Gorilla eating, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Rwanda Gorilla Trekking

Rwanda is still, without a doubt, the best place in the world to go mountain gorilla trekking and release your inner Attenborough. Walking in the Virunga Mountains in the shadow of giant, prehistoric plants as the mists clear to reveal a family of gorillas is incomparable.

Rwanda's stylish lodges are bursting with charm and the riot of colour around every corner from kanga clothing, banana plantations and the fertile hills soon exhaust your camera batteries. Rwanda is spectacular to behold, a winding succession of steeply terraced slopes, the silvery silhouette of eucalyptus trees standing out against the brilliant green of the tea plantations.

For those with more time Akagera Park, bordering Tanzania in the east, offers a big game viewing experience in which you get the wildlife to yourself, or head south to look for elusive chimps (as well as Rwanda’s best birding and chameleons) in the dark and exotic Nyungwe Forest.  If you want to relax then head to Lake Kivu, where the only trekking to be done is back to your room from the beach when you realise you’ve forgotten your holiday read.

What to expect on your Rwanda Safari

A charm offensive. The people here are some of the warmest and most welcoming you could hope to meet. Incredible lodges with views to die for. A forward-thinking country – plastic bags are banned, public transport runs on bio-fuel and there's a national day of cleaning every month – of which its people are rightly proud.

Some ideas for a Rwandan holiday 

Beyond the ordinary

A helicopter safari over this small and very beautiful gem of a country.

Our Rwanda and gorilla tracking expertise

We were one of the first operators back into Rwanda in the late 1990s and have since led gorilla trekking safaris for CNN, raised funds for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Programme, worked with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and arranged numerous photographic safaris. Chris, our very own silverback, has been stepped on and come face to face with more groups of gorillas than he cares to remember.  Bridget also has a passion for gorillas that is infectious. They can help you put together your perfect Rwandan safari holiday.

Rwanda FAQs

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Why should I travel to Rwanda with Steppes Travel?

In short, because we have been traveling to Rwanda for nearly 20 years and are lucky enough to explore the country regularly, to maintain long-established, tried and tested local relationships and to unearth new experiences. We are able to offer honest advice, offering alternatives that you may not have considered. Countries change all the time and we have the most up-to-date advice possible. This is reflected in the fact that we have been asked to organise trips for the BBC, CNN, ITV and even the Dian Fossey Gorilla fund over the years, something which we hope shows why we are considered the industry leaders. Over 70% of our business is also repeat and referral. We would love to hear from you with your thoughts, ideas and questions so we can start planning your adventure to Rwanda.

When is the best time to go to Rwanda?

Rwanda, like Uganda is near the equator, so the climate does not change a huge amount. The short lighter rains are from October to November, whilst the rainy season tends to be from March to April. That said, you are spending time in mountain rainforests, so you can expect rain at any time. Unlike wildlife viewing elsewhere in Africa, the rains do not affect the movement of the gorillas and you can trek at any time of the year. Travel can be tougher during the longer rains and trekking much muddier. For those keen on photography however, just after the rains (Jan / Feb or May / June) is a beautiful time to travel as the air is clear, the skies are blue and the countryside is at its most fertile. 

How fit do I have to be for gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

This is the question we get asked the most and whilst fitness is a very subjective thing, anyone can enjoy gorilla trekking, providing they prepare for it. By its very nature, gorilla trekking in Rwanda will be challenging as  you will be walking through mountain rainforests, with thick vegetation, on steep muddy paths, so the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy it. It is important to bear in mind however, that as this is a mountain rainforest, it is NOT humid and in fact will be quite cold and damp, although you will warm up through the trekking itself. The porters are also brilliant and you will be given the opportunity to hire them when you arrive at the park HQ on the morning of your actual trek. They will be there to help steady you as you walk and can help with camera bags. They are great company. 

What should I take when I go gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

Strong legs, a small rucksack in which you can put your camera, packed lunch, jackets in etc and comfortable, sturdy boots or shoes. Given that it will start off cold early in the morning, you need lots of light layers that you can take off and put on easily. As you trek, you will warm up, shedding layers as you go, but when you reach the gorillas and stop for the hour, it can turn cold very quickly, particularly if you are in shadow or shade. Light layers and fleeces are good, walking trousers are good, but anything that you are comfortable in, that dries quickly is the best. Strangely, you might want to consider taking gardening gloves as you will be pulling at thorny vegetation and nettles as you reach and climb so this protects you against cuts and scratches. Of course take a fully charged camera and spare memory cards. For those with different lenses, a good zoom of around 300-400 ml should be fine but you will need a steady hand or tripod if you are serious as the ground is very uneven and you may be balancing precariously on a slope to see the gorillas!

