Seeing the Mountain Gorillas in the open, in their natural habitat is an absolute bucket-list item for many travellers. Visitors travel from far and wide to their remote territory in the Virunga Mountains or Bwindi Forest for this once in a lifetime experience. For such a rarefied opportunity it’s important to be well prepared so that everything goes smoothly and visitors can enjoy their hour with the majestic creatures without any regrets, focusing only on the moment. We offer this epic encounter on our Highlights of Uganda, Uganda Gorilla Adventures and Rwanda Gorilla Safari packages.
Read below our 5 important tips:
- Hire a Porter and a Walking Stick
At the base, there is the option of hiring a porter and a walking stick, many people think this is unnecessary only to greatly regret the decision later. You may not think your pack is particularly heavy but after 2 hours of trekking in a high altitude, you might have completely changed your opinion. Porters have done the routes many times and are used to the altitude so it is light work for them. It’s also a community upliftment initiative as you are contributing to local employment and in some cases even providing a sustainable lifestyle for previous poachers. A walking stick will also be a great help on your journey and will save you from having to grab onto any trees or bushes along the way when you lose your footing on the slippery paths. Porters will also help trekkers down and up steep parts of the mountain.
- Dress Appropriately
Bear in mind that you are going on a trek through forest and mountainous terrain. Be sure to wear the appropriate clothing so that you are comfortable and prepared, it will make your experience so much better. Shoes should be comfortable, sturdy and waterproof. Hiking boots that go above the ankle are perfect. If you are going during the wet season you might even want to consider galoshes or gaiters as you’ll be wading through large puddles of mud at times. Wear layers so that you can adjust your temperature due to your level of exertion, all your outer layers should be waterproof so a windbreaker or poncho is ideal. And lastly, a pair of gloves to protect your hands is highly recommended. There are some stinging nettles and thorny branches along the way as you move through the thick bush so a good pair of gardening gloves will certainly be handy!
Viewing the gorillas in their natural habitat is one of those breath-taking experiences you’ll want to capture forever, so don’t forget a camera. Be sure to waterproof your camera (using a big zip lock back or a special case) as rain is a natural part of the rainforest. When taking pictures of the gorillas you are not allowed to use your flash as it disturbs the gargantuan creatures. If you have a camera where you can control the exposure set it to ISO 1250 so that the lack of flash doesn’t get in the way of the picture quality. Don’t forget to put your camera down too and fully participate in this once in a life time moment, you don’t want to look back and realize that you saw it all through a lens
- Decide on level of fitness and length of trek
There are different groups of gorillas and they are at different distances from the base, some are only an hour away while some groups are 5-7 hours away. Keep in mind your level of fitness and don’t sign up for a full day trek if you get breathless walking up a hill. It would be a shame to spend the entire trek wishing for it to end and slowing the other visitors down. If you can, start doing some exercise and training at home before your trip you then will probably have a much better experience. However, if you are an active person then longer trek will give you the added bonus of an exhilarating hike in beautiful verdant nature as well as a phenomenal gorilla experience.
- Bring Food and Water
There is no food or water sold along the way, or even at the base. You will need to take some water regardless of the length of your trek as trekking is thirsty and sweaty work, and humidity is very high. But if you are going for a longer excursion remember some snacks as well so you don’t get hungry and let your grumbling tummy distract you from the magical moment with the gorillas.