While most travelers consider booking for Mountain gorilla trekking safaris through tour operators, others take the risk (of course as many people consider it) to book for the safari by themselves. It is not a risk as it is perceived but rather cheaper than booking through a tour operator. However, planning a gorilla trekking safari yourself needs a lot of legwork because you will need to book for a gorilla permit in advance by yourself, you need to get information on the transport means from Kigali International Airport to Volcanoes National Park (where the mountain gorillas are tracked from) and what hotel or safari Lodges to book with. You will therefore need to keep calling and following up in order to confirm your accommodation, transport and gorilla permits which is not the case when you plan through tour operators, where you will just inquire with them and specify what you desire and everything will be done for you. Your duty will only be to pay and turn up for the Safari. This discourages majority of gorilla trekkers from booking by themselves because of the perceived challenges.
Nevertheless, this article will provide all the necessary information you need when planning for a gorilla trekking safari yourself in order to make it easier and faster for you hence have a memorable gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda.
Booking for Gorilla Trekking Permit
The first thing you need when planning for a gorilla trekking safari is a permit that has to be acquired at least 6 months in advance. A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs $1500 per person for all tourists and can be booked directly from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) reservation office by calling +252 57 6514 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website on www.rwandatourism.com/ for inquiries on availability of permits for the day you wish to track. Once you confirm that a permit is available, you will then make payments and a scanned copy of the gorilla permit will be sent to you and you will be good to go.
What to Pack for the Gorilla Trekking Safari
Another very important thing to consider when planning for a gorilla tracking safari is what to pack/carry for the life changing activity. One of the recurrent mistakes intending gorilla trekkers make is packing or carrying the wrong things-for example packing as if they are going for a picnic. The habitat of the mountain gorillas where you will be tracking them from is found in an area of high elevation, with of dense vegetation that experiences unforeseeable weather conditions, rugged terrain, slippery hiking trails and is very cold which therefore needs proper planning and packing. For that reason, the following are the must-pack items for the safari; Sturdy waterproof hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, long trousers, a hat and sunglasses, a backpack, a camera, a pair of binoculars, a rain jacket, a sweater, long socks and garden gloves. On the day of tracking, make sure to carry a walking stick, hire a porter and carry enough drinking water and packed lunch/snacks and be sure of having an unforgettable gorilla trekking experience.
Booking for Accommodation
Just like the gorilla tracking permit, accommodation must also be booked in advance to avoid disappointment. This should be done immediately after confirming the availability of the gorilla permit and eventually paying for it. There are accommodation facilities near and others far from the Park Headquarters but it is better to book for accommodation facilities near to Kinigi Park Headquarters and the best choices of accommodation include Sabinyo Silverback Lodge (luxury Lodge located 15 minutes drive to the Park Headquarters), Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge (midrange Lodge near Kinigi Park Headquarters), Kinigi Guesthouse (budget accommodation facility situated on the Foothills of Sabinyo Mountain and is just 7 minutes walk to the Park Headquarters) and the best option is Villa Gorilla (found in Kinigi, about 500meters/5 minutes walk to the Park Headquarters). You can also opt for lodging facilities far away but the nearer to the Headquarters the better because you will be expected for briefing by 7am. In most instances, the road from the briefing point to the trailhead/starting point is rough and muddy during rainy seasons hence 4WDs are recommended. You can contact the accommodation facilities to confirm availability and make bookings (make deposit) for the days you will be within Volcanoes National Park.
Transport from Kigali International Airport/City to Volcanoes National Park
For transport from Kigali City, you can opt for private or public transport means but the former is slightly expensive and depends on your bargaining power. It is just 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali to the Park. By public means, you can use local buses from Kigali town to Ruhengeri/Musanze and bus tickets can be booked from Nyabugogo National bus/Taxi Park. Ticket prices vary depending on the Bus Company, but Virunga Express Bus charges about 2000 francs/3 dollars per passenger. However, these buses only stop at Musanze and do not proceed to the Park Headquarters meaning you will need another means to complete the journey. It is 15-20 minutes drive from Musanze to the Park Headquarters and special hire taxis and local buses charge from 300-500 francs per person depending on your bargaining power, but you can opt for transport by a motorcycle if you are in a rush and you will be charged about 2000-4000 francs depending on how you are able to bargain.
Nevertheless, some hotels/safari Lodges provide Airport transfers (at an extra cost) for their guests from Kigali to the Hotels which is certainly the best option.
Therefore, much as planning for a gorilla trekking safari by yourself is considered a big risk and involves a lot of legwork; it is cheaper because you can save the money (even up to $500) that you would have used to pay the tour operators to book for you.