Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda allows visitors to observe gorilla families during their daily activities. A group of rangers, consisting of guides and trackers, coordinate their efforts to find the gorillas and take the visitors to them. The rangers monitor the gorillas on a daily basis and have a fairly good idea of where they are. However, they are free roaming animals, and their sighting cannot be guaranteed.
Whether in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda or Parc National des Volcanoes in Rwanda, gorilla trekking starts in the morning with a briefing at the park headquarters about what the trek will involve and to check that everyone is well enough to take part. No-one with a cold or flu or signs of other transmittable illnesses will be allowed to trek due to the risks posed to the families of gorillas. After the initial group briefing you are split into small groups and introduced to your guide. He will speak to you about your particular group of gorillas and the etiquette of observing and photographing them. An assortment of vehicles will then transport the trekking groups to the starting points if necessary; this drive can range from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on the locations of the gorilla families.
Most of the hiking is on established trails that lead to the general proximity of the gorillas, but to get close to the gorillas you will be hiking off trail, often in wet, muddy areas, on steep slopes and through thick vegetation. The treks can be quite strenuous, so a reasonable level of fitness is required. When you get close to the gorillas you must leave all of your bags and only carry your camera/ video. This is to stop the gorillas being spooked by or curious about bags and other extra equipment. Due to the nature of the gorillas and their habits, viewing cannot be guaranteed, but the chances of a successful encounter are about 98%.
The mountain gorillas may be feeding, lounging, resting or playing - in an open clearing, in a forest, or in a bamboo thicket. The treks start in the morning and can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours, depending on the location of the gorillas. The time spent with the gorillas is limited to one hour.
The following rules apply when on a gorilla trek:
- Keep a distance of approximately 25 feet between you and the gorillas
- People with communicable diseases are not allowed to participate in a gorilla trek
- Stay in tight group when near the gorillas
- Keep your voices down at all times. However, it is OK to ask the guide questions.
- Do not eat or drink while you are near the gorillas
- Sometimes the gorillas charge. Follow the guides example (which is to crouch down slowly, do not look the gorillas directly in the eyes and wait for the animals to pass). Do not run.
- Flash photography is not permitted
- Children below the age of 15 are prohibited