Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
IThe Virunga Mountains that straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to more than half of the world’s entire population the rest live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. In Volcanoes National Park, the Rwandan part of the Virunga, ten gorilla groups are now habituated for gorilla safaris.
Look into the eyes of a large silverback gorilla and he'll look back with a thinking, intelligent gaze, mindful that you're another individual. Any apprehensions or nerves you might have had during your trek will melt away the minute you see your gorilla family.
Gorilla trekking safaris can be done throughout the year. The hiking itself can be more arduous in the rainy seasons from April – May and in November, but at an altitude of 2000m and more, it can of course rain here at any time of the year. The most popular times for gorilla tracking are during the drier months, between December and February, and from about June to mid-September. Inevitably, securing permits for trekking gorillas over these popular periods can be difficult at short notice, so you should plan well ahead.
A maximum of 80 gorilla tracking permits are available each day. Permits cost US$750 per person per visit. You have to be at a general level of fitness, if only to enhance your overall enjoyment of the experience. Walking will be at a slow pace with time for breaks if needed.
Expert guides give a pre-trek briefing on specific protocols and rules for visiting the gorillas that live within an altitude of 2500 and 4000m. Porters are available to help carry backpacks and cameras, as well as helping you with your footing along your hike which can be hard work, but well worth it.
Whilst a gorilla trekking safari is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you, the staff at Volcanoes National Park have been doing this for several years and run a very smooth operation, hence treks to the mountain gorillas are well-organized and clearly structured.
- Mountain gorillas share 98% of our DNA and as such are very susceptible to catching human infections, particularly respiratory ones, but they don’t have our immune system to deal with them a common cold could eventually prove life-threatening. Various rules for gorilla trekking are therefore in place to help protect these precious primates.
- Only one group of tourists can visit the mountain gorillas each day and once you’ve found them, you’ll have just one precious hour in their company. If you have a cold, flu or other contagious infection, you shouldn’t go gorilla trekking.
- You should keep a distance of 7m from the gorillas, although of course the gorillas themselves are unaware of this and will often get very close, in which case you should try to move away.
- When you’re with your group, you should try not to make sudden movements and to keep your voices low so that the group remains relaxed. Although these mountain gorillas are now used to seeing people, do bear in mind that they are still wild animals and can sometimes react unexpectedly, so always heed your guide’s and trackers’ instructions.
- You won’t be allowed to eat or drink when you’re with the gorillas.
- Anyone over 15 years of age can apply for a permit to visit Mountain Gorillas but below 15 years are not allowed.
- Prepare for the possibility of rain at any time of year.
- Wear long sleeves and slacks and bring glove to protect against thistles nettles and thorns.
- Wear durable hiking shoes, you will be off trail in rough terrain.
- Expect you might have a long hike. Be in the best physical shape you can be.
- Understand your camera well; Cameras with built-in video are very good. Telephoto ability helps.
- Listen to the advice of your guide. Trust that he or she really wants you to get great photos and have the best possible experience.
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