Getting Slapped By a Gorilla 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.

Getting Slapped By a Gorilla in Rwanda

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 farmlands. 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 his 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 were 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 Rwanda

I couldn’t believe I was here, at 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 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 $1500 for non-nationals.
  • 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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  1. 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!

  2. 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

    1. 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

  3. 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! :) 

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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 🙂

    1. Hi Jess,

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

      I went with 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

  9. 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!!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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