Many travellers have been inspired to adventure into Africa by the renowned movie, Gorillas in the Mist, showcasing the conservation efforts of American researcher Dian Fossey. But nothing quite prepares you for the wonderful mixture of feelings you experience when you finally get to meet mountain gorillas face to face deep in the bamboo forest of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
For a long time the mountain gorillas in Africa have been under a threat of extinction due to quite a number of issues like diseases, civil wars, exploitation of habitant and poaching. However these threats have greatly been minimised with the introduction of gorilla tourism in the national parks where gorillas are found. Gorilla tourism has seen mountain gorilla numbers rise, as it has largely financed conservation efforts and government projects to ensure protection of the gorillas.
Trekking with Rwanda’s gorillas has become a popular adventure, and for many travellers it is a bucket-list item. A gorilla trekking permit goes for US$750 – allowing you one hour with the gorillas. This fee helps in the conservation efforts as well as promotes local poverty eradication projects for the communities neighbouring the national parks.
Mountain gorillas are only surviving in central and east Africa within the Virunga conservation region and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest within south-western Uganda. The Virunga region has three gorilla parks, with Virunga National Park in Congo, Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park has the highest concentration of mountain gorillas in the Virunga region, with 10 gorilla groups habituated for visitors, and a few others still under research and habituation.
Hiking through Volcanoes National Park in search of the great apes requires visitors to be prepared for it, physically and mentally. It’s challenging, but totally worth the adventure.
Do your research
Not doing your research properly may end up spoiling your entire trip. It’s advisable to do some reading up and look at past traveller first-hand reviews about which gorilla destination to go to, which gorilla family to choose, what to expect during the trek, how long your hike may take so that you’re physically and mentally ready, and definitely who benefits from the money received from your gorilla permit.
Work on your fitness
Trekking with gorillas in Volcanoes National Park requires visitors to have some degree of fitness as it involves long walks and hiking. Even though you’re going for a simple hike, your body needs to be prepared for this kind of exercise to be able to complete the trek. Start training your body early enough, and practise walking long distances every day leading up to your trip. You don’t want to travel all the way to Rwanda and end up failing to hike up to the gorillas.
You don’t have to carry your heavy backpack, there are porters available at trekking starting points who can help carry your pack for a small fee of US$5. We definitely recommend you hire one to assist you on your trek.
Packing checklist for your trip
Your tour operator usually sends you packing information for your gorilla trek in Africa. Make sure you pack everything you need but also be sure to pack light as you don’t want to burden your porter – it’s a long hike! You should bring:
-Lots of water for hydration – pack at least two litres per person.
-Snacks – usually given from your hotel early in the morning before heading off to headquarters for briefing.
-Your camera, batteries and spare batteries to be on a safe side. Your camera should not have flash – it scares the gorillas, and they may become violent.
-Your backpack should be waterproof and so should the camera pack.
-Take a walking stick – this is issued at the trekking starting point, it will be very helpful for support on slippery terrain.
-Carry garden gloves to protect your hands from thorny branches, leaves and stinging nestles. When it’s slippery, you find your self holding onto thorny branches for stability, so you need to be prepared.
-A dull or natural coloured long sleeved shirt and trousers will also protect you from stinging nestles.
-Rain jackets and rain pants.
-Long comfortable stockings, which can be tucked into your pants.
-Sturdy, waterproof hiking shoes or boots.
Buy your gorilla permit early
With so many travellers coming to see Rwanda gorillas, it’s necessary to secure your permit early, at least six months in advance. Permits get booked out quite quickly so before you book your flights, confirm availability of gorilla permits on the day you plan to visit.
If booking through a local Rwanda tour company, make sure they send you a scan of your gorilla permit to confirm it’s been booked.
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