When visiting the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, one should not miss out on the magnificent opportunity to visit Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park (PNV) consisting of 125 km2 of mountain forest and home to the six Virunga Volcanoes and the world famous mountain gorillas. Protected within the PNV, the lushly forested slopes of the mountains form an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is arguably the most poignant and memorable wildlife experience in the world: gorilla trekking.
There are only 880 mountain gorillas remaining on earth with the majority living in the Virunga. Thirty-five years ago, the Virunga population had been thinned by poaching, disease and habitat loss to an extremely endangered 250. Conservation efforts have brought the count gradually back to 480, with about 300 of those on the mountainsides of Volcanoes National Park.
Human access to the 62-square-mile park is severely restricted, with only 80 visitors permitted to take one of the guided gorilla treks each day. Groups of up to eight are allowed to spend one tightly monitored hour with one of the families.
There are currently seven main groups that can be tracked in Rwanda; the Susa, Sabinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Hirwa, Kwitonda and Group Thirteen.
The groups vary in number from around 9 to 39 individuals and all currently have at least one silverback male. Trek to see them and you’ll be introduced by your expert trackers and guides to one of the fully-habituated families of mountain gorillas and you can stay with them for an awe-inspiring hour, often crouching just a few feet away, whilst the gorillas go about their daily lives.
Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours plus, depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but you are often carried along by the euphoria you feel at seeing the gorillas. Porters are available to help carry backpacks and cameras, as well as helping you with your footing along your hike which can be hard work, but well worth it.
Make the most of your trip to Rwanda with a moving visit to the Genocide Memorial and after a good night’s rest take a 4-hour scenic drive to Lake Kivu Serena Hotel from for a good night rest before embarking on the Gorila trek early next morning.