Rwanda is one of the three countries where mountain gorilla tourism is carried out. This beautiful country is also known as the land of a thousand hills and indeed it is because of the countless hills the country has. Among the hills and mountains are the Virunga volcanoes located in the northwestern part of the country (mount Karisimbi, mount Bisoke and Sabyinyo) that are habitats for the rare mountain gorillas. These mountains act as homes to half of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga massif that extends to southwestern Uganda and to southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. They are the most visited areas in Rwanda as tourists usually go there with the desire to view the mountain gorillas in their natural environments (the forested mountains).
Mountain gorillas are highly endangered apes and back in the 1980’s and 1993 they were at the verge of extinction because of too much poaching and the insecurity caused by the Rwandese genocide. During the genocide, volcanoes national park where mountain gorillas reside had been turned into a fighting arena and in the process many gorillas were killed. Those that survived fled to Uganda and this explains why Uganda has half of the mountain gorilla population remaining on earth.
After the war, volcanoes national park was open again to tourists’ visitation in 1999. Tourists’ numbers were few by then but today it have greatly increased. The mountain gorilla population has also steadily increased which has provided great hopes for the future of mountain gorilla tourism in Rwanda.
The population increase has been mainly as a result of conservation projects and efforts that the Rwandan government has been enforcing for example the Kwita Iziina (baby mountain gorilla naming ceremony) held every year to give names to the newly born mountain gorillas, which has enabled easy monitoring of these animals. The government has also greatly involved the local people by sensitizing them about the importance of the mountain gorillas. Many local people who used to poach the gorillas are now conservation agents most of whom resorted to other activities that can enable them earn a living for example making of crafts thus reducing poaching.
Today volcanoes national park has a total of 13 mountain gorilla families 10 of which are habituated and therefore open for tourist visitation. Only 8 tourists are allowed to trek one mountain gorilla family a day spending with it an hour. Mountain gorilla trekking permits are sold at $750 and trekking can be enjoyed at anytime of the year. Those interested should ensure to make early bookings because only 80 mountain gorilla permits are available a day and if not booked in time, one can easily miss out.
20% of the mountain gorilla revenue collections are taken to community to ensure economic and social development by building schools, roads or medical centers for the people to improve their welfare.
With the increased conservation, increased tourists, mountain gorilla tourism in the land of a thousand hills will definitely continue thriving. All the tourists interested in being part of gorilla trekking safaris should just head to Rwanda. Volcanoes national park can be accessed after a 2 to 3 hours drive from Kigali city.
Trekking gorillas in Rwanda is very exciting as you move through the forested mountains. Just prepare your camera and be ready to take as many photographs as possible. The guides in Rwanda have all the needed information about the gorillas and will definitely answer all the burning questions. While on the hike, you can even get a chance to other wildlife species in the forest especially birds. While in the forest, there is no need to be scared because armed guides to protect you from dangerous wild animals like the forest elephants escort you.