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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Our eyes locked. The gorilla stared at me intently, I knew I was supposed to look away, be submissive, but I couldn’t, this was too amazing. Frozen to the spot, I waited to see what he would do….

In terms of ultimate travel experiences, Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda must be up there with the best. It was definitely one of the things I most looking forward to the most during my Africa trip and I’d booked my permit as soon as I could, as I didn’t want to miss out.

I was a couple of weeks into my trip with Absolute Africa when we arrived in Ruhengeri, which was to be our base for our gorilla trek. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rwanda, a country that had seen one of the world’s most horrific genocides, just fifteen years earlier. What I found was a beautiful country. Rwanda is known as the ‘Land of a thousand hills’ and it really is, with some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen. You would have no idea of the horror that had taken place a relatively short time ago in 1994.

I’d been obsessed with gorillas since seeing Gorillas in the Mist, which tells the true-life story of conservationist Dian Fossey. Watching the film as a teenager, I never thought I’d one day have the chance to see magnificent primates in their natural habitat.

And now here I was, signing in to the Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) in Rwanda. Permits to see the critically endangered gorillas are expensive and limited to only 56 people per day, and it’s not guaranteed that you’ll see them, so I was hoping today would be my day.

After a short drive, we arrived at the starting point and the eight of us in my group (three friends joined another group), plus our armed guides set off into the forest to look for the Amahoro group. Amahoro means peaceful.

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

As of December 2012, there were less than 800 mountain gorillas left in the wild. Sadly, even in this day and age they are still at high risk from poachers, who want to kill them and sell their meat, hands and feet.

What surprised me was how close the gorillas lived to humans and it has been known for the gorillas to raid farm lands. When they leave the protection of the forest they are particularly vulnerable.

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda (3)

We were in good spirits as we trekked, occasionally resting to take in the spectacular views that appeared every so through the dense forest. The weather was overcast and the air was thick with moisture. We talked about what would happen when we finally met the gorillas. What if they charged at us? We’d been warned by the guards that if that happened to stay still and be submissive. We’d had a similar discussion the night before with my friend Charlotte that went something like this…

“What happens if a gorilla runs at you?” Ali asked.

Without hesitation, Charlotte says seriously “I know what to do. You need to grab a spoon, hold it up to his face and it will get scared by it’s reflection and run away”.

Cue hilarious laughter from the rest of the group. “Where did you get that idea from Charlotte?”

“It’s in the Disney film Tarzan. That’s a true story isn’t it?” More hilarious laughter. I’ve been lucky enough to be treated to many of these gems since… Charlotte is very entertaining!

We’d been walking for around an hour and a half when we got the signal we’d been waiting for, the gorillas were near. Our guide asked us to be quiet. We waited. The tension and excitement was immense. The guides are amazing. They know the gorillas well by their looks and personalities.

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

We could hear rustling somewhere nearby. Then as if by magic, they appeared. First what looked as though a couple of females, then a baby and the Silverback (the male head of the troop). God, they were beautiful. The Silverback sat down, positioning himself between us and the little one. He looked us up and down. The baby moved away, but the Silverback stayed put, a grumpy look on his face.

Gorilla Trekking in RwandaI couldn’t believe I was here, in this moment witnessing this. I felt like the luckiest person alive. It was exhilarating, tranquil and unnerving all at the same time.

We were following the group along a path when we heard a noise up to our left. My friend Denise was about five metres in front of me, and Bec about the same distance in front of Denise.

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

A young gorilla was rolling down the hill towards us. He stopped about ten metres up and looked at me. I stood, frozen, half of me was in awe, excited, the other half was terrified and desperately trying to remember what the hell I was supposed to do if a gorilla ran at me. Where was my spoon??????????????

The gorilla carried on rolling and landed on the path in front of me, looked at me and then ran towards Denise and playfully pushed her over as he ran past her, then he smacked Bec on the bottom and continued down the path and out of sight! Cheeky!!

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

“Oh my God! A gorilla just slapped my ass!” Her voice portrayed her utter shock.

“I am so jealous!” And I still am to this day. I want a gorilla bum smack!

We spent the allowed hour with the gorillas, whispering quietly to each other as we followed them and at times our guides even needed to cut out new paths as they went deeper into the undergrowth. We always kept at a safe distance.

Gorilla Trekking in RwandaGorilla Trekking in Rwanda

To see these powerful, yet gentle primates up close and see how human they are, I really don’t understand how anyone could think of harming them. They were mesmerizing. I could have watched them all day (or longer).

