An opportunity to see gorillas in their natural habitat is unforgettable, some even say life-changing experience. Having an encounter with gorillas as they go about their daily lives is fully managed, with expert trackers and guides leading small groups of tourists up bamboo-covered slopes to spend a precious time and awe-inspiring hour just a few feet away from the gentle giants.

This largest living primate, gorillas are spread across much of the equatorial African rainforest. Broadly speaking, the species is split into lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas.

The volcanic range which spans Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to the endangered mountain gorilla species. Tracking gorillas in Rwanda is safer and relatively accessible.

There are approximately 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild, with 604 in the Virunga Massif. The population is slowly increasing, thanks to concerted efforts between the Rwandan government, communities, and NGOs.

Volcanoes National Park has 12 gorilla groups that are fully habituated, with a few others habituated solely for scientific research. The groups, or troops, consisted of at least one silverback along with several females and young ones.

Only eight tracking permits are issued per group per day, meaning the encounter is as intimate and as undisturbed as possible. Leaving only 96 permits available each day in Rwanda and it’s highly recommended for travelers to book in advance, either online or via a reputable tour operator.

Here visitors gather at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters in Kinigi early morning for briefings about the gorilla experience. After that they are divided in to groups and get attached to a particular gorilla family group on the day according to fitness levels, as well as being briefed on guidelines and rules as far as gorilla trekking is concerned.

The gorilla families are known as Susa, Geisha, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Hirwa, Bwenge, Ugyenda, and Muhoza.

Hiking to various gorilla locations varies from 30 minutes to four or more hours, reaching an altitude of between 2,500m and 4,000m. Porters are available to carry backpacks and cameras, as well as to offer a helping hand along the route.

The 10% of the revenue from the permits is often given to local communities, to build schools and health centers, as well as roads. There is a compensation fund for local farmers should any gorillas damage their crops, which helps to ensure sustainable tourism development.