How long are the gorilla treks in Rwanda?

The gorilla treks in Rwanda vary enormously. Some groups are very close and can be reached in around an hour, whilst others are on the far side of the park and can take all day. That said, as the gorillas obviously move around they are in a different place each day so it is impossible to predict how long it will take you to reach them. They can also move as you trek towards them, even when you are there, so you need to be prepared. If you are doing more than one trek, the rangers will try and ensure you see a mixture of groups to get a range of gorilla experiences.  On the morning of your trek, you will be allocated a group and your ranger will then go through the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking after which you head out to the park. Some groups can be accessed directly from the park with a short walk to the start of the trail, but others might require a drive to the start of the trail further away. Our guide will always be there to take you to the gorilla treks and will then meet you at the end to drive you back to your lodge.

What gorilla groups can I see in Rwanda?

There are ten habituated gorilla families, (Sabinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Susa, Kwitonda,

Karisimbi, Agashya, Bwenge, Ugyenda andHirwa). Most groups are half-day walks but

Susa can take all day. Tracking here is usually easier than at Bwindi as the afro-montane forest is lighter. There are eight permits available daily for each group and each permit costs U$750 per permit, per person. Every group is different, some with large numbers in the group, others smaller and given the habitat and terrain, it is unlikely you will see the groups in their entirety all at once!

How close to the gorillas do you get when trekking?

The official rule is 7 metres, designed to stop germs passing from humans to gorillas, but also these are wild animals and like any wildlife, you should keep your distance. The gorillas have gotten used to the presence of humans through the ongoing habituation process and the guides and rangers are there to keep an eye on things. Bear in mind that sometimes the gorillas will move around and as they have not been told about the 7 metre rule, they can get much closer. Whilst this should not be encouraged, they are inquisitive animals, particularly the younger ones. Should they approach you, follow your guide’s instructions. 

How do I get to Rwanda?

There are quite a number of airlines that fly to Kigali (the capital), but there are currently none that fly direct. Emirates (via Dubai), Kenya Airways (via Nairobi) are the two most popular ones as the timings work well. KLM (via Amsterdam), Brussels airlines (via Brussels) and Qatar (via Doha) are also good, but some of the arrival / departure times in Kigali require an overnight stop so whilst they are usually cheaper, you may waste time hanging around Kigali.  We are happy to advise the best flights for you. 

What is travel like in Rwanda?

Surprisingly easy. There is a very good network of tarmac roads to all of the major parks. The road from Kigali to the Virunga Mountains is particularly good although this is used by a lot of traffic and is also built around many of the winding hills leading up to the park, so whilst it can be slow moving, the views are spectacular.  The roads elsewhere are also very good and given that Rwanda itself is a very small country, most destinations can be reached in a day. There is a good selection of flight options around the country, from scheduled flights, to private helicopter transfers to some of the lodges and parks. Choices are dependent on budget and time. The one good thing about travelling around Rwanda is that once you leave the larger towns and cities, you will pass through the most beautiful countryside and traditional villages – plenty of photo stops and welcoming villages.  We only ever use good quality 4WD for road transfers or regulated internal flights with registered airlines or private aviation companies for those who wish to fly. 

Is it safe?

Absolutely.  We have been running trips here for nearly 20 years and use the most professional and experienced guides. We are in constant contact with our agents, partners, businesses, government officials and charities with whom we work in Rwanda so are always up-to-date on things. The Rwandese people are some of the most welcoming you are likely to meet and Rwanda is a politically stable country. In many ways Rwanda is very forward thinking, banning as it has polythene bags, has promoted the use of public transport that runs on bio-fuel and even has a national day of cleaning where everyone gets out and about to clear up their streets (called Umuganda). The hardest thing for many of our clients is convincing their family and friends who are worried about them that it is safe! Put simply, if it wasn’t we would not go there. As further peace of mind, we provide a 24 hour UK, manned contact telephone number that you can call 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

What are the lodges like in Rwanda?

Full of character and charm, ranging from small, tented bush camps through to stylish, luxury, boutique lodges, some with the most spectacular views where you can arrive by helicopter. These top end lodges equal anything found elsewhere in East Africa. All are en-suite, some have wi-fi but it can be a little patchy. In the towns and cities, international standard hotels are available with all the mod cons and a range of services.  The type of lodge we would recommend, depends on the kind of experience you are after and what kind of activities you will be doing so we can recommend places that suit your style of travel. Nearly all dietary needs can be catered for and alcohol is included in many of the upmarket lodges.

