Gorilla trekking is arguably one of East Africa’s most intriguing and adventurous safari activities. It is the reason why people fly in from different continents to see these endangered species living in Uganda’s glossy green forests. Many a tourist have described their gorilla trekking as an intimate and emotional experience, akin to entering a family sitting room than racing around on safari. Others recall how they felt a “connection” while having extraordinary close-ups with the animals. It’s a magical experience that has left many in tears and awe.
Planning a first visit could leave you nervous and upbeat, but you need not be. There are a couple of things you should know before packing your bags. First, you need to know where exactly it is you’re going. Uganda and Rwanda are two great destinations for gorilla trekking. If you decide upon Uganda, you’ll need to make a choice of parks to visit. From experience, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the ideal and guaranteed destination for sighting large groups of gorillas. You don’t want to spend your cash on tour packages promising you other treks which will only end up in disappointments.
In Uganda, gorilla trekking is a year-round activity, but you should know what time of the year is best for you. The rains are usually heavy between March and May, with a lighter rainy season between October and mid-December. Peak season is July and August.
As soon as you’ve decided what time of the year you’re going, the next thing is to book your permit. It’s an important requirement to partake in any gorilla trek. Though usually arranged by tour operators, it is important to book at least six months ahead. You can also choose to obtain your permit directly from the National Parks. Permit costs are cheaper in Uganda ($600) than Rwanda ($750), so you didn’t make a bad choice afterall.
As soon as you arrive the park, there are some important protocols to abide by before setting out. Your guides, who will be assigned to your trekking group, will reel out the rules. Among others, they include the need to wash your hands before setting out. No eating or drinking once near the gorillas. You should also be quiet and still, leaving a distance of about seven metres. If they approach, you should retreat.
You can ask questions from your guide but with a low voice when near the gorillas. Avoid the trek if you wake up with a cold or flu that morning. The gorillas have no immunity; infact the park authorities won’t let you trek if they find out you’ve got the flu. Flash photography is prohibited, so brace up to capture images in low light conditions. Be sure to protect your camera with waterproof coverings.
Finally, ensure you have light raincoats, wear lightweight hiking trousers and long-sleeved top, slip on hiking boots or shoes with ankle support, as well as gardening gloves to handle nettles on the trail. Don’t forget your binoculars. You should also read some articles and watch some documentaries on the life and kingdom of gorillas. It’ll be prepare you for what to expect.
So it’s time to go. Have fun and enjoy your trek. We’ll love to hear your story and see your pictures. Cheers!
Sam Adeleke is a Writer, Designer, Marketing Consultant and Brand Strategist. He has a passion for creating value by telling stories through the written and spoken word as well as still and motion pictures.