GORILLA TREKKING UGANDA VS RWANDA VS CONGO
There is a bit of a debate about the three countries and which one is better for Gorilla trekking – much of it is actually between trekking in Uganda or Rwanda. What isn’t debatable however is the clear fact that mountain Gorillas are only found in the Virunga mountains – shared between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo and comprised of Mgahinga National Park, Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park as well as Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park which is famously known to possess more than half of the entire world’s mountain Gorilla population. The decision of where to go trekking with these peaceful giants comes down to a number of factors including time, budget and supporting logistics. Rwanda Gorilla trekking is considered to be easier because the gorillas are usually seen after just a few hours of trekking but the altitude is higher so you still need to be relatively fit and considering that Volcanoes is a mountainous park, it is ascending from the start. The terrain however is more open which allows for better gorilla watching when you find them and better chances of taking decent photos.
Mgahinga National Park on the Ugandan side of the mountain has only one habituated gorilla family that visitors can see – the Nyakagezi group and thus not many people prefer it. Uganda Gorilla trekking primarily takes place at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with 17 habituated gorilla families to-date. Being a dense tropical rainforest, it can rain at any time in Bwindi even in the dry months and there are no trails so the trek can be more challenging and when the gorillas are feeding in the bushy areas, it might be a bit difficult to take clear shots and your gorilla watching experience might be impacted. Gorilla trekking in Congo takes place at Virunga National Park which is Africa’s oldest national park with unmatched biodiversity but safety is a challenge because of the recent tourist kidnappings and the constant instabilities in Eastern Congo which scares away many tourists. Congo Gorilla trekking is usually combined with a visit to Mt. Nyiragongo – an active Volcano with the world’s largest lava lake. Trekking in Congo and visiting Nyiragongo is a massive, overwhelming experience but safety is still a big concern and the activities are usually on and off which makes planning difficult as well.
Logistically, Rwanda is a clean and safe country with high end facilities and good road network so it mainly targets high end tourists because a Gorilla permit costs $1,500 compared to $600 in Uganda (until 1st July 2020 and then it raises to $700) and $400 for Congo. When it comes down to price, Uganda is an absolute winner because the country is safe with diverse, moderately priced facilities and good road network but the distances between points are longer so you spend more time in the vehicle. Because of the instabilities in Congo, the challenges are many and it is very advisable to stay in Gisenyi on the Rwandan side of the border and only crossover to take part in the activities. Mountain gorilla trekking is an incredible, life changing experience so it will really not matter much where you do it; you will still be contributing to their survival and you will live with the experience your entire life! Let us help you plan.
Best Time of year; when to go Gorilla trekking?
Having made a choice of where to go Gorilla trekking in Africa, this is probably the first thing that comes to mind when planning the next steps. Thanks to its pleasant temperatures, Uganda is a year-round destination – same for Rwanda and Congo. But, of course, there are peak and low seasons that can make the world of a difference when taking crowds and budget into consideration. Generally speaking, December/January through to mid-March and from June through to mid-September is peak tourist seasons thanks to the drier climate. However, if you’re looking to go on a budget safari, then consider traveling during the wetter time of the year. Most rain falls in October-November and April-May, and you might see quite a drop in the cost of going on a safari in Uganda and Rwanda, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to enjoy it. Low season means fewer crowds and more wildlife viewing.
Minimum age for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo
At Gorilla Holidays Uganda, it is our ultimate pleasure to welcome you to Africa and assist you to achieve your dream Gorilla safari in Uganda, Rwanda Gorilla trekking or Gorilla tours in Congo. A visit to the gentle giants in each of these places is an adventure of a lifetime and goes a long way in ensuring their survival. The money you pay for the Gorilla permit goes into their conservation and having the locals as porters and selling their produce to the Safari lodges and tourists uplifts their livelihoods motivates them to protect the gorillas instead of poaching them. We offer 3 Day Gorilla Safaris to Uganda, Rwanda and Congo as well as combined Gorilla tours including game parks for wildlife tours, walking safaris, cultural tours and adventure trips.
Gorilla trekking is a very popular wildlife activity that can only be done in Africa. Mountain gorilla trekking is even more popular and is only possible in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. As more and more people get to know about the activity, the number of travelers heading to the three countries increases each year – so that much the gorilla permits may be extremely difficult to get during certain months of the year. Those who are planning for gorilla often wonder if there is an age limit for gorilla trekking especially when intending to travel with minors.
