Video Ring

Your Timeless Journey Awaits...

It’s the ultimate bucket list activity. You’ve read the articles, seen all the amazing pictures on Instagram and now it’s your turn!

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda:

You’ve read the articles, and seen all the amazing pictures on Instagram and now it’s your turn! On my recent educational trip to Rwanda, I was lucky enough to include the gorillas in my itinerary so let’s go through the day step by step:

Firstly, is it Gorilla Tracking or Gorilla Trekking?

Gorilla tracking is done by the expert rangers, Volcanoes National Park staff & researchers. They track down the individual gorilla families based on their last known location, where they’ve been feeding, and where they spent the night. Gorilla tracking is done so that guests have a guaranteed chance of seeing a gorilla family when they embark on their epic adventure.

Gorilla trekking is what visitors like yourself do, to look for the mountain gorillas with the help of expert rangers and trackers.

Getting ready for your trek

The luxury lodges that we use for our guests like Singita Kwitonda, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest & Wilderness Bisate can provide all necessary gear, so if you are coming from an East Africa safari you needn’t pack additional items for the trek.
You can borrow gators, gloves, waterproof jackets or ponchos, waterproof pants, backpacks, caps, water bottles and walking sticks. You can even borrow hiking boots at some of the lodges.

Please remember to tell your travel manager what you need & your size so the lodge can prepare accordingly ahead of your arrival. When you do check in at your lodge, they will reconfirm with you what you need and have it delivered to your room the night before.

What shoes to wear when trekking

What to expect on your gorilla trek day:

5:30 am
Wake up! The exact time will be confirmed with you at your specific lodge the evening before, I was at Bisate Lodge. The lodge can give you a wake-up call if needed.

5:45 am
Early breakfast & coffee served at the lodge. The lodges will serve a substantial breakfast – I know it’s early but try to eat something as you will need the fuel later. The lodge will prepare some snacks to take with you in your backpack (like sandwiches or wraps, granola bars, nuts, fruit, biscuits etc.), pack you a water bottle and will help you with your gators. If you need to swap sizes of any borrowed gear, here’s your chance.

6:30 am
Approx. departure time from the lodge to Volcanoes National Park Head Quarters. You will have a dedicated guide & vehicle for your stay in Rwanda even if you arrive by helicopter. They will transport you to Volcanoes HQ, the starting point and will collect you when you are finished – you can leave unneeded items in the vehicle.

7:00 am
Meeting time at HQ for all those doing the gorilla trekking. Your guide will have a copy of your passport & permit and will take care of the paperwork & formalities on your behalf. You will get out of the vehicle and will wait for your guide to return from the office – in the meantime, there is complimentary tea & coffee available, Wi-Fi, a comfortable seating area and bathrooms. The whole area is incredibly clean and well-maintained (I was very impressed).
If you have any mobility issues, or injuries or are worried about the physical aspect of the trekking please let your guide know now this is very important. Similarly, if you love to hike and are up for an adventure and don’t mind a longer hike or even prefer it then please let your guide know too. 

8:00 am
You will then get back into your vehicle with your dedicated guide and head to the starting point for your gorilla family – there are multiple different starting points around the area from 10-30 mins away by car. As the gorilla families are on the move, the trackers will only know their locations that morning.

Holly’s Tip:

It may be overcast when you head out in the morning but don’t forget to wear SPF on your face and/or bring a cap. You are at a high altitude and will sunburn easily!

Do I need a porter? Yes!

At the starting point of your trek, you will be allocated a porter which can be included in your costs.
It is always a good idea to take a porter even if you think you don’t need one (yes gentlemen, even you!). They can carry your backpack, hold your water bottle, help you through the mud, hold your phone, or even your hand – they are very helpful and you are providing a local villager with a day’s work for only $10.

Hiking in Rwanda with a porter

If you feel unsteady on your feet or if it’s particularly muddy, you can get two porters – they are there to help you and make the experience better!

How difficult is the hike?

You will be dropped off at your starting point, given another short briefing and then you will begin your hike. Each starting point is going to have a slightly different experience – I started in a small village very near Wilderness Sabyinyo Lodge. You will most likely start walking through the local villagers’ farmland and upwards towards the National Park.

It is very scenic and this part of the climb is not difficult but very pleasant although it can be slippery if wet. Your ranger will stop along the way to share some information and make sure everyone is alright.
Go at your own pace!

Holly's trekking outfit

Holly’s Tip:

A lot of the driver-guides in Rwanda are budding photographers and have good cameras and lenses. For $200, your driver-guide can accompany you on the trek and take semi-professional photographs of the gorillas so you don’t have to. The hour goes by so quickly, so not having to worry about taking good photographs is such a blessing – highly recommend it!

At some point there will be a transition where you will enter the Volcanoes National Park and the vegetation will change dramatically – it is very thick and usually very muddy. In my case, we walked through a potato bed and climbed over a waist-high stone wall and were immediately surrounded by bamboo forests, we even saw a couple of golden monkeys!

Your guides and porters will have a machete to clear the way and will point out any precarious areas. Go slowly – the ranger will stop along the way to check that everyone is managing. This part of the walk/hike can vary from 20mins to 2 or 3+ hours and can get quite steep and challenging. You may be allocated to a family who is mobile, which can make your trek longer.

In general, you will have been allocated a gorilla family based on what your preferences/physical capabilities are.

The rangers are in constant communication with the trackers. Once the trackers have located the family, the guide will show you where to leave your bags, hats, walking sticks, and any food behind and you will proceed with just your camera/phone. Remain calm at all times and listen to the instructions that your ranger gives you. Once you first see the gorillas, you will have one hour to spend with them. You will need to wear a mask at all times, even in photos.

While you are with the gorillas, trackers will be on hand to assist and guide your interactions.

Once your time (1 hour) with the gorilla family is up, you will head back down to your starting point, where your driver-guide will be waiting for you with the vehicle and some hard-earned snacks & drinks! Head back to the lodge for that hot shower that you know will be so amazing. When you get back to your lodge, the staff will ask you for your boots and will clean them so well, you’d never know you were wading through mud!

Have some lunch and enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure. The lodges all offer in-house activities like nature walks and village visits which can be done in the afternoon (I did the nature walk at Bisate and loved it!) but don’t feel obliged to do something after lunch. Relax, have a massage and enjoy your beautiful surroundings while reflecting on your special day!

Snacks after the trek

What about Gratuities for a Gorilla Trekking Experience?

If you are anything like me, you will be blown away by the professionalism of the whole experience. Rwanda has brought back gorillas from the brink of extinction and in the process given so many people & communities jobs and an income. The tourism and conservation industries work hand in hand and without one you couldn’t have the other. On your trek, you will have your ranger, a tracker and a porter so please bring between $10-$20 for each of them.

In this article
  • Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
  • Gorilla Tracking or Gorilla Trekking?
  • Getting Ready for Your Trek
  • What to Expect on Gorilla Trek day
  • Do I need a Porter?
  • How Difficult is the Hike?
  • What about Gratuities?

Discover Our other travel stories

Read our travel stories for inspiration and updates.