Have you done South African Garden Route? How about hiking up Kilimanjaro? If you’re looking for your next amazing African adventure, then gorilla trekking may be just the thing you need.
Mountain gorillas are essentially the gentle giants of the primate world.
These non-aggressive primates have more DNA markers in common with humans than any other primate species, and this makes them incredibly receptive to human diseases; so much so, that a common cold could kill them.
Despite this risk, gorilla trekking has become incredibly popular in recent years. You’re probably wondering why trekking is even allowed with the risk of human disease.
The answer: tourism has created a remarkable hindrance to poaching. Thus, tourists have been unknowingly protecting these endangered creatures with their very presence.
To track gorillas in their mountainous habitat, there are a few important things that you should note:
- You must be 16 years or older.
- You cannot go near these animals if you have so much as a sniffle. They are extremely susceptible to human illness. Do not endanger their lives.
- You will need a permit. Permits are very expensive and limited. The number of permits available a day, depends on which National Park you have chosen to visit.
- While the gorillas are non-aggressive, they are wild animals and should be respected as such. Do not approach them.
- Visits are limited to one hour only. This is non-negotiable.
- No smoking or eating will be permitted for the duration of the trek.
- Being physically fit is essential. If you don’t have the appropriate fitness level to go trampling through a mountainous rainforest, then this is not for you. No matter how much you may want this experience, for your own safety, you cannot trek mountain gorillas if you are not physically fit.
- When taking pictures, ensure that your cameras flash is off.
Where and When to go
The mountain gorillas are protected in the Virunga Mountain range, which straddles the border between Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. This entire area is a mountainous rainforest and will be best visited between June to August (Dry Season).
Keep in mind, even the dry season will get the occasional rainfall.
Rwanda (Permit: $1,500)
While the permits are most expensive here, Volcanoes National Park is said to be the easier place to track mountain gorillas. The journey to the gorillas will provide stunning views from the volcanic mountain slopes. There are 80 permits available per day.
Uganda (Permit: $600)
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is sure to provide a very challenging trekking experience. The cheaper permits and beauty of the forest make up for intensity of the trek. There are 88 permits available per day.
Please be sure to book in advance. June to August is the high season, and as such these permits are usually booked months in advance.
- Wet-weather gear is essential, even in the dry season (June – August). This is a rainforest, after all.
- Mosquitoes will also be a problem. Be sure to include a good insect repellent (30% DEET) in your gear.
- It is also a good idea to wear long socks and tuck your pant legs into them to ensure that no insects or reptiles (snakes) crawl up your legs.
- Waterproof hiking boots.
- Waterproof backpack with the following items inside:
- A warm change of clothing
- Over enough water
- Basic first aid kit
- Camera (be sure the flash is off).
- Wear long-sleeved t-shirt and trousers to avoid getting scratched by branches.
Why Gorilla Trekking
Trekking gorillas through their mountainous habitat will be a marvellous experience. Be prepared for stunning scenery, mesmerizing vistas from sloping hills and a unique assortment of wildlife.
The trek can last anywhere from one to nine hours, and you will encounter numerous wildlife including the Golden Monkey at Volcanoes National Park and the beautiful sight of many butterfly species at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
Tourism has a hugely positive impact on the conservation efforts of mountain gorillas. The permit fees are expensive because it covers the conservation fees, ranger salaries, anti-poaching campaigns and patrols, and community upliftment.
While the experience may last only a few hours for you, your contribution will go a long way in supporting the gorillas and surrounding community.