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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 18 March, 2024
Expert travel writer: Sue Watt

There is nothing quite like seeing rare mountain gorillas in the wild – humbling, thrilling, unforgettable – the superlatives are endless. Look into the eyes of these beautiful, intelligent beasts, watch the youngsters play like little children, their mothers nurturing them and their father languidly lounging around: your hour with them will seem like a second.

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, with open meadows, volcanoes and bamboo forests offers the world’s best, but most expensive, mountain gorilla experience. Several high-end luxury lodges have opened in recent years.

While you’re there

It’s not all about gorillas – take time out to visit Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village and experience local life while supporting former poachers who now earn their living through tourism.

You can also take a 2-hour steep hike to Karisoke Research Centre and learn about the renowned conservationist Dian Fossey. Her grave lies near that of her favourite silverback, Digit.

Logistics

Price from: £1,000
Minimum age: 15
Age suitable: 15+
When: All year around
Duration: 3-8 hours

Getting there & doing it

Volcanoes National Park is a comfortable two-hour drive from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. There are ten groups of habituated gorillas here, some easy to locate after a short walk, others up to 3,000 meters high on the mountainside.

Permits are restricted to eight visitors per day per group, so it’s best to book early. Whilst they can be arranged independently through Rwanda Tourism, most visitors book packages through tour operators who often block-buy permits in advance.

Some tour operators combine this with gorilla tracking in Uganda, flying in to one country and returning from the other. A scenic road transfer between the two takes 6 hours.

Luxury lodges Bisate and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge offer all creature comforts in style, as does the more rustic Virunga, about an hour from the Park.

Gorilla etiquette

Gorillas share over 90% of our DNA picking up our infections easily. Confess to colds or contagious illnesses, or risk terrible consequences for the gorilla population.

You must keep 10m away from gorillas, although no one has told the gorillas this. If they come close, try to move slowly away, however tempting it is to stay still.

Put the gorillas at ease by leaving your camera alone for five-ten minutes after encountering them and letting them see your face. That way, you’ll get more rewarding, relaxed images.

Although habituated, gorillas are still wild. Silverbacks, the dominant males, may charge if they feel threatened. Should this happen, don’t run – just stay behind your guide and stand still…

When to do it

It’s possible to track mountain gorillas all year. The tracking day starts at 7am at the Park HQ in Kinigi, where you’ll receive a briefing on gorilla protocol and safety.

The most popular months for gorilla tracking are June to September when the weather is likely to be dry and warm. December to February are also relatively dry months.

The heavy rains from March to May and October to November can make trekking in the mountains hard work, although permits are easier to obtain.

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Man looking at a female gorilla sitting under a tree

Surely no wildlife experience rivals an encounter with these magnificent, mesmerising and fascinatingly human-like beasts. Trek up rainforest-covered volcanoes for an unforgettable few hours watching them feed, play and strut. Africa adventure travel expert Sue Watt recommends the best places to do it.