Continuing with my solo trip around Rwanda today I want to share one of my dream trips and probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life: meeting the beautiful gorillas on a gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
After my visit in Nyungwe House I spent a few days in Kigali to start preparing for the gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park.
If any of you are going to travel to Rwanda, whether you go to see the gorillas or just visiting there are several things that I would like to share with you.
Know before you go
It is important to get your visa 3 days before your arrival which you can get online here. This has a cost of $30 and is valid for one month (one single entry). But if you are visiting several countries in East Africa I recommend you to get the East African visa that is valid for 3 countries (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya) with multiple entries with a cost of: $100.
When you arrive at the airport, they only ask for proof of the yellow fever vaccine, which is the most mandatory. However, there are other vaccines that I would recommend getting: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, rabies, meningitis, polio, MMR and TDA.
Rwanda is strictly prohibited to use any type of drones. At the airport they can detect your drone when you come thru customs, like it happened to me. However I would still recommend you not declare it or say that you have a drone and maybe you can get lucky. However, the odds that they realize you have a drone are very high. If this happens it is normal they confiscated this until the day of your departure.
The good news is that there is the possibility of having a special permit to use your drone around the country. This must be processed 2-4 weeks before your visit which can be process online and the cost is around: $40 -$50 depending on the model. For more information send an email listed in their webpage here.
Rwanda is probably one of the safest countries in the world and in the African region. I remember walking many times through the city of Kigali alone and I never felt insecure. Kigali is one of the cleanest and safest cities I’ve visited in Africa.
In order to visit the gorillas you need a special permit that the government has to give you. This has a value of $ 1,500 per person which you can be done here.
Ideally try to process the permit at least 2-3 days before the date you plan to do the gorilla trekking.
As for the price I know is very expensive and in fact of the 3 African countries where you can see the gorillas, Rwanda is the most expensive. However, it is where the largest gorilla community is located.
The other countries where you can see gorillas is Uganda where the cost of the permit is $600 and the Republic of Congo is worth $300- $400, but this is one of the most dangerous regions in Africa. I remember I wanted to go to Congo after Rwanda and literally any tour company was offering tours there because its been very dangerous for the lest few months.
Volcanoes National Park
This national park is located in northwestern Rwanda and borders the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
It is known as a refuge for mountain gorillas and golden monkeys that are in danger. It is also home to five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains and extends for 160 km2 covered in jungle and bamboo.
How to get there?
Volcanoes safaris is about 2 hours drive by car from Kigali International Airport, making it the most accessible gorilla national park in the world.
In order to arrive in time, I would recommend leaving at 4:30 am from Kigali since you need to be at 7:00 am at the Volcanoes National Park entrance which is the meeting point.
I hired a private driver which cost me $180 and I think it was one of the best decisions I could make. I was able to manage my own time and stop anywhere I wanted to take photos.
The cost of the driver included transportation roundtrip to Kigali. Safari (my drivers name) also waited for me after the trek to take me to my hotel where I was going to stay in Volcanoes. The day after he pick me up and took me back to the international airport of Kigali.
What do you need?
You must bring your printed permission or the screen shot of your permit on your phone with your physical passport so you can register.
As for your clothes, the ideal look is to go the most comfortable you feel.
I would recommend safari look such as cargo pants an a lightweight top. You can go on a exercise look. The most important thing to bring is a water proof jacket and some hiking boots or rain boots.
Some other things I would recommend packing are: waterproof backpack, bottle of water, hat, sunglasses, binoculars, gloves and certainly many cameras to record this incredible experience.
If you do not have a lot of rain gear like I did, do not worry because outside the park there are several places that rent this equipment like jackets and rain boots and it’s quite cheap.
Once you check-in in the Volcanoes National Park there are a few minutes of preparation and induction where you can watch instructional videos about the security measures to be taken in case a gorilla gets too close, while you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee.
Then you will be assigned to a group of 8 people joining you. My group was the Agasha group, a family of 20 gorillas including baby gorillas and 2 silverbacks.
We were joined by a group of 15-20 extra people between guides, rangers and porters that came with us to the trek.
You have the option to hire a porters if you like. Even though it sounds fancy I hired one because it is a way to help and give back the community and also thought he could help me carry all my photography equipment. I came prepared with many cameras and lenses.
The trekking durations is about 4-5 hours and I did not find it difficult, however this will depend on your physical conditions.
Gorillas are always in constant movement and they like to be in the highest parts of the mountain. So be prepared to go through quite muddy or slippery roads.
As you go up the mountain this can be more wild and in fact you will cross some part in the middle of the rain forest where you will have to use your two hands to remove branches and leaves from your face.