Minimum age for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo
The age limit for gorilla trekking is 15 years in all three countries but there can be exceptions in Uganda as you will find out shortly. The age limit for gorilla trekking is set by the different government authorities responsible for managing the national parks. In Uganda, it is the Uganda Wildlife Authority while in Uganda it is the Rwanda the Rwanda Development Board.
Why age limit of gorilla trekking is set at 15
The age limit for gorilla trekking is set at 15 because younger travelers are considered to be children who may not be able to deal with any negative reactions from gorillas. Gorillas are very calm and gentile creatures but they can become aggressive when they feel threatened or misinterprete the actions of trackers. Children may not stay calm or lay low when a mighty silverback approaches them or appears aggressive. Screaming or running away could force the gorilla to run after the youngster. The only way to contain an aggressive or charging gorilla is to act submissive and lay low. Mature travelers are better at controlling their emotions in the event that a gorilla charges.
Secondly, mature travelers are less likely to get carried away. They are more likely to follow the gorilla trekking rules and instructions of the park rangers than younger trekkers. The gorilla trekking rules include not littering the park, keeping a distance of at least 7 meters from the nearest gorilla and not mocking or making fun of the gorillas.
Thirdly, youngsters may not be mentally ready for the activity. By the time an adult decides to go for gorilla trekking, they know what they are getting into. Children tend to go for safaris only to accompany their parents. They may not be as excited about the trip as their parents. Completing gorilla trekking requires determination especially if it involves following a gorilla group that is far away from the starting point.
What is the minimum age for gorilla trekking?
Very young children may not be fit enough to complete gorilla trekking. They could slow down the tracking party or request to get back to camp because they feel tired or bored. Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda are found in areas of high altitude. Finding the gorilla group may involve hiking up mountainous and steep areas with prolonged exposure to sunlight. Children may struggle with these kinds of conditions and fail to complete the activity. Older hikers tend to be fitter and possess the kind of endurance and determination required to complete the activity.
Last but not least, very young children tend to get easily infected with communicable diseases like cough and flu (running noses). Mountain gorillas are very prone to human diseases. If they get infected with flu, the results can be deadly.
It is because of the above reasons that the national parks under the guidance of primate researchers set the minimum age for gorilla trekking to 15 years.
Circumstances under which children may be allowed to track gorillas
After reading the information in the previous chapters, you might be disappointed that you cannot go tracking gorillas with your son or daughter whom you believe is mature enough but not yet 15. Do not despair because an exception can be made for a 14-year-old child who is making 15 in the year of trekking. This exception is only possible in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The child must be physically fit and mature enough. Bwindi Impenetrable forest is less steep compared to Mgahinga and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Bwindi also has more forest cover which help shield trackers from the sun.
In order to qualify for this exception, parents may be required to provide pictures of the child to the Uganda Wildlife Authority with information about their physical fitness and maturity. The child must be about to make 15 years (14 years). To prove that the child is 14 and approaching 15, a passport copy will be required as well as current photos.
A child below 15 years of age may also be allowed to do gorilla trekking if they are accompanied by parents. The Uganda Wildlife Authority will require that the parent signs a consent/indemnity form to protect the organization from responsibility in case of any mishap during gorilla trekking. The Park Warden will ensure that the child is an allocated a gorilla group which is closest to the starting point. As a parent, you can make everything smooth for the child by hiring extra porters to carry them in Sedan chair whenever they get tired. Porters and Sedan chairs are also recommended for elderly trackers. If you are planning to do gorilla trekking with a child who is mature and physically fit but is less than 15 years of age, contact us at office
What to do if your child is too young for gorilla trekking
You can still travel with children who are too young (13 years and below) to take part in gorilla trekking. There are lots of interesting activities that they can take part in while you go out to search for the gorillas. Hotel staff can stay with them in the hotel and keep them engaged with games and children’s movies. They can also be taken for nature walks, cultural visit or touring nearly local schools. You can also reschedule your trip so that you come when the children are of age
Note: The Wildlife Authorities in the three countries will require that you send a copy of your passport before issuing out the gorilla permit. Even if you manage to get a gorilla permit without the passport, you will still be required to show it at the briefing point for gorilla trekking. The passport helps the park authorities know if you are eligible to take part in the activity.
