GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA THE ULTIMATE WILDLIFE SAFARI

Surrounded by the outstanding natural beauty of the Volcanoes National Park in the Virunga Mountains, you slowly make your way through the pristine jungle. In the dense canopy above your head a thousand birds fill the forest with an amazing cacophony of sounds. Suddenly, your guide raises a cautionary hand and you pause, your heart thumping in your chest. In a small clearing ahead of you a giant Silverback Gorilla slowly turns his enormous head and looks at you with his beautiful, intelligent eyes.

This is the defining moment of your Gorilla Trekking Experience that will remain with you forever.

 

Gorilla Trekking – the ultimate Wildlife Safari Adventure

The chance to spend an unforgettable hour of your life observing and interacting with one of the rarest and most critically endangered animal species on the planet has to feature on every wildlife enthusiasts’ Bucket List. Rwanda, in magical Africa, is one of only three places where you can embark on a Gorilla Trekking Safari to see these critically endangered animals in their natural habitat. You will follow in the footsteps of the acclaimed primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey, who spent years researching the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda between 1966 and 1985, when their numbers dropped to below 300 animals.

Although mountain gorilla numbers have increased in recent years due to a concerted effort on the part of conservationists and the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, there are still only around 900 -1000 individual animals living mainly in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. This means that they are still just one small step from becoming completely extinct.

If you still need further prompting to come and visit them, just imagine what it would be like to meet Man’s closest relative! Without any exaggeration, Gorillas are simply the most enchanting and anthropomorphic creatures on earth and the chance to observe their remarkably human behavior one-on-one will surely be the most rewarding experience of your life.

 

Some Mountain Gorilla Things-to-Know

As you sit and observe these gentle giants, it’s obvious to see that they behave a lot like us in many ways (although most humans would probably prefer to ignore this!) This is because Mountain Gorillas are our second-closest biological relative (after Chimpanzees). Humans share up to 98% of their genes with these charismatic and intelligent creatures who have shown the capacity to understand human language and learn sign language.

Like humans, Gorillas are very sociable creatures. In the wilds they live in large groups, usually comprised of one dominant silverback male, several adult females and a variety of family members of various ages. The giant silverback can reach a height of nearly 6ft and can weigh in at 160kg, while adult females are considerably smaller. Interestingly, female mountain gorillas have a very similar gestation period to humans and, like human babies, baby gorillas are entirely dependent on their mothers for around three years. Because there is a high infant mortality rate and reproduction is usually limited to one baby every four to five years, it is easy to understand why building up the numbers of wild gorillas is so painfully slow and uncertain.

What to Expect from your Gorilla Trekking Experience

To ensure that the gorillas do not become stressed by the presence of too many humans, permit numbers for Gorilla Trekking are strictly limited. Small groups of around 6 or 8 people are allowed to visit each gorilla group once a day for just one (very special) hour.

You will have a very early start to your day – most tour operators aim to have you at the gates of the Volcanoes National Park at 6.30am. There are about ten options for accommodation close to the park headquarters in luxury lodges and camps – Bisate Luxury Lodge is right next-door and Kwitonda Lodge, which opened in August 2019, offers the last word in luxury and is ideally located. There are also three budget options located within 13km of the park headquarters.

The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park are widely dispersed throughout the park and it is not always easy to find them. The park employs trackers who keep up with the movements of the various groups of gorillas and pass on information about their whereabouts to the expert guides who lead each group of visitors. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you could find “your” group in less than an hour, but sometimes it takes much longer to reach the gorillas and your round-trip trek could last up to 6 hours.

Visitors are divided into groups according to their fitness levels and each group is assigned an expert guide to help you make the most of your unique experience. Your guide will instruct you on “Gorilla Etiquette” (which includes maintaining a 7mt distance from the gorillas and what to do if a gorilla should approach you) as you start your trek. It is very helpful to hire a porter to carry your camera and lunch, as well as to offer you a hand-up in some of the steeper areas; this will cost you no more than $10 or $20 and helps to provide much-needed employment for the local villagers.

Besides keeping your eyes peeled for the gorillas you will have the opportunity to see a wide variety of birds and monkeys against the superb backdrop of the towering volcanoes. It is truly a photographers’ paradise and visitors are urged to bring a good camera and some special lenses – the gorillas are very calm creatures and you should be able to get amazing photographs and videos to remind you of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Once you come across “your” group of gorillas you will have a wonderful 60 minutes to observe them as they go about their daily business. Often the adults will be grooming each other or dozing while the younger gorillas chase each other around and act like … well, like monkeys!

 

Is Gorilla Trekking for Me?

Most people qualify to join a thrilling Mountain Gorilla trekking excursion. The minimum age is 15 and you do need to have a reasonable level of fitness to reach the gorillas. There are no neat paths and you will have to scramble up steep inclines in some places. You also need to have a permit, which will set you back $1500.00. Although this does seem very expensive, everyone who has done a trek will tell you that the experience is worth every cent. You can also pat yourself on the back for doing your bit to ensure the on-going survival of the species – almost the entire cost of your permit is ploughed back into conservation, veterinary care and protection.

Some Gorilla Trekking Do’s and Don’ts

DO:

  • Bring a camera, good lenses, extra batteries and a rain-proof camera cover
  • Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to protect yourself from scratchy bushes and nettles – gloves come in handy to protect your hands as you scramble up steep areas and a hat is useful too
  • Maintain your 7-meter distance from the gorillas at all times – if one approaches you just step aside and avoid eye-contact

DON’T:

  • Try and touch a gorilla, however tempting it may be – they are wild animals – and mothers, in particular, can be very protective of their young
  • Join a trek if you are not well. Gorillas are very susceptible to some human viruses and may catch your cold and become really ill
  • Disregard the advice of your expert guides – they have years of experience with the Gorillas and know how to interact with them

Some practical Gorilla Trekking Information

Permits are severely restricted so you need to start planning your Rwanda Gorilla Trekking safari well in advance. Usually, your tour operator will arrange your trekking permit on your behalf.

You need to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate and you will also need to take Malaria medication and use mosquito repellant – speak to your medical advisor and check the current health requirements before you travel.

The best time of year to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda is the dry season, from December to February and from June to September. That said, it is possible (and somewhat less expensive) to visit during the wetter months, but trekking in the rain presents its own challenges – slippery trails, rain on lenses, etc.

Rwanda is not only about Gorilla Trekking. This magical African state has so much to offer tourists and it would be a shame to travel all the way without exploring some other tourist options in the country. If your time and budget will allow, you can possibly add a wildlife safari in Akagera National Park to your itinerary or go Chimpanzee Trekking in Nyungwe National Park.

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