Gorilla trekking FAQ, tips & tricks
You’ve read our recent Gorilla blog and are now itching to go and walk with Africa’s great apes, but have some questions about how it all works in practice? Read on…
Should I book a private guide for my trip?
We always recommend a private guide if budget allows. Not only will your guide make sure your journey transpires as smooth as possible, they also help overcome language barriers and offer valuable insights into Gorilla behaviours, as well other local fauna and flora. All of our guides are experienced in Gorilla trekking safaris and can help you navigate the local culture & customs, as well as advise on all other aspects of the trek. They can also assist with photography & more technical aspects of your trip, ensuring you will have memories to keep forever and show family & friends back home.
Contact us to enquire about a private guided safari.
What kind of trek should I book?
On the whole, trekking in Rwanda is a lot less strenuous compared to trekking in Uganda. This key difference is good to keep in mind based on your fitness levels and physical condition. The places where you start and end your trek have got all amenities, bathrooms, coffee station, etc. (Uganda's facilities are more basic than in Rwanda, with only bathrooms). There always are different levels of treks, depending on where in the forest and how far the gorilla families are. After a briefing at the departure spot, you will get split into groups and allocated a gorilla family, based on fitness & ability. Before you leave, speak to your guides carefully about the type of trek you're after. Although there is never any guarantee as to how long/short your may be, the park rangers know approximately where the various families are as they have trackers on them constantly and are in radio comms with them. Here is where your private guide can help tremendously, by ensuring that local guides are aware of your expectations.
If within budget, we recommend to book two treks during your stay so that you can get the very best of the trip. You can then also request to view a different family on the second trip, which will maximise your time with different Gorilla families and individual animals. On a recent trip, Gareth and his guests have had very contrasting behaviour with two different families viewed on separate treks, which was well worth it!
Uganda also offers habituation treks: the Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park gives you the chance to spend 4 hours in the company of the Mountain Gorillas, where you will join the rangers and conservationists in the habituation process of two more gorilla families. It is an incredible opportunity for those wishing to take a more active role in the protection and understanding of these gorillas. It is an incredibly humbling experience, and the habituation process is fundamental to the continued protection of the gorillas. Tourism is the Mountain Gorilla's biggest saviour, providing the vital funds for their protection and importantly placing value on their survival in the eyes of local communities. This particularly rings true for Uganda's population.
At the time of writing, the Mountain Gorilla treks in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo are not open due to safety concerns. Have a look at our Magic of Congo itinerary, if you are interested in seeing the Western Lowland Gorillas in Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of the Congo.
How much does it cost?
Whether you want to visit the Gorillas of Rwanda or Uganda, strict regulations are in place and a trekking permit is a prerequisite. Be sure to book at least a year in advance to avoid missing out as gorilla permits are in limited supply.
Mountain Gorilla trekking permit costs:
Rwanda: $1500 (10% of a Rwandan trekking permit goes directly to the community surrounding the national parks)
Congo: $400 (also for Lowland Gorillas)
Click here to read why costs differ so much.
How hard is a Gorilla Trek actually?
A few notes about the trek to manage expectations:
The walk is strenuous, have no doubt - you will hike up & down hillsides (mountainsides!), through mud and streams. It is very often slippery (you will likely slip and fall at least once - everyone does!) and the forest vegetation can be very thick. The vegetation is definitely thicker on Ugandan hikes compared to Rwandan hikes, though a lot more beautiful in our opinion.
A game changer is definitely to hire a porter. They help you navigate the more treacherous/ steep parts of the track, avoiding the common hurdles along the way, helping with foot placements and offering a hand over obstacles. The porters are local to the area and this is their source of income. By hiring them to help you, you are providing them with a living wage and directly aiding in the protection of the forest by preventing illegal activities.
Things to look out for:
Again, the porters are a great help to assist you with these things:
- Stinging nettles - the guide will point these out but be aware and expect them. They are far from deadly and just like the type of stinging nettles you’d experience at home - but are an incredible nuisance nonetheless.
