June 2023

Gorilla Trekking 101 – what you need to know for this once-in-a-lifetime encounter

in Experience

Gorilla Trekking 101 – what you need to know for this once-in-a-lifetime encounter

Venturing to Rwanda’s alluring mist-laden mountains to trek into the habitat of the mountain gorilla is a journey that leaves any traveller who embarks on it forever changed. The poignant and humbling experience of encountering these magnificent creatures in one of the last places on earth they live is a meaningful one and has an impact not only on the traveller, but on furthering conservation in East Africa.

Singita’s lodge and villa in Rwanda, on the border of Volcanoes National Park, are a restful and cocooning retreat for guests to base themselves at while taking part in this one-of-a-kind wildlife experience. Here, a tailored, intimate and restorative stay offers seamless access to this unique and precious landscape.

To get the most out of your experience so that every moment can be appreciated and enjoyed fully, it’s worth planning this trip thoroughly, with expert guidance and in advance. We cover some of the key questions we get asked, and useful information to bear in mind.

Singita Kwitonda Lodge and Kataza House are situated on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, in close proximity to the forest habitat of the mountain gorilla

How much does a trekking permit cost?

Gorilla-trekking permits in Rwanda cost US $1,500 per person per day (this is non-refundable). Only 96 permits are issued each day, and for this reason it’s a good idea to acquire yours ahead of time, to make sure this part of your trip is secured. The cost of your permit goes towards sustainable conservation initiatives whose goal it is to preserve and protect mountain gorillas, conserve the precious natural landscapes, and support the development of communities living around Volcanoes National Park.

What gear do I need to bring?

Our Gear Room at Singita Kwitonda Lodge is well stocked with everything you’ll need on the day of the trek – walking sticks, hiking boots, water-resistant pants (gators) and jackets, gloves and backpacks. We also provide you with an on-the-day essentials kit, which includes snacks, a packed lunch, a water bottle, and a comfort kit (containing a buff, hand sanitiser, sunblock and a sweat towel). While we do have hiking boots available, sizes are limited, so we recommend that guests bring their own. Be sure to pack boots with a good grip – you’ll need ones that can withstand the terrain, which is often quite slippery and muddy.

The Gear Room is stocked with all the equipment you'll need for your trek

How do I prepare just ahead of the trek?

The Singita Conservationist at Singita Volcanoes Park will take you through everything you need to know the day before your trek. A comprehensive pre-trek briefing takes place in our dedicated Conservation Room at Singita Kwitonda Lodge. This informal talk covers all the practical details and gives guests a better idea of the purpose behind this conservation initiative.

The Conservationist will take you through what your trek will entail from a practical perspective – everything from the day’s agenda, to important safety protocol. They will also tell you a little about the various gorilla families who call these rainforests home. Finally, they’ll take you through to the Gear Room, and assist you with selecting and fitting equipment, all of which is available for your use. While you enjoy your dinner in the lodge, your gear will be delivered to your suite.

A pre-trek briefing in the Conservation Room gives guests all the information they'll need for the day, and offers insight into the history and purpose of conservation in the region

What will the day itself hold?

On the morning of your trek you will be woken at 5:30am ahead of gathering at the main lodge at 6am for a light continental breakfast and a cup of freshly brewed Rwandan coffee. The lodge team will be on standby for any assistance needed with gear.

By 6:45am you will depart for the trekking headquarters at Volcanoes National Park (a 10-minute drive from the lodge). On arrival, you will have time to enjoy a cup of coffee while your Driver Guide secures your spots with specific gorilla families (selecting the most suitable family depending on the group’s requirements – there are however no guarantees).

Guests will then join their group and Volcanoes National Park Guide for a detailed briefing. At 8am, vehicles will depart to the various trailheads for a 15-minute to one-hour drive – depending on the gorilla family each group has been allocated. At the start of the trailhead, guests will be allocated a porter to assist with carrying bags and navigating challenging terrain (this is recommended). Cash is required to pay the porters (the minimum amount is US $10).

Guides and Porters will help you navigate your way through the forest in search of your group's assigned gorilla family – one of 14 habituated families in the area

How long will we trek for?

The time that it takes to reach the gorilla family varies and can take anything from 30 minutes to 3-4 hours, and treks reach an altitude from 2,500-4,000m. Terrain varies from farmland to thick bush the closer you are to the Park boundary. Additionally, you may be allocated to a family who is mobile, which can make your trek longer.

Once you’ve located the gorilla family you’re seeking, you will have one hour to sit and observe these magnificent animals. Trackers will be on hand to assist and guide your interactions (these trackers also head up the mountain ahead of guests to locate the respective families). Once the time has elapsed, you’ll meet your porter again, enjoy lunch and have some time to take in the experience, and then make your way back down.

Your arrival time back at the lodge could be anywhere between 12pm and 5pm. On arrival, you’ll be welcomed with refreshments and will then be able to spend the remainder of the day at leisure, whether that’s reflecting in your room with a view of Mount Sabyinyo in the distance, and the fireplace lit, enjoying an in-room treatment, or soaking in your private heated pool and absorbing the sounds and scents of the surrounding landscape. As the timing is unpredictable, and the experience best enjoyed unhurried, we recommend you don’t book a trek on your day of departure.

After an hour observing your assigned gorilla family, you'll make your way down and back to the lodge to reflect on this remarkable encounter

What are some of the important rules when trekking?

While sightings are reliable, viewing is dependent on factors such as weather, but trekking will take place regardless of weather conditions. In order to best preserve the integrity of the habitat of the mountain gorillas, and to limit their contact with humans, there are various rules and regulations governing gorilla trekking.

To ensure the impact on the 14 fully habituated mountain gorilla families is kept to a limit, the maximum number of visitors per trekking group is eight and the maximum duration of a viewing is an hour.

For the safety of the gorillas’ health, the minimum age to trek is 15 – as younger children are more prone to infection, this partially minimises the risk to the gorillas. Should any guest show signs of cold, flu or respiratory illness, they unfortunately won’t be permitted to participate, and their permit will be refunded. All guests are additionally required to wear a facemask when in proximity of the gorillas for their protection. Smoking and spitting in the Park is strictly prohibited.

As trekking is an occasionally strenuous activity (terrain dependent) visitors with conditions that preclude taxing physical activity are advised to consult a doctor or physician prior to trekking, and are required to provide a certificate of health. Stretchers however are available for visitors with limited mobility, at a rate of US $200.

Group sizes and time spent with the gorillas is limited for their wellbeing and guests must observe certain protocol

Join us in the rainforests of Rwanda

To learn more about this remarkable experience, and for help planning your next unforgettable Singita adventure, please contact our expert team >

By Julia Freemantle

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