“The peace I felt while observing these majestic creatures was unrivalled to anything I had ever experienced…I felt both humbled and fascinated watching them behave in a human way and will never forget my time with them.”Maria
We could not agree more with these fabulous words from one of our lovely clients, Mountain Gorilla trekking – be that in Rwanda or Uganda – is an adventure that you will always treasure. One of those magical experiences in life that you will never regret. Spending time in the company of a gorilla family and observing how they interact and behave is truly an honour and a privilege.
Gorilla trekking is not an everyday occurrence though and so we would love to share some of the key information and some inside tips.
Gorilla Permits & arrangements
To trek the gorillas, everyone needs a permit, but we will take care of this for you, along with all your other arrangements on the ground including transfers, guides, accommodation, meals, and any other activities. The numbers of visitors per day to the gorillas is limited though and therefore it is always advisable to plan this adventure as far in advance as you can to secure a permit for the day that you need.
The gorilla trekking permits are currently different prices in Rwanda and Uganda but the experience is very similar. We can help you decide which location would be the best for you by considering your interests during your stay.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda: US$1,500
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park Uganda: US$700
Included in the permit cost is the ranger who will accompany you on the trek along with his support team including the trackers who head out early in the morning to locate the gorilla family.
When to go?
With Rwanda and Uganda both being close to the equator there is not a significant change in temperature throughout the year. There are however dry and rainy seasons but as the gorillas live at altitude there can be a rain shower at any time. The good thing is that any rainy periods really do not affect the movement of the gorillas. The optimal times to travel though to enjoy the less muddy terrain would be mid December to early February or the longer dry season from June to September.
What to expect
Early in the morning, you will head off with your guide to the trekking headquarters for your pre trek briefing with everyone else who is trekking that day. You will be assigned to a group made up of 8 visitors maximum led by one ranger. Treks start after the briefing, around 8:00am, either directly from the park headquarters or from an alternative start point which you will reach by vehicle with your guide. The start point all depends on the gorilla family you are allocated to on the day and where they are located. As well as your ranger, there will be an armed guard (just to scare off any forest elephants!) and there may also be an assistant to the ranger.
At the start point of your trek, you will also have the opportunity to hire a porter which is a great opportunity for you to personally impact on the support for gorilla conservation in the local community. It is far much more than someone carrying your rucksack and getting you up the hills – although that is really useful too!
To reach the gorillas, the ranger will be in touch with the trackers, so please follow the ranger’s instructions and keep together with your group. Once you are close to the family, you will leave your rucksacks and belongings (aside from cameras and phones) with your porters and will walk the final distance to that magical moment when you catch your first sight of the gorillas! Wow ……..
The ranger and his team will move everyone around to ensure you all have the best view possible but please always listen to your ranger and respect the five-metre proximity rule. Mountain Gorillas are not aggressive and will often be relaxing and focused on eating when you visit but they are still wild animals. You will get to spend approximately one enchanting hour in their presence before saying your farewell and trekking back to the start point.
How fit do I need to be?
We have had clients of all ages, physical ability and fitness trek the gorillas, but a good level of walking fitness is a huge help. The Mountain Gorillas live at altitude and to reach them you will be trekking through thick forest vegetation on steep and sometimes muddy paths. The fitter you are, ultimately, the more you will enjoy your trek. It is definitely worth building up your walking fitness in advance of your trip and hiking up some practice hills!
For those who would rather trek a shorter and less challenging distance, you can speak to your guide in advance and he will request one of the closer families for you. Often they ask whether you would prefer an easy, medium or difficult hike – the main thing to remember is that the gorilla experience will be the same no matter how far or little you have walked! Also, please do though bear in mind that the families may move and so the difficulty level of the trek cannot be guaranteed.
For anyone who cannot manage the trek on foot, it is also possible to hire a sedan chair and porters in advance so that you are carried to the gorillas. This is known as the jungle helicopter!
What to wear and what to pack
Long trousers (not denim) with a long-sleeved shirt to protect you from scratches with a t-shirt or vest underneath is the perfect base kit. Pack some sturdy hiking boots or shoes with a good grip and gardening style gloves can be very useful for gently pushing away tree branches and avoiding nettles or even ants. We would strongly advise long socks and/or gaiters to stop ants or insects crawling up your legs! Also, a light breathable waterproof jacket, hat or cap, your camera and at least 2 bottles of water – don’t forget a light waterproof small backpack to store essentials in. Insect repellent should be avoided.
You will be provided with a solid wooden walking stick either by the lodge or at the trekking HQ, these are so useful when navigating the narrow pathways and sometimes slippery downhills.
Top tip: Ensure you have had a good breakfast before your trek as well as plenty of water. Your lodge will provide you with a packed lunch but you won’t get to eat this until after your trek so arrive with a full stomach!
Tipping & porter hire
It is common practice to tip the staff on your trek as an appreciation for their efforts. For the ranger including any armed guards, we would suggest approx. US$20 per client.
For the tracking team who head out early in the morning, we would suggest approx. US$5-$10 per client for them to share between them. When you leave the gorillas, the trackers usually stay behind to follow them to their evening nesting so please tip them before you head back to the headquarters.
Please do really consider hiring porters as not only will they really help you, but you will also be directly helping local people and their families and strengthening the ties with Gorilla conservation and the local community. We always love their company on the trek anyway as well as their knowledge and insight into local life in this area. Your ranger will organise any porters requested at the start of the trek.
Porter hire: (porters must be paid separately to the ranger and at the end of the trek too). US$15 in Uganda and US$10 in Rwanda per porter per day. Adding on a tip to the cost of the porter will always be very much appreciated, we would suggest approx. US$5 per client.
Top tip – Please remember to bring extra cash for the purchase of souvenirs which are often available from local people at the end of the trek.
Enjoy with your own eyes!
The temptation is to take hundreds of photos but we recommend taking a few then popping your camera away and taking in the experience with your own eyes. Light conditions are tricky in the forest so your eyes are the very best camera. You can also always ask one of the local team to help with photos, they will gladly assist. Please do not use a flash when photographing and avoid bringing bigger items such as tripods etc.
Inspired? Get in touch!
We really are all very passionate about these wonderful primates and the fabulous experience that trekking Mountain Gorilla is. We would love to help you make this dream a reality so please do get in touch.
To further discuss holiday plans and ideas please do get in touch to chat through options with our passionate African experts. Get in touch