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Published: November 28th 2015
Trekking through lush forest whilst following the tracker who is making a path with his machete. Then you hear some bamboo cracking and leaves shaking...we are less than 2 metres from Lucky the Silverback and head of the Hirwa group, who is tenderly grooming a youngster. Babies stay close to their mothers but still eager to explore; the teenagers are beating their chests and wrestling with each other. What a privilege to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural environment!
Going to see the Mountain Gorillas is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience and definitely one for the bucket list. Words fail me, and I literally had to pinch myself afterwards to prove I was really there!
There are only 3 countries in the world that you can see them – Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo. I had an opportunity to track both the Mountain Gorillas plus the endemic and even more endangered Golden Monkeys in Rwanda with World Expeditions. Most important aspect is to secure your Gorilla Permit (US$750pp), as there are only 80 gorilla permits per day. Not cheap by any means, but totally worth it! The Golden Monkey permits (US$150pp) are limitless.
In Rwanda there are
Lucky the Silverback blowing a cheeky raspberry!
10 habituated Gorilla families that are open to public visits, plus 8 other families used for research purposes. The visit to a Gorilla family is done once per day and the duration of a visit is limited to 1 hour with the allotted Gorilla family. The time spent with them is limited due to conservation considerations, and to minimise impact on the day-to-day life of the Gorilla family you are visiting. It doesn’t seem long but it is surprising how slow the time goes whilst observing them.
Luckily our return trip, including 1 hour with the gorilla family, was very short and only 3 and ¼ hours. This is no guarantee though as the previous day’s group of trekkers for the same gorilla family did not return from their trek until 4pm (approx. 8 hrs).
The endangered Golden Monkeys exist in one group of maximum 120, with 1 dominant male, and live in a similar habitat as the Mountain Gorillas. They are very hard to photograph and can be difficult to spot as they mostly stay in the upper branches of the bamboo forest.
This trip can be done year round. My trip was in May which
is the end of the rainy season. It usually rained every afternoon and evening, but obviously rain can happen at any time of the year.
PROS of travelling during rainy season – Less people; opportunity to be closer to the gorillas being in a smaller group; cooler temps; options for a longer trek if you want to see more of the rainforest and local flora.
CONS – Rain in the afternoon and evening; more muddy and slippery.
- Don’t get sick before your trek! The biggest killer for gorillas is human colds/coughs/pneumonia etc, and if you are visibly sick or coughing then the park rangers may not allow you to proceed on a trek. This is done 100% to protect the well-being and health of the gorillas and monkeys.
- Wear a hat for the Golden Monkeys, as what you think might be raindrops could instead be a monkey going to the toilet from above!
- Don’t underestimate how strenuous the trek can be. I was quite tired after the early starts and the high altitude. The terrain can be slippery and muddy, in thick rainforest with lots of vegetation/undergrowth/nettles, and the
Mother and her young
treks can be of long duration (from 3-9 hours) depending on where your allotted gorilla family and the monkeys are located. I found gaiters invaluable for the mud.
- Recommend taking a local porter. I met an older lady who had bad knees and hired 2 of them who literally carried her over the muddy ground like a princess and a 3rd porter to carry her heavy camera gear and lenses. Considering the high cost of a gorilla permit, for many people spending an extra US$10 for a local porter was the best $10 that they spent. It not only made for a more enjoyable trek, but the money goes directly to the community, which increases local support to conserve the gorillas and prevents the locals poaching or trying to harm the gorillas by using snares for local game, or further destroying their habitat by farming.
Finally on the last day we returned to Kigali and visited Gisozi Genocide Museum-Memorial. This museum has been well curated, and I found it extremely moving. It has a self-guided tour with audio guide and map, so allowed for plenty of time for personal reflection. The graphic exhibits could be upsetting for
Check out those humans!
some people though, like being at Auschwitz or the Killing Fields.
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