How to See Gorillas in Rwanda Like Ellen DeGeneres

For Ellen DeGeneres’s 60th birthday her wife Portia de Rossi gifted her with an amazing gift. The creation of the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund and the building of the Ellen DeGeneres campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. This will be built at Dian’s Karisoke Research Center in the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda. To see Portia give Ellen this gift watch HERE. Continue reading for all of the info on how to see gorillas in Rwanda like Ellen DeGeneres.

How to See Gorillas in Rwanda Like Ellen DeGeneres

photo credit Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Inspired by her idol, Dr. Dian Fossey, Ellen will now get to continue on her legacy and help these beautiful creatures. Learn more about the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund HERE.

At the end of May 2018 Ellen fulfilled one of her biggest dreams. She visited Rwanda for the first time to see the endangered mountain Gorillas. Traveling with guides from the Volcanoes National Park, they hiked 3 miles up the steep incline of the extinct Mount Sabyinyo Volcano. They hiked until they found the Agaysha group of Gorillas and you could visit them too.

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How to See Gorillas in Rwanda Like Ellen DeGeneres

Seeing these beautiful animals in the wild isn’t just for celebrities and the rich, although it can be a bit expensive. However it is more than worth it for this amazing experience. I did this trip myself two years before Ellen and by coincidence we even saw the same Gorilla family.

Do you want to see Gorillas like Ellen did? Here are some of my best tips and info for doing so:

Virunga Volcano mountain range from Rwanda

The Virunga Volcanoes Mountain range

Where Can you see the wild mountain Gorillas?

In 2016 it was reported that there was less than 880 mountain Gorillas in existence, but in May 2018 during Ellen’s visit it was announced the population has now increased to around 1,000. These remaining mountain Gorillas can only be found in one small area of the world in Central Africa. They are located in the Virunga Mountains Volcano range and in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

More specifically many mountain Gorillas can be found on the slopes of the extinct Mount Sabyinyo Volcano. Mount Sabyinyo is also where the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo all meet, each sharing a piece of the mountain. The Gorillas are protected here and can all be found inside each country’s national park that meets at Mt. Sabyinyo. Virunga National Park in the Congo. Which is currently closed to tourists until 2019. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

To get to Rwanda like Ellen, you will want to fly into the Kigali International Airport. There are many airlines that operate to and from Kigali so find the best routing for you. When I visited I flew on Turkish airlines from London Gatwick via Istanbul.

tiny baby gorilla - image credit Dian Fossey fundphoto credit Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Wouldn’t you pay anything for the chance to see this adorable baby Gorilla??

How much are the trekking permits to see the mountain Gorillas?

To visit the mountain Gorillas in any country you first need to get a permit since the animals are endangered and highly protected. You can not trek by yourself to see the Gorillas, you always need a permit, guides and trackers. The permit costs vary depending on the country but all fees go back into the local communities, to the guides, guards, trackers and other park employees. The funds also most importantly go back into protecting the Gorillas. The high costs are also said to purposefully discourage too many people wanting to visit and bother the Gorillas as well.

As of 2018 the one day permit for trekking to see Gorillas in Rwanda has been raised to $1,500 USD per person, year round. It is $450 – $600 USD per person in Uganda between low and high season and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo they are $200 – $400USD between low and high season. (**Virunga National Park in DRC is currently closed to tourists until 2019 learn more HERE.)

You can book your own permit for Rwanda HERE. If you are going with a tour company they might arrange the permit for you included in the fee of your tour. Make sure that is confirmed or not before you book your own. For more permits in Rwanda click HERE.

In Rwanda there are only 80 permits given per day so it is best to make sure you book your permit date well in advance of your trip. In total there are 10 Gorilla families that the park allows to be viewed each day with 8 guests max visiting each family for a maximum of only 1 hour. This helps to not only protect the animals health but also keeps them from being too accustomed to humans.

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Go with a Guide / Tour Company

You can visit the wild mountain Gorillas of Rwanda without a tour company, but trust me it will make your life a million times easier if you use one. They will arrange everything from helping you get your Visa upon landing in Kigali, Rwanda to picking you up at the airport, arranging your accommodations and getting you to the Volcanoes National Park. They can also secure your permit for visiting the Gorillas ahead of time.

The tour company that I went with is called Uberluxe Safaris and our tour included everything for a Gorilla Safari as well as visits to Kigali, Nyungwe Forest, Lake Kivu and trekking to see wild chimpanzees as well. Seeing the mountain Gorillas and traveling around this beautiful country was an amazing experience.

Remember also to have extra cash with you as it is always a kind gesture to tip your tour guides. Especially be sure to tip your Gorilla trekking guides and porters. A minimum of at least $20 USD each is a good suggestion and can go a long way.

inside my chalet at the gorilla mountain view lodge

Where to stay near Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

There are many hotels and lodges at various price points located in Ruhengeri, the town surrounding Volcanoes National Park. View some options HERE. While visiting I stayed at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, which is an Ecolodge. The food at the hotel wasn’t anything special but the service was above and beyond.

Each room is it’s own small chalet with a large room and full bathroom. At night the staff built a fire for me in my own fireplace and also warmed my bed with a hot water bottle. That was the best.

The lodge also rents extra gear for gorilla trekking if needed, from rain jackets to walking sticks, ankle covers and even boots. The best part might have been when we returned to the lodge beat, tried and muddy after trekking all day. They welcomed our return and switched out our muddy boots for slippers. Within a few hours our boots were returned back to our rooms, cleaned and as good as new.

students perform a dance at the mountain gorilla view lodge in rwanda

If you are lucky you might even catch a dance performance by a group of local students with a stunning backdrop of the Virunga Volcanoes.

a wild baby mountain gorilla chews on bamboo in volcanoes national park rwanda - Trekking to see Wild Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

For more information on how to see Gorillas in Rwanda like Ellen DeGeneres click HERE to find out my best tips for trekking to see wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

Bonus tips

Months before your trip research what kind of Visa your passport requires. Some countries might require one before arrival and carry various fees.

Gorilla’s can very easily catch our human viruses and colds. It is extremely important to tell your guide if you are under the weather so that no harm is done to these beautiful animals.


Donate to the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund

If you can’t afford to visit, there are still ways you can help the Gorillas. Even the tiniest of donations to the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International can help a lot.

Click HERE to donate to the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund.

Click HERE to donate to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

If you want to donate and have some cool Gorilla gear too check out the Ellen DeGeneres Gorilla stuffed animals, t-shirts and more. (Currently shipping to US only). Shop them HERE in the EllenShop.

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  • Reply
    July 15, 2020 at 5:52 am

    This is awesome and thank you for making this easy! Cannot wait to take my brother for his birthday once COVID-19 is over!

  • Reply
    Penny Atherton
    February 22, 2019 at 7:00 am

    Very interested in this trekking adventure, I would also love to volunteer with the mountain gorillas. So any info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Reply
      February 22, 2019 at 9:51 pm

      I am not sure on the information about volunteering there but I imagine you can find it on the Ellen Fund or Dian Fossey Foundation websites. I will mention this though that humans can pass on diseases quite easily to the gorillas and they only allow humans to see them for an hour at a time. They keep humans away from them at all costs so you would never be hanging around them or feeding them or anything like that. They are very much wild animals. Also the trackers and guides that take you to them have extensive training that a volunteer could not easily do.

  • Reply
    Kevin Markland
    September 20, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Very interested in this trekking adventure, I would also love to volunteer with the mountain gorillas. So any info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

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