Virunga Gorilla Safaris tips, Need to know before tacking gorillas
Tracking Mountain Gorillas in the Virungas is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Until a few years ago, there were only a few hundreds of these fascinating creatures left in the wild.
They can be found in just three places on Earth and you have the chance to experience them in their natural habitat.
When you get the chance to star into the eyes of a Silverback, you will know you are one of a select group of people worldwide privileged enough to have enjoyed this wonderful experience.
To make the most out of your encounter, we’ve put together some tips and guidelines.
There are a number of locations you can enjoy a Mountain Gorilla Safari and among them are;
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda; Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda and Parc National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Uganda and Rwanda are the normal first choices for the majority, due to a history of political instability in DRC.
The hike to reach the Gorillas takes place at altitude on steep mountain slopes dense with vegetation, so you generally need to be reasonably fit to enjoy the experience.
There are porters available to hire at the start of your trek, they can make the hiking easier by carrying your bag and helping you up and down the steepest terrain.
Having a family member working as a porter is an important source of income for many living adjacent to the National Park.
As well as being reasonably fit, you need to make sure you are also in good health at the time of tracking.
Those suffering from contagious illnesses will not be allowed to trek.
Gorillas are highly susceptible to infection, so if you are suffering from a cold, influenza or diarrhea you must report it to the guide at the park headquarters.
If you do, it is more likely you will be refunded the cost of your permit.
Non-disclosure will mean you will be barred from tracking and the cost of the permit will not be refunded.
The gorillas cover large distances overnight.
The guides will use their knowledge of the gorillas’ habits and information from the previous day to locate the group’s whereabouts.
So the time taken to trek the gorillas can vary enormously. It may be as little as two hours to as long as 9 hours before returning to camp.
Once you have reached the group, you will be allowed up to one hour in the company of these magnificent beasts.
The porters will stay some distance behind with your day bags and only the permit holders are allowed to join the Gorilla group.
No smoking, eating or drinking is allowed within 200 meters of the Mountain Gorilla group, so make sure you take a drink of water before leaving your day bag with the porters.
If your trek to find the gorillas has not been unusually long, you are likely to visit them during their long midday rest and play period.
At this time of day, the dominant male, the Silverback, generally lounges on the ground or against a tree while youngsters roll in the vegetation and climb on trees, vines, and each other.
The females nurse and play with their infants.
It is a fascinating sight and the time will pass all too quickly.
The rain-forest is called ‘rainforest’ for a reason, so be prepared for the sudden or unexpected change in the weather.
Wear lightweight hiking trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, but be sure to take waterproofs as well, including a hat and over-trousers if you have them.
Wear a pair of light, waterproof hiking boots or walking shoes with thick tread soles and walking socks.
Carry a spare pair of walking socks in case you wish to change them at some point.
Finally, carry a pair of gardening-style gloves in your backpack. This is in case you need to grab onto any passing vegetation to support yourself when climbing up or down the steep terrain.
Wearing gloves will help prevent unwanted contact with insects or sharp thorns. You may not need them, but if you do, you will be thankful you brought them!
Of course, you will want to take some photographs of your experience to remember your Gorilla safari.
In both cases, make sure you turn off your flash and any sound effects so that Gorillas and the rest of the trekking group don’t have to be distracted by the constant beeping of your camera focusing.
If you cannot switch off your flash, make sure you cover the unit with dark tape to block the light beams.
Your tracking group will be instructed to stay together and crouch down while observing the gorillas.
This is so that the dominant male can see you at all times and the family does not feel threatened, surrounded, or overwhelmed.