By Jenna Jolie
A face-to-face encounter with critically endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitats is everyone’s dream. All travelers both men and women at all ages would surely prefer to spend some time with these endangered species who share over 98% of human genes hence the close relatives to human beings. For who ever planning a gorilla tour, advance planning and preparation is very essential to avoid any disappointment at the last hour. Planning involves contacting any trusted tour operator after doing an extensive research regarding his/her trip advisor reviews. Also, if possible, consider references from the past travelers as well that tour operator’s membership with government bodies such as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Uganda and Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Rwanda. Much as trekking gorillas is everyone’s desire, not everyone is allowed to meet and interact with these gentle giants. Find out who is eligible to trek mountain gorillas:
Those aged 15 years and above
All travelers to take part in gorilla trekking must be aged 15 years and above. Age restriction is very serious and all travel agents in all countries emphasize it to avoid any disappointment to travelers. To ensure all travelers are of age, all travelers making inquires are asked to submit in their passport details to clarify their date of birth. One of the reasons for for age limit is the strenuous nature of gorilla trekking that include hiking through deep forests with slippery muddy grounds, which are difficult for the young kids. Also, though mountain gorillas are habituated and used to people, the endangered species remain wild and can charge anytime if disrupted. It’s believed that young children may not adhere to the trekking rules and regulations such as keeping a distance of seven meters and keeping calm. However, in case a child is remaining with a few days to celebrate his 15th birthday and is physically fit, he/she is allowed to see gorillas but with the parent agreeing to the terms and conditions with the responsible bodies.
Those with gorilla permits
For whoever going to see mountain gorillas, a gorilla permits is a must have. Also known as gorilla pass/ gorilla permits are issued out by Uganda wildlife authority in Uganda, Rwanda development board in Rwanda and Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo. Interestingly, travelers can book and these permits through tour operators who are arranging their gorilla tours to any of the gorilla destination. On the actual day of trekking, all travelers are reminded to carry their permits without which no one is allowed to trek gorillas. The price of gorilla permits vary from country to country but the experience is more of the same. Rwanda’s offers the most expensive permit at 1500 USD per permit, Uganda at 600 for foreign non-residents, 500 for foreign residents and 250000 shs for east African residents. In DRC at, gorilla passes cost 450 USD hence the best gorilla safari destination for budget travelers. Travelers are required to book as early as 6 months prior the trekking date to secure these permits that are highly demanded. Travelers are also reminded to carry other travel documents such as passports, visas and other related papers for clarification
Travelers with good health
All travelers must be free from any kind of sickness especially communicable diseases such as cold, flu and cough which easily spread from people to mountain gorillas. For this case all travelers must come along with their medical letters to prove their good health and yellow fever vaccination certificate. Also, the fact that mountain gorillas are close relatives to human genes, the gentle giants are susceptible to human illnesses, which put them at risk. In addition travelers are reminded to turn back their faces from the gorillas in case one is coughing and sneezing. Travellers are reminded to visit their doctors for check up and get medication to prevent any upcoming sickness. In case a traveler becomes critically sick the night to the trekking date, he/she is refunded or allowed to trek another day but not on that day for the safety of gorillas.
Those who are Physically fit
Gorilla trekking is not a walkway tour but rather a strenuous adventure through deep forests, thorny bushes and steep slopes. For one to enjoy his safari therefore, he/she must be physically fit to avoid altitude sicknesses. Travelers are reminded to do exercises such as running, walking and hiking to prepare for the strenuous hikes. Those are physically unfit can opt for the stretches were they carried to and from the forest without walking at all. Four men who are local residents carry one traveler on their shoulders in the stretcher at a cost of 400 USD. Porters are also very helpful in carrying travelers baggage as well as providing support were necessary at a relatively low cost. Hiring a porter is an indirect support for local people since the one earned is used to improve people’s standards of living.
NOTE: The qualities and requirements for all gorilla trekkers are similar in both gorilla destinations. These are volcanoes national park in Rwanda, Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo, Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla national parks in southwestern Uganda.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking is a lifetime experience you should not miss out on your Safari to Africa. Book a gorilla tour to Uganda, Rwanda and Congo, carry your permit and meet these gentle giants in the wild.