After a classic safari in Masai Mara or Kruger or Serengeti National Park, a mountain gorilla trekking trip comes next on most African traveler’s bucket list. A mountain gorilla trekking safari means taking more effort, time, and expense than the usual safari where you just get into the safari land cruiser, drive through the park, and spot animals. As the saying goes “you get what you pay for”.
Below are some of the things you need to know before trekking the words largest apes in Rwanda.
Where mountain gorillas live
There are two populations of mountain gorillas left in the world. The first lives in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, which are scattered between Uganda in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda in Volcanoes National Park, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Virunga National Park. The other population lives deep in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.
Recent research (2018) shows that the mountain gorilla population living in the Virunga mountains has grown from 480 in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Combined with the mountain gorilla population living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda brings the number of mountain gorillas to more than 1,000 individuals. The rise in numbers follows the introduction of park guards, veterinary care to the apes, community support projects, and regulated and sustainable tourism practices within the parks. With all that is being done, mountain gorillas are still an endangered species.
Mountain gorillas live way up in the cloud forests, ranging from an altitude of 2200 meters to 4300 meters. The vegetation on the lower slopes will be dense, often a mix of bamboo, ferns, and galium vines. As you climb, the undergrowth should thin out a bit. The zone where the gorillas live is misty, damp, and can be a bit cold. Mountain gorillas move around depending on the season, spending time in the sub-Alpine regions to feed on Seneca trees during certain times of the year.
Options do I have to have to see the mountain gorillas
Apart from the gorilla trekking permits being expensive, the location of where these apes live is extremely remote and not easily accessible due to the tourist infrastructure that is not so good. Basically, the logistics of visiting mountain gorillas are themselves a challenge.
Regardless of all that you have to go through, the experience is completely worthy and most trekkers come out of the forest happy and satisfied. It’s also to know that the cost of a gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is $1500 per person, which makes a trekking permit in Uganda half of the price, and about a quarter of the price in Virunga National Park a far more economical option. The new prices aim to strengthen conservation efforts and support the development of local communities.
What to expect during the trek
A Maximum of 96 gorilla tracking permits is issued each day. Gorilla trekking is an activity that takes between 2-6 hours depending on the gorilla group and the location of the gorillas that day and also the trekker’s speed.
Expect to hike through the Virunga highlands, passing through bushes and slippery trail; you will get muddy and sweaty. The hike through the forest is challenging and tough-going but manageable for anyone with a reasonable fitness level. In the lower canopy, humidity is high so don’t forget to freshwater. You may consider hiring a porter to carry your bag and also help you navigate the steeper parts along the trail.
As you move through the forest you will expect to spot other primates living in the forest as well as several forest bird species and your park ranger guide will help you in identifying some of them. When you find the gorillas, you allowed to spend an hour with them, to take photos and videos of the apes (make sure your flashlight is off), watch them as they feed, play, and go about their daily life.
Packaging list for gorilla trekking
Boots. A good pair of hiking boots will serve you well. The trails get so slippery at times and this increases your chances for tripping.
Water. You’ll need to drink a lot during the trek. You can get this at the lodge before you leave.
Long pants and shirts. You do not need to expose too much skin during the jungle trek, and remember to tuck your trousers into your socks because safari ants might get inside your pants.
Gloves. During the trek, you might be grabbing trees, branches, and vines, and your hands can get a bit scratched and generally beaten up if you’re not careful.
A light rain jacket. There is a good chance of rain almost year-round. Pack a light-weight poncho or rain jacket that you can roll up in your bag and bring out if necessary.
Energy snacks. The trek to the mountain gorillas isn’t impossible, but it is challenging. Energy snacks like nuts, dried fruit, chocolate bars are a great idea. Don’t drop any rubbish in the forest.
With the above information, you are ready to hit the Volcanoes National Park trails to search for mountain gorillas.