This month we’re celebrating primates, from mountain gorilla safaris in Rwanda to close encounters with chimps in Uganda. Here Mark shares his top gorilla trekking tips.
Where should I go to see gorillas?
Three national frontiers converge on the dormant volcanoes where the mountain gorillas live on the edge of the Rift Valley: Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries protects its own portion of mountain gorilla habitat.
The Rwandan section is called Volcano National Park. In Uganda it’s divided in two and called Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Treks to visit the mountain gorillas are well organised and responsibly guided in both Uganda and Rwanda and this is where we focus our gorilla safaris.
When’s the best season to go?
The best time to go gorilla trekking is during the drier, cooler months. These fall from December/ January to February and June to September.
How easy is it to get permits?
Visitor numbers are limited to six persons per gorilla family per day.
Eight gorilla families in Rwanda and four in Uganda are habituated (meaning they are tolerant of human visitors) adding up to 72 permits in total available each day. Permits cost US$ 520 per person per day in either country.
It’s advisable to book these a way in advance.
Is there a minimum age?
For safety, a minimum age of 15 applies on all gorilla treks.
Roughly how far will I have to walk on a gorilla trek?
Treks start early (08:00 hrs) and can last between 30 mins and several hours before contact is made with the family. Bear in mind that the average altitude is 2,500m so physical effort is more onerous than it is in the UK.
Is it safe?
Before you set off you are briefed about gorilla etiquette and the do’s and don’ts of the trek.
It’s all obvious stuff, but the first time you encounter a silverback, which can weigh in at over 200kg, it’s a little daunting.
The main rule is not to maintain direct eye contact, which is interpreted as a challenge.
Time spent with a family is a pretty mellow affair and the family generally continues to browse and feed in the normal way. The youngsters are usually pretty confident and may well approach you, in which case you need to move away.
How close can I get to the gorillas?
Another of the rules that you will be told about is that you must maintain a “barrier distance” of 5 to 7m between you and a gorilla to prevent any human diseases being passed to the gorilla family.
They are wild animals and shouldn’t be touched due to the risk of passing on infections.
What about if I have a cold?
If you are ill on the day of your visit, don’t go. Gorillas can catch most human diseases, but lack the antibodies to cope with most of them.
Inspired and want to see more? Find out more about our Gorilla Trekking or check out the video.