Gorilla trekking is an unpredictable wildlife experience that can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. Before visitors can enjoy an hour of close encounters with these rare mountain gorillas, they must first receive a briefing on the trekking rules at park offices. The trekking journey involves walking through dense tropical forests, steep slopes, and possibly also muddy floors.
Mountain gorillas can be found in the dense African forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Southwestern Uganda; Ruhengeri Region-Volcanoes National Park Northwestern Rwanda, and the Virunga National Park Eastern Congo. Visiting any of these four protected areas gives travelers 99% chance to see these massive creatures in their natural environment. Altitude, terrain, and the location of the gorillas all play a role in determining how long the trek will take.
Mountain gorillas are wild animals that roam different areas for various reasons and usually inhabit high altitudes. Thanks to the efforts of trackers and habituation exercises, the process of trekking to see these incredible creatures has been simplified. Before a group of visitors set foot into the forest to look for the assigned gorilla family, trackers are sent out to ascertain their location, utilizing various signs such as nests. The park guide and trackers remain in constant communication, and this makes the trek a little easier.
Nature of habitat
Mountain gorillas inhabit high elevation ranges of 2500 or more and live in montane areas. To embark on a trek to view these incredible apes, individuals should expect to have good physical fitness. The environment can be unpredictable, as rains can fall at any time and the terrain can become muddy or slippery in wet seasons. Additionally, the vegetation can be dense and will require clearing during the journey. All these factors, combined with the fact that the mountain gorillas roam constantly, take time before they can be found.
Visitors fitness level
Gorilla trekking requires individuals to be at least 15 years old due to its challenging nature. The journey involves trekking through steep slopes and potentially slippery ground, thick vegetation, and more. To prepare for the trek and to physically stay fit, it is recommended to engage in regular exercise. The driver guide from Kofi Travel Safaris Rwanda can help visitors identify a suitable gorilla family that matches their trekking level and fitness.
Before embarking on a gorilla trekking adventure, visitors should take the time to stretch and exercise in order to increase their mobility and reduce their risk of minor injuries. To prepare for the trek, one can take long walks or hikes while still at home or take advantage of the hilly areas in Kampala or Kigali if they have arrived to their destination early.
Gorilla trekking rules to follow
Before embarking on a gorilla trekking safari, visitors will be briefed on a number of rules which must be followed, including:
- One hour is designated for close encounters with a group of mountain gorillas.
- The maximum number of visitors per gorilla family is 8, and only one group of 8 is allowed per day.
- All safaris must be carried out with the help of experienced park guides, who are assigned to every group of 8 visitors.
- Valid gorilla permits are required for all gorilla safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
- Visitors must keep a safe distance of 10m from the gorillas when trekking.
- All tourists should be free of any illnesses or sicknesses, such as the flu, to prevent the spreading of germs to the gorillas.
- Coughing and sneezing must be done with one’s mouth or nose covered at all times.
- Voices should be kept low while gorilla trekking in Congo, Rwanda, or Uganda.
- Do not touch gorillas while trekking, even if they get close enough to rub against you.
When is the best time of the year to go gorilla trekking?
All gorilla safaris to Uganda, Rwanda, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be done any time of the year. However, the best time to visit any of these destinations for gorilla trekking is during the dry season when favorable weather conditions prevail. The long dry season occurs from June to September and the short dry season occurs from December to February.
What you should wear/carry for gorilla trekking?
A successful gorilla trekking experience requires thorough preparation, including proper packing. A good packing list for gorilla trekking includes: waterproof hiking boots, sunglasses, cameras with no flash, long trousers, a safari hat, long sleeved shirts, a waterproof daypack, a sweater, a waterproof rain jacket or poncho, high-energy snacks, bottled water, insect repellent, a first-aid kit, gorilla permits, toiletries, and more.
Securing gorilla permits ahead of time is essential for a successful trip – it is highly recommended to obtain them 2-6 months in advance. Prices for gorilla permits vary depending on the country – for example, in Uganda, non-residents pay USD 700, residents pay USD 600, and Ugandans and East Africans pay UGX 250,000. In Rwanda, gorilla permits are issued at USD 1500, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, each permit is USD 400.
It is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where both mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas exist, although they inhabit different habitats. Virunga National Park is known for the mountain gorillas, while Kahuzi-Biega, Maiko National Parks, etc. protect the Eastern lowland gorillas.
Gorilla trekking is an unpredictable yet thrilling activity that can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. Before visitors can have their close encounter with these rare mountain gorillas, they must first be briefed on the trekking rules. Trekking through steep slopes, dense tropical forests, muddy floors and more requires a certain level of fitness.
Travelers should expect to have good physical fitness in order to prepare for the trek and have a successful experience. Park guides and trackers can help identify a suitable gorilla family that matches the level of experience, and provide some tips that could help shorten the journey. Gorilla trekking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and worth every minute it takes to reach these incredible apes.