African explorers are inquisitive and adventurous by nature. And I, myself, am no different! So when the opportunity to embark on a gorilla trekking adventure in the mountains of Rwanda presented itself. I grabbed my passport quicker than it takes me to reach the bottom of my first G&T on a sunset game drive!
Spending time with gorillas in their natural habitat is such a unique experience because it’s something that simply has no equivalent. You would never imagine just hopping off your game drive vehicle for a quick splash in the river with a herd of elephants, yet a gorilla trekking experience gets you up close and personal with these majestic creatures. This very intimate experience is what sets gorilla trekking apart from anything else and what makes these encounters so incredible.
Gorilla trekking up the Virunga Mountains may seem rather daunting, but porters and guides are on hand to assist you and ensure you are perfectly taken care of. The actual hike to find the gorillas can range from 30min to over 4hours, depending on where they are, so having some level of fitness does make the overall experience much more enjoyable. Early in the morning, you arrive at the park’s headquarters and each group is assigned a specific gorilla family in the region. From there, your gorilla trekking adventure begins.
Our Gorilla Trekking Encounter
We were fortunate in that the Amahoro gorilla family (which we were assigned to) were fairly close to where we started hiking. After only 50 minutes of moderate hiking, before we had time to even feel tired, our guide informed us that we were close.
As if on cue, a silverback gorilla came out of nowhere, walking down the path we had stopped on. He gently tapped us while ambling past us as if to say “sorry, but I’d like to get through please” and disappeared as quickly as he arrived. What an exhilarating introduction to our experience! Fast forward to a quick hop over one or two shrubs and under one or two hanging trees and around a corner to one of the most incredible sightings of my life, an entire family of gorillas of all shapes and sizes.
We stumbled into an amazing view. Two adult gorillas and a handful of infants were gathered together, completely unbothered by our presence as they played. The silverback acknowledged us but was completely content with our presence. He actually walked right up to me at one point and just sat down and ate. My heart might have been racing, but at no point did I feel scared or nervous as our guides were incredible in making sure we were safe.
Mere metres away, infants played together and their human-like interactions were astonishing. From eating to grooming and everything in between, just being able to watch them made me smile and laugh throughout. One of my most memorable moments was watching a young male practice his ‘chest thump’ while his father watched on. Each time louder than before. I could almost sense that he was doing it to impress his father. Their interactions back and forth mirroring those of a young boy looking for his father’s approval.
After spending an hour watching this incredible family, it was time to head back. However, it seemed that the family had exactly the same idea. So what should have been a simple trek down the mountain, following the path, turned into a family affair of negotiating thick forest foliage and gorillas too. I loved this, it felt authentic and exciting and allowed us to spend a little longer than the normal 60min with these amazing creatures.
Reflecting on Magical Mountain Moments
Eventually, we made it back to our base camp. As we prepared to depart to the vehicles I could not help but look back at the misty mountains around us, and reflect on what had just happened. In this moment, the entire gorilla trekking experience truly dawned on me and I was overcome with emotion. The intimacy of our encounter was intense and knowing how so few people in the world actually get to experience anything made me realise the enormity of what had just happened. Gorillas in the mist may be one thing, but gorillas in their own environment are so much more.
It’s hard to think of a more impactful moment on an African safari than taking part in a gorilla trekking experience. To me, it represents the ultimate African travel experience for someone who wants to go beyond the traditional safari. While engaging with other people on their experience, it was evident that each gorilla trek was different for everyone. But one thing that was common throughout was that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that none of us will ever forget.
If you are planning your next African adventure, a gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda should be at the very top of your list. And, as the experts of African Travel, the Rhino Africa team are on hand to guide you as you bring your next dream African holiday to life. Contact Rhino Africa today to start planning.
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