Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Practicalities and FAQs
Will I Manage The Trek To See The Gorillas?
The length and degree of difficulty of our treks can vary greatly, depending on which gorilla family we are allocated, and the time of year. In the dry season, gorillas may retreat further up the volcanoes, increasing walking time. However, my own personal rule of thumb is that if you can manage a reasonably strenuous Lake District mountain walk, with the odd scramble up steeper sections, then you should be fine.
The walk will usually start fairly flat, through farmland, and once we are within the National Park boundary, build to a continuous incline with some steeper sections along the way. We do have porters to carry all our gear, though, which helps immensely, and they will also help us personally to negotiate the steeper bits. We always go at the pace of our slowest group member, and take regular rest stops.
This can be a factor in whether you can make the trek successfully. We are based at over 1850m / 6000ft in Musanze, and will be climbing considerably from there. To allow for acclimatisation we stay overnight in Kigali on night one, and visit some of the sites in the city the following morning, before heading up to the Volcanoes National Park area. To minimise the effects of altitude we advise nil or minimum alcohol intake, drinking lots of water, eating adequately and getting a good amount of rest on nights before trekking.
How Close Do We Get To The Gorillas?
We are not allowed to approach within approximately 30 feet of a gorilla. Your guides will keep you right and position you in the best possible place for viewing and photographing various members of the group. However, young gorillas in particular, are very inquisitive and don't have an inkling of the thirty foot rule! They will often barrel straight up to you, making for a wonderful and memorable encounter. Silverback males are also likely to break the rules, and seeing one heading your way is heart stoppingly thrilling - just stay calm, stay low and keep following your guide's instructions and you'll talk about this moment for ever!
If you feel ill in any way you should not undertake gorilla trekking. This may be a tough decision for you to make, but please remember that gorillas share almost 99% of their DNA with humans, and are therefore susceptible to our illnesses. With no immunity to those illnesses, however, a simple cold could wipe out an entire family of gorillas. If you are judged to be exhibiting symptoms you will not be permitted to visit the gorillas.
What to wear and bring?
Sturdy walking shoes/boots.
Bring breathable layers as nights can be chilly and walking during the day warm and humid at times.
Neutral colours are generally best when approaching wildlife
Lightweight waterproofs - it can rain at any time in the mountains
Long lightweight trousers that are strong enough to fend off nettles
Lightweight gardening gloves are also handy for this
Wooden walking sticks are provided, but you may wish to bring your own lightweight walking poles.
I always bring a few energy bars along, and water.
Antibacterial hand gel - for those unscheduled wee stops en route!
A torch is always handy in Africa in case of power cut and for extra light when walking around the lodge at night
Camera body (and a spare of some description - even just a phone)
Plenty of spare charged batteries,
Plenty of spare cleared memory cards
Lenses - given how close we are to the gorillas I find my 70 - 200mm f2.8 very useful, although wider habitat shots from a 24-70mm and detail shots at 300 or even a 400mm are also very effective indeed, especially when shooting through foliage. Faster lenses (those that allow a wider aperture and have lower f-stop values) will work best here, as we will often be shooting in cloudy conditions and in the shadow of undergrowth and trees. They will also give a shallower depth of field and therefore a more pleasing blur to the surrounding foliage.
Please note it is not permitted to use flash photography anywhere around the gorillas. Flash must be switched off altogether.
Tripods and monopods are also forbidden here, as unfortunately some of the gorillas have memories of poachers attacking them and their families with spears, sticks and other weaponry. They can't distinguish between camera supports and these weapons, and may be disturbed by any sight of similar looking gear. Your walking sticks will also be collected on approaching the gorilla group.
Some kind of waterproof cover for your camera and lens - doesn't have to be mega-expensive, I've used real cheapies from the internet and they've done the job without weighing me down.
Camera Settings - will depend very much on conditions on the day - we will go through them thoroughly before embarking on our trek.
What About Ebola?
The UK Foreign Office does not view Rwanda as an Ebola risk country,. Many people are surprised to learn that we are actually as far from the ebola outbreak in Rwanda we are in the UK. Africa is that big! In addition, Rwanda's entry policy for those travelling from the ebola zone countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea is much stricter than the present UK policy. If the situation changes we will of course revise our advice, but ebola is not a recognised risk at present and should not put you off travelling to Rwanda.