Gorilla trekking mistakes to avoid in Uganda and Rwanda – Advance gorilla permits booking – Budget gorilla trekking safaris
Gorilla trekking mistakes to avoid in Uganda and Rwanda – There are several things people tend to miss out on probably because of wrong assumptions or stumbling on wrong information. In the end, most mistakes can ruin your safari experience if not costing you extra money. Mountain gorilla trekking tours are only conducted in three African counties Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the World population of these Magnificent Giant Apes standing at 1064 individuals. For their endangered status, permits are limited to only 8 visitors for each habituated gorilla family. Here are some common mistakes to avoid on a gorilla safari.
Buying permits on arrival or arriving on the wrong day
Several travel guides are suggesting that you can purchase a gorilla trekking permit at the park gate. Though this used to be true, it is no longer possible with the new Uganda Wildlife Authority policy that only permits licensed tour operators to buy gorilla trekking permits for Foreign Non-Residents.
On top of that Gorilla permits are limited, so it is important to book them in advance to avoid a last-minute disappointment. One of the common mistakes is assuming that you can buy a gorilla trekking permit as long as you have the money. This does not consider the issue of availability. Therefore to avoid the disappointments that come with last-minute bookings, it is recommended to book your permits at least six months in advance.
An important fact that you should note is that gorilla permits have your name and dates indicated, thus making them non-transferable. Before anything else, a total of 8 gorilla permits are allocated for each habituated gorilla family and therefore, your arriving on the wrong day means going beyond the recommended number. For this reason, we always advise our clients to book gorilla trekking tours at least 3-6 months in advance, to allow enough time for making preparations. Having secured your permit, go ahead to mark your calendar and make sure to arrive at the Gorilla Trekking Park a day before the actual trekking day. Note that there will be no refunds for the permit fees.
Consequently, only 168 gorilla permits are available for Uganda, 96 gorilla permits are available for Rwanda and about 64 permits are available for the Democratic Republic of Congo, thus making them limited or scarce in numbers compared to the number of people interested in enjoying the adventures. Therefore, bookings have to be made 3-6 months in advance because you will be disappointed for showing up at the last minute expecting to get a permit.
Getting Familiar with Gorillas and not following rules and regulations
Gorilla trekking mistakes to avoid – The gorilla trekking guidelines demand that every trekker keeps at least 7 meters away from the mountain gorillas because they are wild animals. There are moments when gorillas approach you, and in that regard, you are recommended to stay still. However because gorillas tend to be gentle, some people tend to mistake their gentleness for domesticated creatures.
Gorillas are an endangered species highly protected by government and conservation organizations. Millions of people depend on their existence, especially the local communities living around the park. Massive research is invested in making the rules; you must understand and follow them during your gorilla safari.
It should be noted that gorillas are wild animals. Regardless of their gentle behavior, you should never be fooled into thinking that you can touch or get close to the gorillas. It becomes more dangerous when the gorillas give birth. Though many people wish to see gorillas with babies, it should be noted that it is in such families that more caution is required.
Gorillas are wild, respect their domain and submit when provoked. Keep your voice low. Don’t eat or shit near them. Avoid flash photography and, for goodness’ sake, put the camera away. The experience of standing a few feet from a giant ape is not something your camera can record. You have to be present with your whole self.
Not Packing or Ignoring the Appropriate Gear
Our view of life is often inspired by our past. It is very easy to overlook the advice that is offered to you regarding the necessary gear for gorilla trekking benching on your past treks elsewhere. The cold weather requires a sweater or jacket to keep you warm at night. But you will not need the sweater during trekking. You will wear a light pair of trousers, a long-sleeved shirt, a long pair of socks, and lightweight hiking shoes. Bring a poncho or light rain jacket and a waterproof backpack if it rains. Most of the other things you can figure out on your own. Some things can be foregone but some are essential. Among the most essential things that should not be left out include; rain gear, and insect repellents.
Not being healthy and fit for trekking or hiking and underestimating the physical demands
Gorilla trekking is a walking safari. It requires some level of fitness. At least you should be in a position to walk for a minimum of 3 hours nonstop. In case you are not in a position to withstand a minimum of three hours hike, you plan to be carried by a porter. Potters are strong local people who, for $20, come with you and help you carry your backpack and gadgets and push you through difficult walks. They are instrumental in making your experience more comfortable by taking care of your excess physical load.
Don’t make the mistake of not hiring a potter only to find challenging obstacles in the forest. You could be in the forest for almost half the day before seeing the gorillas. Your porter will chat with you and sometimes encourage you during the most physically trying moments of your trek.
The potter job employs thousands of people coming from the communities around the gorilla park. Hiring a porter gives directly to the community and supports their families a sustainable way to travel and support local people.
