What to Expect when trekking the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
A safari to Rwanda is not complete until you have participated in the prominent and mind blowing gorilla trekking activity. In Rwanda it takes place in the Volcanoes National Park.
What to expect on a Rwandan gorilla trek
When you prepare yourself to engage in this activity, do not forget to carry you gorilla permit since it is an important requirement before you are allowed to participate in this life changing activity. Similarly, carry your passport when going to the park headquarters as a pre-requirement when for pre-tracking briefing by the park management. This will be verified with your gorilla permit to ascertain if you are the rightful owner of the permit.
Also make sure that you are dressed appropriately and this includes wearing long sleeved shirts and long trousers or long skirts for females and not shorts and this will protect your legs from scratches from grasses or from the stinging nettles, have rain proof jackets because whether in rainy or dry seasons the possibility or it raining or not cannot be predicted and garden gloves that will protect your hands from pricks or scratches from tree branches. Wear rain proof hiking boots that will help you walk through the slippery and muddy paths especially when it rains
Don’t forget to carry your rain proof bag pack for your lunch (preferably snacks), drinks (bottled water or any other energy drinks to quench your thirst), or for carrying your documents. It is necessary to carry a walking stick which will be provided to you and this will support you when climbing areas of higher elevations.
You will be required to converge at the park headquarters in Kinigi by 7:00am for briefing on the guidelines, tips of conduct and safety measures while on this memorable trek. While at the headquarters you will be served with a cup of tea or coffee and free local entertainment in traditional dances before tracking. After the briefing you will be organized into a group of 8 individuals which is the acceptable maximum number of people allowed to track a gorilla family per day. Each group of people will be assigned to track one of the ten habituated Gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park. The gorilla groups are found in different areas in that there are those found in areas that are difficult and demanding to hike while others are in areas that are easy to hike, others are in flat areas while other are in areas of higher elevations. Thus for a tourist to be assigned to a particular gorilla family will depend on the desire/interest, age, health conditions and level of physical fitness of the person. For example guests above 50 years or those with special interests will be assigned to Sabyinyo group because it is the nearest and easiest to find. However the fact that Mountain gorillas are wild animals that are not positioned in a particular location, it becomes difficult to guarantee that they will be found in that particular place they are expected to be. This makes the experience unpredictable but compelling. In dry seasons where there is scarcity of food, they can move far distances in search of food and thus becomes hard to know how far they have moved. Tracking some gorilla families like Susa A group are often times considered arduous and physically fit tourists maybe assigned to it but surprisingly this group may be sighted in an easily tracked location in a particular day.
Before you arrive to the park, usually a group of trackers are sent early in the morning at ascertain the actual location of the gorilla group or their movement, after which they will inform the guide of the group so that they find a suitable way to reach the family.
As a National Park policy, each group of people tracking a gorilla group is comprised of 3 park rangers whereby 2 of them are armed escorts to offer protection to the group against wild animals (one moves in front of the group and the other behind).Incase of attacks they fire in the air to scare away the aggressive animals, however it is rare for tourists to be attacked by animals while on a gorilla trek but it is better to ensure safety of tourists in case the predicament happens than being sorry afterwards if they were taken up un aware/un prepared. The third is a professional and highly qualified tour guide. Also a porter is assigned to you at your desire to help carry your luggage during the hike (recommended though not compulsory to hire. When you use their services, you are supporting the local economy).you will be charged between $15 and $20 depending on the amount, size and weight of your luggage.
Trekking to find the Mountain Gorillas
The amount of time taken to trek and find these giant apes varies from as less as 30 minutes to as long as 6 hours. It is unpredictable and un-guaranteed on the amount of time you will take to sight them because they are wild animals and are not stationed in a particular place that you will go straight forward and find them. During rainy seasons, it tends to be easier to find them because there is plenty of food but this can be hardened during dry seasons because they move to far distances in search of food.
The park is comprised of leafy vegetation, is muggy with rambled and un identifiable trails, so make sure you follow the path of your group’s guide. The terrain can be hilly and rugged with precipitous slopes, muddy paths during rainy seasons and will need to support yourself using tree branches. In case you feel you are tired and need to rest it is better to inform your guide who will recommend your group to take a break/rest.
The real encounter with the mountain gorillas
The moment you sight a gorilla group you have been assigned to, you are only allowed one hour with them. This one hour is one of the most exhilarating moments that you will live to treasure for the rest of your life.
Maintain a distance of 7 meters away from them whether you are watching of taking their photographs. Even when in the event of them running and playing around they come closer to you, it’s advisable to try to move away to maintain the recommended distance of 7 meters. Do not come close to them in case you have a cough, cold or flu because they are close cousins to humans and can end up catching those same diseases. Avoid eating or drinking in the presence of these animals.
Make sure you don’t move up and down but instead sit down or squat down when observing and taking photographs of the gorillas when they are playing on tree branches, feeding, caressing one another, social grooming and moving around and about. Sudden movements can exasperate the mountain gorillas which can get scared or become aggressive. Avoid making noise even if you are excited so it is advisable to remain silent or just murmur among yourselves. Do not use cameras with flashy lights or loud sounds because this can scare them.
Avoid eye contact because they are shy creatures and would perceive direct eye contact as a way of confronting them. Once you realize they are charging by making loud noise or beating their chests, it is advisable to avoid eye contact by lowering your head, this will indicate submission and you don’t want to confront them.
Gorilla trekking is an enthralling activity that any tourist who visits Rwanda should engage in and once you participate in it, it is impossible not to be touched or humbled by the magical touch of meeting face to face with these giant apes.