Friday, 4 May 2018

RWANDA: Mountain Gorillas Most Popular Tourist Attraction For Rwanda

Rwanda’s beloved mountain gorillas are experiencing an exciting resurgence.

Though their numbers once dwindled as a result of poaching, war, and habitat loss, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has witnessed the gorilla population steadily rise, mostly because of Rwanda’s conservation efforts, just as the country’s tourism industry is buoyed by the mere existence of these creatures.

Though there is a lot to see and do in Rwanda, the country’s famous mountain gorillas bring in most of the country’s tourists.

Lodges are built around the very concept of gorilla-related travel, sparking an entire tourism industry.

From the growth of hotels around the country to the dozens of new tourism companies, restaurants, and boutiques that have sprung up, gorillas have undoubtedly contributed a lot to the international recognition of Rwanda.

Rwanda now halts gorilla habitat loss and deforestation.

There are approximately 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, with about half residing in the Virunga mountain range.

This range is shared by Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.

One of the biggest threats to mountain gorillas is the loss of habitat, and Rwanda has made every effort to maintain the size of the park and make sure the gorilla population is appropriately protected.

Possibly as a result, over 60% of the gorillas in the Virunga mountain range reside in Rwanda.

After Dian Fossey’s gorilla conservation work, skirmishes in gorilla habitats deterred the population growth of these endangered primates.

After Rwanda experienced the harrowing genocide of 1994, the country endeavored to rebuild. Alongside the revival of cities, towns, and communities, the gorilla population also started to make a comeback.

Since 1994, Rwanda has experienced peace, political stability, and fewer human threats to the mountain gorillas.

Limited tourist interactions have kept the gorillas healthy and happy.Gorillas share 98% of their DNA with humans.

As a result, gorillas have notoriously frail immune systems when it comes to interacting with humans, and Rwanda does everything it can to prevent the spreading of disease, airborne viruses, and bacteria.

Tourists are not allowed to hike to the mountain gorillas if they have flu or a cold, and upon reaching the gorillas, cannot stand closer than 30 feet (10 meters).

In fact, to keep the gorillas content, tourists are only allowed to observe the gorillas for one hour before returning down the mountain.

Gorilla doctors are also on hand in case any of the gorillas fall ill.

The permit prices directly fund sustainable community development and further gorilla conservation.

In 2017, Rwanda increased gorilla trekking permits from US$750 to US$1500.

Although this decision was met with a lot of complaints, it was done to raise more funds for conservation efforts and surrounding communities.

Previously, communities were given US$37 per gorilla-trekking tourist for schools, hospitals, clean water sources, and business development.

With the price increase, Rwanda now gives surrounding communities US$150 per tourist.

Before these institutionalized funds, these communities were some of the gorilla’s biggest threats, as impoverished families would poach gorillas, take trees and food from their habitat, or accidentally kill them while in search of other animals.

Now, with tourism dollars directly impacting these same communities, the incentive to preserve is greater, and reformed poachers are now found in a range of roles such as park rangers, gorilla trackers, porters, and conservationists.

Rwanda’s famous mountain gorilla population is one of East Africa’s greatest tourist attractions as well as animal conservation success stories.

There are 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, and half of that population resides in the Virunga Mountain range spanning Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Seeing mountain gorillas in the wild is unforgettable, and planning a trip to Rwanda is easier than ever.

The group, a selection of tourists from all over the world, is spellbound. The sheer size of these humanlike creatures is astounding, and their misty forest home beyond serene.

A gorilla toddler shows off his newfound climbing skills by scaling a nearby eucalyptus, as the group joyfully watches on until the allotted hour is up.

Located in the scenic Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the Umubano group is one out of ten habituated gorilla families that intrepid travellers are able to visit in the country.

The plight of the Rwandan mountain gorilla was initially made famous by celebrated environmentalist Dian Fossey, and since her passing, the Rwandan government has been committed to preserving these beautiful animals.

Even as mountain gorillas remain on the World Wildlife Fund’s critically endangered list, Rwanda’s conservation efforts have been globally renowned, with the country managing to increase the population by 25 percent in the last decade.

Part of these efforts are funded by gorilla trekking, rendering much tourism in Rwanda often environmentally friendly and economically supportive.

Trekking with mountain gorillas, while seemingly difficult, is actually quite easy to arrange.

June through September and December through February are the country’s dry seasons.

Avoid the muddy and difficult treks in the off-season, as there are no discounts for rainy days.

There aren’t yet any direct flights from the United States to Rwanda, but travellers can transit through Rwandair, Turkish Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Qatar Airways, Kenyan Airways, KLM, and Ethiopian Airlines.

Citizens of all nationalities can get thirty day tourism visas on arrival for $30 U.S.D.

Permit prices, unfortunately, are the most prohibitive part of this trip. Permits clock in at $1,500 U.S.D. per person, although a large percentage of the funds from the permits are put directly into Rwanda’s conservation work and local communities.

Permits can be reserved directly through the Rwandan Development Board via email, or through accredited tour guide companies.

Options for that include Thousand Hills, Volcanoes Safari, and Primate Safari.

Book this permit before booking anything else in order to guarantee availability, as there are only one hundred permits available daily.

Gorilla trekking is located in the Musanze district of Rwanda, just a two to three hour drive from the capital city of Kigali.

Most trekkers fly into Kigali before driving to Volcanoes National Park, and have many options when it comes to lodging.

Check out the Marriott or Serena Hotel for a high end experience, and the Mijo Hostel for a budget stay.

In Musanze, the new and luxurious Bisate Lodge has made headlines around the world for its innovative design, with the Virunga Lodge also known as one of Rwanda’s finest.

For more budget or mid-range travelers, check out La Locanda and Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel.

