Of all Africa's wildlife encounters little can match the awe-inspiring experience that is mountain gorilla trekking. And given that these face-to-face encounters take place in only two locations and involve animals quite literally on the brink of extinction, gorilla trekking is quite rightly considered, if not a life-changing experience, then at the very least a once-in-a-lifetime one.
It's no easy feat however. Professionally guided gorilla trekking is restricted to Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, two remote parks that protect the mountainous rainforest environment in which the surviving 700 or so mountain gorillas live in family groups - mountain gorillas have never been reared successfully in captivity and there are none in zoos.
You'll need to be fairly fit, suitably equipped for a jungle hike, and healthy - you won't be permitted to go trekking if you have a cold or similar illness in order to protect these disease-susceptible animals. The region's two dry seasons - Mid-December to February and June to September - offer the most comfortable conditions for gorilla trekking but you can still expect a tough day's walk: it's humid, muddy and wet with steep slopes and tangled vegetation. Nevertheless the rewards are considerable: the chances of finding a gorilla family are extremely high - often around 90%.
Furthermore, since the gorilla families are habituated, once the group has been located by your guides you can settle down for an hour to observe the gorillas as they feed, groom and their babies tumble about the undergrowth - all under the watchful gaze of the great silverback male. Sitting only a few metres from a gorilla and looking into its soft brown eyes is a spine tingling experience not easily forgotten.
Gorilla trekking is a tightly regulated activity and we strongly recommend using the experience and planning expertise of one of our Africa Safari Experts to organise your East Africa adventure. Permits are not only expensive but extremely limited and difficult to secure, and immediate payment is necessary as permits are not provisionally held. Browse our range of gorilla trekking safaris and accommodation in Uganda and Rwanda or contact us for advice and tailor-made itineraries.
Also bear in mind that Africa's great ape encounters don't end with mountain gorillas: chimpanzee tracking is rapidly becoming the continent's newest wildlife experience, and you have the choice of several destinations. The Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream National Parks in Tanzania are both set on the forested shores of Lake Tanganyika and offer great chimp treks. Corners of lowland forest in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park are home to troops of wild chimps but many people rank Kibale Forest, conveniently set near Queen Elizabeth National Park, as the best place in Uganda for chimp trekking and sightings of other primates.
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