Even the most hateful adventurer in the world, getting there will admit that there is nothing thrilling like standing face to face just a few feet away from a wild mountain gorilla in his turf looking right into gorillas incredibly human like eyes. With fewer than 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, gorilla trekking is not just an extraordinary feeling but a life changing adventure; it’s a valuable economic lifeline for these beautiful endangered gentle giants. If Rwanda Safari trips bring you on a holiday anywhere near the last remaining habitat of mountain gorillas, do not pass up the opportunity to go gorilla trekking in Africa’s most remote Virunga or Bwindi Impenetrable forest in the neighboring Uganda.
Gorilla trekking in Africa involves hiking into the deep thick mountain jungles of Rwanda, Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to encounter and observe a single gorilla family in the wild. You go with guides and potters or park rangers who monitor the gorillas for conservation record-keeping, and help protect them from poachers. They can locate and determine the general area where a gorilla family will be, and are skilled in tracking the gentle giants.
Our gorilla trek adventure in the DR. Congo began in the SUV ride up to the starting point, a rangers’ station in the mountains of the Virunga National Park outside the city of Goma. Because the DR. Congo is less traveled than neighboring Uganda and Rwanda, people and gorillas there don’t see as many mzungu (foreign Whites). The tiny very simple agrarian villages you’ll pass, and the people who run to the side of the road to wave at you, give you a glimpse of a way of life you’ve only read about.
We were told a little in advance that the length of the trek was entirely up to the gorillas — sometimes the guides could track them down in less than two hours, other times it took much longer may be up to 6 hours. Mountain gorillas are nomadic, migrant in the jungle in families and camping out just long enough to clear a wide area of all its fruit, have a nice sleep on nests of leaves, and move on. They don’t follow a clear path, either — so if you’re tracking them, you realize pretty quickly that these big suckers like to meander.
Surprisingly It took us nearly six hours tramping through dense jungle, on a mat of vines that clung to our feet, before finally find the gorillas. There were no trails, just our guides clearing the way with machetes. Moved following on a path forged by gorillas, that much was unclear. Our trail switched back and forth, uphill and downhill, at least once up a sheer cliff face that we had to scale, our heart thrashing, clingy to thick jungle vines. Deeper into the jungle, the sky had just opened up and released a good old-fashioned African jungle downpour when we heard the low gruntings ahead.
The group we saw first were gorilla mothers holding their infant babies, with juvenile gorillas playing around them a sight you would see in any playground in the United States — except these were gorillas instead of people. When we approached, the mamas climbed up some tall trees with their babies and generally stayed high up.
The younger ones came barreling over to us, stopped just a few feet away and started pounding their chests and hooting. Our guide told us they wanted us to play with them, and even though they were smaller gorillas, it was still intimidating. That feeling grew tenfold when a 500-pound silverback gorilla came galloping between us and them … not threatening, but definitely letting us know he was keeping an eye on the situation. The younger gorillas gave up trying to play with us and just played with each other — rolling, wrestling, swinging on vines, and pounding their chests, just like in the movies.
The family was quite a big one, of about 35 gorillas and we only had an hour in their presence (wearing surgical masks to prevent any diseases being passed back and forth between our species). As we watched them, our guides were explaining the gorillas’ behavior — which humans can easily interpret as menacing and we came to realize they were not threatening at all, and just as curious about us as we were with them. The rangers were familiar to them, but mzungu women were rare in this jungle. By the time the hour was up, most of my intimidation was gone, and I got my best photos.
So interested in Gorilla Trekking!
Buy your Gorilla Trekking Permit
These Permits are traded through national park services, and this income helps the park management in their mission to protect the endangered gorillas from poachers and environmental destruction. Many licensed eco-tourism companies in Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC like Rwanda Safari trips limited will help you buy and reserve your permit and arrange transportation to and from the start of your jungle hike. Because the parks restrict human interaction with mountain gorillas (for their health and safety), gorilla trekking permits are limited, and sell fast. Buy your permit well in advance, and build your trip around it.
Get ready for Africa adventure!
Get the recommended immunizations and required visas for whatever country or countries you’ll be visiting. The mountain gorillas’ habitat is right at the intersections of Uganda, Rwanda and the DR. Congo, making it easy to travel a bit around central Africa before or after the trek. Use the U.S. Department of State’s web site for travel advisories to countries in that part of Africa before you go.
Welcome to the African Jungle
Coming with the right equipment is essential for gorilla trekking. The jungle trek can be difficult and take some hours. You will obviously need sturdy trekking shoes, wool or moisture-wicking socks, comfortable hiking clothes, rain gear, a first aid kit, and lightweight sports backpack that can carry plenty of water and snacks. A waterproof camera is highly recommended, since nothing ruins a good camera like a jungle downpour.