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Visiting Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda
Feeling adventurous? Enjoy the company of animals? This unique trip combines these two interests in a thrilling experience within the depths of the Rwanda and Uganda jungles with furry up to 6-foot creatures.
Gorilla trekking, a Frontiers International Travel trip, is an up close and personal experience and rigorous hike to observe the human-like gorillas in their natural habitat.
“It adds excitement to the overall experience to be able to see them, hear them and touch them, and it is one of the most adventurous trips you can take anywhere,” says Kathy Schulz, the Africa Department Manager of Frontiers International Travel. “It is a trip that can touch all your senses.”
Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans (The Volcanoes National Park) is estimated to be home to about 350 of the 700 endangered mountain gorillas. Uganda, another popular spot for the furry creatures, offers a tough trek as the gorillas reside within the Bwindi Impenetrable forest. Known for its dense vegetation and vines in the lush rain forest, this terrain makes for an interesting trek to observe the gorillas.
“It was hard trekking, but to be able to locate the gorillas was truly a magical experience,” says Schulz.
Even though sighting gorillas is not guaranteed, adventurers, in groups of eight or less, are escorted by rangers and porters (people who assist in carrying food and water and help with the maneuver up the mountain). These experts are experienced in tracking the gorilla’s movements and habits, so seeing the gorillas usually does occur. Once making it to the furry creatures spot of the day, the visitors can observe them for one hour, limited in respect to the gorillas and maintaining a pristine habitat. To partake a permit is needed, a $500 expense per each gorilla trek day.
“The 500 goes back into the national park and to rangers,” says Schulz. “The rangers basically spend the night out with the gorillas to learn more about them and to protect them.”
From silverbacks, who can get up to 550 pounds, to newborns, these playful creatures can be observed belting out loud howls and pounding on their chests, eating, resting and just being gorillas. Sometimes the furry creatures, who are supposed to remain about two to three meters away, don’t always respect the boundaries of the human visitors.
“With my husband a nine-year-old actually grabbed on his leg,” says Schulz. “He was touched by one, which is a truly incredible experience. It is not supposed to happen but it was incredibly exciting.”
Staying in a very remote but comfortable lodge, partakers start early and head up through the rugged jungles. Travelers are given walking sticks to help with stability, but this trip can get tough when it is muddy. Returning in mid-afternoon the tired trekkers are rewarded with a complimentary massage to ease aching muscles.
“It is really a luxuriously way to be adventurous for someone who wants to be out in the wild, but at the end of the day having the ultimate in comfort,” says Schulz.
With the goal of specifically designing each trip to fit each traveler’s needs, gorilla trek enthusiasts can extend their adventure to include other Rwandan or Ugandan activities.
With plenty of places to visit and sights to see, like the golden monkeys, trekking to Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center, visiting the genocide memorial, climbing Visoke and Muhabura volcanoes, seeing a variety of wildlife in the Kibale Forest or visiting the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Rwanda and Uganda can become a cultural thrill.
“You can go into local village and see some of their crafts and how they live day to day,” says Schulz.
Going to visit the playful human-like creatures has become more popular in the last couple of years. As it is relatively easy to arrange flights to these countries, the trips are often designed to be a couple of hours drive from the airport.
“In the 13 years I have been working here I have never booked so many gorilla treks that I have in the past two or three years before,” says Schulz.
Permits to view the gorillas are limited and can sell out quickly. Schulz recommends booking early for a chance at a magical experience.
“It is not cheap but it is an incredible opportunity,” says Schulz. “It really is just about finding gorillas and spending intimate time up close and personal with them.”