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It’s the moment of truth. After a long, sweaty scramble, your guide ushers you quietly into the clearing. Troop 13 are taking their midmorning break: hillocks of black fur protrude from the glossy greenery on every side – a crooked elbow here, a swollen belly there. Above the drip-drip of the foliage come sporadic snores and the soft sound of wind. Yes, there’s little going on, but you have never felt so alive. You inch forward and reach for your camera.
David Attenborough’s breathless encounter with mountain gorillas in 1979’s Life on Earth remains an all-time television favourite. Back then, such an experience had seemed as improbable as walking with dinosaurs, and just as dangerous. Today we know better: we have nothing to fear from these gentle and highly endangered primates. And visiting them in their natural habitat – the mountain forests of equatorial Africa – has become one of the planet’s ultimate wildlife experiences.
Scientifically speaking, the mountain gorilla is a high-altitude race of the eastern gorilla, the larger of Africa’s two gorilla species, and distinguished by its denser fur, which protects it from the colder highlands climate. It lives in troops of 10-30 individuals, over which a “silverback” male (named for his cape of white hair) presides. This formidable individual, sometimes topping 200kg, seldom uses his great strength in anger. Indeed, gorillas – compared with excitable chimps – are very relaxed animals.
Today you are likely to go trekking in either Rwanda or Uganda, with security concerns ruling out the DRC for all but the most adventurous. Your first requirement is a permit. $750/£500 (Rwanda) or US$600 (Uganda) gets you one hour with the gorillas, plus the time it takes to hike there and back.
Your trek is conducted under the supervision of park rangers. They will guide you to one of several habituated troops, whose movements are monitored around the clock. Some may feel this makes the experience a little stage-managed. In reality, it is the only way to see wild gorillas. You cannot simply wander off by yourself: the terrain is too dangerous; the apes too elusive; and the rangers too focused on battling poachers to allow tourists to blunder off-piste. Indeed, it is only through the efforts of the dedicated park staff that the beleaguered apes survive at all.
Treks set out daily. Rangers keep park HQ informed by radio of the gorillas’ whereabouts, so sightings are virtually guaranteed. After an obligatory briefing, you will be assigned to a group of up to eight trekkers, plus guides and porters. Each group is allocated to a particular gorilla troop. The trek, including one hour with the gorillas, may take anything from three to nine hours, depending on the location of your troop. If you miss the briefing, or show up with a cold – which poses a serious health risk to the apes – you will be turned away, permit or no permit.
Related Article: 12 Mountain Gorilla Families in Bwindi Uganda
Churchill Gorilla Safaris
Churchill safaris organises tailored Gorilla safaris to Uganda and Rwanda.
Here are some of our running trips. You can choose to book as an individual on private basis or as group.
Our group tours are usually between 2pax to a maximum of 6 pax.
Gorilla trekking protocol
What to pack
Before you go
Read: Gorillas in the Mist (Dian Fossey, 1983); In the Kingdom of Gorillas (Webber and Vedder, 2002); Bradt Guide to Rwanda/Uganda (both Philip Briggs)
Watch: Life on Earth – episode 12 “Life in the Trees” (BBC TV, 1979)
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda, Take Your Time and Explore the Unbelievable Beauties of Africa
If you have ever been gorilla trekking in Rwanda, you will definately return to the place. You will want to return and repeat the experience because the incredible setting of Rwandas Park National des Volcans (the National Park of Volcanoes) is like nowhere else in the world and is the park that provided the scenery for the famous movie, Gorillas in the Mist. After spending time with the gorillas, these huge, energetic, wonderful creatures, provides such a sense of oneness with nature that you will be longing to feel its tranquility and excitement again.
When it comes to gorilla trekking, Rwanda does not offer the same density of Gorillas as Uganda, actually there are only about 900 gorillas left in the region – but gorilla trekking here is just as exciting as it is in Uganda, as the spottings of these rare animals are just as frequent, and the spotting sites are much easier to get to than in Uganda. The wildlife reserves offer spectacular game viewing opportunities besides gorillas as well and the flora of the region is also unique.
Related Article: Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Groups
The Gorilla Safari, Rwanda National Parks and Their Attractions
The gorilla spotting trips can last from two days to more than a week. Organized tours usually depart from Kigali. The trekkers go to Akagera National Park, a land of swamps, famous for frequent spottings of hippos and elephants. Trips then usually progress towards Nyungwe Forest, the home of the giant lobelia, some amazing bird species unique to the region, and orchids.
Churchill Safaris has great experience in organizing trips of gorilla trekking in Rwanda and we have earned an excellent reputation as a reliable and flexible tour operators.
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