Having gorilla permits and booking lodge rooms may not be just enough for a successful gorilla trek. Gorilla trekking in Africa involves a lot of preparations done prior to visits. A thorough research about which country to best trek Mountain Gorillas, who the right tour operators are and what are their services and to what prices to they offer these services, the prices and how to obtain Gorilla permits, and of course learn more about Gorillas and the habituated groups. Currently there are 32 Gorilla groups hosting visitors on a daily basis in their natural forested homes in Bwindi, that has a total of 13 Gorilla groups, with Mgahinga, the other place in Uganda in which Gorilla trekking can be done having one at a price of USD600. At USD1500, the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is proud to have 10 Gorilla and DR Congo has a total of 8 Gorilla groups in the Virunga National Park offering the cheapest price for its Gorillas, USD400.
An online google map search can give you the locations of each of these National Parks. The next task would be to figure out an easiest way to reach to these respective destinations. Rwanda happens to be the easiest to reach with a flight landing you right at Kigali from where the Volcanoes National Park is a mere two to three hours drive from Kigali. Mgahinga and Bwindi can be accessed easily through a five to six hours drive from Kigali or from Entebbe International Airport, you can either decide to fly two hour all the way to Kihihi or Kasese or the Kisoro Airstrips and a further one to two hours drive to the National Parks or you can decide to have the best of the Pearl beauty with taking an eight to nine hour drive all the way from Kampala passing via the Equator line where you will get craft shops with handcrafts inspired by the latitude line, the Kigezi and Kisoro hills, the Igongo Cultural center, to have a feel of the Ankole culture and the long curving horn cows, Lake Mburo where you get the chance to spot the Zebras and impalas, and if part of safari plan, you will enjoy thrilling game drives at Queen Elizabeth within the Ishasha well known for tree climbing lions endemic to this part of the country before proceeding to either Bwindi or Mgahinga. DR Congo can still be reached via the Grand Barriere from Gisenyi in Rwanda to Goma in the DR Congo.
From this point on, much of the Safari guidelines will be given to you by the highly esteemed tour operators who will go through Gorilla permit and accommodation bookings as well as transport and generally give you an estimate of the total safari bill at hand. These will further go ahead to advice you on the best time to travel for mountain gorilla trekking, what to include on your pack, physical workout plan. You can also take time to learn the Gorilla trek etiquettes though much you need to know about the Gorilla rules and Regulations will be availed at the National Parks headquarters on the Gorilla trek D-Day, though it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge yourself about, besides the following are further tips for you:
- Trekking Dress code
Wear long sleeve shirts and thick pants
You just can’t help resist the repeated stings from nettles who don’t mind penetrating through well selected long sleeve shirts and pants if not thick enough, or getting a muscle contract as you try pull of your stuck legs on the mud defined, ranger paved routes through the tropic dense jungle of varying terrains. An easy to stretching lightweight long sleeve shirts and thick pants of a synthetic material is much recommended, unlike the hard to stretch moist holding jeans which would be best resisters to the nettles. Still to add on about the nettles, consider having a pair of gaiters as well as hand gloves. The later will not only do this purpose but also help to hold grip of branches as you make your way through the forest of push clear of leaves standing on your way or crawling through muddy hikes.
Layering is usually not for gorilla trekking but consider carrying a rain jacket as the weather is always unpredictable and expect for rain showers should always be at mind.
Hiking shoes and long stocking: look out for a water proof fitting shoes that are light enough and stockings long enough to keep away ground insects as well as leeches in case you decide to trek during the rainy season. You can carry as many as two to three more stockings as you will have to swap the dry and clean with the already wet stockings.
- A check on fitness level
A decent level of fitness is required to make way through the rough terrain hikes which sometimes tend to be slippery making a big deal of a way to get over. At times these Gorillas tend to be spread over a wide range which translates to longer hours of strenuous hikes. Tourists are however given the privilege to choose from different Gorilla groups and it turns out that some are easier to reach than others. So to be able to make a decision of which group to trek, after understanding the different Gorilla groups and their behaviors as well as habitats, one has to clearly understand their fitness limits.
