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If you are looking for the unforgettable gorilla safari visit the Volcanoes National Park, which is part of the Virunga massif gorillas. It is from this park you can do double gorilla tour visiting 2 different gorilla families and you can trek each group on a different days. As my wife and I are both over 50years, we asked for easy groups to visit. On day one we were assigned Sabyinyo, and on day two we were assigned Amahoro. Both experiences were completely different, and off course no-one tells the gorillas they are part of an ‘easy’ group.
Our first visit to the Sabyinyo family was a short drive, then a 20 minute walk over even ground to the park entry point. There are trackers following each group. They are in radio contact with the guide so giving updates if the gorillas are on the move. Therefore, these tours in Rwanda are so much amazing to experience on your visit to Rwanda, Africa!
Looking for the gorillas requires you to be fit ready to walk for about a 1.5 hour through the marshy bamboo, and dense jungle with a bit of a climb. Some of our group found it tough and we who had porters at only $15 we managed to find the hike easy.
When we got to the gorillas, it was all worthwhile. The Sabyinyo group has 18 gorillas, including three silver backs and a couple of very young gorillas. We had exceptional viewing as the gorillas played with each other. The young ones were great fun as they rolled down the hill then ran back up to do it again.
At one stage, the number one silverback moved up the hill out of sight so our trackers cleared a path for us to follow. We were literally standing on vines and clinging to vines on the edge of the mountain while we watched. The big silverback then decided to come down the hill straight at us. With very little room to move we squeezed out of his way as he passed within an arm’s reach of me.
All up, our first day took about 6 hours. We just managed to beat the afternoon storm that rolled in around 2pm.
Our second visit was to the Amahoro group. Despite asking for an ‘easy’ group, there was no way Titus could be considered easy. For a start, we had to drive 40 minutes over very, very rough road. Then, we had to walk up, and up, and up. It took 1.5 hours of straight climbing just to get to the park entry. A couple in our group struggled quite a bit as we ended up around 3000 meters altitude.
Once we entered the park, the gorillas were only a further 15-20 minutes in. Instead of the very open area of the day before, this group was in dense jungle. The tracker was leading us but he got too close to the first gorilla sighted in the group – a 12 year old black back. The gorilla charged the tracker, knocking him down and holding him down with his face inches from the trackers. The other trackers made the “it’s cool” noise, and after 15 seconds the black back strolled away.
Despite the Titus group being smaller, we still had a great experience. As the jungle was so dense, our trackers had to keep clearing a path meaning the “stay 7 metres away from the gorillas” rule was not enforced. A couple of times gorillas actually bumped one of us and two young ones tumbled down the hill into my wife! I do think we were fortunate to only have 6 in our group this day given how dense the jungle was which made viewing harder.
Below are the gorilla trekking tips
1) Trek Twice:
These are wild animals so they may move and what was an easy group in the morning becomes much harder than expected. Sometimes they will be in open areas and easy to see, and other days in very thick jungle. It’s a bit of a lottery hence why I booked two consecutive days. If I only had the experience from our second day, I would have been slightly disappointed so it was worth the extra day although that’s not cheap to do two treks.
2) Get a porter:
They will carry your pack, and assist you up and down the steep or muddy sections. One day we had a lady in our group who was having great difficulty keeping up, so two porters linked arms and carried her up the hard parts.
3) Ask for a medium or hard group
Just about everyone asks for an easy group. Consequently, those groups have the maximum of 8 people (we had 8 one day and 6 the next). Given the gorillas roam about anyway, ask for a medium group. They could just as easily walk closer, and you will end up with a smaller group. If you are there during peak season, ask for a harder group. We saw groups with only 2 or 3 people, which would have been great. If you pick a medium or hard group, your porter will do most of the work anyway.
4) Wear Gaiters and Gloves
Prepare for stinging nettles and ants, very nasty ants. I had gaiters as I had also trekked and they made a huge difference, particularly walking through the ants. Even the trackers fear the ants so you need protection against them. The gaiters also provided excellent protection against the stinging nettles.
Take some old gardening gloves as well. They were fantastic on day one when we were hanging on to vines to stop falling down the mountain. Much better than hiking gloves for the job.
5) Bug Spray:
Layer on the bug spray before you go. Face, hands, neck, ears, then your hat and sleeves of your shirt. It’s a must.