Wild at Heart Journeys Baby Mountain Gorilla

A juvenile Mountain Gorilla peeks at visitorsImage via Wild at Heart Journeys

For many, essential to the call to Africa is the opportunity to connect with the vast richness of biodiversity, history, and evolution of life on planet earth. And perhaps no African species is more poignantly alluring - and critically endangered - than the mountain gorilla.

Pushed to the brink of extinction by deforestation, social and economic crisis, and contact with human disease, today less than 1,000 mountain gorillas remain in the dense rain forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda.

For clients interested in the life changing experience of gorilla trekking, we highly recommend the small, verdant country of Rwanda for ease of air/road access, political stability, and its thriving hospitality industry. Newly announced strategies by the Rwandan government are also redoubling an essential commitment to sustainable tourism, conserving habitat, preserving threatened species, and supporting the communities that live near the country’s national parks.

Gorilla Trek Permits

Faced with economic pressure to increase gorilla trekking visitation, Rwanda has instead boldly underscored its commitment to conservation by increasing the price of gorilla trek permits from $750 to $1500 - while maintaining limits on the number of visits/time spent with these extraordinary, fragile primates. Neighboring Uganda, for now, has chosen to keep its permits priced at $600. Time will tell what the effects of these different strategies will be.

Gorilla treks start in the morning, with each group assigned to one of the eight families of mountain gorillas living on the slopes of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Trek participants must be 15 years of age and in good physical condition for the walk. Guides assist up to 8 trekkers per group in ascending the beautifully dense and misty forests; total trekking time is 2-5 hours with one hour of viewing at close range.

Wild at Heart Journeys Mountain Gorilla baby

Tender bonds are observable in Mountain Gorilla families. Image via Wild at Heart Journeys.

Funds from Rwanda’s new gorilla permit fees will support the protection of Nyungwe National Park, one of Africa’s largest protected mountain rainforests acclaimed for its biodiversity and endemic species richness. They will also be directed to the newly designated Gishwati-Mukura National Park, notably home to endangered chimpanzees (man’s closest living relative in the animal kingdom) and golden monkeys.

Under the new permit structure, revenue sharing with local communities is also doubling - from 5% to 10% - and will continue to focus on development projects such as health centers, schools, business development centers, and clean water systems.

Where to Stay

There are several options in the area and one of our guest favorites is Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, a collection of stone and Rwandese terracotta tile cottages nestled at the base of Mount Sabyinyo overlooking the breathtaking Virunga volcanoes. In addition to the beautifully-appointed cottages (each with en suite bathroom, fireplace, and veranda), the main lodge building includes a reception area, sitting room, dining room, library/game room, a responsible tourism awareness room, and gift/sundry shop.

Wild at Heart Journeys Virunga Volcanoes 

The breathtaking view of the Virunga volcanoes from Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.Image via Wild at Heart Journeys

In 2014, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge was recognized in Conde Nast Traveler’s prestigious list of the Top 100 Hotels and Resorts in the World, placing 4th in the African Safari category and 19th overall. Yet, its reputation is not built only on the exclusive accommodations and world-class wildlife and cultural activities. Sabyinyo was constructed through a partnership between the African Wildlife Foundation and International Gorilla Conservation Program, the local communities, and a private sector operator - an innovative model for supporting conservation of Virunga National Park and socio-economic development in the area.

The lavish Bisate Lodge is a newcomer to the Virunga area, opening in July of 2017, and is positioned as a luxury destination with a strong community and conservation focus. The land on which the architecturally intriguing stone and thatch lodge is built (actually a natural amphitheatre of an eroded volcanic cone ) was most recently a 26 hectare plot of farmland. It is now being reforested with indigenous plants in hopes of attracting antelope and native birds back to the area. Both Bisate and Sabyinyo are located near the park headquarters from which gorilla treks depart and maintain a small footprint/guest capacity in keeping with Rwanda’s dedication to preserving its precious natural resources.

Global luxury resort group One & Only has also announced the addition of two Rwandan properties, the Nyungwe Forest Lodge and Gorilla’s Nest, to its portfolio, underscoring the elevating status of the country’s hospitality offerings and support for its conservation strategy.


“When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.”
- Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist


Other Activities

In addition to gorilla trekking, the area offers activities such as escorted bird walks, golden monkey trekking, visits to the picturesque Lake Bulera and Lake Ruhondo, and shopping at the market in Musanze Town. Many travelers also visit Karisoke, the scientific base where Dian Fossey conducted her research on the mountain gorillas. And, for coffee lovers, Rwanda is gaining a reputation amongst the likes of Kenya and Ethiopia for artisan beans.

Wild at Heart Journeys Dian Fossey Grave

The grave of pioneering researcher Dian Fossey at her Karisoke research center. Image via Wild at Heart Journeys.

Start Planning Now

“Magnificent,” “surreal, and “breathtaking” are some of the ways trekkers describe their time with the Mountain Gorillas, though most admit it is an experience beyond words. With an increasing assortment of high end lodging and new parks and other conservation strategies, there has never been a better time to plan a gorilla trek.

We recommend the dry seasons of June-September and December-February to avoid rain and advise spending 3-4 days in gorilla territory. The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are easily accessible via the Rwandan capital Kigali, combining some of the world’s greatest natural wonders into one convenient African itinerary. Call us at 1-844-945-7697 or by email to start planning now.

 
 

Robin Francis of WAHJ has been providing African travel services for over 10 years and travels frequently to the continent to meet with partners and experience their lodging, amenities, and activities first hand. Partners regard her as one of the most knowledgeable African travel consultants in the US, who has also invested in giving back to the communities she works with. Robin and WAHJ are available for complete travel booking throughout Africa or consulting on bookings made through other providers.