Gorilla trekking is one of Africa’s unrivaled tourist experiences. When you talk of gorilla trekking, we mainly refer to visiting the endangered mountain gorillas because they boast of the best and well-developed guided adventures. The densely forested and mountainous slopes of East-Central Africa are home to over 1063 mountain gorillas, which usually mature to 80-120 kilograms in weight as well as 4 to 6 feet in height. A single adult male mountain gorilla can consume up to 18 kilograms of vegetation per day. These creatures have a lifespan of 40 years.
Trekking and watching the wild mountain gorillas isn’t like going to a theme Park or zoo, owing to the unique natural habitat of these Great Apes. The behavior of mountain gorillas is undeniably complex and the experience of seeing them is always second to none as they always keep moving within their natural environment while looking for food. Questions like how is gorilla trekking done? When is the best time to go for gorilla trekking? are frequently asked among enthusiastic primate lovers.
Therefore, these are the gorilla trekking FAQs;
For primate enthusiasts who wish to trek the mountain gorillas, you will be required to apply for the “gorilla trekking permit” for gaining entrance into the jungles, to trek and spend time with the exceptional Great Apes in their natural habitat. These permits can be applied through the issuing Government Authority (UWA, RDB or ICCN) or through the local tour operators that can also offer a safari vehicle, book accommodation and a driver.
A gorilla permit costs $1500 per person in Rwanda, $700 per person in Uganda and only $400 per person in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
If you plan to trek the mountain gorillas, you have to get to the Park Headquarters by road, after which attend briefing provided by Park Rangers. From the Park Headquarters visitors go through different areas to reach habituated gorilla families and finish after 1-5 hours with a reward of one-hour interaction with the Great Apes.
The freezing temperature, high elevation and dense vegetation are some of the challenges of conquering the Virunga Volcano slopes in trying to find endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. However, the habituation of these Giant Apes and the provision of security in form of Tourism Police, Law Enforcement Rangers and other security Agencies has made the trek for mountain gorillas easier and safer for primate lovers.
There is no specific gorilla trekking season because the adventure is conducted throughout the year. From May to June and December to February however is normally taken as the best time to visit Mgahinga, Bwindi, Volcanoes or Virunga National Park for gorilla trekking. Why this season? These months experience considerably lower downpours hence making hiking trails drier, not muddy or slippery thus less challenging to maneuver through. Just remember that your mountain gorilla spotting percentage is high regardless of the month.
Each year, thousands of primate enthusiasts book for gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda and therefore the choice of what country to trek gorillas from is very difficult than you can ever imagine. Uganda offers two wonderful places for achieving the dream of seeing these Great Apes but one of these places (Bwindi) offers more physically demanding treks), but expect the highest concentrations of these Great Apes.
Generally, it takes around 1-4 hours or even more to trek the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. This later comes with the one hour for interaction and photographing these Great Apes going about their daily routines.
How old do I have to be to trek mountain gorillas?
Visitors of 15 years and above are allowed onboard gorilla trekking tours in Uganda, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Gorilla trekking is not a simple walk in the Park but rather a physically demanding activity that involves hiking through areas of high elevations, covered by dense forest. For this reason, you have to always be braced for a real jungle experience and therefore some of the stuff you should pack for the trip include rain jackets for the sudden rains in the jungles, sunglasses, wide brim hat, pair/s of binoculars, good camera with extra space and batteries, sunscreen, sturdy hiking boots, cotton socks, gardening gloves, energy-giving snacks, long safari pants, re-usable water bottle, long-sleeved shirt, to mention but a few.
The maximum number of visitors required to trek each habituated gorilla family is 8 and this is done to reduce any likely behavioral changes as well as preventing spread of diseases between mountain gorillas and humans.
One hour is the maximum time you will be allowed to spend with the mountain gorillas, regardless of how long it took to find them. One thing you need to note is that this time is sometimes cut short, especially when the mountain gorilla starts charging. Nonetheless, the one hour limit is applied to reduce behavioral changes as these Great Apes have to remain in their wild state, then reduce spread of diseases.
Gorilla treks are undeniably difficult because they involve crossing streams and Valleys as well as hiking hills and maneuvering dense rainforests while searching for the endangered mountain gorillas. This takes 1-4 hours, sometimes even more and this variability depends on how far you will have to move to see them, nature of terrains in addition to the weather conditions.
There are two main ways of getting to the different gorilla trekking destinations-air and road. For air transport in Rwanda, helicopter flights are organized from Kigali International Airport to Volcanoes National Park while for road, it will take only 2-3 hours of driving for about 116 kilometers.
For air in Uganda, you will require a scheduled or chartered flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip to Kisoro or Kihihi airstrip (depending on the chosen destination). Given the fact that Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks are found in the south-western side of the country (in fact close to each other), a road trip of 8-9 hours will usher you to any of the destinations.