Choosing the wrong destination and park
You should know which destination suits your travel arrangements and what type of gorillas you want to see. Otherwise, choosing the wrong destination will open up a can of bad experiences during your much-anticipated trip to Africa. Gorillas live only in the tropical rainforests of East-Central Africa. They are divided into two species, namely lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas, based on where they live. Your best chance of seeing the lowland gorillas is in a zoo near you or in central Africa in Kahuzi Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mountain gorillas live only in two separate populations on the Virunga mountain slopes shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest within Uganda. The best destinations for gorilla trekking are Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo on the extreme left.
A gorilla safari in Rwanda is for those that want to spare nothing on the experience. A permit alone in Rwanda costs $1500 per person per trek, and the accommodation price does not lag far behind. Uganda offers a more budget-friendly gorilla safari with a permit costing $700 per person. Accommodation is widely available outside the gorilla parks for all budgets. The Democratic Republic of Congo is on the lower end of the budget, but accommodation options are limited to a few.
Avoid the common mistake of booking the wrong destination for your gorilla safari to Africa and do a little research on the gorilla species, where they live, and how to get there.
Forgetting your passport on the trekking day
Passports are required during registration at the Park Headquarters before treks begin and forgetting them is another common mistake to avoid during gorilla trekking tours. Park Rangers normally crosscheck gorilla permits to ensure that you are the rightful holder/owner hence a passport is important. Do you know that you can be turned away from accessing the Park for not having your passport? For this reason, don’t ruin your long-awaited dream by packing your passport alongside the gorilla permit.
Add gorilla trekking last to your time in Africa
If you are visiting another African destination like Kenya or Tanzania, plan your safari to end with the gorilla trekking activity to avoid burnout. Some travelers will begin with the gorilla experience and take a slow relaxing time in the big-name safari park before heading back home. Either way, don’t make the mistake of setting your gorilla date to the middle of your journey.
Trekking in the wrong period or season
Gorilla trekking mistakes to avoid – There are two seasons in the gorilla trekking region, all based on weather patterns. Most travelers avoid the wet season during the rains and choose to go during the dry season which sells out. Do not make the mistake of planning your gorilla safari to Africa during the rains when you can’t handle walking under heavy rains.
Go for the dry seasons of June to September and December to February. The trails and roads are dry, and there are minimal rain chances during your adventures. However, the dry season is the high season when most travelers plan their gorilla safaris. The availability of permits and accommodation is lacking, which means you have to start planning very early.
The wet season of October, November, and March to May is favorable for availability. There are fewer travelers during that period. Service providers offer discounts, and gorilla safaris promise complete privacy.
However, you have to deal with the rain in all your outside activities. The use of a 4×4 truck customized for safari and walking in difficult forest conditions is important. Many travelers prefer such challenging experiences to the sweet luxuries of the dry seasons.
Gorilla trekking mistakes to avoid – Reserving the wrong accommodation
Because the gorilla trekking excursion begins at sunrise and is a physically demanding activity, avoid the mistake of booking your gorilla safari accommodation far from the starting point. There are many accommodation options near visitor’s centers, select and choose the suitable accommodation that matches the location on your tracking permit. That way, you’ll be at the briefing point in time to join the trekkers.
Uganda has five locations where gorilla trekking starts, and just outside the entry points are scattered incredible lodging options. Right outside the four corners of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are four entry points at Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo, and Rushaga. The fifth is at Mgahinga National Park’s entrance point with few lodges, but many are a drive away in Kisoro town. Kiningi town, an hour’s drive to the starting point, is the only location with reasonable accommodation in Volcanoes National Park. But, you have to book transportation from your lodge to the starting point and trailhead, which is a bit of a problem.
Choosing the wrong airport
Gorilla trekking mistakes to avoid – How you get to the gorilla parks, is a big question for most travelers. But you could reach your destination through the wrong airport, adding gruesome hours to the journey and spoiling your entire experience. Avoid getting in through the wrong airport or border by knowing the easiest and fastest route to the gorilla parks. Let’s say, you want to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, the entry point into Uganda for most travelers is Entebbe International Airport. Entebbe is about a 9hours drive to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park. You can choose to drive the nine hours or take a domestic flight to one of the two airstrips which are Kihihi and Kisoro airstrips, a two-hour drive outside Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks.
Alternatively, you can fly to Kigali Airport and drive four hours to Bwindi or Mgahinga national park. But you have to deal with the border immigration bureaucracy between Rwanda and Uganda. Many travelers want to avoid the transport logistics in Uganda. Instead, they plan a gorilla safari in Rwanda for a good reason. Volcanoes National Park is just a 3hours drive from Kigali International Airport.
Planning a gorilla safari in DRC is a bit challenging for transport. Virunga National Park has an airport with limited flights connecting to Entebbe, Nairobi, and Kigali. You can come through Goma city, about 35 kilometers (35 to 45 minutes driving). The best option is to go through Uganda or Rwanda and cross the border into Virunga National Park.
Avoid the common mistake of flying to the destination through the wrong airport and plan your gorilla safari with the least travel time. That way, you spare enough excitement and energy to see Africa’s mighty apes.