You’ve probably been to the best beaches in Asia with pristine crystal waters, gone skydiving in the Swiss Alps, or tasted the most exotic food in Taiwan.
You may have experienced what the world offers, but you still seek something new and unique. Something unusual that will create an amazing and long-lasting memory.
For a prolific traveler and adventurer like yourself, an experience with the world’s largest primate in Central Africa will probably check off many items on your bucket list. This is a unique experience that will smash all previous extraordinary encounters.
To date, there are only 900 mountain gorillas in existence, and their endangerment has attracted many travelers to check them out in their natural habitat. Because of this, gorilla trekking in Rwanda became popular.
Gorilla trekking is an activity for tourists that includes hiking in the tropical forests of Africa to see the mountain gorillas in their natural environment. Gorilla trekking at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is one of the best gorilla tours in Central Africa.
Gorilla trekking is also available in Uganda and Congo but what Rwanda has to offer attracts more savvy adventurers. It involves hiking on the dense slopes to track any of the 12 habituated gorilla troops in the area where the famous gorilla scientist Dian Fossey conducted her research and unfortunately died.
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes covered in a rich, green rainforest are the home of the endangered mountain gorillas. The magnificent mountain range showcases a string of five steep dormant volcanoes surrounded by an evergreen bamboo forest that houses more than 200 species of wild, colorful birds and chattering golden monkeys.
So, aside from tracking gorillas, you may encounter other wild fauna and do other activities like canoeing in the crater lake, biking, and exploring the rich culture of nearby villages.
- Mountain Gorillas
The mountain gorilla is considered the largest primate in the world. As previously mentioned, they’re an endangered species, with less than a thousand in existence. When gorilla scientist Dian Fossey started her mission, there were only 280 gorillas in Rwanda. But she managed to breed these primates in the wild, which significantly increased their number.
At the Volcanoes National Park, you’ll find the great Guhonda, the largest and oldest living silverback. A silverback is a male mountain gorilla with a visible patch of silver hair at the back. He is 48 years old, and he belongs to the Sabyinyo tribe. It’s the most famous gorilla tribe in the area with 15 members, three of which are large silverbacks like Guhonda.
Visiting Rwanda to do gorilla trekking is a magnificent experience, but you have to be adequately prepared to ensure your trip will be fun and worthwhile. Consider the following preparations:
- Prepare Physically
Before your trip, you have to ensure you’re physically capable of doing a strenuous hike. At least a week before, jog daily for an hour to prepare your body for physical exhaustion.
It would also be beneficial to dose up with vitamins and get vaccinated to protect you from illnesses. Before the actual hike, do some stretching to prevent muscle strain while hiking steep slopes.
- Prepare Your Gear
Make a list of things to pack, and don’t rely on mental note-taking. The essential gear you need to bring includes the following:
- Waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support
- Breathable waterproof jackets and trousers
- Light long-sleeved shirts to protect you from insect bites
- Warm layers for chilly mornings and cold nights
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Garden gloves to protect your hand from thorns as you hold on to bushes and foliage
- Mosquito repellant
- Reusable water bottle
- First aid kit
- Light snacks like granola bars
- Bring Binoculars and A Camera For Distant Shooting
Though mountain gorillas are gentle creatures, tourists are advised to keep a safe distance of around seven meters. They remain creatures of the wild and have been known to bluff charge tourists. Also, they may carry diseases, so maintaining a safe distance is critical.
Because of this, you cannot take photos of them up close. You may observe them from afar, marvel at their greatness using binoculars, and take pictures using a high-end smartphone with distance shooting ability or a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with the right lens.
- Secure A Gorilla Permit
You won’t be allowed to enter the park without the necessary permit. For a guided entry into their territory, you need to secure a gorilla permit. Permits are scarce in the peak summer months of December to March and June to September, so you must book them in advance.
It’s important to note that the park does not allow visitors 15 years of age and below, so you cannot bring your children with you.
- Prepare Your Bladder
The tour will start with a briefing at around 7:00 a.m., and the actual hike begins at 8:30 a.m. The trek may take from an hour to as long as nine hours one way. You’d better use the toilet before leaving the park headquarters since that will be the last time you can use a bathroom until you finish the trek.
Although coffee is provided during the early morning briefing, you might want to skip it since caffeine is a diuretic.
Listed below are several things you need to know when going gorilla trekking. Keep them in mind as they’re for your safety.
- Do keep your voice low
- Do not use a flash when taking photos
- Do not engage in eye contact with the gorillas
- Do not feed them
- Do not make any sudden movements, especially when they bluff charge
- Do not wander far from your group
- Prepare Some Money
The hike may include porter guides that you can pay to carry your belongings. The English-speaking porters are the sons and daughters of the original poachers, and paying them to do things for you helps their community thrive.
Gorilla trekking is the experience of a lifetime. A rare encounter with these gentle giants is something unforgettable and life-changing. However, visiting them in their natural habitat requires a certain level of respect for the animal and the community. So, be sure to leave nothing behind and only carry memories and photographs with you.