The mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla. There are two populations. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The other is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Some primatologists consider the Bwindi population in Uganda may be a separate subspecies, though no description has been finalized. As of September 2016, the estimated number of mountain gorillas remaining is about 880.
Uganda or Rwanda, which is the best country to trek mountain gorillas?
Mountain Gorilla tracking and trekking is conducted similarly in Rwanda and Uganda. Very few tourists choose to track Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo these days due to security concerns and services there are not as well organized. The mountain gorillas of all three countries inhabit similar rugged terrain and have similar habits. Individual mountain gorilla groups vary in their accessibility. The regulations and quality of local gorilla guides and trackers is similar in Rwanda and Uganda but there are as many factors to consider in picking your location within one of these countries as between them.
However a large amount of your experience depends on luck. The gorilla families are not in a zoo but roaming free in a very large area of very dense forest and so many factors, such as the length of your trek or how open the area you end up encountering the gorillas in, cannot be planned for. There are, however, some things you can plan for like your fitness, how much you want to spend on your trip, which gorilla family you want to see, and how much time you have on your holiday. Read this article by Tracy Angus to get a clear picture.
How Difficult can it be to go mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda
One must be able and willing to hike in rough terrain and in any weather to see Mountain Gorillas in the wild. However, many older people who don’t think of themselves as hikers or adventurers can successfully visit the gorillas. Personal assistants can be hired to carry your day-pack and assist you in difficult areas. The local guides will work to make it as easy as possible for one to track and photograph the Mountain Gorillas. We have had numerous clients in their 70’s succeed in reaching their target Mountain Gorilla groups. But many people return very exhausted, muddy and sore if they are not fit enough to go hiking. Altitude sickness is not usually a problem, nor are insects. You will want a pair of gloves and clothing that protects your arms and legs from thorns and nettles. Good balance is helpful in Gorilla trekking as trails may be slippery. And we advise you to hit the gym for a week or two before you embark on this journey.
How much time can I spend in the presence of gorillas
A Mountain Gorilla viewing permit allows you to spend one hour with a habituated group of Mountain Gorillas. Sometimes your guide may allow you a few more minutes, especially if you have had a long trek to reach them and the tourist group is not disturbing to the gorillas. But that one hour is always worth because the experience is incomparable.
How close can I get to the Mountain Gorillas?
Officially you are required to keep a 7 meters distance from the gorillas. In practice, the Mountain Gorillas often violate this rule by coming closer to you as you stand quietly observing or photographing them. It is still helpful to have a telephoto capability on your camera since some animals are shy, and the Silverback may be very protective of the young. You are not allowed to touch the gorillas, though it would be easy to do so.
Are the Mountain Gorillas dangerous?
All wild animals are best considered potentially dangerous and treated as such, but habituated Mountain Gorillas are not aggressive or prone to be angered by tourists because they have been taught to be in the presence of humans. Many people are surprised that the Mountain Gorillas seem to ignore the tourists in their midst completely but there’re a couple of rules that ought to be followed. One should not get between a mother and a baby or tease animals, use a flash, make distracting noises or move quickly.
What else is there to see in Rwanda besides Mountain Gorillas?
Rwanda is a beautiful, green, thriving country, known as the land of a Thousand Hills. The volcanic soil is very rich and subsistence agriculture produces food year around. The genocide of 1994 is powerfully memorialized in a museum in Kigali and at other sites around the country. Visitors are encouraged to partake in these experiences and learn from them. Currently there is no apparent ethnic conflict or significant insurgent or militant activity. There is a dynamic re-building of the social fabric and a commitment to the youth of the country. You might wish to hike to Karisoke where Diane Fossey conducted her pioneering research, or take a trek to see Golden Monkeys of Parc des Volcanes. This park has the greatest diversity. Other wildlife parks of Rwanda generally do not compare in diversity of species or quality of management with the parks and reserves of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
What about Chimpanzee tracking, that’s that like?
