It is on record that 90% of Rwanda’s visitors come specifically to enjoy a thrilling experience of mountain gorilla trekking. It is always a first priority to different safari itineraries of tourists as they plan to visit this Eat African country. Gorillas are mainly found in the saddle borders of Rwanda in Volcanoes National Park and it is a home to over 300 mountain gorillas (more than half the world’s population).
Gorilla Trekking is the most popular activity in the Volcanoes National Park. Each year more than 12.000 visitors on average, from all over the world, visit the park to watch mountain gorillas in their natural environment. There are ten habituated gorilla groups that are open to visitors. Several gorilla groups have also been habituated for research, they are monitored daily, all year long, by trackers and researchers of Karisoke Research Centre.
Most gorilla groups live in the central area of Volcanoes National Park and in the triangles area formed by Mt. Visoke, Mt.Karisimbi, and Mt. Mikone. Among the habituated groups for tourism, a few have their home range to the slopes of Mt. Sabyinyo and Mt. M” Gahinga.
Tracking mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park is a peerless wildlife experience, and one of Africa’s indisputable travel highlights. It is difficult to describe the simple exhilaration attached to first setting eyes on a wild mountain gorilla. These are enormous animals; the silverbacks weigh about three times as much as the average man and their bulk is exaggerated by a shaggily luxuriant coat. And yet despite their fearsome size and appearance, gorillas are remarkably peaceable creatures, certainly by comparison with most primates, gorilla tracking would be a considerably more dangerous pursuit if these gentle giants had the temperament of vervet monkeys, say, or baboons or for that matter, humans.
What Happens on the D-Day of Gorilla Trekking
Many wonder about what happens on the actual day of tracking the mountain gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda. The D-day for gorilla tracking starts at the Volcanoes National Park’s Kinigi Head Quarters where the warden matches visitor groups with gorilla families. Most times there is a compliment of a performance from local singers and dancers, complete with drumming and hair flicking which helps build the excitement.
The visitors are divided into small groups of six and a tour guide is allocated to each group. The guide gives a short briefing about what to expect for the day. Normally the groups could go upto a total average of 13. Head for a short, bumpy ride to the base of the Virunga Mountains in a small village. Before continuing you will get about two porters for each group, and they will give each one a walking stick, and set off, up through the terraced farmland.
It takes about an hour to get to the stonewall, which the Park built to protect the villagers and their crops from buffalo. From this point the jungle is incredibly dense and there is a great deal of mud to contend with especially in the rainy season, but the lush green palms, vines and moss-covered trees are all part of the attraction. The gorilla trek through the jungle now starts and you may trek for about 2.5 hours without seeing any gorillas.
It is always a strange moment when you first lay your eyes on a Mountain Gorilla. It is quite surreal, and you feel a bit like you’ve walked in on someone unannounced. It gets so amazing to watch, but normally too much for gorilla, as he can sometimes get up and start charging towards you. In this instant, make sure you stay in the same spot, crouch down, and try to make yourselves as small and non-threatening as possible. The gorilla will cool down and return to his posy and sit while looking at you belligerently.
Sometimes you will be greeted with him pounding his chest and making his hollow-knocking noise with his mouth. At times he sits down and begins munching away on grass and shoots. As he moves around from patch to patch, you get to see the distinct silvery-white colouring on his back, and the true form of the muscles across his chest and buttocks. As he eats you get to see the power in his jaw as he made mince-meat of the tough thistles. He also has tight-leathered sausage fingers which help him pick and manoeuvre the stalks. This is the part where you need to get your cameras ready and take as many photos as possible but always make sure not to use your flash when photographing the gorillas, don’t try to make noises like a gorilla (or any other animal for that matter), and take turns getting your perfect shot.
The adventure is so amazing that you don’t want to leave but within no time you realize your hour is over, it is then time to walk back to the village, say goodbye to the porters, and receive your ‘graduation certificates’. The end is always a very sad moment and you will obviously feel sad to say goodbye, but on the other hand you should be very grateful because visiting mountain gorillas is a privilege, not an entitlement.
