fee to a porter but it is worth it.