- Siafu - red biting ants - you will see these in the forest from time to time. Keep moving, and if you can’t move, march on the spot. Keep calm! Check your shoes / legs once you have past through and brush off any that have climbed on.
How fast do they walk on a gorilla trek?
The guide walks to the pace of the slowest guest (no one gets left behind). Aside from a quick water break here and there, it’s pretty much a non-stop walk in and out of the forest with the gorillas being the main and only focus.With the slippery and hilly terrain, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep up with the pace set and there is certainly very very little time for birding or seeing other things in the forest.
The guide is on hand to answer any questions you may have and will point out interesting things from time to time, but to manage your expectations, know that the gorilla trek is very very different from a normal nature walk and there will be very few stops to talk about the forest and it’s wonderful inhabitants. For anyone interested in learning more or experience the forest - the trees, plants, birds and other animals found there - we highly recommend a nature walk is booked in addition to the gorilla trek so that you have the opportunity to enjoy the forest and do some birding.
What to pack for a gorilla safari
Being appropriately attired is key to enjoying your gorilla trek! Here is a list of our recommended items as well as “nice to have’s” to make the most of your experience:
Essential clothing & gear:
- Trousers - hard wearing to slide over fallen trees and rocks, and to protect legs from thorns, spiky leaves & stinging nettles.
- Long sleeved shirt - to protect arms from stinging nettles
- Walking boots - terrain is mountainous, muddy and ground is uneven – we recommend comfortable walking boots (that you have worn in already) with good grip and that protect your ankles.
- Long socks - tuck your trousers into your socks. Particularly useful to avoid the Siafu - red biting ants - climbing up inside your trousers!
- Rain jacket – it can rain at a moments notice in the forest so always have a rain coat handy.
- Backpack – to carry your packed lunch, water, raincoat, camera etc.
- Hat (ideally wide-brimmed) & Sunglasses – very useful for the longer treks as it can get very hot, even in the forest!
- Camera – if you want to capture your once-in-a-lifetime adventures! A 70-200mm lens is perfect for the gorillas themselves. Maybe a wide angle (18-70mm) to take in the landscape and also any cultural visits. A Go Pro will also come in handy for the trekking to capture the whole experience.
* Note: Rwanda has a plastic bag ban, no plastic bags are allowed in luggage.
Nice to Have’s
- Gators - protect your socks & top of your boots, both from biting ants and mud – we’d highly recommend using gators.
- Camelback Water sac and tube - an easy access to water without needing to stop to take your bottle of water out of your backpack every time – this makes having a quick water sip whilst trekking far easier and even more so when climbing a 45 degree mountain side! Every person must carry at least 2.5L of water. It also reduces need for many many plastic bottles as most lodges have a big water cooler you can fill it up with. Save the planet!
- Gardening Gloves - can be helpful to protect against spiky vegetation & stinging nettles
- Waterproof trousers - generally a waterproof jacket will suffice but if you have space in your backpack, a pair of waterproof trousers would be a welcomed item if it pours with rain!
- Binoculars - whilst you might not have a lot of time to study the fauna & flora on your trek, you will want to keep these on hand - trust us!
- Walking stick - will help you navigate traitorous boulders & slippery patches
*Certain lodges will provide you with all essential gear - contact us to book your stay accordingly.
Tipping guideline for a Gorilla Trek
Gratuities are made at your discretion however they are widely expected and openly asked for. This is a guideline you can work from based on your own experiences.
To save awkward moments in the middle of the forest before you leave the gorilla tracking team and at the end of the trek when everyone says goodbye, we recommend preparing your gratuities before you trek and have them handy for when the time comes.
On each trek there will the guide and 2 armed rangers. Ahead of the group there will be an additional 2 or 3 trackers who actually track & locate locate the gorillas for you, plus help to clear the bush during your time with the gorilla family. Finally, you may have a porter to think of as well.
