Rwanda is one of only three countries worldwide where you can see mountain gorillas. This is the world’s largest primate, weighing up to 200kg/441lb, and among the most endangered, with a global population estimated at slightly more than 1,000 individuals in 2023.

Rwanda’s gorillas are resident in Volcanoes National Park, a well-organized destination where primate enthusiasts can also hike to the former research station established by the legendary Dian Fossey. Tracking gorillas here is one of Africa’s most exciting wildlife experiences, but before you can do it, you need to buy a gorilla permit. Here we explain exactly what that entails.

 

Why Is a Gorilla Permit Required?

Hiking in Volcanoes National Park Hiking in Volcanoes National Park

A gorilla permit (known in full as a mountain gorilla tracking permit) is legally required by all people who want to track gorillas, whether they do so in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park or in a neighboring country. The purpose of this permit system is twofold. Firstly, it allows the park authorities to regulate exactly how many people visit any given gorilla group on any given day. Secondly, the associated fee makes a vital financial contribution to the conservation of gorillas and their habitat, as well as to the well-being of communities living outside the park.

 

How Much Does a Gorilla Permit Cost in 2023?

Mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park Mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park

As of 2023, the cost of a single gorilla permit in Rwanda is US$1,500 for visitors from outside Africa. This price is discounted to US$200 for citizens of Rwanda and other East African countries. The permit cost for foreign residents of Rwanda, as well as for citizens and residents of other African countries, is US$500.

For comparison, the cost of a gorilla permit in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable or Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks is US$700, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) it is US$400. However, the only place you can track mountain gorillas in the DRC is Virunga National Park, which closed to tourism in March 2020, initially for Covid-related reasons, but has yet to reopen due to major security issues that seem unlikely to be resolved in the medium term. It is currently possible to track gorillas in DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where you’ll visit eastern lowland gorillas as opposed to mountain gorillas, but do bear in mind that the DRC is potentially less secure than Rwanda or Uganda.

During the low season, from November to May, a discount of 30% is offered on gorilla permits in Rwanda. This reduces the cost for non-African residents to US$1,050. However, the discount applies only to visitors who prebook at least two nights in either (or one night in each) of Akagera National Park and/or Nyungwe National Park.

 

How Do I Acquire a Rwandan Gorilla Permit?

Mountain gorilla with baby in the forest Mountain gorilla with baby in the forest

Independent travelers who want to book a gorilla permit directly can do so online through the Rwanda Development Board website. If you’re traveling with an operator, however, it is more usual to allow them to make the booking. Permits for any given day are often booked solid well in advance, so it’s a good idea to book yours before you commit to any other travel dates.


Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tours

How Many Gorilla Permits Are Available in Rwanda?

Mountain gorilla family with silverback, Volcanoes National Park Mountain gorilla family with silverback, Volcanoes National Park

A total of 96 gorilla permits for Volcanoes National Park are usually available on any given day. This breaks down into eight permits daily for each of 12 habituated gorilla groups. Another eight habituated groups of gorillas are resident in Volcanoes National Park, but they tend to be more difficult to reach and are mostly visited by researchers. Should it happen that one of the gorilla groups designated for tourists crosses into Uganda or the DRC, then one of the groups usually visited by researchers will be allocated for a tourist visit in its place.

 

What Does the Gorilla Permit Cover?

Guide and traveler entering Volcanoes National Park for gorilla trekking Guide and traveler entering Volcanoes National Park for gorilla trekking

Whether you track in Rwanda or elsewhere in the region, the gorilla permit only covers entrance to the relevant national park, the guided trek, and a maximum of one hour with the gorillas. It does not include porter fees, tips to trackers and guides, or any costs relating to accommodation, transport, meals or other activities.

 

Is There an Age Limit for Gorilla Permits?

Hiking in Volcanoes National Park Hiking in Volcanoes National Park

By mutual agreement between all three countries where gorilla trekking can be undertaken, a minimum age of 15 years is strictly enforced. No upper age limit is imposed on gorilla trekkers, but it is quite a physically demanding activity, so elderly travelers or those with limited mobility must decide for themselves whether they’re up to it.

 

Is It Possible To Cancel a Permit?

Mountain gorilla resting Mountain gorilla resting

Should you cancel your trip to Rwanda or fail to turn up on the day, for whatever reason, the cost of your gorilla permit will not be refunded. It is also not permitted to sell or give a permit to somebody else, as your passport details will be checked against the permit before you go gorilla trekking. However, if you book your permit through an operator, then it is usually possible to reschedule to another day with a minimum of 30 days’ notice.

An exception to the above is that people who fail to track due to unexpected movement of their allocated gorilla group will be given the choice of trying again the next day or receiving a full refund. If you track all day and fail to make contact with any gorillas, a 75% refund is due.

 

Should I Visit More Than One Park in Rwanda?

Chimpanzee sitting in a tree, Nyungwe National Park Chimpanzee sitting in a tree, Nyungwe National Park

Although Rwanda’s top tourist activity is gorilla trekking, there are plenty of other attractions. Nyungwe National Park protects a vast forest where you can track chimps and see a wide variety of other forest-specialized birds and monkeys. By contrast, Akagera National Park is a more conventional safari destination that supports all the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino). It is worth combining a visit to one or both of these parks with gorilla trekking at any time of year. And if you do so over November to May, assuming you spend at least two nights across the other two parks, you’ll be rewarded with a 30% discount on your gorilla permit.


Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tours

By Philip Briggs
South Africa ZA

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

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