This has to be one of the best experiences of my life. I can’t give it any higher praise than that. Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park now comes with hefty price tag, but if you’re willing to part with your hard earned cash you won’t be disappointed.
Volcanoes National Park is located in North Western Rwanda. This protected area is home to 10 groups of mountain gorillas, all of varying sizes. Each gorilla group is allowed one visit by a tourist group each day, for a maximum of 1 hour. Whilst the groups don’t stay in one place they do tend to stay in one general area. The trackers head out every morning to locate the groups but there are no guarantees that they will be where you expect them to be.
Like many, I first learnt about the plight of the mountain gorillas after watching Gorillas in the Mist. This 1988 drama was based on the true story of American naturalist Dian Fossey. It tells the story of her journey in Rwanda as she studies these magnificent creatures. It didn’t end well for Fossey and as a young child I remember being so completely confused and saddened as to why people would want to kill these beautiful animals. To this day I’m still not sure I really understand. However, I am grateful to the work and sacrifice that Fossey and her team went through to raise awareness for the mountain gorillas and for the work that continues to happen to this day. A large part of the gorilla permit fee goes towards anti poaching and education programmes.
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As expected, it was an early start as we were put into groups and given our briefing for the day. We were able to chose what kind of hike we wanted – hard, medium or easy. As the gorilla groups tended to occupy certain regions we would be assigned to a group which best suited our hiking goals. We would head off in our respective jeeps and trek into the jungle to find the gorilla group that our trackers had been looking for. Our hike began from a village in the lowlands and the weather was humid but dry. We spent around 1 hour meandering our way up through the farmers fields until eventually we arrived at the edge of the jungle. After a short break we started our venture into the jungle and were told that the gorillas had been spotted approximately 20 minutes away.
Don’t get too close, don’t look them directly in the eye, don’t make any sudden movements. As we got close to the gorillas these instructions were replaying through my mind. The anticipation was building and I could barely contain my excitement when I caught my first glimpse. Our viewing started with a young silverback and a female who were just lying down and relaxing. I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get and how they were completely unfazed by us. They were just doing their thing – yawning, picking their nose, having a little peek up when one of us moved to get a different view.
Then we moved into the jungle a little more and observed several mothers feeding their babies along with some adolescents being boisterous and playing around. The adolescents were so funny to observe as they rolled around and wrestled with each other. One female decided to run between us and grabbed hold of a member of the group as she passed. She grabbed him right at the top of his leg and I think he held his breath for a moment or two! Finally, we got word that they had found the head silverback just a little way from the group, so we hiked up a bank and further into the dense jungle.
From a distance I could see this beautiful giant and under instruction of the tracker, we inched our way closer. I had just managed to get a few snaps before all of a sudden I was diving into the trees to escape a charging gorilla. As I clambered back on to my feet I looked over to see the tracker lying on the floor chuckling to himself. He jumped up and smiled to us. That wasn’t a real charge he casually informed us, he was just playing with me! Playing, I thought, as my heart rate raced. Not sure I wanted to experience a real charge!
After the excitement of meeting the head silverback, our 1 hour was over and it was time to head back down. It had all gone so fast and naturally we wanted to stay longer however, we completely respected the fact that we needed to leave the gorillas in peace. We bobbed and weaved our way out of the jungle and back into the farmlands. As we emerged onto the open land we could barely keep the grins from our faces. What an incredible experience we had all just been privileged to, observing them acting just like we do. Being able to watch these animals that share 98% of their DNA with us was truly one of the best experiences of my life and one that I won’t quickly forget.
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The park head quarters is located near the town of Ruhengeri, just a 2 hour drive from Kigali. In the town of Ruhengeri there is also a Dian Fossey museum which is dedicated to the work that she carried out with the gorillas.
- Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots to cope with the wet jungle environment
- Waterproof jacket
- Long pants
- Camera – check out the camera I use
- Gloves to protect your hands from the dense jungle
June to September or December to February are the driest months, so is a good time of year to visit. However, it is a jungle so it can rain any day of the year.
Gorilla Permits in Rwanda are now $1500 USD
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