Gorilla tracking is exceptionally one of the most sought after adventures by most trekkers on safari to Africa. An encounter with these dramatic apes in the wild is such a magical experience that you won’t get anywhere in the world except only in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Northwest Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Mountain gorilla adventure is all about hiking through Africa’s thick forests, a few of which still remain in this continent that offer refuge to these critically endangered species. Usually, a team of conservation trackers are sent to the field to ascertain the location of these species before tourists are set off for their trek. This is intended in making visitor work simpler while in the forest.
Like any wild primate, these creatures also roam around the forest in search for food which prompts tourists to also move to trace where they can be in the course of the day and this requires some physical fitness in you. For that matter, you need to be prepared for this fascinating adventure in that you will need enough bottled water, hiking books that are light weight, long sleeved shirts, rain jackets, gardening gloves, walking stick, porter to help you carry the heavy load and other equipment that can facilitate your hiking adventure in the jungle. You are required to follow the rules and regulations for gorilla trekking so as to have a memorial experience in the forest some of these dos and don’ts will be explained later.
However, gorilla trekking is at a boom in Uganda and Rwanda due to the peace and stability that the two destinations have enjoyed for years compared to the DRC which is still recovering from the instabilities. In the entire world, there are fewer than 900 rare mountain gorillas left, half of which can be sighted in the jungles of Uganda while the rest of the population is shared between Rwanda and DRC.
Gorilla trekking permit is a must to have when it comes to tracking these endangered species while in their natural habitat. That said, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a government organ that is in charge Uganda’s national parks and the rest of tourism like attractions, issues gorilla trekking permits at $600 per visitor per day for foreign non resident, $500 for foreign residents and shs.250000 for East African residents. For visitors who are interested in extending their stay in the country, they can engage in Gorilla Habituation Experience which in done only in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and it costs $1500. This allows such a visitor to strike his or her imaginations with these apes for about four hours while in the wild.
For those who are interested in visiting the Rwanda Volcanoes National Park for gorilla tracking, the permits are obtainable at $1500 per person and if you are willing to book for an entire gorilla group you pay $15000 which is termed as “exclusive” experience. This extra-ordinary experience also comes with exclusive tour guide services. For visitors whose interest is tracking the mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park in DRC, permits are obtainable at $400. Your gorilla permits is a very important document when it comes to tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. It allows you to be assigned one habituated gorilla family while in the destination. Obtaining a gorilla permit is done in two ways, one is through the local tour operator in a destination and this has been rated as the fastest. The other is through government agency responsible for conserving national parks and other tourism resources in Uganda you can book through Uganda Wildlife Authority; in Rwanda it is the Rwanda Development Board offices.
Interested visitors are therefore encouraged to plan their gorilla safaris in advance prior traveling to the destination for the actual trek. You need to contact the local tour operator earlier enough to help book for you the permit at least 4 to 6 months in advance. This will help you to find out the availability of gorilla permits and the speculated dates that you feel are convenient for you to go for gorilla trekking. The tour operator in a destination can also help you book for accommodation facility in park and your work will just be traveling because all the stress has been reduced by the local tour operator.
The best time to go for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking adventures are undeniably the most sought after adventures in the world but also the most debatable. Most travelers who are planning their safaris to Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC for mountain gorilla trekking have been left with or with no clear picture of when it is best to visit the destination for this lifetime experience. Gorilla trekking is regarded as an all year round adventure however, for interested travelers, tracking these spectacular apes in the wild is best done during the dry season in any gorilla destination but this doesn’t mean that there is no tracking the rare mountain gorillas during the wet season! The dry season also known as the high season for gorilla trekking starts from the month of June to September and from December to February and this characterized by less rainfall amount and most importantly, tracking the mountain gorillas during this season simpler since the habitat is kept drier and the hiking through the terrain and thick vegetation is easier. Unlike the rainy season which is also termed as the low season, tracking the mountain gorillas in the wild tends to be strenuous especially where the habitat can be muddy and slippery making it a big challenge for trekkers to hike through the thick forest and the steep slopes. The advantage with the low season that, some destinations offer discounted permits for instance in Uganda at $450 and DRC at around $200 in the month of April, May and November. However, due to unpredictable weather pattern, expect rains at any time whether it is a dry season or the wet season.
Where to go for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking is usually conducted in habituated gorilla families. In Uganda, there are 12 habituated groups that have been set for both gorilla trekking and research. Depending on where your permit will direct you, Bwindi has 4 main tracking trails which include Buhoma sector in the North which features 3 gorilla families (Habinyanja, Mubare and Rushegura), Ruhija in the East that features 2 families (Oruzogo, Bitukura, Kyaguriro), in the south-Rushaga (Kahungye, Busingye, Nshongi, Mishaya, Bweza) and Nkuringo sector that includes the Nkuringo gorilla group and Nyakagezi in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. In Rwanda, you will track one of the following groups- Susa A group, the Susa B, Ugenda, Sabyinyo, Kwitonda, Umubano, Amahoro, Group 13, Bwenge and Hirwa. The challenge with gorilla trekking is choosing which gorilla group is less strenuous and of which this is where the interest of the many trekkers and yet it is not easy to guarantee especially for Uganda or even Rwanda.
Rules and regulations for gorilla trekking
– These are guidelines to make you have the best experience while in the destination with the rare mountain gorillas, they include;
– Do not leave litter in the park
– Strictly eight (8) tourists are allowed to track one habituated gorilla family each day
– You are advised to always clean your hands prior going to the forest to track the mountain gorillas
– Always keep the voice low while with the gorillas but where need to ask a question feel free and the guide will be there to explain to you
– Keep a distance of 8 meters away from the gorillas at all times
– You are allowed only one hour to be with the group of gorillas
– Do not smoke, eat or drink while you are close to the mountain gorillas
– When the gorillas charge against you, avoid eye contact with the gorillas or simply bow down to show sign of submission and always follow the guide’s instructions.
– While taking photos, flashlights are not allowed and for those with flashlight cameras, please turn off the flashlights while taking photos
– Avoid body contact with the gorillas
How you can know about your gorilla group
There will be tour guide and trackers to accompany you for the trek and while in the forest you are supposed to follow the trail where need be the guide will clear path for you. You will therefore search for the gorilla nesting sites while hiking through the forest. Once you approach the gorillas, your guide will let you know when to set your cameras for photo taking.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking is one of the most strenuous and exhilarating experiences that require you to be physically well. Besides tracking the mountain gorillas, you can also track the lowland gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park whose experience is also captivating.