Gorilla trekking undoubtedly is the wildlife adventure of a lifetime. It is by far the most up-close experience in Africa, coming face-to-face with one of the rarest animals on earth. The Mountain Gorilla is the world’s most endangered great ape, found only in protected forests in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo (DRC). At africasafri.in we are honoured to support trekking tourism that contributes directly to protecting rain forest habitats and conserving these elusive creatures.
What does a Mountain Gorilla look like?
It’s often difficult to comprehend just how big mountain gorillas can get, with the silver back males generally double the size of females. They have the potential to stand as tall as 1.82 meters and weigh as much as 226 kilograms. These animals are incredibly strong and muscular, with the arms of a silver back reaching out as far as 2 meters. Mountain Gorillas are social animals, gathering in groups that can be as little as two or as big as forty. Each group is led by one dominant silver back.
The adults generally live on the ground whilst the young with their playful nature like to swing from the branches of the trees and get up to mischief. The females generally start reproducing at the age of ten, giving birth every two to three years. They will generally mother four to six babies in their lifetime. The general lifespan of a mountain gorilla is between forty and fifty years.
After extensive research, several scientists have concluded that humans and gorillas share 98% of their genetic makeup, making the gorilla species our closest living relative. Living high up in the mountains, mountain gorillas are exposed to extremely cold weather conditions and are therefore equipped with long black hair to retain heat, whilst gorillas living on the lower mountain escarpment are much smaller and have a brownish-grey coat and a well-defined temple-bone. The only real predator that a mountain gorilla faces is that of an armed human poacher.
Where to find Mountain Gorillas
A Mountain Gorilla is an endangered species and can only be seen in three African countries – Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The last census estimated the world population of Mountain Gorillas to be a total of 880 with the greatest increase showing in Uganda.
With half of the remaining gorilla population living in Uganda, a rewarding gorilla trekking experience is to be had in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the majority of the gorillas live. There is also a smaller number of gorillas living in the Mgahinga Gorilla Park but these gorillas do tend to cross over into Rwanda.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is situated in the south-western region of Uganda and is a whopping 81791 acres in size. What makes Bwindi so special isn’t just gorilla trekking with one of fourteen habituated gorilla groups, but the abundance of other wildlife that lives in the park. Bwindi affords visitors the opportunity of seeing colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, over 350 bird species and 120 mammal species, including the African elephant and striped jackal.
Volcanoes National Park
The 39537 acre Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda forms part of the Virunga Conservation region and is one of the most popular gorilla destinations. Experiences offered in this region include gorilla trekking with one of ten habituated gorilla groups, hiking the 3800-meter Karisimbi Volcano, visits to the renowned Dian Fossey Tomb, The Twin Lakes of Burera and Ruhondo, cultural village tours and cave tours. Other animals to be seen in the park include golden monkeys, forest elephants, buffalo, hyena and over 300 bird species.
Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park in the Democratic of Congo is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is 1927422 acres in size and is home to two of the worlds most active volcanoes. Experiences to be had in the park include gorilla trekking with one of six habituated gorilla groups, chimpanzee habituation walks, Nyiragongo volcano treks, Rwenzori mountain treks, and visits to Tchegera Island. Other animals to be seen in the park include savanna and forest elephants, chimpanzees, giraffes, African buffalo and several endemic bird species.
Is Gorilla Trekking safe?
Gorillas have been wrongfully labelled as aggressive and volatile animals, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Gorillas are in fact very gentle and shy animals that maintain their composure until threatened. Visitors are instructed to sit down quietly and not make any sudden movements, as this can often surprise the group and result in the silver back male roaring and making mock charges.
The only other time you will see a gorilla go on the defence is when two silver backs challenge one another for territory.
It’s important to know that all the gorilla groups visited in East Africa have been habituated over a period of time – roughly around two years. This means that these groups of gorillas have become accustomed to the presence of humans, allowing these incredible animals to go about their day without being perturbed by their human visitors. Families travelling with children are advised that although some camps accept children of all ages, the age restriction for gorilla trekking is fifteen years.
Best time to go Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla trekking is a year-round activity however there are certain months that are regarded to be better than others.
The dry months of June to September and December to February are the most popular amongst visitors, with days offering more sunshine than rain. December is always a popular month for travel to parks across Africa, so it is always advisable to book your trip well in advance.
Due to the interaction with the gorilla families requiring visitors to hike, the terrain differs from path to path. During the rainy season the ground can become very slippery, making the trek a little more challenging. But whether there’s rain or sunshine, the gorilla trekking experiences run every day.
