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Gorilla Trekking – Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Gorilla Trekking
Trekking mountain gorillas have proved to be a priority for majority travelers who love East African wildlife safaris. On several occasions, many potential trackers ask a lot of questions on how they can ensure a smooth encounter with mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Fortunately, Africa Adventure Safaris have accurate answers to all questions. The frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking and their answers include among others:

Where and when is it possible to track Mountain Gorillas?
Today Mountain gorilla tracking is only available in Uganda and Rwanda whereas tracking in the Democratic Republic of Congo is still on hold due to political instabilities that antagonized the security of Virunga national park, which was the other destination with mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking can be done throughout the year though best experiences happen in the dry season between June and September and December to February. In Uganda, mountain gorilla tracking is more paramount in Bwindi Forest National Park with about 12 gorilla families that can be tracked. Mgahinga gorilla national park is Uganda’s second gorilla tracking destination with one gorilla family of Nyakagezi though the Park receives visiting gorilla families at intervals. Rwanda has got one mountain gorilla-tacking destination in Volcanoes national park, which is also part of the Virunga Conservation Area.

How can I visit Mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda?

In both countries, anyone above 15 years of age is eligible to apply for a gorilla permit. Tracking mountain gorillas is subject to securing a gorilla permit and being allocated a gorilla family by the park authority. Visiting mountain gorillas can be made so easy by tour operators like Africa Adventure Safaris who can assist you in buying Uganda gorilla permits, booking accommodation, transportation and guiding services. Individual tracking is not allowed rather the park authority assigns guides to each tracking group to help them locate the gorilla families and also to ensure that the trackers adhere to all the tracking rules and regulations

How many mountain gorillas are there?

Today the world shelters approximately 1004 mountain gorilla in the jungles of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, Uganda within her two mountain gorilla destinations of Bwindi and Mgahinga has more than half a total population of mountain gorillas and the majority of these are found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

How much do gorilla permits cost?
The price of gorilla permits varies according to the country. A Uganda gorilla permit is currently at $600 whereas in Rwanda the price is a bit high at $1500 before DRC’s Virunga was closed in May this year, their gorilla permit was the cheapest in the region at $450. If you want trek gorillas in any of the countries you need to book the permits in advance. It’s highly recommended to book at least 2 months before your gorilla-tracking safari. There are even provisions for you to do a two-year advance booking. Remember the cost of gorilla permits does not include your accommodation or transport costs and food. Your tour agent company will help you with this. Away from purchasing the gorilla permit, you may need t part with some extra dollars to enable you to accomplish a few things that make your trip a perfect one including tipping your guide and trackers about $5 each. Hiring a porter is also recommended at an additional cost of $15 for a day. The porters help you carry your daypack, assist trek when necessary. The contribution to the porters also provides additional income to the local community since its an employment opportunity.

How does gorilla-tracking compare in Rwanda and Uganda?
The experience of tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda is not so different. Besides, most tour companies like Africa Adventure Safaris Ltd organize Uganda-Rwanda gorilla trips on a joint itinerary to allow you to have the experience of gorilla tracking in both countries. However, there are very few differences and the main one is the difference in the price of a gorilla permit. A single gorilla permit in TRweamda costs 1500usd for all travelers compared to Uganda’s $600 for foreign nonresidents, $500 for foreign residents and 250,000shs for East Africa residents. Depending on this, trackers who are price conscious can opt for Uganda. Both countries have the same policies regarding trekking mountain gorillas including grouping trackers in groups of eight to track a single gorilla family, they both allocate one hour of tracking mountain gorilla and they both have the same rules and regulations while tracking gorillas. Another noticeable difference is in the geography of the parks whereby Bwindi in Uganda is characterized with thick vegetation and with no clear trails while volcanoes national park in Rwanda is less thick and has got some clear tracking trails. The two parks together with Mgahinga all have a rugged terrain.

How difficult is gorilla trekking?
Your curiosity and enthusiasm to track the mountain gorillas is the first engine that will keep you moving on. You must be willing to take on a hike in rough terrain and in any weather to see the gorillas in the wild. Even those who consider themselves very old and don’t think they are hikers or adventurous can also successfully visit the gorillas. This can be done through hiring personal assistants to carry your daypack also to assist you in difficult areas. Besides, the parks’ management also works tirelessly to help you trek the gorillas successfully regardless of all your setbacks. This is done in many ways including assigning you to park guides and rangers to make it as easy as possible to track and photograph the gorillas and also ensure your security while in the wild. Your contribution as a tracker to ensure a perfect and fantastic gorilla tracking experience is called up in what you need to carry for this trip including a pair of gloves and clothing that protects your arms and legs from thorns and nettles. You may also need to do a few workouts to ensure you have a good balance which is very helpful in gorilla tracking as trails may tend to e slippery at times.