How Tough is the Gorilla Trek?
This this one of the most frequently asked questions about gorilla tracking in Rwanda. And it is also perhaps the most difficult to answer. So many variables are involved, and if they all conspire against you could be in for a genuinely exhausting outing on rare occasions, the guides have had to carry tourists down. On the other hand, if everything falls in your favor, a gorilla safari in Rwanda will be little more demanding than the proverbial stroll in the park.
The hike to see the gorillas has two distinct phases; the first is the hike from the closest car park to the forest and national park boundary, which usually takes 30-60 minutes, is typically, especially for those groups whose territory lies close to the forest edge. The second part is more difficult to predict, as it will depend on the exact location of the gorillas on the day, and on the steepness of the terrain en- route. Other
Eight permits per day are issued for each of the seven habituated groups in the volcanoes park, making a daily total of 56 permits. At the time of writing, all these habituated groups stay within tracking range on a more or less permanent basis, but gorillas are not governed by international boundaries and it is always possible that groups which originated in Uganda or the DR Congo might cross there again.
- Rwanda Gorilla permit cost US$1500
Important Things to Know About Gorilla Trekking
Before going a lifetime gorilla trek, it is important to be in the know with all the relevant information concerning gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Below are some of the things you should take note of before traveling to Rwanda for the amazing activity;
Where is Gorilla Trekking Done?
Currently, the country has about twelve habituated gorilla groups making it a favorite destination for gorilla trekking safaris in the world.
When is the best time to go gorilla trekking?
This is the commonest question amongst tourists because they don’t want to travel during unfavorable seasons. Though gorilla trekking is a wonderful activity in Rwanda at anytime of the year, there are specific periods when the adventure is at its peak. You are advised to go gorilla trekking during the two dry seasons of Mid-December – February and June – mid- September because during wet seasons, it becomes hard to trek as the park becomes more muddy and inaccessible. The gorillas also hide during wet seasons and it becomes hard to see them in their natural habitats.
What are the requirements for gorilla trekking?
Though it’s a magnificent tourism activity, a tourist with intentions of trekking the gorillas is not allowed to do so unless if he/she has acquired a gorilla permit. This permit acts as an authorizing document to see the primates in their natural habitats. There are 80 gorilla tracking permits available each day and it’s too competitive to obtain one during the peak seasons. Each costs US$750 per person per visit, looking quite expensive but worthy. However, you are advised to book for the permits in time because it’s so competitive to obtain them especially during a peak season.
What clothing should you carry on a gorilla trekking safari?
Since this adventurous activity involves moving through thick rain-forests, there are specific clothes you must carry for safety while in the wild. Long double-sized socks, long strong trousers, gloves, and sun glasses are some of the things you should not forget to carry. You are also advised to carry a video or photo camera for clear photographs taking with the mountain gorillas.
Health precautions before trekking
Gorilla trekking involves climbing steep slopes and moving long distances and therefore one is advised to be physically fit to avoid complications. You are advised to eat well before going for the activity since it involves high levels of energy. Sick people are not allowed to trek because gorillas contract human diseases.
What to do when with the gorillas
After a lucky trek and you have finally found a gorilla family, there is a specific code of conduct that you must exhibit. Keep more than 6 meters from the gorillas and always avoid irritating behaviors which can scare away the gorillas. For those who want to take photos with the primates, you are required to keep the flush of your cameras off. You should also apportion your time well when with a gorilla family to avoid missing out on the key adventures. Spend 80% of your time viewing and the remaining taking photos. Remember the maximum time you are allowed to spend with the gorillas is one hour, so you need to plan your time accordingly.
A lot can be written and read about gorilla trekking in Rwanda but for a live thrilling experience, you are advised to make a tour to this small country. Our company can help you out and all you need to do is to inquire with us and we shall draw an itinerary clearly stating your movements while in Rwanda plus the costs involved. Things To Know Before Going For A Gorilla Trekking Safari To Rwanda.