It is quite natural that you are nervous or anxious like it happened to me. To be honest I did not know what to expect, I had no idea how far or near would the gorillas be. Honestly while I was going thru the trek I had flashbacks of some scenes from the King Kong movie lol.
After climbing very high in the forest we heard the sound of these beautiful creatures that we could see in the distance as we got closer. I was very nervous, anxious and scared but all these feelings disappeared when I finally came face to face with the beautiful family of the Agasha gorillas.
I realized that I had nothing to fear since these beautiful creatures were in their natural habitat eating herbs and bamboo playing with their family and their surroundings.
Although it’s quite embarrassing to tell you guys this but the first thing I did was cried ( I know sounds like cliché), but it was my first reaction when seeing the gorillas. I could not believe that this moment and that these creatures were real. It was one of those moments that I felt that I had to pinch myself to feel that it was real. By far this have been one of the best sensations, experiences that I could live and witness in my life.
Security measure with the gorillas
The maximum distance you can be from the gorillas is 7mts and this is actually a law. One of the rangers responsibilities is to take care of you and make sure you have the distance they require and that nobody is very close to the group.
If a gorilla is approaching, try to get away more. It is advisable not to make big movements with the presence of the gorillas and keep the voice low in order to maintain a relaxed atmosphere for them.
For this trip I prepared myself very well. I bring with me 2 cameras with different lenses since I had no idea what to expect as to how far the gorillas were going to be.
After doing the gorilla trekking I can tell you that it is not necessary to bring a long lens. I carry mine for nothing because I never used it. The gorillas are at a maximum distance of 7mts.
Most of my photos were made with an 18-55mm lens and that is what I would recommend carrying. Unless you are a professional photographer like Nat Geo and you really want to bring more professional equipment to get more details and close ups.
Where to Stay?
Volcanoes National Park offers a large number of lodges so you can make your best selection. This is one of the fastest growing areas in Rwanda and Africa. It has become very popular within many hotel luxury chains that are soon to open next year.
I stayed at Amakoro Lodge, a recently new lodge that is part of Songa Africa, the tourism company that is only 10 minutes away from Volcanoes National Park.
This exclusive luxury natural lodge is a resort built with the latest energy efficiency technology and operated in the most sustainable way with a focus on nature conservation.
Amakoro Lodge is a fairly small and exclusive property as it has only 4 villas. However, they are expanding for the next year so they can provide more beautiful villas and accommodate more people.
I stayed at the Amahoro villa, which is very comfortable, with all the luxuries necessary to rest after an intense day of gorilla trekking.
The design of the room is quite traditional, with many details of the Rwandan culture in natural colors.
It has a modern and spacious bathroom with shower and tub which provides dryer, hot water and windows to give beautiful natural lighting.
My favorite part of the villa is the nice balcony that offers beautiful views towards the volcanoes.
Upon arriving at my villa I was greeted by the spa staff who were waiting for me with hot tea to enjoy a delicious and deep foot massage. Just what I needed after 5 hours of trekking in the mountains.
Food and drinks
Amakoro Lodge offers several options to take meals. In the mornings and during lunch I enjoyed open-air meals in their green areas that offer majestic views of the volcano while tasting some of their delicious dishes.
Some of my favorite dishes were avocado stuffed with tuna (yummy), stuffed empanadas, and a wide selection of fresh mixed fruits during breakfast.
Before dinner Amakoro Lodge offers a dance show of the Rwandese culture in their African boma with an outdoor fire while enjoying some drinks and snacks with the light of the stars and the moon.
After the show you will have a proper dinner of 3 course in the dinner lounge where you will enjoy some of the best dishes prepared by the chef.
Some of my favorites were the fish, and the pasta. Fairly fresh and delicious.
This lounge also have a living room with a campfire so you can enjoy a tea or a drink after dinner and before returning to your villa.
I want to thank all the amazing staff of Amakoro Lodge for making my stay and my experience of the gorillas much more memorable. I certainly could not imagine a better way to relax after such a climb to the mountain.
Special thanks to David, Safari, Rosette and Jims. I hope to visit you guys again soon.
Cargo Pants: Polo Ralph Lauren
White Top: Zara
Rain Boots: Rented
Militar Jacket: Club Monaco
Headband: Ranwanda Market
White Dress: Ralph Lauren
Black Jacket: Zara
Knitted Natural Purses: Rwanda Market
Coloful Scarf: Sarah and Sorrentino
White Kicks: Gucci
Chambray Shirt: Ralph Lauren
Denim Shorts: Forever 21
Sunglasses: Ray Ban