Can I charge ipads, phones, laptops etc at the lodges?

Of course. Whilst you will need to bring an adaptor, there are charging facilities at all of the lodges, some offer this in your room, others offer this in the main dining / reception area which are designed to charge all manner of electronic equipment and camera batteries.

What else can I do apart from gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

A lot! The gorillas in the Virungas are the most popular activity, but those with more time should head off and explore what is a beautiful country. In the east, you have Akagera National Park, a stunning combination of lakes and savannah grasslands, where you find big game and superb birding, as you would expect from a park that borders Tanzania. Game drives and walks along with boat safaris and some fishing can be done here. Head south, past vibrant green tea plantations and you can enjoy some chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe Forest. Nyungwe has been dubbed the African Galapagos, given its huge diversity of wildlife, so in addition to the chimpanzees, you can see up to 13 other primate species (25% of Africa’s total), including L’Hoess monkey, golden and silver monkeys, mangabeys, incredible birdlife and strangely, lots of chameleons.

Most people like to find somewhere to relax after the trekking, so the best place to head is the area around Lake Kivu and Gisenyi. Here, there are a handful of good hotels where you can sit and relax on sandy beaches on the shores of the lake itself to unwind for a few days. The drive to Gisenyi and Lake Kivu is spectacular, winding its way past volcanoes, tea plantations and rice paddies. Finally, you should try and spend a few days in Kigali and whilst a visit to the moving Genocide Memorial is worth considering, there is a vibrancy and energy in many of the cities markets and a thriving arts and music scene, with regular galleries and live music. 

Do mobile phones work in Rwanda?

Yes, although the further you go into the rural areas, the reception becomes patchy. You can easily buy an inexpensive phone and local sim card should you prefer, but our guides will help advise if you would like to this. Most smart phones now have roaming options and whilst expensive, work well.

Can I use my credit card?

Yes, but only in the larger towns and cities. Given that most things are already included in the cost of your tour (meals, park fees, alcohol, transfers) you will not need to pay for much. 

How much money should I take?

This varies depending on how long you are travelling for, where you are staying and the type of trip you are on. Many of the upmarket lodges include all meals and drinks, including alcohol, so the only additional things one pays for are tips and souvenirs. We will talk you through how much you should bring for your own individual trip and we send a very detailed and personal information pack relevant to your own trip once you have booked. 

Anything else I should know?

Take time to get to know your guides as they can offer you insights into their country that you simply cannot get from guidebooks. They are there to enhance your trip in every way. 

What advice would you give for photography in Rwanda?

The photographic opportunities in Rwanda are incredible and the country is almost designed to drain your camera batteries and eat up memory cards. The gorillas are of course the main focus for much of the trip so you should be prepared for a dark environment, with the gorillas themselves a dark subject matter, often in shadow, although this can vary and they are sometimes out in the open. This means you will need a high ISO or a tripod or small monopod which can be quite useful if serious about photography. Also, whilst the rainforests are not humid (they are cooler mountain rainforests), there will still be a great deal of moisture around so it is a good idea to take some small silica gel packets to put into your camera bag and a small, dry cloth as lenses can mist up quickly, usually at the most inopportune moment.  It is essential to have a good zoom lens, with a minimum of 300ml.

Aside from the gorillas, the scenery is as exciting – and possibly easier to photograph (!) with dramatic skylines and volcanoes, along with endless rolling hills and lakes. A wide angle lens may be worth considering to capture this. Finally, the markets and the people of Rwanda are bursting with colour and offer some amazing picture opportunities for these with even the most rudimentary understanding of photography. As always when photographing people however, it is best to strike up a conversation first before even asking if they mind having their picture taken, which is not only common courtesy, but puts them at ease, making for much more natural images. That said, please don’t be offended if they say no. As with much of Africa, do not photograph military or government personnel or buildings. 


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Client Reviews

Silverback Gorilla, Rwanda
''The level of service we received from Bridget was fantastic.
We couldn't have asked her to be more attentive or creative. ''

Viv Newent

Zebra, Akagera National Park, Rwanda
''As always your advice, information 
and service before, during and after the holiday were impeccable.''

Natalia Humphrey

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Holiday Ideas in Rwanda

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