Was it worth the expense? Absolutely!!!

This was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget and I strongly recommend that if there’s space to add one more thing to your bucket list, please let gorilla trekking in Rwanda be it.

Essential info:

  • Book your permits in advance if possible, they often sell out weeks in advance. I saw the gorillas as part of my trip with Absolute Africa and they arranged my permit for me.
  • Permits cost $750 for non-nationals, $375 for foreign residents and 30,000 FRW for Rwandan citizens. Other trip fees on top of that (updated – as of February 2014).
  • You are not allowed to go trekking if you are showing any signs of illness as gorillas are very vulnerable to human diseases due to our close DNA. Even little colds to us can be very harmful to them.
  • Trekking can be done at any time of year.
  • Once you find the gorillas, you have 1 hour with them.
  • If you’d like to find out more about gorilla conservation, please check out The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!

32 Comments

  • thefancyvoyager
    July 26, 2013 at 9:37 am

    It’s the first time I’ve heard of gorilla trekking and it sounds awesome! I’m sure it would be an unforgettable experience like yours and it’s definitely on my list of to-dos now!
    thefancyvoyager recently posted…5 Cheap Eats in ParisMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      July 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Oh it was amazing!!! Best day ever!! Definitely go, you won’t regret it! 🙂 x

      Reply
  • Charlotte
    July 26, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Ah yes…the quote that you lot have never let me live down!! Another classic blog entry from you Helen, think this is one of my faves actually! ‘Where’s my spoon??????’ I’ll give you where’s my spoon! HOIII-YA! Love you xxxxxxxx

    Reply
    • Helen
      July 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      You know I love you! What would I do without your Charlotte-isms in my life!!!! Nowadays, I always carry a spoon with me, just in case…. 🙂 x

      Reply
  • nicole
    July 26, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    $500??? Wow. that’s alot of money. But, what an amazing experience to get that up close to them =D
    nicole recently posted…The Atlanta City Pass: A Pass to AwesomeMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      July 26, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      I know! And that’s just the permit! But it was well worth the money!:)

      Reply
  • Toni
    July 29, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    How can something so fluffy and amazing be so violent when they need to be and that’s just us humans ;) 

    Gorgeous photos lovely and the gorillas look incredible! :) 
    Toni recently posted…I’m a lousy backpacker because: I like my sleepMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      August 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Hey! Ah it was a wonderful experience!! xx

      Reply
  • Arianwen
    August 1, 2013 at 2:10 am

    It is expensive, but what an incredible experience – and one that sadly won’t be available for much longer I guess. I’d love to do this.
    Arianwen recently posted…Top 10 Things to do in WellingtonMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      August 3, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      I think number have gone up recently, so hopefully they will keep doing so! x

      Reply
  • TammyOnTheMove
    August 19, 2013 at 2:45 am

    Wow, I would love to see gorillas in the wild. The babys are sooo cute! I think it is good that it is so expensive to see them though. If it wasn’t there would be hordes of tourists everyday, which would probably be quite disturbing for the gorillas.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted…Flashback Friday: The day I met Diego MaradonaMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      August 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Hey Tammy,

      I totally agree. Whatever it takes to preserve these beautiful gorillas. They were so human it was unreal. I can totally understand why Dian Fossey fought so vehemently to save them! She’s my hero.

      Reply
  • Gorilla Tours
    February 15, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Great and pleasant review.
    Just to update on the gorilla permits, they now sell 750$.
    Very helpful. Thanks alot

    Reply
    • Helen
      February 16, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks for the update! I’ll amend! 🙂

      Reply
  • Namrata
    February 19, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Wow, never heard of a gorilla trek before.
    Sounds mesmerising 🙂

    Love your blog. This is the first post i read, and am a fan already!

    Reply
    • Helen
      February 19, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Thank you so much! That’s a lovely thing to hear! 🙂

      Reply
  • The Travel Sisters
    February 21, 2014 at 12:47 am

    Great post! We did the same trek in 2009 and would love to go back! We are also considering seeing the gorillas in Uganda or the Congo but Rwanda seemed like the easiest place.

    Reply
    • Helen
      February 23, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Brilliant! Yeah, I think Rwanda is probably the easiest, but Uganda is also really accessible! Such a special experience!

      Reply
  • AFRICA TREASURES
    March 8, 2014 at 10:00 am

    An interesting review to read.
    Photo taking is perfect in Rwanda, your pictures are very clear.

    Another option is Uganda where gorilla permits cost 600$ , low months of April, may and November, the same gorilla permits cost 350$

    well done Helen.

