When most people think of Africa, they think of the Big Five – elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, leopards, and lions. However, there is so much more biodiversity on this continent than that. Away from the sweltering lowland savannas and jungles lies the misty mountains of East Africa.
The home of the threatened but beautiful mountain gorilla lies in these cloud forests. Thanks to decades of diligent conservation, the numbers of these gentle giants are on the rise. However, you can’t go for a bushwalk and hope to stumble across them.
In this article, we’ll arm you with the knowledge to be respectful and stay safe.
The Best Places to See Mountain Gorillas in Africa
There are only two countries where you can safely see gorillas in the wild – Rwanda and Uganda. So, which country should you choose? There are many factors to consider, but cost is the most significant.
To go on a Rwanda gorilla trek, you must spend 1,500 USD to secure a trekking permit. This document gives you an hour with the gorillas, which is enough time to get great photos and videos, and soak up their presence. There are various Rwanda gorilla tours that will help organize everything and ensure you have a smooth experience.
On the other hand, Uganda’s gorilla permits only cost 700 USD per person. You also get an hour with the gorillas, and just like Rwanda, guides cap group size at eight people.
So, there’s no debate – Uganda all the way? Of course, it’s not that simple – while Rwanda is pricier, this country has more advanced infrastructure, better weather, and more accessible terrain. But if you’re willing to put up with Uganda’s downsides, their cost savings may be worth it.
Getting Your Gorilla Trekking Permit
Places like Volcano National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are not theme parks – they are essential conservation habitats. Because of this, authorities limit the number of permits issued per day.
These permits can sell out up to five months in advance during the high season. So, as soon as you know your travel dates, head to the Rwanda Development Board or Uganda Wildlife Authority website to purchase your gorilla trekking permit.
You will need to provide personal information, passport details, proof of yellow fever vaccination, and contact info for your next of kin. Lastly, note that trekkers need to be at least 15 years old to participate in this adventure.
What to Bring on a Gorilla Trek
Your permit is the most important thing you need to bring on a gorilla trek. Do not forget it in your hotel room – without it, you will not be allowed to set out on your hike.
If you don’t have them already, invest in a sturdy pair of hiking boots. The terrain in the mountain parks is often steep and slippery, so you’ll need all the traction you can get.
Next, be sure to wear long pants on your hike. As you make your way through the jungle, you’ll be walking through dense vegetation. Some plants may not be kind to your skin, and they may harbour biting insects.
Lastly, bring rain gear. Your trip will likely occur during the dry season, but sudden showers can still occur.
How to Behave Around Gorillas
You’ll hike through rugged terrain for hours, searching for the elusive mountain gorilla. But, just as you begin to lose hope, it’ll happen. Suddenly, you’ll be in the presence of these fierce but majestic creatures.
First things first: gorillas may look cute and cuddly, but they are wild animals. Behave incorrectly around them, and your encounter may turn into a dangerous one.
Listen to your guides to prevent this bucket list experience from going bad. They will tell you how close you can get – any closer, and you may provoke an aggressive reaction. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises, and never touch them, even if they approach you.
Make Your African Gorilla Trek an Experience to Remember
Gorilla trekking is one of the most unique experiences you’ll ever have. But if you go into it unprepared, unexpected events can throw a wet blanket over the whole experience.
However, as long as you follow our advice and listen to your guide, we’re confident you’ll have a fantastic time.