Several travelers for the past decades have come to endorse that gorilla trekking experience is one of the most emotional and intimate wildlife encounter in the world. Travelers feel the one-on-one interaction with these calm, adorable creatures to be magical, and one of a kind you can’t easily find on earth.
Mountain gorillas dwell in two distinct regions of Africa, in Virunga conservation area which spreads across Rwanda, D.R. Congo and Uganda, plus Bwindi impenetrable national park in south western Uganda. This region where the mountain gorillas dwell is one of the most mountainous region in East and central Africa, with altitude ranging from 2,500 to 3,350m (8,200 to 11,000 feet) above sea level.
Even though not elevated enough to cause altitude sickness, but trekkers may experience heavy breathing along the trek and may require several breaks before they meet up with a gorilla family. This applies to both aged trekkers and even younger, more energetic ones.
The altitude will doubtlessly cause one to find the trek more tiring and strenuous, but serious and severe altitude sickness is not always a problem to the travelers. The ranger guides are highly trained and they always pace the walk according to the slowest member of the group, and surely everyone achieves their magical hour with mountain gorillas in the wild.
These high altitude regions where mountain gorillas live can surely be challenging depending on the region and national park. Some gorilla regions and families are harder to trek than others; and so some pre-trek training is generally essential for one to get acclimatized to the rugged steep slopes.
The Mountain gorilla trekking experience
With only about 1000 mountain gorillas left on the face of earth, approximately 300 dwell in Volcanoes national park in Rwanda, 100 in D.R. Congo’s Virunga national park and over 600 mountain gorillas dwell in Uganda’s best duo – Mgahinga and Bwindi impenetrable national parks.
A typical gorilla trek experience begins at 7:00am with a simple briefing at the park headquarters. During this briefing, the head guide gives a brief description about a particular gorilla destination, mountain gorilla composition and outlines basic rules and regulations to be followed during the search for the allocated gorilla family.
Typically, a gorilla trek begins 7:30am – 8:00am and lasts between 1-8 hours depending on how fast one locates a family of mountain gorillas. The gorilla trek traverses the rich and bio diverse montane ecosystems, characterized by bamboo plantations, open grasslands, swamps and heath. The terrain can rugged, steep and slippery especially during wet season. The trek is soon rewarded with a one – on – one encounter with a lively gorilla family, composed of gigantic silverback, playful juveniles and caring mothers.
Spend a magical one hour in their midst as you watch them play, forage, rest and going about their routine. On a lucky day, the lead silverback may emerge from the bushes and pound their check rapidly to demonstrate its sheer strength and dominance of the entire family. This is a special thrill that may make your heart pounce several times, but at the same time reward you with unforgettable memories.
While planning for a gorilla trekking encounter in Africa, ensure to book a gorilla permit in advance as these are highly demanded, especially in peak seasons, choose the right months to travel and make sure you carry appropriate clothes to counter any likelihood of altitude sickness while trekking gorillas.