Rwanda’s famous mountain gorilla population is one of East Africa’s greatest tourist attractions as well as animal conservation success stories.

There are 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, and half of that population resides in the Virunga Mountain range spanning Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Seeing mountain gorillas in the wild is unforgettable, and planning a trip to Rwanda is easier than ever.

The sheer size of these humanlike creatures is astounding, and their misty forest home beyond serene.

A gorilla toddler shows off his newfound climbing skills by scaling a nearby eucalyptus, as the group joyfully watches on until the allotted hour is up.

Located in the scenic Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the Umubano group is one out of ten habituated gorilla families that intrepid travellers are able to visit in the country.

The plight of the Rwandan mountain gorilla was initially made famous by celebrated environmentalist Dian Fossey, and since her passing, the Rwandan government has been committed to preserving these beautiful animals.

Even as mountain gorillas remain on the World Wildlife Fund’s critically endangered list, Rwanda’s conservation efforts have been globally renowned, with the country managing to increase the population by 25 percent in the last decade.

Part of these efforts are funded by gorilla trekking, rendering much tourism in Rwanda often environmentally friendly and economically supportive.

Trekking with mountain gorillas, while seemingly difficult, is actually quite easy to arrange.

June through September and December through February are the country’s dry seasons. Avoid the muddy and difficult treks in the off-season, as there are no discounts for rainy days.

Anticipate a difficult hike. Treks range from two to seven hours round trip, and regardless of the season, are often over rough and uphill terrain.

Anyone in moderate shape can do this, but expect a serious workout with some possible rain showers and mud up to your knees.

Although you’ll have to bring some serious rain and hiking gear, get ready for a trip of an experience of a lifetime.

Check in for the hikes takes place at the Volcanoes National Park offices in Kinigi at 8 am. There, trekkers are sorted into groups based on fitness level and greeted by their park rangers for the day.

Expect a really special performance from Intore dancers, a gorilla-oriented briefing, and complimentary tea, coffee, and bananas at the offices.

At around 9 am, trekkers pile back into their cars and drive an additional forty minutes to the trail head.

From there, porters are available for hire to carry backpacks and sometimes trekkers themselves up the steep mountain paths. Sturdy walking sticks are also handed out, and save a many a weary hiker.

Throughout the trek, the park rangers will be in constant communication with the rangers assigned to the respective gorilla families.

These rangers are always aware of the gorilla’s movements, and exist to deter poachers, monitor the gorilla’s health, and guide tourists.

Upon reaching the gorilla families, hikers will be asked to discard their bags and hiking sticks before officially entering the gorilla’s territory.

Groups are allowed to spend exactly one hour with the gorillas, and although tourists must keep themselves 10 meters away, these gorillas are laws unto themselves and can get as close as they want.

Thankfully, these majestic creatures are usually very friendly and safe. Get ready to see them play, eat, sleep, swing, and just do their general gorilla games.

These encounters feel entirely natural, and will undoubtedly be the capstone to an excellent trip in Rwanda.

It’s no secret that Rwanda is well on its way to becoming one of the most desirable tourist destinations in Africa.

Worldwide Rwanda has been lauded for the country’s clean city streets, lush volcanoes, playful gorillas, and, most recently, the new luxury lodging options.

As luxury tourism is undoubtedly on the rise, it begs the question, is Rwanda’s focus on luxury actually benefiting local Rwandans?

Mountain gorillas are Rwanda’s key draw, as there are approximately 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, earning them a spot on the World Wildlife Fund’s critically endangered list.

They are located only in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda specifically has done an unbelievable job at gorilla conservation.

Tourists are able to visit specific gorilla families daily, with a limited number of gorilla trekking permits in Volcanoes National Park available.

Until recently, these permits were $750 USD for foreign visitors, but have since been raised as of May 2017 to $1,500 USD for everyone.

Previously, Rwandan citizens were able to go gorilla trekking for approximately $35 USD. These price increases might be unremarkable, except for the fact that luxury lodging has also cropped up around the country.

With the recent openings of the Marriott, Radisson Blu, Bisate Lodge, and Nyungwe House, more and more international luxury tour operators are launching, and Rwanda is becoming known as a luxury-oriented destination.

The challenges faced in getting tourists since Rwanda’s shift to luxury tourism,is that it’s cheaper now for them to go to Uganda or Congo.

Several midrange Rwandan tour companies have already begun to operate in Uganda and DR Congo.

Gorilla trekking is much cheaper in Uganda and DR Congo, with permits available for $600 USD regularly and $450 USD during April, May, and November for rainy season.

The increase in gorilla permits has slowed down business in Rwanda.

This all being said, with rising tourism prices and Rwanda’s clean and anti-corruption reputation, the Rwandan government should be able to put more money into local communities, infrastructure, education, and countrywide development.

Though the influx of money helps Rwanda, people are nervous about Rwandan tourism businesses being left behind.

Rwandans themselves will also have much less of a chance than wealthy visiting tourists to see the mountain gorillas their own country is so famous for.

This because of the price increase did not account for Rwandan citizens.

Chances for Rwandans to actually participate in the tourism industry, both as domestic tourists and tour operators will continue to decrease as everything gets more expensive across the board.

International operators such as Wilderness Safaris, One&Only Resorts, Volcanoes Safaris, and Governor’s Camp become the primary operating tour companies in the country.

On the bright side, this change should lead to more of a focus on the rest of the country for budget and mid-range travelers.

Though gorilla trekking is now out of the question for many, non-luxury travelers in Rwanda can opt to visit Nyungwe National Forest, Akagera National Park, Gisenyi, and the volcanoes.

There is much to do and see in this beautiful country, regardless of the gorilla and luxury increases.

People will still visit. Whether Rwandan communities will indeed benefit from the upmarket tourism industry or not.


Tourism Observer
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