We recommend bringing preferably smaller notes $10's, $20’s. No $1 bills (in most African countries, these are not used and not exchangeable). Keep in mind you might want to buy curios, locally made clothes, and food & drink on the road as well. Bartering is expected.
Guideline per couple - bring cash:
Guide & 2 rangers: USD 50-100 (you can give to the guide and he will split with his security team)
Trackers: USD20 each
Porter: Fee is USD15-20 for the service (paid direct to the porter at the end) plus we recommend an extra $5 gratuity.
Be in the know before you go! Our top Gorilla Facts
- There are around 1,063 Mountain Gorillas estimated in the wild. These groups are isolated into two groups – one in the Virunga Volcanoes (a region spanning three national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) and one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Around 650 Mountain Gorillas live in the Virunga massive system, and around 400 gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in 12 groups.
- The home range of a Gorilla is around 20-27sq km
- An average silverback Mountain Gorilla can weigh up to 180kg (that’s almost 30 stone), and measure 170cm (over 5’5”) tall on all fours. In contrast, female Mountain Gorillas weigh 90kg, and measure up to 150cm (4’9”).
- Gestation - 8.5 months, every 4 years once baby is born. Baby weigh 4lb/ 1.8kg and they breastfeed up to 3-4 yrs.
- Mountain Gorillas spend about a quarter of their day eating, mainly plants. Around 85% of their diet is made up of leaves, shoots and stems, but they also eat larvae, snails, ants, and even roots, barks and rotting wood (a good source of sodium/salt).
- Gorillas sleep together in nests on the ground, or in trees, that they make from foliage.
- 16 different types of call have been recorded from Gorillas- This includes short barks when they’re mildly alarmed or curious.
- To intimidate rivals, male Gorillas strut with stiff legs, beat their chests, and use vocalisations like roars or hoots.
- Most Mountain Gorillas live in stable family groups of around 10 individuals, with one dominant male and several females. Both males and females in the group care for their infants; hugging, carrying and playing with them.
- When they get older, most males and around 60% of females then leave their birth group to join another troop. This helps prevent inbreeding.
- A Gorilla can live to over 40 years in the wild
- Gorillas are classed as infants until they reach around three-and-a-half years old, and adults from around 8 years.
- Males between 8-12 years are called 'blackbacks'. Then from 12 years old, they develop a silver section of hair over their back and hips, earning them the name 'silverback'.
- The main threat to Mountain Gorillas is the degradation of their habitat. As the region’s population grows, the land is increasingly converted for agriculture and competition for limited natural resources leads to deforestation. With little other choice, people enter Mountain Gorilla forests to collect water and firewood, putting gorillas at risk from human contact and illnesses. People may also lay snares intended for bushmeat, which can accidentally injure the great apes. Gorillas don’t just stay in their forests. They venture onto farmland to eat crops like maize and bananas, which can cause conflict with people who need to make a living.
The Wild Wonderful World difference:
With a direct connection between Gorillas, jobs and community upliftment projects, Wild Wonderful World Gorilla experiences give you more than an encounter of a lifetime - they support every level of Gorilla conservation and will expose you to the challenges and complexities, but equally the beauty and successes in the efforts to save Gorillas for our future generations. - Michelle & Grant, founders of Wild Wonderful World
Every Wild Wonderful World safari to Uganda supports the Gorilla Organisation, who work to protect Gorillas and their habitat through an innovative, community-led approach including organic farming, tree planting and gorilla friendly beekeeping. All of these give impoverished communities the opportunity to learn a sustainable income without having to rely on the natural resources found in the gorillas’ forest home.
Every Wild Wonderful World safari to Rwanda supports the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
How to book your trip
Contact us for a bespoke trip of a life-time, or have a look at our Uganda and Rwanda safari itineraries for a taste of what your trip-of-a-lifetime could be like.