A gorilla tracking is a unique experience
Rwanda and Uganda are the best countries for mountain gorilla trekking. The gorilla trekkings in Rwanda follow the same pattern as in Uganda. You meet with others for a gorilla trekking and local rangers will decide on the day which gorilla group you will visit. Early in the morning trackers have gone out to localise the selected gorilla families. By the time you start your hike, the trackers are often still busy trying to find the gorilla group you’ll be visiting. That implies that it is near impossible to tell beforehand how far you will need to walk. In both countries you are only allowed to spend one hour with a gorilla family.
There are less than 900 mountain gorillas alive today and that give these special animals the status of threatened species. The permit you need for a gorilla trekking is expensive but I assure you that it is well worth the money, which serves a good cause. It is spend on both nature conservation and on the local communities. It is because of this that the mountain gorillas in these areas have gotten their high status: people will go out of their way to protect these mountain gorillas and their habitat.
A gorilla trekking in Bwindi will lead you through dense rainforest, which is an adventure on itself. Then, after a long hike, you will find yourself face to face with one of these threatened animals: a literally breathtaking experience.
The twelve gorilla groups that reside here, all live in the four regions of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Three gorilla groups live in the northern region of Buhoma. Here, in 1993, the very first gorilla trekking with visitors took place. It is the only area in Bwindi where you can stay overnight in the park.
All gorilla trekkings in Rwanda take place in Volcanoes National Park. It houses ten gorilla groups. The gorillas live in the tropical rainforest on the mountain slopes as do the chimpanzees and the golden monkeys.
Volcanoes National Park got its fame by Dian Fossey who for years observed gorilla groups there from 1967. She founded the Karisoke Research Center. Volcanoes National Park became the home base for an impressive research into the life of the rare mountain gorilla and the fight against poachers. When Dian Fossey was killed in 1985, possibly by those very same poachers, the centre stayed active in the protection of the gorillas. After the Rwandese civil war (1990-1999) so called ‘baby naming ceremonies’ were started by local communities to promote tourism. Here baby gorillas were given names during a special ceremony. This became a great success, it not only increased tourism as was hoped, but it also had a positive effect on the gorilla population.
It has been a tiring hike along the mountain slopes. After stumbling through forests of bamboo, tripping over tree roots, ploughing through muddy terrain…. all of a sudden, all feeling of tiredness is gone…there they are. You spot females with their playing youngsters. Then a silverback walks past you, only yards away. Now your heartbeat nearly doubles, and you feel privileged to be so close to these friendly, near human, but imposing mountain gorillas. It is a unique experience; never to be forgotten.
It is nearly impossible to predict how hard or heavy your gorilla trekking is going to be. Sometimes it is a singe, other times the going is really rough; remember, a gorilla trekking is always in a densely forested mountainous area. It is advisable to hire a carrier who, against a small payment, will carry your backpack with photo equipment and provisions. Carriers will also help you on moments when the going gets tough. They know the area and the terrain.
If you want more than ‘just’ an adventurous gorilla trekking then maybe a tailor made safari combination of Uganda or Rwanda with Tanzania or Kenya is something for you.
Flying distance between these countries is short and you can fly almost directly into Serengeti or Masai Mara.
The best time for a gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekkings are possible all year round in both Uganda and Rwanda. Peak season is from June until October and from December until February.
The procedure of a gorilla trekking in Rwanda is the same as in Uganda. In both countries visitors are only allowed to spend one hour with the gorillas.
By buying a gorilla permit you help protect the gorillas.
To join a gorilla trekking you need to purchase a gorilla permit, this is pricy, but the money is a direct contribution to the protection and upkeep of the habitat of the gorillas and the protection of these threatened gentle giants.
The issue of these permits is limited. In both Rwanda and in Uganda only 80 permits a day are granted. In peak season therefore, the permits are soon sold out.
In Rwanda the permits are more expensive than in Uganda.
During the rainy season (March, April, May and November) in Uganda a discount is given on gorilla permits.
At first the climb was rather heavy, but then we saw them. First a few females with their young and then a silverback. A few ‘teenagers’ started playing with each other, right in front of me. It was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes.
I never could have dreamed that we would get so close to the gorillas: one of the young even pulled at my blouse. They are really mischievous!