Gorilla trekking allows you to spend time with gorillas in the wild. The gorillas visited on a trek have been watched by researchers for some time as they go about their day to day in the gorilla park in the wilds of the cloud forest of the Virunga Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. As this is the case they have become habituated to people being around them. Each and every trek is then a totally unique spontaneous wildlife experience allowing you to see the gorillas at quite close quarters as they while the day away. Unlike a zoo visit, it is much more personal, a lot closer, quieter and more intimate.
With so few of these highly endangered animals on the planet it is very important that rules are set to protect them including limiting the exposure the gorillas have to people day to day to avoid the transmission of human borne disease, to avoid stress and behavioural disturbances and endeavour to keep their day to day environment as undisturbed as possible. As this is the case there are only a limited number of permits available in each park for each day’s trek. Every visitor must obtain a permit before they can embark on a trek so it is essential to book well in advance. The permits do book out.
The western lowland gorilla is the smallest subspecies of gorilla but nevertheless still a primate of exceptional size and strength. You can visit the Lowland Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This species of gorillas exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism. They possess no tails and have jet black skin along with coarse black hair that covers their entire body except for the face, ears, hands, and feet. The hair on the back and rump of males takes on a grey coloration and is also lost as they get progressively older. This coloration is the reason why older males are known as “silverbacks”. Their hands are proportionately large with nails on all digits, similar to that of a human’s, and very large thumbs. They have short muzzles, a prominent brow ridge, large nostrils, and small eyes and ears. Other features are large muscles in the jaw region along with broad and strong teeth.
Your permit allows you to trek a family of habituated gorillas on a set date. We have a specialist guide based near the parks to assist for each and every trek. He will meet the group and brief you prior to leaving camp to meet the parks authority.
Each trek starts early in the morning. Once ready to go we have a drive to the start point of the actual trek, which could be anywhere from 30 minutes up to 3 hours. For some treks you may even head to a campsite closer to the start point the night before depending on where you are trekking.
Just 8 people in each trekking group head out plus the allocated rangers who will explain the rules and who are expert at locating the gorillas. There is also always security quite close for your trek. The trek itself often commences with a stroll past flower farms before we reach the fringe of the forest. We then head into the jungle for a steady climb into the lower part of the gorilla’s mountain home.
The trek can be over quite quickly or take all day depending on the location and the time it takes to find them. Some sections of the trek can be quite steep and you will trek through very dense (seemingly impenetrable!) vegetation at quite high altitude, up to 3,000 metre. (The highest point in Bwindi is 2,607 metres.) The gorillas can move around as well so it can take a while to find them, and it can be quite wet and slippery underfoot.
Whilst there are never any guarantees you will see the gorillas, on 99.9 % of treks the gorillas are located, and usually they are found within a few hours. We take on average 30 clients to the gorillas a month, and over the past 30 years only a hand full of clients have not seen the gorillas, so your chances of seeing the gorillas are very high.
Once found you have an hour with them as they continue on with their daily routine – feeding (which they do for about 30% of the day), slowly moving and foraging which usually absorbs another 30% of the day and then for the rest of the time they sleep and sunbathe. Sometimes they are found in thick vegetation, perhaps in a bamboo stand. Other times a group might be found in a clearing, which is a very special privilege. Whilst every trek is different once found the guides will carefully push back the vegetation as much as possible without disturbing the gorillas to enable everyone in the group the best views.
You will need to take your lunch, drinking water, hat, sunscreen, something warm and waterproofs with you as well as your camera on your gorilla trek. Gloves are not a bad idea as there are stinging nettles in the park. Tuck your trousers under thick socks to protect yourself from ants. If you are carrying a heavy rucksack or bag, it is worthwhile employing a porter for about USD 10 or 20 a day. This will enable you to slip and slide without worrying about dropping your camera and leaves you hands free to support yourself. A walking stick is also useful.