Gorillas in the mist

Gorilla tracking ranks among one of the absolute top highlights of a trip to East Africa for most travelers, one of the world’s greatest once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Encountering a massive Silverback gorilla and family in their natural habitat, is an amazing and humbling moment. It is estimated that there are only about 880 left throughout the world. Almost half of them can be found in Uganda, and populations can also be found in neighboring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gorilla trekking can be done year round but tends to be more popular during the dry season. The dry season is from December-February and June-September but the temperature itself does not vary much year round. Even in the dry season, the rainforest is a challenging environment: it’s humid, wet and muddy, steep slopes, plenty of insects and thick vegetation. It is absolutely worth the effort to spend time with gorillas in the wild, but be prepared to exert yourself on the trek.

Reaching these family units sometimes requires long hours of hiking through thick forest terrain, but sometimes Mountain Gorilla trackers and tourists reach their target group in just a few minutes of walking. Most guides have this down to a fine art and as the families don’t really move much during the humid times of the day your guide will more than likely take you to where the gorillas were the day before. From there you will follow their trail in search of these impressive beasts. Look out for their nesting sites along the way, tricky to spot, but branches and leaves that look as if they have been crumpled and or plucked from their origin is a pretty good indication that something was here. Each gorilla family generally resides in a certain section of the protected area, so if you are not very physically fit you should be honest about your level of fitness so that your guide can plan to ahead in search of a nearby gorilla family.

As most of us know mountain gorillas are close relatives of human beings, sharing 98% of our genes, therefore making them as equally susceptible. Every traveler needs to keep a distance of at least seven meters and any illness, even the sniffles should not be hidden to ensure the safety of yourself along your hike and the gorillas. Trekkers should try to keep this distance, even when gorillas attempt to come near to them – for the good health and well-being of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. The common and practical guidelines will help to avoid this of course, like always washing your hands before you head out to see the gorillas. Don’t eat or drink while you are near the gorillas and most certainly do not leave any rubbish behind.

To ensure the safety and conservation of our endangered relatives, trekking permits must be obtained and are roughly about $750 per person for a 1 hour experience in a group no bigger than 8 people, minimum age is 15 years. These permits are limited and extremely popular and are sold well in advance, especially for travel in June – October & December – February, so planning ahead is a must to avoid disappointment. The permit will include a guide who will not only help you find the gorillas but who will be knowledgeable about the Do’s and Don’ts when near. When to stop and stand still, crouch down avoiding eye contact, being camera ready and when to keep your voice down. These are wild animals of course and we are in their space.

A trip of a lifetime, an experience very few get to experience. That moment of truth when you come face to face with these gentle giants, those chilling goose bumps – you have never felt so alive!

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