Gorilla trekking for the elderly, old and disabled
Mountain gorillas are arguably the most intriguing primates on earth. Everyone wants to see them because they cannot thrive in zoos like the lowland gorillas. To see mountain gorillas, you have to travel to Africa. They can only be seen in three African countries – DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda
Tracking mountain gorillas can be very demanding depending on which gorilla family one is assigned. It is therefore important to go when prepared and in good physical shape. Some gorilla groups live close to the starting point for tracking and it can take only 30 minutes to find them if you are lucky. However, gorilla trekking can sometimes take up to six hours. Distance is not the only thing that one needs to be concerned about when deciding to track gorillas. Like their name suggests, mountain gorillas live in mountainous areas with high altitude (between 2,300 and 4,500 meters). Before getting to the gorilla family, the trek may involve passing through challenging terrain, steep slopes and slippery (mud-filled) trails. These challenges can be a problem for people with disabilities, the elderly, seniors and those who may not be in good physical shape for whatever reason.
Gorilla Trekking for the elderly and people with disabilities
Given what we have already discussed, one could be wondering if gorilla trekking is really something they should go for given their physical limitations or age. Gorilla trekking is not only for the youthful or those who are energetic and young. You don’t have to go for other wildlife encounters and miss out on the very best just because of your age, fitness or physical limitations. In fact, most travelers who go to track gorillas are 40 years and above. You are never too old for gorilla trekking as long as you are allowed on a plane. If you wondering whether to bring you mum or granny for gorilla trekking, then you need to know that it is very possible as long as they can take a flight.
At the time of briefing, the Rangers and wardens will check all the passports and identify all those who may need special attention. In case one is 60 years and above but fit enough, they will be assigned a nearby gorilla family. If you are 60 years but in excellent shape you can request a longer trek to have more fun and adventure in the forest. You don’t have to accept an easier trek just because someone told you to do so. There is a lot to explore while tracking mountain gorillas. You will encounter beautiful flora and fauna (birds, primates, insects, butterflies and moths) along the way.
Apart from hiking ability and physical fitness, the other criterion used for allocating gorilla families is the availability of gorilla permits. When most gorilla permits have been booked, it becomes difficult to get an easier trek. Seniors are advised to book their trips at least three months in advance so that they can get a gorilla group close to a tracking point. Tourists who are doing double gorilla trekking (tracking mountain gorillas for two days or more) will be allocated a different group from the one they saw previously. Only 8 people may track a gorilla family in a day. This is to avoid stressing the primates and exposing them to human diseases through prolonged contact.
It is also important to inform your tour operator about any fitness concerns or physical limitations before booking a trip to see the gorillas. This will help the operator plan according and arrange any special equipment with the park authorities. A special tour van may also be assigned to you as well as porters and sedan chairs if applicable. Your company will add the price of the porters and sedan chairs Gorilla and Chimp trekking for the elderly to the stand cost and share with you. Sedan chairs with handlers, seat belts and a steel-base are used to lift the elderly or those who are unfit to walk for long distances. Another alternative for people with disabilities is to be carried to the forest using a stretcher made out of local bamboo. 12 strong local porters (4 at a time) are assigned to carry the elderly. Only four men can carry the stretcher or sedan chair. The others will take over once the first four need to rest. The porters know the terrain and forest so well and have lived in the area for most of their lives. The porters will carry the elder and never let him/her touch the ground until they locate the mountain gorillas. After spotting the gorillas, the porters will once again lift the elder and return them to the starting point where the company driver would be waiting. Carriers and Sedan chairs cost between $400 to $500 dollars depending on the weight of the client. The cost includes that of porters who carry the client. Those who are concerned about their level of fitness but are not disabled can also hire porters to carry their heavy backpacks, recording devices and give a hand during difficult sections of the hike. Hiring a Porter costs between $15 and $20. All trackers (fit or not) are given simple hiking sticks to help with their mobility. The elderly may need to come with their own special hiking sticks. By hiring porters, you would be contributing to their economic well-being. Many of the porters are students looking for extra money to pay college tuition or married men with large families to take cater of. As little as it looks, you would be making a great difference in their lives.
