No wildlife adventure can compete with coming face-to-face with a wild gorilla. This is an endangered species that will certainly take your breath away. Because their numbers are diminishing and because the treks are a highly-restricted activity, encountering wild gorillas is considered to be an unforgettable and essential travel experience. Here are a few things you need to know about gorillas, gorilla trekking and permits:
Tracking take place all year-long, even during Rwanda’s two rainy seasons. Despite muddy trails during, it does not rain all day.
Children under the age of 15 cannot track mountain gorillas. However, there are special activities offered by the lodge to keep the young ones occupied while the parents trek.
Wear practical clothing for your journey. Often guests are not dressed appropriate for the occasion and it can spoil their day as the focus is shifted from the gorillas to their discomfort. Wear protective clothing to protect you from nettles, thorns and branches. There are not many mosquitoes found on a trek, but there are flies and ants.
Make sure you have packed all the necessary gear like rain jackets, snacks and a packed lunch, a walking stick, and water.
Carry your gorilla permit with you as you leave your hotel the morning of your gorilla trek.
Don’t forget your passport along with your permit and gear as you head to the park for a safety briefing. Your gorilla permits will be crosschecked with your passports to verify that you are the right owner of the permit. Be prepared to begin your journey at any moment after the briefing as there is no certainty about the time you will take to meet your gorilla family.
It may take as little as 30 minutes to find your gorilla family and as long as five to seven hours.
You will be put in groups of up to 8 people and each group is assigned one gorilla family to track.
Guests are assigned to a group based on their age and fitness. Older and less fit guests are given the ‘easy to find’ gorilla families to track which usually stay close to the trail heads. If you are unsure about your fitness level, you should let your guide know and can hire a porter at the park gate. The fee is dependent on what he is going to be carrying.
Each group will have a pair of trackers sent out early before your trek to find the location of your specific gorilla family and to consider where they may be headed. Trackers communicate the gorilla family’s movements to the guide so that he can decide on the best route to meet your gorilla family.
The ‘easy-to-find’ gorilla families are not necessarily the better option as the animals may wander in search of food and water. Similarly, those gorilla families allocated to the physically fit guests and regarded as strenuous to track may be found quicker on a particular day.
Gorilla Tracking is safe and there have been no issues with security in both Rwanda and Uganda. Trackers are sent out before your trek to search for your group’s gorilla family and assume their movement patterns. The path is decided before you begin the trek. On your gorilla trek, rangers will guide you along with an armed escort. The reason for such protection is against wild elephants or angry gorillas. The scouts are trained to fire shots into the air first in order to scare away the animals but this is only done on rarest occasions. Guides first ask trekkers to hide and remain quiet until the animal moves on.
Trekkers can follow the gorillas if they are moving but at a recommended distance of no less than 7 metres.
Trekkers are advised to stay quiet, and move slowly. Avoid sudden movements and direct eye contact in order to not irritate the gorilla. Lower your gaze to indicate that you are submissive.
Take as many photos as you’d like but remember to remove the flash and sound.
Iconic Africa will guide you through the booking process for your gorilla trekking permits. It is a hassle-free process, but should be booked at least ten months in advance as they sell out quickly and there are only a limited amount of permits available.
Do not make the mistake most travellers make – making gorilla trekking an add-on experience. This once-in-a-lifetime experience should not be an afterthought. Avoid hearing that permits are sold out and book yours now!