Travelling to see mountain gorillas has undeniably become a dream for most if not all travelers to Africa. Different people have continuously written and narrated about how gorilla trekking is an amazing encounter which bring you close to the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitats. The interesting stories and unforgettable experiences keep the potential gorilla trekkers wondering how the entire gorilla safari can be from the start to the end.Mountain gorillas are among Africa’s largest apes, which were at the verge of extinction in the 1980’s when conservation was not a priority. We bring you detailed information of what you should expect on a gorilla safari to ensure you are well prepared to enjoy the once in lifetime experience.
To begin with, all gorilla safaris call for a long travel into the tropical rain forests of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo the only habitats for the endangered mountain gorillas in the whole world. There are only four national parks, which you must visit if you are to see and interact with the gentle giants. With roughly 880 mountain gorillas surviving in the world, 480 mountain gorillas reside in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park both in southwestern Uganda. In Rwanda, the endangered species live in volcanoes national park while Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo shelters the remaining population of mountain gorillas. The experience in each country is unique in its own way and different from the other.
Carry your gorilla permit
All travelers must carry their valid gorilla permits and other related documents for clarification a pass to see gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Uganda, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Rwanda and Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) in Democratic Republic of Congo are responsible government bodies to issue these permits. Permit prices vary from country to country with Rwanda selling most expensive permits at 1500usd, Rwanda at 600usd and DRC at 450usd. Every traveler who will not carry his/her permit will be denied a chance of trekking. In Uganda, the permit must bear the name of the sector (Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga or Nkuringo) to clarify that a traveler booked a gorilla family in that specific sector.
Wake up early and attend the briefing
On the actual trekking day, all travelers must leave their lodges/hotels as early as 6:30am to attend short briefing at the respective park headquarters. This briefing is aimed at introducing trekkers to the gorilla trekking rules and regulations for the safety of both gorillas and travelers. In Uganda, travelers gather at different head quarters in Bwindi depending on which section one is trekking from. It’s in this briefing that travelers are divided into groups of eight who are allocated a gorilla family. Gorilla families are allocated depending on the capability of the traveler to hike high since gorillas are on continuous move and sometimes go up to the higher altitudes. This means that the weak, elderly and less fit travelers are given near gorilla families to ease and shorten their hiking time. At kinigi head quarters in Rwanda, local people entertain travelers in form of traditional dances, which is a good pre trekking experience.
Hiking into the jungle
Immediately after the briefing, travelers start off an actual hike into the jungle in search of the gorillas. Each group of travelers is led an armed ranger and a park guide hiking up and down in search of the allocated gorilla family. Its not an easy venture but rather strenuous hiking via slippery muddy grounds with thorny bushes and cold weather inside the dense forests. Hiking time may vary from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the movement and location of the gorillas but with 99% guarantee to meet the gorillas. Hiking is an opportunity to encounter other animals such as monkeys, baboons and many bird species, which together make the experience memorable. All travelers are reminded to keep in their groups and follow the rangers since separating from the group can make one get lost in the jungle something dangerous to one’s life. Expect to get dirt as you crawl on the ground and as you grab tree branches for support.
Hire porters and hiking sticks
Porter’s and hiking sticks are not compulsory but are among the key factors for an enjoyable and successful trek. Porters help in carrying travelers baggage and providing support where need be in the process of hiking. The hiking sticks enable easy movement I the steep slopes where hiking becomes difficult. Porters and waking sticks are hired from the park head quarters at a fair cost, which is an indirect support of the local communities adjacent to the park. The money earned is used to support local families and community projects hence an improved standards of living.
Meet the gorillas
After hiking for whichever length, you finally meet the gentle giants; relaxed in their families the clock will start ticking for an hour. Its hear that all fatigue, panting and sweating due to the hike will disappear into excitement and joy as look into the eyes of a dominant silverback guarding the entire family. Travelers are reminded to take hear, keep calm and observe carefully the unique human like characters of each gorilla in the family. A silver back is the head of the family just like a dad in a human home, while adult females nurse the young one while the juveniles entertain the family keeping it live and enjoyable. A distance of seven meters must be kept away from the gorillas to avoid the spreads of communicable diseases to these critically endangered mountain gorillas. Stand at a distance a way from the crowd and take as many photos as you can but in a calm way. The juveniles entertain the family as they climb tress, swing over tree branches and wrestle as they communicate with each other. Incase gorillas’ charge or behave wildly, travelers are reminded to imitate their behaviors by moving on their knees and not running away. Non-flash light cameras are the only ones allowed for photography.
Dress right for the jungle
Dressing appropriate for the jungle is essential for a successful gorilla trekking experience. This is not in suits but rather in good light hiking boots for easy movement in slippery muddy grounds, gardening gloves to grab the bushes for support and the rain gears for the unpredictable forest weather. Also, long socks tacked into trousers, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters. Insect repellents, hat, sunglasses, and waterproof bags are very helpful. A traveler with proper dressing code is assured of a memorable gorilla trekking experience.
Conclusively therefore, come, meet the mountain gorillas in the jungle, interact with them and enjoy a memorable gorilla trekking experience in Africa.