The time has come! We planned this trip over two years ago and are on the verge of starting our first Gorilla Trek! We started the morning by waking up at 5:00am, putting on our trekking clothes and boots, grabbing my endless camera gear, and heading up to the main lodge for breakfast before departing.

Breakfast consisted of fruits, granola, oats, juices, and made to order eggs. You could probably ask for just about anything and they would make it for you. The chef lives on property and is always available.

View at Singita Kwitonda
Breakfast with a view

Sula arrives at 6:45 to take us on a 30 minute drive to the Park center where Gorilla families are assigned to the visitors for the day. There is a maximum limit of eight people per Gorilla family per day. There are ten families visited each day for a maximum of one hour. This limits the daily group arriving at the Park to 80 guests, one guide, and many many porters. Porters are an amazing help, but more on that later. Finally, Rwanda Gorilla Trekking permits are $1500 per person, per trek.

20% of the Gorilla Trekking permit fee is distributed among the local residents and used for community improvement projects. The Rwandan government is planning to supply every household with electricity by 2024. They are also providing clean drinking water wells and farmland to communities.

The families are assigned by difficulty, for the most part. The guides all get together and jockey for the best treks. If you are older, or maybe not able to walk far distances, you may be lucky enough to get an easy trek. If you are in shape, or just unlucky, you may get a difficult trek.

Once the groups are determined, the 8 trekkers gather together and the guide goes over how the day is going to go. This allows some time to meet the people you will be sharing this experience with. We were paired with a couple from California who have been hiking for 30 years. This was their first time visiting the Gorillas. Also with us was Allison, who we came to find out has been here over 90 times! She was so polite during the trip, allowing everyone else to go first or get the best positioning to see the Gorillas. Allison hired Francois Bigirimana to be an additional guide to the group. Francois is a VERY entertaining character. He was actually one of Dian Fossey’s porters, before becoming a Volcanoes National Park guide. He has since retired, but still makes appearances for various clients. More on Francois later 😉

Our guide told us we were assigned the Pablo Family, which was formed in 1993 after the split of historic Group 5. It grew to 65 members! Since then, the group has split since it was too large for the silverback. It now consists of 17 members:

3 siverbacks
5 adult females
3 black-back
1 sub-adult
1 juvenile
4 infant

We didn’t know it in the beginning, but this would be on the more difficult side of the treks. Once the groups are made and the Gorilla families have been assigned, the visitors are driven to the closet starting point at the base of the Volcanoes. Our drive was about an hour on dirt roads riding through the vast farmland that is Rwanda. As we drove, children would constantly run up to the vehicles waving or yelling Hi!

Rwanda child waving
One of the many kids waving as we passed by

Once at our starting point, we were assigned porters to carry our belongings and help us along the trek. There is a minimum of $10 per porter that can be paid once the trek is complete, but they are worth far more. We were also provided a walking stick to assist us through the uneven and steep terrain. The sticks were hand made by local villagers and had Gorillas carved into them.

Rwanda Gorilla Trek Walking Sticks
Walking Sticks

The weather could not have been more perfect. The temperatures were in the mid 60s with little humidity. I was very concerned the trek would have rain or fog, making it more challenging, not only to hike, but to keep my camera gear dry. This was not an issue at all as the sun shined through the trees. We began our trek across various farm plots, hiking horizontally across the base of the volcano. After about 45 minutes of this, we stopped at the edge of the forest where the Park Rangers were waiting.

The Rangers track the gorilla families each and every day. Their job is to know where the Gorillas are sleeping and find them in the morning before they start to move again. This is what enables visitors like us an almost 100% guarantee of seeing the Gorillas each day. The rangers and anti-poachers will even sleep in small hand made huts as part of their duties.

After a quick bathroom and water break, it was time to really start hiking. Instead of horizontal across the mountain, it was time to go up, way up! We started off at 9,281 ft in elevation, ultimately climbing to 10,494 ft! It was a challenging 2.89 mile hike. There was a narrow trail that existed from the Park Rangers which we used to climb toward the Gorillas. After another hour or so climbing, and sweating profusely, we were getting close.

Our hiking path thanks to my Apple Watch

As we hiked, Francois entertained us with his antics. I think he is part Gorilla. He teaches you about the various vegetation the Gorillas eat while actually eating it himself! He goes on to explain the various noises the Gorillas make and what the guides will do to calm the Gorillas and let them know we mean no harm.

Francois Bigirimana
Francois Bigirimana

Francois and the guide were buddies too, so they would often imitate Gorillas.

A short time later, our guide asked us to put down our walking sticks, put on our masks, and grab our cameras. The one hour with the family was about to begin. The rangers used machetes to make new trails toward the Gorillas. We followed closely behind and within 100ft or so, we have arrived.

Grumpy Mountain Gorilla
Grumpy Mountain Gorilla

As we moved from location to location to follow the Gorillas, my wife had a close encounter from a large adult Gorilla. It slowly moved toward my wife and all of a sudden knocked a branch down and moved at her. The guides quickly pulled her out of the way. I was impressed that she kept the camera pretty stable and got it on video.

And just like that, the hour was over. It was an incredible experience and I can’t believe we get to do it again the next day. We are just hoping its a shorter hike! Now time for the hike down the mountain.

We headed back to Singita for a very late lunch arriving back around 3:30pm. After a quick bite and some rest in our room, it was approaching dinner time. We decided to start repacking for tomorrow’s hike prior to dinner, since we were exhausted. Dinner was based on local Rwandan dishes. We enjoy trying the local cuisines during our travels, so this was a great dinner.

Time to get some sleep and do it all over again tomorrow.

Photos from my Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Videos from our trip to Singita Kwitonda in Rwanda.

Take a look below for our next post on our trip to Rwanda and Kenya.