If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know that Rwanda was at THE TOP of my bucket list.
And when a cheap flight popped up on Skyscanner with Kenya Airways, I didn’t hesitate to double tap.
It was an impulse buy well spent because Rwanda did not disappoint. I never felt unsafe, I met some incredible people and managed to see a mountain gorilla without paying USD 1,500.
How did I manage this feat of being the ultimate cheapskate?
I opted for the Dian Fossey hike, hoping that I would see a gorilla by accident. Thankfully, I had luck on my side – for once.
But besides the possibility of seeing a gorilla, there is so much more to this trek. It’s a great option for solo travellers who don’t want to go through organised tours; it’s less popular which means fewer people and its PACKED with history.
Over the course of four hours, I learned so much about Dian Fossey’s work and how her legacy has helped these endangered creatures.
If you want to follow in my footsteps, here’s everything you need to know about the Dian Fossey hike!
About Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey alongside Jane Goodall was a pioneering primatologist. She founded the Karisoke Research Centre in Rwanda in 1967 and studied the endangered mountain gorillas for 18 years.
But on the 26th of December in 1985, she was brutally murdered in her secluded mountain home. Her murder remains unsolved.
Upon finding her will, Dian’s body was returned to her research centre where she was laid to rest alongside the gorillas she had worked tirelessly to protect.
How to Get Your Trekking Permit for the Dian Fossey Hike
Unlike Rwanda’s other national parks, you need a permit to get in.
If you’re planning on going in high season (June to September), it’s advised to book your permit three months in advance. However, the Dian Fossey hike is not as popular, and it doesn’t have a quota like the gorilla trekking.
I bought my permit at the tourism offices in Kigali for $75 in the middle of September. If you aren’t in Kigali, you can also buy your Dian Fossey permit from the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters in Kinigi.
It’s one of the cheapest hikes you can do in the Volcanoes National Park, and the fee includes a professional guide.
But before you pay for your permit, keep in mind that you can’t change the dates. If for some reason the date you booked no longer works, you’ll have to pay full price again.
On my trekking day, it was only two other people on the trail and me. In a way, this is what makes it special. It feels like you have the entire forest to yourself.
How to Get to Volcanoes National Park from Kigali
Getting to the Volcanoes National Park starts off being cheap and quickly becomes a drain on your bank account.
First, you’ll need to catch a bus from Nyabugogo Taxi Park in Kigali to the town of Muzane. The trip takes about two hours and costs RWF 1,500 (R 24.00) one way.
If there’s space, opt for a spot on the larger buses rather than the smaller ones. Besides being more comfortable, there is also free WiFi to help the time go by faster.
Once in Muzane, you can either stay in this town or head to Kinigi where the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters is based.
To get to Kinigi, you’ll need to take a taxi as there is no public transport available. A one-way ride will set you back RDF 15,000 (R230.00), and the ride takes about 15-minutes.
The buses between Kigali and Muzane run from about 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day. This makes it easy to finish up your hike and head back to Rwanda’s capital city on the same day.
But if you can, spend a bit of time in Muzane. It’s the town where Dian Fossey would visit for supplies and is now home to her research centre. It has recently opened a small museum and is worth the visit if you want to learn more about her work with the gorillas as well as Rwanda’s latest conservation efforts.
How to Get to the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters
Whether you’re staying in Muzane or Kinigi, you’ll need to hire either a driver or a car for your trek.
This is because the road to the beginning of the trail is in shocking condition and is about 30 minutes away from the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters.
Most hotels will be able to organise you a 4×4 and a driver for USD 50 (R676.00) who will fetch you and drop you off at the end of your hike.
Where to Stay
Kinigi and Muzane both have countless accommodation options that will suit every type of traveller.
But I’d recommend staying in Kinigi if you are a nature lover. Not only are the views and sunsets amazing, but it’s peaceful, and you’ll have a chance to interact with the locals in the nearby village.
If you’re a backpacker like me or on a tight budget, stay at Kinigi Guest House. A bed in a dorm room costs RWF 10,000 (R159.00) per night, and there’s an on-site restaurant that’s affordable with sizeable portions.
But it is basic. The bathrooms are clean, but not the fanciest out there. I also found the showers to be claustrophobic, but at least there was warm water.
The budget-conscious will appreciate the no frills, but if you want something more comfortable upgrade to a private room or choose from the many other mid-range to luxury accommodation options.
Will you see gorillas on the Dian Fossey Hike?
It’s not guaranteed, but I saw three on my hike. And I would have missed them if I wasn’t so busy taking photos of moss.
If you want to MAYBE see gorillas and you can’t afford the gorilla permit, this hike is a great option. Just be sure to keep a lookout in the trees and listen to the sounds of the forest for branches snapping.
Is the Dian Fossey Hike Difficult?
Yes and no.
As someone who hikes almost every weekend, I didn’t find this hike to that challenging.
An inexperienced hiker had to be taken back to base camp because she couldn’t handle the incline at the beginning of the hike.
The hike takes almost two hours one way with stops for water in between. The terrain itself is also VERY muddy, and you’ll need to take care where you step to avoid falling or losing a shoe. Luckily, the walking sticks you’ll be given help with this a lot.
With that in mind, I can see why so many people on the Internet found this hike to be as hard as walking to the Susa group of gorillas.
So my advice to you would be to skip it if you aren’t reasonably fit, find inclines too tough or aren’t comfortable with challenging terrain.
What to Expect Before, During and After the Hike
- Pack some light snacks and two bottles of water.
- Bring your own gaiters to avoid the red ants or hire a pair for RWF 10,000 (R 159.00) at the HQ.
- Wear shoes that have grip, and you won’t mind getting muddy.
- Cover up. The park is full of stinging nettles, wear long pants and a shirt to be on the safe side.
- Arrive at HQ for registration and a debriefing at 7:00 a.m. (I know it’s early, but you get FREE coffee).
- Don’t forget your passport and permit.
- Avoid the parking scam. You don’t need to pay RWF 7,000.
- You’ll be escorted by armed Rwandan soldiers. Don’t be scared; the country has a strong military presence which has made it one of the safest countries in Africa.
- Your guide will give you loads of information about Dian Fossey, her research centre and the surrounding vegetation.
- If you’re lucky, you might also see elephants, buck and a variety of birds.
- You’ll visit the ruins of Dian Fossey’s house where she was murdered.
- You’ll see the gorilla graveyard where Dian Fossey is buried. Her tomb is next to her favourite gorilla Didget and 20 others.
- After visiting all the different ruins of the research centre, you’ll stop for lunch before heading back down the mountain.
- Head to the nearby restaurant to get your shoes and socks cleaned for RWF 2,000 (R32.00).
- I tipped by guide $10 (R135.00). I went off recommendations from people online.
- If you want to go back to Kigali that day, arrange for your driver to drop you off at the bus station in Muzane.
How Much Does It Cost Overall?
From accommodation to permits and everything in between, the Dian Fossey hike cost me:
R 2,454 (USD 181)
My Final Thoughts
I SAW A MOTHERFUCKING GORILLA.
It was epic, magical and all kinds of awesome.
There’s not much I can say that is negative about this experience.
But it has made me think a lot more about conservation. Once I started learning more about Dian Fossey, I discovered how much she fought against gorilla tourism.
So it was weird to pay homage to her and contribute towards something that she spent her life fighting trying to avoid.
But, since her passing, her foundation has done a lot of good to conserve the mountain gorillas. Tourism is a huge source of funding, and Rwanda’s poaching problem is now almost non-existent.
Even so, it’s something interesting to think about and shows that conservation is never black and white.
Have you ever done the Dian Fossey hike in Rwanda?