Handy Things to Know about Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla Trekking is one of the top adventurous things to do on a holiday in Africa. However a successful gorilla tour requires prior planning from booking a trip to the actual trek within the impenetrable forests of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Mgahinga National Park, Volcanoes national park or Virunga National Park. Here are some of the informative tips about planning a gorilla trip in Africa;
- Fitness: If you can, try to make sure you’re fit enough to tackle some steep slopes and difficult terrain – expect the worst and then if it’s not that bad, long, muddy, then it’s a bonus
- Hydration: take as much water as you (or your porter) can carry, and keep sipping throughout the day
- Energy: snacks that will give you bursts of energy and ‘slow-release’ fuel are important – it’s also nice if you have something that you can share with the guide, porters and trackers – although they certainly don’t expect it, they do seem to appreciate it.
- On the Day
- Porters: we had two porters between a group of 6 – these guys were worth their weight in gold! Not only were they always there when you needed a helping hand, a shove, or a stinging nettle machetted to oblivion, they literally took a load off our shoulders. Don’t try to be a hero, get a porter and you will not regret it.
- Camera gear: the last thing you want is to go all that way, pay all that money, and not be able to use your camera because it is bucketing down. We took a rugged, waterproof camera, and others in the group had black bin bags and ponchos to protect their SLR cameras.
- Wet weather gear: as well as protecting your camera, you need the kit to keep yourselves dry and happy. You will enjoy the gorilla experience more if you’re not shivering to death. We had good quality rain jackets and trousers, and remained bone dry. These additional layers also help to protect from the stinging nettle that is everywhere, and can surprisingly penetrate walking trousers and long-sleeved tops.
- Patience: expect to wait around a bit before you set off on your trek. There are dancers and singers to keep you entertained at Kingi headquarters, as well as a gift shop.
- Lucky dip: you have no control over which gorilla family you will get assigned to – some families will be closer to your start point than others. We walked for 3.5 hours whereas other groups only trekked 1.5 hours. It’s all part of the adventure, so you just have to roll with what you get and remember how privileged you are to be there at all!
Being a responsible visitor
Visitor numbers to the Volcanoes National Park are limited to 80 permits per day, which may not seem like much, but it’s important to think about the footprint you’re leaving behind. Here are some tips to ensure that you’re a responsible visitor:
- Everything you take onto the mountain, should come back from the mountain – this includes all rubbish
- Ask first: not everyone wants to have their photo taken, and this includes local villagers, the porters and trackers – ask people first before you take their photo – and if they say no, then respect their wishes.
- Children from the local villages will be excited to see you, and it’s fine to wave, say hello and chat away to them. Some may ask for money, or items such as drink bottles, and although you might think it’s nothing to give away a few francs or sweets, those kids might then take to the mountain on a regular basis in hope of such rewards…….skipping school in the process. Remember too that 10% of your permit fee is being re-invested into these villages, so you are making a contribution in other ways.
It’s common and decent to tip the guide, the porter/s and the trackers (who you will meet halfway up the mountain). These are the guys who stay with the gorilla families, protecting them from poachers’ snares (intended for other animals) and record key details for research purposes – they are also the reason why you don’t spend all day wandering over the mountains, as they locate the gorilla family and inform the guide as to the gorillas’ location. Make sure you tip these guys directly, and separate from the guide. For the porters, their going rate is $10 US, which is nothing when you realise the pain they have saved you from. They are also only allowed to be a porter once a week (many are farmers the rest of the time), so a 50% tip or more will go a long way.
Visiting Mountain Gorillas is a privilege, not an entitlement – your guide will run you through what to do, but in general, remember not to use your flash when photographing the gorillas, don’t try to make noises like a gorilla (or any other animal for that matter), and take turns getting your perfect shot. We had 4 other very considerate visitors in our group, which made for a fun and enjoyable visit. Above all else, obey your guide – he or she knows what they’re doing, and are there to look out for you and the gorillas.