There are more Chimpanzees than Mountain Gorillas left in the wild and they survive over a much broader range. The parks authorities of Uganda and Rwanda also monitor Chimpanzee populations and the groups which have been habituated for tourist visitors also require advance purchased permits to visit. Two main sites for viewing chimpanzees in Uganda are Kibale Forest and Kyambura Gorge. You will hike in groups of 6-12 visitors accompanied by a park guide. Close encounters with Chimpanzees seem to be less predictable than with Mountain Gorillas, though less hiking may be involved. In the experience of Journeys International groups, visits to the Chimps of Kibale Forest have been more successful than visits to Kyambura Gorge.
What else is there to see in Uganda besides Mountain Gorillas?
We always advise our travelers to couple a wildlife safari with a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda for the best Africa Safari Adventure. Uganda is endowed with the most beautiful flora and fauna, culture and people. From the source of the Nile, to the wide Savannah planes, to the birds and Africa’s big 5 game, Uganda with remain with you everywhere you go after a Uganda Safari.
Uganda may be the best safari country in Africa for a large variety of bird species and great birding safari habitats. Determined birders often see more than 400 species on a 12-14 day Uganda birding safari. There are also many other species of primates you are likely to see on a Mountain Gorilla safari or a pure birding safari trip. The Ruhenzori Mountains invite more extended hiking. Wetland habitats and Lake Victoria also hold cultural and natural history safari attractions.
Where and when is it possible to track Mountain Gorillas?
Mountain Gorilla trekking is done in Uganda, Rwanda & Congo is a year-round activity. The best time to go on a gorilla trekking adventure is during the short dry season from mid-December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions and the lowest malaria risk.
Mountain gorillas like humans, live in groups of families and the the groups have to be tamed or habituated for tourism. The number of available habituated Mountain Gorilla groups for tourist tracking safaris varies through the year depending on the location of the Mountain Gorilla family groups. Gorilla groups often travel into the Congo or beyond the range of a day trek to visit them. Sometimes Mountain Gorilla family groups travel rapidly, break up and reform, or show behaviors that makes them less attractive to visit. Other habituated Mountain Gorilla groups are dedicated to research and not open to tourist tracking.
How can I visit Mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda?
Anyone over 15 years of age can apply for a gorilla permit to visit Mountain Gorillas. All of the remaining Mountain Gorillas in the wild reside in the volcanic mountain ranges along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and The Congo. Tourists must visit the Mountain Gorillas with the assistance of tour operators like Adventures to Mountain Gorillas. We arrange the necessary gorilla permits, transportation, safari guides and lodging required for Mountain Gorilla tracking. You are not permitted to trek Mountain Gorillas on your own or outside designated areas.
How many Mountain Gorillas are there in the world?
Conservation efforts have led to an increase in overall population of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Virungas and at Bwindi. The overall population is now believed to be at least 880 individuals.
Does I really acquire a gorilla permit to visit mountain gorillas, and how much could it cost?
A tourist must purchase gorilla viewing permits in advance. Current cost of gorilla viewing permits in Rwanda is $1500 and in Uganda is $600 per person for a one hour visit in a group of eight visitors.
This does not include the transportation from the registration and orientation site to the hiking departure point or trailhead. This point may be up to 25 miles away. Your travel agency takes care of this. You may also want to tip your tour guide to keep them motivated.
We recommend you also hire a porter at an additional cost of $15 per trek, as they will help carry your day pack, carry you or assist you trekking when necessary. That’s how the local community makes a little income from the park.
Simple Tips for a great Mountain Gorilla Trekking Safari
- Purchase your permits as far in advance as possible for priority assignment to a choice group and to be sure you obtain a permit at all.
- You will be with a group and guide. Also, consider hiring a local person as a porter assistant, even if you are very fit. This adds a great cultural dimension to the experience and is not really expensive.
- If you have the choice, visit the largest group available to you to maximize the photo opportunities and the different behaviors you will see.
- Prepare for the possibility of rain at any time of year.
- Wear long sleeves and slacks and bring glove to protect against thistles nettles and thorns.
- Wear durable hiking shoes, you will be off trail in rough terrain.
- Expect you might have a long hike. Be in the best physical shape you can be.
- Understand your camera well, Cameras with built-in video are very good. Telephoto ability helps.
- Consider traveling with a companion or friend with whom you will share the lifelong memory of the encounter.
- Listen to the advice of your guide. Trust that he or she really wants you to get great photos and have the best possible experience.