There are two rainy seasons in Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. The first is shorter from October to November whilst the longer rainy season is during the months of mid-March to end May. Although rainy seasons can see as much as 2000 millimetres of rainfall, most days are balanced with some sunshine and rainfall. During these low season months many of the camps and lodges like to reduce their rates to attract more business. The permits in the Congo are too reduced to further entice visitors to experience gorilla trekking.
Gorilla Trekking vs Gorilla Habituation
On a Gorilla Trekking experience, you are assigned to a gorilla group that fits your level of fitness and your ability to withstand the tougher gorilla treks. After splitting into groups of eight people, you head off on your trek through the forest in search of your assigned gorilla family. You are accompanied by researches and trackers who eagerly share their knowledge of these incredible animals with you. Depending on their location, you could trek for up to three hours before finding them. Once you locate the family, you will have one hour to watch them as they go about their daily life and capture this incredible interaction on camera.
Visitors are generally advised to keep a seven-meter distance from the gorilla family however it’s not uncommon for members of the gorilla group to walk or brush past you.
A gorilla habituation trek is offered in the Rushaga region of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda and is a more exclusive experience with only four people in a group. It’s an all-day affair, and although relatively more expensive than a gorilla trekking experience, the advantage is the extended visiting hours with the family. This experience is perfect for those gorilla enthusiasts or wildlife photographers.
Given the costs of gorilla trekking, most visitors tend to only do one trek during their stay, and will more often than not choose a habituation trek which affords them a four-hour visit versus the one-hour gorilla trek. Either experience though is unforgettable!
Gorilla Trekking know-how and permits
Gorilla trekking is a costly activity due to travel logistics and permits required, travelling to such remote destinations and ensuring the best chances for a successful trek requires first-hand knowledge and experience that you get from booking with one of our Africa Safari Experts.
In order to go gorilla trekking, you are required to obtain a permit before your arrival. Permits are limited, costly, difficult to secure and cannot be held on a provisional basis. It is therefore imperative that your Safari Expert secures your permits before any other travel arrangements are made.
We’ll help you make the most of your time and budget, whether you’re adding a gorilla trek to a safari, or adding game viewing and some time on the white sandy beaches and turquoise waters of an Indian Ocean island. Our packages include accommodation, logistics and permits – we can also help with arranging flights, transfers and any other extras.
What to pack for Gorilla Trekking
When packing for your trip to East Africa we do recommend including these essential items for your gorilla trekking experience. The packing list below is just a mere guideline as you may have your own preferences but please bear in mind that the attire in this part of the world is quite modest.
Boots – a good quality pair of hiking boots will serve you well in the forest. Protecting those ankles are vital so they may be expensive but the value outweighs the risk of breaking an ankle.
Light waterproof rain jacket or poncho – being tropical rain forests, there’s a good chance of experiencing some rain all year-round. Just roll it up and put it in your backpack when you’re done.
Gloves and hat – to avoid being cut and scratched by branches and vines, a durable pair of gloves are essential as well as a wide-brimmed bush hat that offers protection from the rays of the sun. The rest of the group will be envious!
Snacks – the treks can be tough and take a few hours so it’s always advisable to pack energy bars, chocolate, and sugar-coated snacks. Many of the luxury camps will provide their guests with snacks but it doesn’t hurt to bring your favourites long. You will be so happy you did.
Water – you’ll need to drink a lot during the trek so make sure you pack enough water into your backpack. Your accommodation will be able to arrange this for you.
Quick drying long pants and shirts – to avoid being attacked by insects it’s best to cover up and not expose too much skin. Given the possibility of it raining on your trek, it’s best to wear clothing that will dry with the wind Try to select khaki or natural coloured clothing to blend in with the surroundings.
Camera and binoculars – the essentials for tracking and capturing this incredible experience with the gorillas. Remember to bring along extra batteries and SD cards.
Insect repellent and sunscreen – given that you will be trekking through a tropical rain forest, it is advisable to bring along some insect repellent in order to keep these creatures at bay. Sunscreen is a must, especially for those with a fair complexion, as the rays of the sun can be harsh.
Vaccination certificate – yellow fever immunisation is a requirement for travellers to Uganda and the Congo and should be administered ten to thirty days prior to arrival. Rwanda will only require proof of yellow fever should the visitor be travelling from a country with risk of yellow fever. Do not forget to pack the certificate as you will be required to present it on your arrival.
Our 5 day Gorilla Trekking Tour
This 5-day tour affords you the magical experience of encountering gorillas in their natural habitat. The forest teems with wildlife, including the rare forest elephant, giant forest hog and eleven kinds of primates. Your unforgettable experience with the gorillas is complemented with a stay in the charming lake shore town of Entebbe.
There is a lot of planning and preparation involved in a gorilla trekking safari so we do recommend chatting to one of our Safari Experts who can advise you on all the requirements and plan a bespoke trip.