How much time can I spend with the mountain gorillas?
In all gorilla destinations, tracking permits allow travelers a maximum of an hour with a habituated gorilla group. However, due to a few inconveniences like if you had a long trek to reach your gorilla family, your guide may allow you a few more minutes. Mountain gorillas are wild and they prefer being in their own company doing their wild activities like eating, playing and mating rather than being surrounded by humans for a long time. This is why the time is restricted to one hour.

How close can I get to mountain gorillas?
The recommended distance between trackers and the gorillas is 7meters although in most cases gorillas tend to abuse this rule by coming closer to you as you stand quietly observing or photographing them. However, you are always encouraged to maintain this distance by staying away from the gorillas and you are not allowed to touch them though it would be easy to do especially as they come closer to you.

Are the mountain gorillas dangerous?
Although mountain gorillas are wild animals just like the rest in the jungle, they are not potentially dangerous. They are not aggressive or prone to be angered by tourists and they always seem to ignore them completely even when they are in their midst. However, you should not try to get in-between a mother and a baby or tease them, don’t use a flashlight, make distracting noises or move quickly as all these actions are deemed provocative to these endangered species.

How old must you be to track mountain gorillas?

The minimum age for anyone to track mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda is 15 years. The park authorities in both countries will verify the age of all permit holders against the birthdate in their passports.

Where to stay during my gorilla safari?
Where to stay in Bwindi
There is a variety of accommodation facilities around all the parks where the gorillas are found in Uganda and Rwanda. Accommodation ranges from luxury, mid-range and budget hotels/lodges/camps to cater for all classes of travelers on gorilla safaris. Fortunately, Some hotels and lodges also offer additional services like vehicles, airport transfers, and other safari services.

When is the best time to track mountain gorillas?
The best gorilla tracking experienced is in the dry seasons June-September and December-February. Generally, the East African weather is very unpredictable and it can rain at any time of the day. All gorilla-tracking parties leave around 8 AM when there is the least likelihood of heavy rain.

Where can see lowland gorillas?

Lowland gorillas are another species of gorillas, which is different from mountain gorillas. There are no lowland gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda but they can be seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega national park. Their retarded increment in the region can be blamed to the fact that they are widely hunted for bushmeat in unprotected areas of their range. Other places in Africa with lowland gorillas include Gabon and the Central African Republic.

What else can do in Rwanda besides gorillas?
Apart from tracking mountain gorillas, Rwanda has also got a variety of other tourist attractions. In addition to volcanoes national park, Rwanda has got Akagera National park for game viewing and Nyungwe forest national park for Chimpanzee trekking and canopy walk. Other activities do on your Rwanda safaris include boat cruises on Lake Kivu, cultural tours and bird watching. You can also to hike to Karisoke summit where Diane Fossey conducted her pioneering research, or else go tracking golden monkeys of Parc des Volcanoes. Besides the Rwanda wildlife safaris, the country has got genocide memorials around the country where travelers visit and learn about the country’s genocide history. Other attractions in Rwanda include Cultural tours, cycling, and paramotoring.

What else can I do in Uganda besides Gorillas?
Uganda has got a lot to offer to her visitors including wonderful cultural tours, game viewing and game drives in her large wildlife parks and spectacular birding experience. When it comes to birds, Uganda may be the best safari country in Africa for a large variety of bird species and great birding safari habitats. Uganda’s determined birders usually see more than 400 species on a 2 weeks Uganda birding safari. While on your Uganda mountain gorilla safari or birding safari trip, you are likely to see many other primate species including golden monkeys and chimpanzees.

What about Chimpanzee Tracking?
In addition to mountain gorillas, travelers on Uganda and Rwanda safaris can as well trek chimpanzees. Fortunately, the population of chimpanzees is far higher than that of mountain gorillas in the wild of Uganda and Rwanda and they survive over a much broader range. Chimpanzees have been habituated and grouped by the park authorities in Uganda and Rwanda for tourists. Uganda has got two main sites for chimpanzee tracking in Kibale forest national park and Kyambura Gorge where you can find a variety of chimps in very large numbers. Trackers are organized in groups of 6-12 hikers. Visitors are accompanied by a park guide to track one chimp community for one hour. Close encounters with chimpanzees are less predictable than with mountain gorillas, though less hiking may be involved.

Tips for a successful mountain gorilla tracking experience
Do advance gorilla permit booking
Pack good boots
Hire a porter
Bring extra money with you
Work on your fitness
Bring the proper gear
Always listen to your guide