We have seen the gorillas so many times but each time for us, whether with clients or not, has been an individually magical experience. The feeling of watching the young juveniles jovially swinging from one branch to another, with the females carrying the adorable babies on their backs and blackbacks chasing each other in the presence of a muscular alpha silverback gorilla is always a sighting to behold.
No one can fully describe and comprehend the “cocktail of senses that are usually sent leeway” during all gorilla safaris in Rwanda. But one thing we can certainly share with you are some of the answers to the best way to plan for your upcoming mountain gorilla tracking safari.
Of course a lot more tailor-made information can be shared by our gorilla trekking team of Wild Rwanda Safaris who will be glad to help and answer all questions not addressed below. This short comprehensive guide is aimed at helping you choose where to stay, how to pack, and basically how you can prepare for that dream gorilla tracking adventure in Rwanda.
Mountain gorillas are one of the most protected species on the entire planet today, but also the most sought-after apes and they are a must-see attraction for any ecotourist. They attract a huge number of tourists on safaris to the East African region and they can only be found in Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, both located in Uganda.
Previously, there were only 880 mountain gorillas surviving in the forested massifs of Eastern Africa, but with the recent 2016 gorilla census of mountain gorillas in the Virunga volcanoes carried out by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) the results demonstrate an increase number of mountain gorillas by a record 120 new individuals from the former census of 2011, and the mountain gorilla population today is now estimated to exceed the number 1000.
“The Land of a Thousand Hills” as we like to call her; and the “Switzerland of Africa” as our guests normally brand her; Rwanda offers the “most unique gorilla tracking experience on the entire planet”. Many factors play part to making gorilla safaris amazing, including the direct flights from Europe to the country’s main gateway – the Kigali International Airport to the possibility of taking very short drives or even enjoying helicopter rides from Kigali to landing points that are in very close proximity with one of the luxury hotels and lodges around the gorilla national park.
Do I need a special permit to enjoy Rwanda gorilla trekking?
Because of the sensitivity of mountain gorillas and the need to limit the numbers that visit them every day, every visitor to Volcanoes National Park for the Rwanda Gorilla trekking activity has to purchase a gorilla permit. For $1,500 we can assist you in securing a gorilla tracking permit for your safari to see gorillas and through gorilla permit payment you are able to make a huge impact on the sustainable conservation of these great apes, support the ongoing transformation of our nation; and 10% of your gorilla permit fee is specifically channeled back into the local communities living around the national park to support and improve their lives principally through the provision of improved social amenities. An important thing to note is to book your gorilla permit well in advance because of the high competition but also for the opportunity of receiving first priority (if needed) for a particular mountain gorilla family; this may be the relative ease of tracking that particular gorilla group or the number of individuals in the family. Larger families often offer better chances of taking amazing photos.
How fit must I be to track mountain gorillas in Rwanda?
Do I need to train with Hussein Bolt before a gorilla tracking safari? Fortunately, the answer to that question is No! We don’t mean that “Olympics-level-kind” of fitness. We have had guests before who are aged 65 years and above who have gone gorilla tracking in Rwanda. While many older travelers may find the trek quite tough, it is not often that they will entirely give up on the hike to the point of requesting to quit the climb.
What we recommend is basic fitness achieved through a few weekly light exercises done prior to your visit to Rwanda. The good news is you can hire some personal assistants (also known as porters) to lift your day’s luggage and food through the forested kingdom at a very minimal and negotiable fee.
While some groups of tourists on a gorilla trekking holidays have been lucky to see them after just a short trek into the forest, you should be willing and ready to hike in rugged terrain as well as in unpredictable weather because they freely roam throughout the forested highlands.
We love to sometimes call Rwanda’s mountain gorillas “the VIPs of the African jungle”, because they are monitored every single day of the year by the rangers mainly to guarantee their protection; this is a vital practice for any reasonable conservation effort, especially for an endangered species like the mountain gorillas. But this is also done to make the process of finding the mountain gorillas easier. This implies that they are quite migratory and finding them requires hiking and pursuing them on foot to where they are feeding on that particular day, with the guidance of a ranger guide. The mountain gorillas in Rwanda exist freely in their natural habitat, and they cannot be found in any zoo around the world.
Please maintain an open communication process with your tour guide about how you feel about your fitness levels before or even during the actual day of tracking and he can help make the trek more enjoyable for even in those times.
Should I pack anything necessary for a hustle-free gorilla safari in Rwanda?
By a simple internet search, you will quickly stumble upon a couple of articles offering trip advice, safari packing lists or guidelines for packing for an African holiday, but there is not one that entirely exhausts all the nitty-gritties needed on your trip. We advise you to speak to one of our tour consultants to ask as many questions, and to get as much information that you need before your safari commences.
But some basic items that will make your gorilla trek a lot more enjoyable include, long sleeved shirts and gloves, trousers (if possible baggy khaki safari pants and waterproof clothes for the gorilla tracking), durable hiking shoes and a cap to cover your scalp comes in handy. Also plan to at least have a basic camera on you, to capture those beautiful memories; this can even be your smartphone. If you however plan to use a DSLR camera while on your safari in Rwanda, a good lens to start at would be the 300 mm lens, but don’t feel too compelled; you can still use what you have and still capture the moments. Remember “a photo is worth a thousand words”! Please don’t forget to include some sunscreen lotion and insect repellant in your toiletry bag. Some visitors eventually discover that they never needed to pack a repellant or sunscreen lotion in the first place, but you would rather have them with you and not use them, than regret you had packed them.
Do I need to carry any food or water during the gorilla tracking in Rwanda?
Since the mountain gorillas are wild animals and usually moving from one nesting place to another, it is recommended that you request for a packed lunch. You are also advised to pack enough water for the hike.