To hint up on trek categories; the shortest trek to choose from ranges from thirty minutes to an hour; medium, from a range of an hour to three hours and lastly; the longest which can take a minimum of ten hours of hikes depending on fitness level. Further still, thanks to the team behind scenes of Gorilla trekking tours, these include; the technical teams well equipped by GPS and satellite phone whose mission is to track Gorilla movements within the park and the tour guides that have done the great job of allocations of Gorilla groups enabling all groups of trekkers to find access to them. Worried so much about your fitness level, these two below will certainly get you going:
- Walking sticks
These can supplement of your fitness steadiness helping you get through the terrains with a lot more ease keeping you steady on the steep and slippery. Well framed to match your height, these hiking poles are gorilla inspired art work that will automatically leave you in ambitions and desire to meet the Gorillas themselves.
The rough mud filled and slippery terrains have never been a problem to these fit ladies and gentlemen who have made this trek a livelihood. These porters, who offer their services at a cheap price, will be right by your side to offer you a hand when it gets to steep climbs as well as descend. These are also interesting people who can talk to you about their ordinary ways of lives and culture and how being a porter has greatly helped to supplement on their income.
- Dry season gorilla trekking
Mountain gorilla trekking can be done any time of the year, however trekking during the dry season is considered most conveniencing as no time is lost to heavy rainstorms coupled by muddy and slippery roads, and so you are guaranteed an awesome and satisfying walk through dry and dusty African tracks. These drier days of the year run from January to February, June to late September and December. The months of March to May are peak of wet season that involves impassable muddy and slippery roads, difficulty photography as vegetations grow dense and tall.
- Pack food staffs and water
Gorilla tracking tends to go as far as late afternoon or even longer hicks taken almost the whole day and requires lots of energy from the body. It is always recommended that you carry food snacks and at least a liter of water to act as food supplements as there is no other food and refreshening stops deep in the heart of national parks. These packed lunches are usually got from Safari lodges or more so snacks got way back from home.
- Carry a camera along
Having a perfect photo shot for gorillas can be a troublesome one most times. National parks are dense mist covered with dark rainy clouds that makes light accessing these forests low. Gorillas at times are in dense forested areas of the forest. This makes the type of camera and lenses you carry an important factor to consider. Latest versions of high quality pixel cameras are on launch every now and then, so you can try as much to look out for a good one to make your memories last. However, for misty and cloudy weather fast lens cameras with good high ISO performance is good enough. Super zooms like Panasonic FZ18 or Canon S5 can produce desired results when it comes to much clearer weather conditions. If possible one can carry more than one camera body with different lenses.
Try as much to shoot videos since this is a life experience you would love to keep fresh on your mind each time you watch, and a recorded video can just do this for you Always put in mind to disable flash lights as these are not at all welcomed by gorillas as it can be quite irritating and disturbing . A point not to ignore is to carry along a waterproof bag to avoid losing your camera to rainstorms.
- A day Back pack
Quite yet another essential for a Gorilla trek. A number of things will you need to carry along such as your, important documents, Digital phones, Cameras, packed lunch and bottled water, extra wear garments, insect Repellants, hand sanitizers, and many other items for a Gorilla trek. So a water proof, Zip locks collapsing day back pack is a recommended must have for safaris.
- First aid kit and preventive medicines
Deep in the jungles, with no other emergency response centers nearby and all you have to turn to is your box well equipped with Bandages, Rubbing Alcohol, Scissors, and plasters for the quickest first hand response to any accidents within the wild. Include in your First Aid kit precautionary medicines such as Aspirins, immodium, antihistamine, Malaria prophylaxis, Coartem, pain killers, antiseptic lotions, bug sprays, sunscreens as well as prescription glasses.
So, with all these said, make the most use of your wonderful stay with gorillas, take as much photos and video shots as you would wish to and enjoy one of the most unforgettable experience in Africa