Rwanda has become popular for its Mountain Gorillas and the thrilling Gorilla Trekking Experience. It is one of the few places that have the Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitats. The other countries are Uganda and DR Congo. The Mountain Gorillas are found in Volcanoes National Park, North of Rwanda. At the moment the park has eight gorilla families that have been habituated. Tourists can track these gorillas and observe them for utmost one hour.
Gorillas are by nature wild, hence non tolerant to humans. They are some of the most aggressive and deadliest animals when threatened. However groups or families of Gorillas have undergone habituation, a process by which they are made tolerant to humans. Currently Volcanoes National Park has habituated Gorilla families including Sabinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Susa, Kwitonda, Agashya, and Hirwa. Each Gorilla family has varying numbers of members ranging from as low as 8 to more than 20. Each group is led by a dominant male, usually a silverback. Each gorilla member is given a name during habituation. And when a new gorilla is born into the family, a ceremony called Kwita Izina is performed to give the new member a name. The ceremony is performed by rangers and researchers.
In order to go tracking the Rwanda gorillas one has first to secure a gorilla permit from the Rwanda Development Board. A total of eight permits are issued for each gorilla family for a day. That means only eight persons can track a gorilla family in a day. The cost of a Gorilla permit for non East African residents is USD750. This cost makes Gorilla trekking one of the most expensive wildlife adventures. But this is aimed at protecting the gorillas and their natural habitats from mass tourism by limiting on those who can afford to do gorilla tracking.
Gorilla permits are booked way in advance, even one year earlier. That is because a fixed number of gorilla permits (8 for each gorilla family) are available for a particular day. They actually do get finished way before the trekking day. Book your Rwanda gorilla trekking safari as early as possible, at least two moths.
On the Gorilla permit indicated among other things is the Gorilla family you shall be tracking. If you are familiar with the Gorilla families and their location in the Volcanoes National Park, you can request a gorilla permit for a particular gorilla family if still available. Different gorilla families have different number of members. Definitely those with more members offer a more thrilling experience. The different zones or areas of volcanoes present different challenges or opportunities during trekking. One could choose a gorilla family simply for what its location presents, for instance the level of trekking difficulty.
Note that the gorilla trekking expedition is quite strenuous. You climb steep rocks, walk over muddy grounds, and the grounds are covered in shrubs. You need to take some time to exercise and get fit otherwise you could breakdown. Carry along trekking gear like sneakers, touch trousers (preferably a jean or tracksuit), and a raincoat or jacket
On trekking day, along with other trekkers you assemble at the area park offices for a briefing by your guide/ranger. You are briefed on a number of things but most important are the gorilla tracking rules which you ought to abide for a safe gorilla experience. After the briefing you are transferred to starting the point. A total of not more than 8 trekkers are led by a ranger/guide who takes the lead in tracking down the Gorillas. There is also an armed ranger to protect you especially from solitary and non-habituated gorillas, forest elephants and buffalos that are extremely dangerous. Porters are also available to assist you in many ways especially carrying your luggage and providing that push or pull where need be. When you finally locate the Gorillas, you are required to follow the guidelines you were provided with at briefing. You are allowed not more than an hour with the Gorillas. This is a measure to limit or avoid any possible transfer of illnesses/diseases to the Gorillas. Gorillas are very susceptible to human diseases. Some gorillas actually die from contacting human disease.
Chances of not seeing the gorillas are very minimal. By the time you start the trek your guide has an idea of where to find them. Their movements are constantly monitored.