Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“The great gorilla trekking experience in Africa”



Having the chance to trek through Volcanoes National Park to see the mountain gorillas was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I cannot recommend it enough. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable, and the opportunity to stand only a few feet away from a full-grown silverback gorilla is a breathtaking privilege. Be sure to wear comfortable, sturdy footwear and thick pants to protect against the stinging nettles. Although we could have easily carried our own bags, my family and I chose to each hire a local porter for $10/bag, as they depend on trekkers as a vital source of income. Be sure to take a few minutes away from your camera (easier said than done!) and just watch the gorillas, really soaking in the experience. It truly is a once in a lifetime adventure.
The 1 hour with the gorillas is an amazing experience I will never forgot. We were surrounded by 23 gorillas including a silverback, a few black back males, females, teenagers and babies! There was 7 tourists (max is 8) in our group, 2 guides and 2 rangers so the experience was very intimate!
The $750 permit seemed expensive when planning for this trip but I felt that the money is being put to good use in protecting the gorillas with trackers, rangers, and guides to educate tourists (Gus and Manny our guides were very knowledge and friendly) 10% of the permit fee also goes back to the local community to support schools and services.
We were on a 4 day tour in Rwanda and told our driver we were interested in a medium effort hike and he arranged for us to be placed in the Agasha group 13. The hike was about 45 min through farm fields and 45 min in the bush, relatively easy with only a slight grade to find the group. We lucked out with sunny dry skies. We hired porter for $10 US to carry our daypack, porters can also help you along if needed, but more importantly this gives jobs to local men. Although the porters don't go to see the gorillas, they stay with the backpacks just before see you the gorilla group.
The national park is stunning. This really is the land of a thousand hills. We also hiked Bisoke to the Crater Lake the next day with a group of 8 hikers, a guide and rangers. The permit is $75. The hike goes past the turn off for Dian Fossey tomb where her camp and work took place.
Roads from Kigali to Kinigi are good and traffic and local driving well as well. If I were to do this again I would rent a 4x4 in Kigali and drive myself rather than book a tour, but you really do need a 4x4 and experience driving it for "African massage" roads. Trekked into see one of the gorilla families that Dian Fossey made famous, truly a once in a lifetime experience.