Based on our most recent February 2020 Rwanda gorilla trekking experience, our Lynch/Compton family tribe considers the time with a gorilla family to be the most intimate, emotional wildlife experience anywhere in the world. Notwithstanding our many amazing safari game drives in Botswana, South Africa, and Tanzania, there exists no other wildlife activity where one is just steps away from the mammal! The altitude of the gorilla treks ranges from 2,500 to 3,350 meters (8,200 to 11,000 feet). Though not generally high enough to induce altitude sickness, you may experience heavy breathing and require several breaks along the trek. This applies to old travelers as well as younger, more physically-fit ones.
Though the altitude may cause you to find the hike a lot more taxing and tiring, in terms of serious altitude sickness, it is not a common problem among participants. Your guide will pace the walk according to the slowest member of the group – they really push to ensure everyone gets their hour with the gorillas. The local porters are indispensable in assisting your climb up, particularly in maintaining your balance up the narrow trails and thick rainforest.
Situated in one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions, Rwanda is so much more than gorillas alone. The Rwandan capital, Kiglai, an eclectic mix of markets selling handcrafts and a vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene, is now considered to be one of Africa’s cleanest city (think the Japan of Africa!). Though this small country’s past has been wrought with tragedy and genocide (and the genocide museums are plentiful), in recent years it has become a landmark of high-end tourism and a shining example in Africa of cleanliness, efficiency, and safety. While some consider his governing style to be controversial, Rwanda’s autocratic president since 2000, Paul Kagame, has created an exceptionally improving economy and improved healthcare access across the country. Of course, Rwanda is home to one of the world’s most unique wild mammals, the iconic mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Though no longer considered to be critically endangered, the gorilla families are consistently tracked and monitored to ensure their conservation.
All “gorilla treks” begin at Park headquarters, where permits are obtained and groups of eight are allocated a particular gorilla group. Ten habituated groups can be tracked and observed in the Park with the maximum time spent viewing a group being one hour per day. While gorilla sightings and encounters are very reliable, viewing is dependent on variables such as weather and track conditions. The expedition can range in length from 1-8 km (0.5-5 miles) over the steep country at high altitudes; including the time spent with a gorilla group, excursions can last between two and eight hours. Gorilla viewing protocols, based on IUCN guidelines for great ape viewing, are designed specifically to limit stress, behavioral impact, and potential disease transmission from humans to gorillas. They are critical for gorilla conservation.
There are two species of gorilla found in Africa: the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) and the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) – the latter consisting of two subspecies, the well-known mountain gorilla (G. b. beringei) of Uganda and Rwanda, and the eastern lowland gorilla (G. b. graueri) of the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both of these subspecies are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN. The western gorilla also consists of two subspecies: the western lowland gorilla (G. g. gorilla) principally of Congo (Brazzaville) and Gabon, and the little known Cross River gorilla (G. g. diehli) on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. While the mountain gorilla is the best known – as a result of the work of Dian Fossey and others – just 880 animals remain, isolated in the remaining natural islands of the Virunga Massif and Uganda’s Bwindi Forest. Here they exist in family groups overseen by massive silverbacks, roaming their home ranges in search of favored vegetation. Of special note as well, is the endangered golden monkey, which can be spotted on your trek.
Rwanda gorilla-trekking is offered year-round with the weather in the mountains being fluid and continuously changing. The country’s two relative dry seasons are December to early March, and June to September when temperatures reach around 84 °F. When gorilla trekking in the rain forest, there is always the chance of rain, though photographers tend to prefer the rainy season as, once the rain subsides, the forest becomes crystal clear and lighting is at its best.
Situated close to Kinigi Park Headquarters, convenient for your morning gorilla trek rendezvous, the Bistate property covers 42 hectares (103 acres). Due to its location within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, the main areas and villas are perched atop the raised elevation of the slopes of Mount Bisoke (3911 meters or 12,175 feet), though often shrouded. The lodge itself is 8,500 feet.
Based on Bisate’s restorative conservation projects and real local engagement, the lodge has become woven into the local community. During the Bistate’s building phase, an amazing 15,000 trees were planted, with more planted each week. As part of your stay here, guests are encouraged to plant a tree in the lodge’s nursery before their departure.
With only six suites (each 980 square feet), Bistate is one of Africa’s most exclusive luxury eco-lodges. Each suite includes an indoor shower, bath, and fireplace (nice on chilly nights!). The main lounge dining area and bar is the place to meet and reflect on the day’s gorilla experience. The in-villa massage treatments are a great way to relax after a day of gorilla trekking!
Singita Kwitonda Lodge (RL)
We are excited about the August 2019 opening of the new luxury Singita Kwitonde Lodge. Based on the big demand for high-touch luxury Rwanda lodges, Kwitonda is a welcome addition!
Singita is set on 178 acres of picturesque land right on the edge of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. More than half of the world’s endangered mountain gorilla’s live in the high-altitude dense cloud forests. (Please note minimum age of 15 is required for gorilla trekking). Using local materials, the Singita Kwitonda properties are built with volcanic rocks, river stone, handmade ceramic tiles and oven-red clay bricks all connecting the structure to landscape and culture.
The lodge is set up with a central hub that includes both indoor and outdoor living spaces, featuring lounges, dining areas, an outdoor fire pit, interactive kitchen, bar, deli and wine cellar. The Lodge offers eight suites (seven one-bedroom and one two-bedroom), as well as a four-bedroom villa, Kataza House, that sleeps eight, lead off the main lodge via a network of volcanic rick pathways. The accommodations offer indoor/outdoor bath and shower, fireplaces, plunge pool, and veranda. Carefully designed interiors are curated with a focus on handcrafted pieces like woven panels, handmade tiles and clad feature pots (pictures of this new property soon to come!).
One&Only Gorilla’s Nest (RL)
Beyond a 5-star luxury category, we consider the new One&only Gorilla’s Nest Rwanda to be among the top luxury adventure properties we have experienced anywhere! Somewhat similar to our experience at the 12-suite Deplar Farm in Iceland, Gorilla’s Nest combines unique adventure travel activities (gorilla trekking!!) with Aman standards of understated luxury. We were grateful and lucky to be among the paying guests experiencing the lodge’s soft opening in February. Kudos to Craig Storkey and his staff for their personal, heartfelt service in this very special luxury lodge(!)