Many will remember the popular 1988 film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ for its heart-wrenching narrative about the plight of Mountain gorillas living in the African jungle areas of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Based on the book with the same title by renowned primatologist, conservationist and author Dian Fossey, this narrative helped to highlight the plight of these gentle giants. At the time, Fossey acknowledged that these apes were in grave danger of extinction due to poaching, habitat loss and as well as death in the crossfire of human warfare.
According to the WWF, there are only 880 Mountain gorillas left on the planet. However, conservationists are seeing positive signs that their populations are increasing. It’s no wonder then, that the chance to see them is the ultimate bucket-list experience for safari-goers.
We bring you seven tips for planning a gorilla trekking trip through either Rwanda or Uganda to experience these magnificent jungle animals:
1. Remember to get a permit before you arrive
One of the most important aspects to remember if you are planning a gorilla trekking safari is that you need to obtain a permit to see the gorillas in both national parks in Rwanda and Uganda:
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda: US $1500
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda: US $600
These permits are difficult to obtain because there are limitations on how many people are allowed into the parks. Discover Africa Safaris will obtain these permits for you and they are included in the cost of your gorilla trekking safari. The essential thing here is to plan your trip well ahead of time.
2. Be prepared for any weather
Image: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
There is a good chance the weather will be both hot and humid as well as slightly chilly and rainy on the same day, reason enough to be prepared for varying weather conditions. Safari experts recommend wearing layered clothing that can be adjusted according to the temperature. Make allowances for rain by packing a waterproof jacket or coat.
It is also essential that you bring a pair of good quality hiking shoes as you will be trekking through varied montane terrain. It’s also advised to keep as much skin covered as possible as certain areas are notorious for blister bushes and stinging nettles.
3. Take food and water with you
There are no shops in the various national parks and although some tour operators will have options for packed lunches it’s still strongly advised that you pack items that will help keep your energy levels up as you may be hiking for a maximum of eight hours while you locate the gorillas. Pack some dried fruit, nuts or trail mix for some extra energy and plenty of water.
4. Waterproofing for your camera and absolutely no flash
Image: Bench Africa
Temperamental weather conditions require you to safely waterproof your camera. Water housing or casing is essential in protecting your equipment.
Flash photography is not permitted while trekking or anywhere near the gorillas so make sure your flash setting is turned off.
5. Train before you leave and know your fitness levels
Image: Sanctuary Retreats
Both Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Volcanoes National Park are high in altitude which will make trekking much harder, even for experienced hikers. Make sure you know your fitness level before leaving and if you aren’t an avid hiker it's advised to hit the gym or some local trails and hikes in your area before you leave to get to your optimal fitness level. You might see gorillas after two hours or it could take up to 10 to find them in the thick jungle.
6. Travel in the dry season
Tracking down gorillas isn’t limited to a season and you can visit any time of year. It's believed that you will just have a more enjoyable experience in the drier months as everything is a little more accessible due to there being less rain and less mud. Dirt roads will be a part of the experience and these will be easier to tackle and much more comfortable in drier weather.
The dry season is from mid-December to early February and the long dry season is from June to September.
7. Respect the gorillas’ space
While the Mountain gorilla population is habituated and gorillas are non-aggressive and shy, they are still wild animals. Respecting their space ensures that no one gets hurt. Accompanying your on your trekking journey will be experienced guides. These guides are highly trained and dedicate their lives to the conservation of the gorillas. Respect the five metre proximity rule. There are many available resources on gorilla etiquette and one such resource can be found here.
An opportunity to enjoy the majestic Mountain gorillas in their natural environment is an experience of a lifetime. We can advise you on your gorilla trekking adventure so do contact us for more information.