It is important to note that among the gorilla trekking national parks, Bwindi is the most ideal for the elderly. Why? Because it is situated in less mountainous areas
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is not part of the Virunga ranges of mountains like the other three national parks. It sits on lower altitude and the trails are relatively flat compared to Mgahinga and the Volcanoes National Park. Many of the gorilla families live on lower ground hence offering an easier hike. It is also important to note that because Bwindi has more mountain gorillas, there are more habituated gorilla groups available for tracking. There are now 17 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi. Bwindi has four sectors (Rushaga, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Buhoma), each with its own gorilla families. If a tourist can book a permit early enough, they can be assigned a gorilla family which isn’t too far away from the starting point.
Gorilla trekking in Ruhija sector is excellent for the elderly because it has been observed that tourists who trek there come back much earlier than those who go to other sectors of the park. However, it is important to note that the time taken to find the gorillas is unpredictable regardless of which sector you choose to do the tracking. You will be lucky to get a gorilla family within 30 minutes of walking from the starting point.
Before booking a gorilla tour or showing up at the starting point, it is important to read about the different gorilla groups available in the different national parks to find out which one is ideal and closer to the starting point of the trek. Consult your tour operator to check if you can be assigned to the particular group. The tour operator will advise you based on their experience and knowledge about the group. The group structures keep changing year after year and what was easier to track a year ago may have migrated to a different location which is further away from the park offices.
Other things to consider during gorilla tour for the elderly
Apart from the ability to complete the trek, elderly travelers may worry about security in the park considering that they are already fragile and even vulnerable. Security and safety during gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda is excellent. Gorilla trekking is led by armed rangers whose role is to protect tourists from forest animals like elephants and buffaloes. There have been no cases of militias in Uganda and Rwanda in over two decades but the park authorities leave nothing to chance. The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be unpredictable given the different security incidences in the past. Even then, security is tighter than even in Rwanda and Uganda. Gorilla trekking in Congo involves having to get used to countless security checks and more escorts.
Another issue that worries tourists is the driving distance from Kampala or Entebbe to Bwindi Impenetrable forest. There are two solutions for this problem. One is to arrive from Kigali Rwanda instead of Entebbe in Uganda. The driving time and distance from Kigali to Bwindi impenetrable forest is shorter. Driving from Entebbe to Bwindi can take 8 hours or more. From Kigali, it takes only 3 hours to reach Bwindi forest. Another solution for the long driving distance is to book a local chattered flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi to the nearest airstrip in Bwindi. Your local tour operator can then wait for you at the airstrip to take you to the park. The local flights are expensive but the reward I to reach the park in only one hour.
If your budget cannot allow for a local flight to Bwindi, then you don’t have to worry. The gorilla parks are located in areas with remarkable scenery and other amazing wildlife reserves. You won’t be bored even if you choose to travel by road. You will encounter amazing African countryside, national parks, mountains, valleys and natural African wilderness that will leave you impressed. Tour companies often arrange for small stops to relax and discover hidden points of interest like the equator crossing. If you are combing gorilla trekking with other wildlife encounters, then the trip can be designed to reduce on driving time. You would be stopping in different national parks each day until you track the gorillas.
What about accommodation for gorilla trekking?
The accommodation facilities within and around the gorilla parks are of high quality. They range from ultra-luxury hotels, luxury hotels, mid-range offerings and budget options. All depends on your budget. The facilities are in form of standard cottages with grass-thatched roofs, self-contained tented camps, dormitories and basic campsites. Most of these hotels are built to allow people with disabilities to move about easily.
In case you are of middle age but relatively unfit, it is important to prepare in advance by hiking around your house. If you live in a forest, mountainous or hilly area, use the chance to move about to prepare your body for your tour. Other activities that can help you prepare for gorilla trekking include strolling, climbing, light running and walking for long distances.
When heading out for gorilla trekking, try to carry enough drinking water and energy snacks. They will help keep the body in good condition and energetic.
Apart from securing an easier group and being carried in the sedan chairs, elderly people need to know what to pack for gorilla trekking. A gorilla trekking parking list should include hiking boots, hand gloves, rain jackets, sweaters, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, walking stick, insect repellents and first aid kits.