Written by Sarah Addison
As part of our four-month trip around Africa, we decided to spend some of our time with the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
We were already making our way around Africa when we decided to book our gorilla trek. It was something we really wanted to fit in and after weeks of researching we decided to head to Rwanda and trek into Volcanoes National Park. It wasn’t until we arrived that we discovered the massive price hike the government had put in place for entry into the park – from US$750 per person for a single entry to $1,400 per person per entry. We were lucky to have booked prior to the price hike, the start of our luck in Rwanda!
This trek came at the end of our trip and money was tight, so we opted for just a one-day trek, whereas most travellers we had met were doing the usual two days of trekking.
When we arrived in Rwanda our driver picked us up and drove us through the mountains, stopping at the Kigali Genocide Memorial (which was well worth the visit) before heading onto our accommodation. The landscape was beautiful, with rolling green mountains and exceptionally clean streets – we spent the 40-minute car ride just staring out the window, taking it all in.
Our second stroke of luck was the weather. The night before the trek we went to bed praying for good weather, and it seemed like they were answered as the next morning the weather was cold but clear – in fact exceptionally clear for the mountains!
We departed from our accommodation quite early in the morning and soon arrived at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters where we were put into our designated hiking groups. The locals gathered to perform a beautiful dance and music routine while the trekkers warmed up with a cup of tea. We then met our guides and took off into the park which was a short drive past dozens of farming properties.
Some of the trekkers in our group had hiked the previous day, saying that they had trudged for seven hours through thick mud, mist and rain before they reached their designated gorilla family. Quite the opposite was our hike, which was short and easy and only took two hours through sunshine and visible tracks before reaching a clearing where most of the gorilla family members were sitting.
I had imagined that when we first saw the gorillas we would be peering through thick vegetation, trying to spot them in the distance, but we were surprised to find ourselves in a large clearing, so close and with so many in perfect view. We spent the hour in the same spot watching the incredibly relaxed but lively family.
We witnessed the baby gorilla in the group playfully fighting with his older brother (see video below), both flaunting chest-beating in all its glory. We were surprised by how calm they were in our presence. We were startled when a sneaky gorilla appeared out of nowhere, hovering nearby above our heads in the trees, and again when another one decided to casually and quickly walk past us within mere centimetres.
Because the gorilla family stayed in the clearing for the whole hour we had the chance to take plenty of photos, but also took time out to put the camera down and just enjoy their company without looking through a lens.
The next day we woke to discover a very thick fog had covered the mountains and sympathised for the hiking groups heading out for the day. We caught up with one fellow trekker afterwards and he emphasised how lucky we were to have the weather we did on our hike, as he was unable to see the gorillas as well through all the thick fog.
It was a gamble to travel that far for only one day of gorilla trekking, but thankfully we were fortunate to have had an extremely memorable experience – a very special way to end our trip.
Watch incredible footage of the gorillas interacting in the video below (© Sarah Addison)
EXPLORE RWANDA WITH AFRICA GEOGRAPHIC
Travel in Africa is about knowing when and where to go, and with whom. A few weeks too early / late and a few kilometres off course and you could miss the greatest show on Earth. And wouldn’t that be a pity?