An encounter with mountain gorillas in the wilderness is a countless and extra ordinary occurrence in a traveler’s lifetime. Done in the Volcanoes national park Rwanda, mountain gorilla tourism has presently become a high point for Rwanda’s tourism. The national park is positioned in the Virunga conservation area northwestern Rwanda just two hours drive from the international airport of Kigali. Though the country was hit by the 1994 genocide leading to the death and migration of many mountain gorillas, this putting the tourism sector down. The country has now stabilized and has become the leading tourism destination in East Africa and Africa as a whole.
With 10 habituated mountain gorilla families inhabiting the national park, Volcanoes national park is a home to the highest population of the mountain gorillas in the virunga conservation area. The population is high compared to the neighboring virungas national park in the Democratic republic of Congo with six habituated gorilla families and Mgahinga gorilla national park in in Uganda with one habituated family. The habituated gorilla families in the volcanoes national park include Susa family (Susa A), Titus family, Amahoro family, Umubano family, Sabyinyo family, Karisimbi family (Susa B), Kwitonda family, Agashya family, Bwenge family and Ugenda family. Each family is visited by a maximum of eight people who interact with the mountain gorillas for an hour. During the interaction, travelers are allowed to take photographs though with non-flashlight cameras as whole how different family members carry out different roles in the entire family. Each family is led by the dominant silver back who plans for the entire family on when to move and where to sleep every night. The adult females nurse and care for the babies as the juveniles entertain the family playing and jumping over.
This is a must have for every mountain gorilla trekker. The permit in Rwanda is accessed from the Rwanda development board (RDB) responsible for tourism in the country or through any trusted tour and travel company arranging packages to Rwanda. A Rwanda gorilla permit costs 750usd and requires advance booking and payment of the deposit before the trekking date. The permit allows a traveler to pend an hour with the gorilla family after which they descend back to the starting point.
Though travelers spend an hour with the mountain gorillas, this is after the reaching them. The trekking time varies ranging from 30 minutes to six hour depending on the movements and location of the gorilla family. This means that there is no specific time for travelers to spend in the forest but varies.
Porters and walking sticks
Though not compulsory, porters and walking sticks are very helpful. Porters help in carrying baggage for the travelers and weak trekkers up hills. Walking sticks provide support to the trekkers especially during hiking up and down on the slippery grounds. Importantly still, hiring porters and walking sticks help in supporting local livelihood indirectly, which in turn promotes tourism in the country.
Dos and don’ts
Mountain gorillas are the close relatives to human beings sharing approximately 98% of human genes. This makes them so susceptible to human wildlife diseases such as cough and flue among others. Travelers are required to keep a distance of seven meters to avoid close contacts with the mountain gorillas. Also, travelers with such illnesses are not allowed to trek and also reminded to turn back their faces while coughing and sneezing.
The best time to trek
Though mountain gorillas can be trekked at any time of the year, the dry season from the months of May to September is the best. The grounds become slippery in the wet season making it difficult to hike up and down in the dense forest. However, the wet season is the best for low budget travelers since the permits are sold at 550usd quite cheaper in the low season. Adventure travelers like the rainy season, which provide them with a phenomenal experience.
In conclusion therefore, a gorilla safari is one of the best wildlife encounter in the whole world. Rwanda has been ranked to offer unique tourism package part of which is gorilla trekking. It is indeed a great experience that every traveler lives to remember.