The moment you mention Rwanda or Uganda, many people’s minds rush to the endangered mountain gorillas. It is true with no doubt, gorilla tracking is the most sought after adventurous safari done in these two African countries. Every year these two countries attract a huge number of travelers all over the world who live their beautiful offices and homes and come and spend some quality time with these endangered apes deep into the forest.
In Rwanda mountain gorillas are hosted in Volcanoes national park which is located in the northern part of the country.
In Uganda the endangered apes are housed in two national parks; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park . Both parks are located in the south western part of Uganda. Gorilla tracking is regarded as one of the most interesting safari activities one should not love to miss, although sometimes it’s too demanding since it involves passing through the thick and sometimes muddy forest. Many tourists taking gorilla safaris in Uganda are very eager to know how long it takes during the process of gorilla tracking.
The time taken during the search of gorillas is one of the most asked questions by gorilla trekkers. Answering this question is not easy because it involves a lot of variables. The gorilla tracking process can be divided into 2 stages; the first stage is that one which begins from the lodge to the park headquarters. It involves early wake-up from the lodge and then after a cup of tea/coffee, you will be driven to the park headquarters to receive short briefings from the park wardens/seniors ranger guide. This process can be well predictable and it’s generally quite flat and light. Depending on where you slept the previous night, you can easily drive from the lodge to the park; it’s just about 30 to 1hr drive from most of the lodges especially those outside the park although it’s sometimes depends on the speed of the driver and the road condition. During the dry season one can easily drive from the lodge to the park compared to the rainy season which is characterized with tough roads.
The 2nd stage of gorilla tracking is regarded unpredictable and the toughest stage! It involves moving from the park headquarters/park boundary here you are escorted by the park ranger guide deep into the forest and each group involves only eight members. This stage involves moving deep in to the forest to begin the search of gorillas. This stage is unpredictable since gorillas are wild animals. They move freely in their natural habitat so the time taken to meet them can’t be predictable. There are some gorilla families which can be seen easily compared to others. The toughness of this second phase is determined by very many factors including; the weather condition and food location, in that during the rainy seasons, the roads and gorilla paths becomes muddy hence making it very difficult to traverse making the all process of gorilla tracking very difficult and also the food location when there is no food in the forest, the gorillas tend to feed very far making it very difficult to meet them this especially during the dry season.
The physical condition of the gorilla trekkers and the age also determines the toughness of the trek. Less physically fit and old trekkers are assigned to easy to find gorilla families and the young or physically strong are assigned to tough gorilla families although it’s not a guarantee the one seems to be easy to find gorilla families may turn to be difficult and vice versa. In Rwanda the susa gorilla families are known as the tough and difficult to find gorilla families, this group is always assigned to people of below 40 years and those who are physically fit whereas the Sabyinyo gorilla family is known as Rwanda’s easy to find gorilla families and its known as a reliably straight forward to reach group compared to any other Rwanda gorilla family, within 2 hours the gorillas can be seen and by 1pm you are out of the forest. In Rwanda the group allocation is always determined on the date of gorilla tracking this means no one is ascertain to which gorilla family to track in advance. The Ranger guide can assist the trekkers to negotiate with the park wardens/senior ranger guide to assign the trackers to the most suitable group in line to their age, Physical fitness, and interest.
Before heading into the forest to track the endangered mountain gorillas, please note the following
- don’t forget to put on sturdy pair of walking shoes/boots,
- Carry bottled water and sometimes packed food,
- A walking stick is essential and most of the time provided it is provided to you at the park headquarters/ at the lodge
- Carry a bag and it’s much better if it’s water proofed
- Carry a jacket or a rain jacket since tracking is done in the tropical rain forest it can rain at any time,
- Other important things to carry include sun glass, a hat, gloves.
In case you need a porter, you can hire one from the park headquarters, they help to carry your luggage, and in case you feel tired he can help to carry you. Hiring a porter is not a sign of exploitation, it’s just a way how they can earn a living from foreigners and the money they get help to look after their families and pay fees to their children.