    Reply
    • Helen
      March 8, 2014 at 11:26 pm

      Thank you!

      I’d like to go and see them in Uganda too! Love Uganda, one of my favourite countries! 🙂

      Reply
  • Stean
    March 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    I have just read about the gorillas when I found these details and impressive photos on your blog, I definitely loved the trip. Thanks for these posts

    Reply
  • Penny Travers
    April 26, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Thanks for sharing heading off in August soaking up all info possible.

    Reply
    • Helen
      April 26, 2014 at 12:21 am

      Thanks for your comment Penny! Have a great time!!!

      Reply
  • Jess
    October 16, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Hi Helen,

    I am organising a Gorilla Trek for feb next year.. can you recommend a company to go with??? so difficult on trip advisor as a lot of the reviews for companies seem to be written by the company and then there’s public feuds between companies on threads haha!!
    I had been communicating with one company who wants me to wire the money for the permit to their bank in advance but I’m pretty dubious about this and my bank has strongly advised me not to do it also. Feeling a bit lost about this one so I hope you can help! Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • Helen
      November 23, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      Hi Jess,

      Yes, there’s often a few dodgy reviews and fake reviews in the forums etc!

      I went with http://www.absoluteafrica.com and I would highly recommend them. They’re a British run company, who work with local companies. Their prices are really reasonable! Give them a shout, they’ll be able to help! You will have to get our permit in advance regardless, but Absolute are a legit UK company. I just travelled with them again for the 2nd time in Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, still good!

      Hope that helps!

      Helen x

      Reply
  • […] Rwanda offers some outstanding beauty, culture, and wildlife sightings from the gorillas in the misty mountains of Volcanoes National Park, to the chimpanzees in lowland jungle of Nyungwe Forest. Long since emerging from a troubled past, the country has a thriving tourism industry with luxurious rainforest lodges and mountain bases to enjoy both the chimpanzees and gorillas. Many experts feel that the gorillas have been saved from extinction because of tourism. Even the capital city of Kigali is worth a couple of days to enjoy the calm atmosphere, good restaurants and well designed museums. For some ideas on lodges for both gorillas and chimpanzees, you can see our recommended tours. Some travel bloggers who visited Rwanda are Kristin from Camelsandchocolate.com and Helen from Heleninwonderlust.co.uk […]

    Reply
  • […] You will also enjoy beautiful waterfalls and scenery on guided forest walks. The Volcanoes National Park in the north then provides access to see the endangered mountain gorillas in the enigmatically named Virunga Mountains. In addition to lush rainforest, the park protects savanna grasslands, swampland, and bamboo forests. The park is shared with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda with Rwanda home to 160 km2 of the protected area. Enjoy very comfortable rainforest lodges to visit the gorillas, with tourism being hailed as saving our close cousins from extinction. In addition to seeing the main draw to the area, enjoy finding a high diversity of interesting birds and the rare golden monkey. Rwanda provides some great rainforest to experience many different primates and the our closest cousins of the gorillas and chimpanzees in two of Rwanda’s fantastically diverse protected areas. For some ideas on lodges for both gorillas and chimpanzees, you can see our recommended tours in Rwanda. A travel blogger who visited Rwanda is Helen from Heleninwonderlust.co.uk. […]

    Reply
  • Silverback gorilla
    November 5, 2017 at 4:54 am

    Visiting these amazing animals in the jungles of Rwanda easily ranks as one of the top travel experiences of my life! These gentle giants are so expressive and human like! I can’t wait to get back to Central Africa to go back and visit them again! Beautiful photos, nicely done!!

    Reply
  • Ambrose
    January 20, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    Hello Hellen,

    This is indeed an in depth article on Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda.
    Many thanks for sharing your insights. This is great. Hope someone out there finds it very useful.

    Reply
  • narayanan peruvamba ramanarayanan
    September 1, 2020 at 1:00 am

    Hello Helen ,

    Thanks for the blog, it was so informative. One follow up question is to see if the tour can be done by myself at least for traveling between cities etc. , although I understand Gorilla trekking cannot be done by myself.

    Reply
    • Helen
      September 3, 2020 at 10:22 am

      No problem – take a look at my other post as it has more info: https://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/gorilla-trekking-in-uganda-rwanda/

      But yes, you can totally do this independently if you want to. You can book your own permits, hotel, transport etc.

      But you do need to go gorilla trekking with a guide for safety (for both you and the gorillas). You would never find them without a guide and end up lost in the jungle. 🙂

      Reply

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