Rwanda and Gorilla experience
Spending time – even if limited – with a family of mountain gorillas is a truly special experience, and one that will be treasured forever.
Having been fortunate to live and work in Africa for many many years, I’ve had some really spectacular wildlife encounters and experiences – and to be honest – I wondered if visiting the gorillas would exceed my high expectations. I was beyond excited about my opportunity to visit Rwanda and finally have the dream come true, but still couldn’t help but wonder what I would really feel.
The big day..
An exciting early morning departure to park headquarters started the long-awaited big day. Everyone – no matter which lodge or hotel you stay at – gathers at the same time and the same place on your particular permit trek day to meet and have a briefing by the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters gorilla guides and rangers. Here trekkers are put into groups of 8 and are met by their guide, and given a detailed outline of what to expect, which family of gorillas you’ll be trekking to and how to behave during your brief but exciting hour with the family.
We drove to the start point of our particular ‘’family’’ – known by the trackers that monitor and observe the various habituated families – and started our trek. Porters are available to carry backpacks and assist with the scramble through dense bamboo and vegetation. Some families are accessible quite easily, others can be high and in thick forest and take quite a long time to trek to. Various fitness and mobility levels can be accommodated in many cases (ie one can request a ‘’close’’ family and this will be taken into account where possible). Our particular family was very close to the edge of the forest, only about a 30-minute walk in – nothing difficult but dodging and weaving through pretty thick vegetation.
We left our porters a short way before reaching the family – knowing we were close was very exciting. Armed with cameras, we walked further into the forest. When our guide pointed to the first gorilla high in a bush, I felt immediately humbled. I then got very excited, and as we rounded the next bush, we came within 8 metres of a black back gorilla, feeding casually on some leaves. My heart was beating, my palms sweating…and tears formed in my eye. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I stared at this magnificent animal. The feeling of overwhelm, excitement and happiness stayed with me the entire time – it was truly amazing.
We encountered many members of the family of 22 – probably about 15 I suspect – but so hard to tell given that they were climbing in bushes and moving around so much. There was a small 3-4 month old baby that gave great entertainment by hanging upside down off a branch while trying to eat leaves, at least three silverback males who are incredibly impressive, and a number of black back (younger males) and sub-adult gorillas. They were a joy to watch and to be amongst. One is told to stay 7 metres away from the gorillas however they have absolutely no threat from humans, so often they would pass right in front of us, quite an invigorating feeling – especially if it’s a silverback. On one occasion I had a big male gorilla coming right past me and I held my breath, pushed record on my iPhone camera and stood very still – with not even the ability to look to see what I was filming. I knew they were gentle giants, but still felt intimidated and knew that should they want to, they could cause some serious damage. Respect for these primates!!
The whole experience was truly amazing – and definitely exceeded those high expectations of mine – and given the opportunity I’d do it all again!
The rest of Rwanda
Rwanda is a fascinating country and offers much much more than just the gorillas…there are safari wildlife areas, chimpanzee and other primate trekking, history and culture to enjoy. Whilst it is an easy addition to a safari (especially from Kenya and/or Tanzania) due to its easy access and infrastructure, it is well worth planning a complete holiday in Rwanda…chat to us for further information on possible options.
Three important things for gorilla trekking:
- Long pants and a long sleeve shirt are a must – the forests have a lot of stinging nettles that if pricked, can be itchy and irritating
- Gaiters – they help with the mud and branches around your ankles and lower legs, these are highly recommended. Most establishments provide these but if they don’t, bring your own
- Gardening gloves are highly recommended and beneficial – again, the stinging nettles can prick your hands whilst walking through the thick bamboo vegetation. Gardening gloves are perfect as they have plastic/rubber palms and fingers and can therefore help with wet and slippery branches, protect against nettles, and they are thin enough to be able to hold on to things and easy to get on and off when required
- Your hour with these amazing primates goes by quickly, so remember to not just view them through your camera, take the time to sit, watch and absorb and take in this incredible experience
A visit to Rwanda is highly recommended and we’d love to chat to you further about various options. Please contact us to discuss future plans. For a short VIDEO clip on the mountain gorillas, click here.
Tammy Chaplin, Director, Remarkable Africa
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