When one talks about gorilla trekking, it basically means following mountain gorillas. This involves a group of tourists who hike hills and beat the bush trying to follow and find a given family of mountain gorillas. It is defined as a hike to the tropical forests of Africa to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
The mountain gorillas are a sub-species of the eastern-gorillas and today there is a very small population of them remaining in the world. These are found in two main places, one population lives within the Virunga Mountains which are arrange of several extinct volcanoes that are shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The other bigger half is found in the forest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park found in south western Uganda.
Mountain gorillas live on high altitudes between 8,000 feet to 13,000ft in forested mountain slopes. Their bodies have very thick fur which is actually thicker when compared to that on other Great Apes. Because they live on higher altitude within forested areas where temperatures can drop very low close to freezing, this fur helps them maintain body warmth for survival. Previously these gorillas did not live at such high altitudes in very severe conditions but because humans have continued to encroach on their habitat, they ended up driving them higher into the mountains.
In Uganda, you can see mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The presence of these two locations is why Uganda has the biggest population of gorillas in the world. This is also why it is greatly regarded for gorilla trekking tours and gorilla conservation efforts.
To track gorillas in Uganda, you have to buy a gorilla permit that allows you to go into the thick forests where they live. A gorilla tracking permit can be bought from the Uganda Wildlife Authority by the Safari Company on your behalf.
In Rwanda, you can be able to see Mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The Park is on the Northwestern part of the country and neighbors to Uganda’s Mgahinga and Congo’s Virunga National Park.
Gorilla permits in Rwanda can also be obtained via the RDB (Rwanda Development Board) which is the government body in charge of issuing the permits to see the gorillas of Rwanda.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, you can see gorillas in Virunga National park. The park neighbors both Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
While DRC has been disturbed by internal conflicts for many years, the good collaboration with Uganda and Rwanda, plus other conservation partners has enabled the study and preservation of the habitat for mountain gorillas.
At the moment we are not organizing gorilla trekking activities in Congo due to security and safety or our clients.
Gorillas can be seen in Uganda, Rwanda and D.R Congo. To see a gorilla in all these destinations one must have or need a trekking permit to engage in this activity. In Uganda the cost of a permit was initial $600 but was increased to $700, in Rwanda it costs $1,500 while in the D.R Congo its $450.
Comparing Uganda and Rwanda is a tricky question but since Uganda has more wildlife than Rwanda, it makes it a perfect place to see gorillas. Besides the mountain gorillas, you can visit Murchison Falls, or see other primates in Kibale Forest National Park. If it’s about the cost, please note that, Gorilla permits within Rwanda were recently increased up to $1500 per individual and then in Uganda they go each for USD 700.
Gorilla Permits and Passport: You will be required to show your gorilla permit and passport park offices just before beginning your trek. Valid travel documents and a Visa are very important for any safari. Don’ t travel with a passport that is about to expire. Without the required travel documents, you will not be allowed in the country and to track the gorillas.
Hiking Boots: High quality hiking boots will ensure a better grip of the hilly and sometimes muddy terrain. Poor quality boots or plain sneakers could hurt your ankles. Always remember that gorilla trekking involves climbing steep hills in areas with high altitude. The trails can get muddy or slippery during the rainy season.
Clothing: When deciding on the clothes to pack for gorilla trekking, ensure you include water proof trousers, jackets, long sleeved shirts, sweaters, long socks and long trousers. Always tack in your trousers to your boots to prevent safari ants and other insects from entering your body.
A Rain Jacket and sweater: This is an essential item for packing especially during the wet season. Gorillas live in tropical rain forests and rain should be expected at any time regardless of the period of the year. A rain jacket should therefore be on top of your packing list even if you are planning to come in the dry season
Gardening Gloves: Garden gloves will help you hold trees, branches and other vegetation. The gloves will also protect your hands from scratches and insect bites. The gloves will help you hold tree branches when climbing or the ground in case you slide.
Toiletries: Toiletries include things like toilet paper in case you want to ease yourself during a long gorilla trek, your own sanitary pads in case of ladies, favorite shampoos, deodorants, hand sanitizers, shavers, hair conditioners, lip balm, wipes and lotions.
A hat, Sun glasses and sun screen: These will protect you from the suns heat especially during the dry season.
Snacks, Packed lunch and drinking water: Gorilla trekking is very unpredictable. It all depends on the location of the gorilla family on the day of the trek. The activity can take between 30 minutes to 6 hours. Trekking for long distances could get you tired and hungry. Your lodge should prepare for you packed lunch or you can choose to park your own energy snacks. Energy giving snacks can also be acquired from supermarkets. Also keep in mind that tracking mountain gorillas for long can become exhausting and you will need enough water
Walking stick: To help you maneuver through the thick vegetation and steep areas. The sticks are given out for free after the briefing at the park offices.
Camera with strong battery and memory: Be prepared to take photos of gorillas and the beautiful park scenery and any other things you spot along your trekking journey.
Binoculars: The parks you will be visiting are not all about gorillas. During you trek, you will encounter several species of birds, forest elephants, buffaloes, chimpanzees and colobus monkeys among many others. You can get good views of the birds and primates if you have a good binocular.
Porters: Porters help tourist carry any extra luggage or heavy cameras during gorilla trekking. They can also give you a helping hand when navigating through steep hills and valleys. Porters can help carry the elderly using special pouches when required. They charge a fee of about $15 and are normally residents of the surrounding areas.
Other items: Other general items to consider are travel insurance, emergency telephone numbers, travel maps, directories and the final itinerary from your tour operator. Having money in local currency is also important when you want to tip your Guides or buy souvenir in areas.
The age limit for gorilla trekking is 15 years in all three countries. The age limit for gorilla trekking is set by the different government authorities responsible for managing the national parks. In Uganda, it is the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Rwanda the Rwanda Development Board while in Congo it’s the same.
The age limit for gorilla trekking is set at 15 because younger travelers are considered to be children who may not be able to deal with any negative reactions from gorillas. Gorillas are very calm and gentile creatures but they can become aggressive when they feel threatened or misinterpret the actions of trackers. Screaming or running away could force the gorilla to run after the youngster. Mature travelers are better at controlling their emotions in the event that a gorilla charges.
Gorilla trekking can be conducted all year around in all these 3 countries. The best time to go gorilla trekking in during the months of June, July, August, September and December. This is because there are less rains and the parks are drier, making it simple to hike and see the gorillas.
January and February: Low season offering less huge crowds. Very little or no rain.
March, April and May: Its rains a lot during these months. Most challenging during the trek, the slopes are slippery.
June, July & August: Peak season, it’s important to buy your permits early since they run out.