After realizing the worth of tracking mountain gorillas in the wild, you might decide that you want to go for safari in one of the three countries. You may have even gotten excited and already booked air tickets, accommodation and transport. The next big question on your mind would be – What is the experience of gorilla trekking like?
Like all travelers in the past, the next thing to do after making reservations with your tour company is to show up in the country of choice. Your tour company or hotel should pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel or start the journey to the national park. The distance from the airport to the national park varies depending on which country you choose to do the trekking. If you are tracking in Rwanda, the driving time will be 2 hours. If you are tracking in Congo, you need to first land in Kigali international airport and then be driven to the Congo Rwanda border crossing in Goma. From the border you will be driven to the Virunga National Park which is a few kilometers away from the border. Should you decide to do gorilla trekking in Uganda, expect to travel on road for eight hours to either Bwindi of Mgahinga National Park. You can avoid the long travel from Entebbe international airport in Uganda by landing in Kigali (Rwanda) instead and driving for only 3 hours to the national parks in Uganda.
If you happen to be traveling with Mission Africa Safaris, the Driver/Guide will pick you up from the airport of a hotel and take you up to your accommodation facility close to the national park. On the day of the trek, the Driver will pick you up very early in the morning from your hotel and take you to the park offices for briefing. Request your hotel to prepare for you packed lunch and enough drinking water – you will thank us later.
Is gorilla trekking worth it?
Once you reach the park, you will be asked for your passport and gorilla permit. Never forget to move with your passport to avoid any issues. You will be surprised to find the park offices with tourists from almost every continent. Some would have come for other activities like golden monkey tracking or hiking one of the Virunga Volcanoes. From 7:30am to 8am, you will be briefed about the gorilla trekking rules and requirements. These briefings are usually led by the park Warden and cover issues like smoking, keeping a distance from the gorillas and not running away if a gorilla charges. The Rangers will also give you background information about to each of the gorilla groups and the particular park. You will be introduced to the park Guides and all the people working in the park.
The park Guides will also let you know of what you need to have to make your trek more comfortable. After the briefing, you will be assigned a gorilla family taking into consideration your favorite gorilla and your overall fitness. The Rangers often assign gorilla groups by guessing the age of travelers. Sometimes they get it wrong because younger doesn’t always means fit. If you are not fit or ill, let the rangers know so that you are assigned a nearby gorilla group. You might be interested in our article about gorilla trekking for seniors. If you are tracking a gorilla group for the second time, you will be assigned another gorilla group. Visitors are only allowed a maximum of one hour with the gorillas in a day. The activity can be shortened at any time if the primates become restless. Only 8 people may visit a particular gorilla family in a day. After the briefing and assignment of Gorilla groups, you will then be given an opportunity to hire a porter as the journey could get tiring and go on for hours. Porters help carry any heavy luggage and in navigating through the difficult sections of the trek. The services of a porter costs $15.
The starting points for the hike are different for each gorilla group. In most cases you will be driven a few kilometers away to the starting point. The roads in most of the parks are not very good especially during the rainy season. When you reach the starting point, the Rangers will be in constant communication (by radio) with an advance group of trackers to know which direction to follow to get to the gorilla families. These advance group of trackers wake up before sunrise to search for the gorilla group and confirm their location. It is why the chances of seeing mountain gorillas is very high. It’s also important to note that the rangers are very experienced and knowledgeable about the park and the gorilla groups. They know the names and character of each individual. You are safe with them and can learn a lot about the primates if you ask questions.
Gorilla Trekking can go on for more than 7 hours if we consider going and coming back. Ensure that you have enough water and snack so that you don’t get dehydrated and hungry. If you feel like easing yourself or going for a long call, ask the rangers to dig a temporary toilet for you. As you start your journey to the forest, expect to encounter amazing scenery and landscape. The Rangers will help you clear a way through the dense jungle using machetes.
Once you encounter mountain gorillas, you will be required to follow instructions given by the guide. The Ranger will ask everyone to leave their less essential luggage behind before going close to the primates. Begin taking photos only when the rangers tell you so. You will watch the group grooming, The gorilla trekking farting, breastfeeding, making love and even sleeping. The most active members of the group are the toddlers and adolescents. They love climbing trees because of their light weight and will entertain you with their wrestling matches. Gorillas sometimes like to charge at tourists just for fun. Don’t act scared or run away. Just lay low and act submissive. One funny thing about mountain gorillas is that they sometimes behave as if they don’t notice your existence. A large silverback can decide to just walk through your group without a care. If this happens, just give way. By the end of your one hour with the gorillas, you would be in total agreement with countless others that watching gorillas in the wild is indeed very fascinating.
After completing your trek successfully, you will head back to the starting point and be given a gorilla trekking certificate along the way back or at the park headquarters. The certificate shows that you completed the trek successfully and are among the few who saw mountain gorillas in their lifetime. If you were excited by the whole experience, you may tip the rangers for a job well done. The company Guide will be waiting for you after receiving your certificate and drive you back to your lodge. Should you come back earlier than expected from your trek and are still fresh, the driver should take you to visit the Batwa pygmies.