Gorilla Trekking is not a last minute Journey. A gorilla permit must be reserved and purchased months in advance. There are only about 600 mountain gorillas in existence today, and the Rwanda Park service only issues 10 permits per gorilla family per day.
There are ten groups/families of habituated gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. A gorilla trek varies from day to day, you may trek for an easy hour or two through the bamboo canopied rain forest to meet your troop or you may hike 6 to 8 arduous hours; trailing machete yielding guides hacking their way though the dense rain forest straight up an 8500 foot peak. And on occasion, trekking in drizzly or pouring rain resulting in muddy slick trails.
We hiked the trifecta trek – clear robin egg blue skies, a cool misty day and a mud trek – all conditions worth every step to share an hour with the protected giants. Treks are limited to a maximum of eight guests and a strict hour of observing is enforced. The gorilla trackers have alerted your guides and porters of the gorilla location and hopefully the gorillas are happy in their setting, otherwise you continue until they have been sighted again – an awesome adventure.
Whacking through the brush, the next gap reveals black woolly masses under the green canopy – gorillas scampering and swinging from thin bamboo poles. Initially, it is frightening, although you have anticipated seeing them, a massive silverback 10 feet away is a sight that produces a gasp and an initial bolt of fear. As the giant gorilla sauntered toward me, our guide commanded: Don’t Run – she, a mind reader! A knuckle walk pass by brushed my knees and the powerful Silverback secured another lush bamboo snack. Exhilarating, captivating and mesmerizing – after a short while, your initial fear subsides.
Toddler gorillas roll and romp, thump their chests in play, nuzzle a mom and pick at the matted hair of a Silverback, who ignores them, he was more interested in picking at his massive padded palms, hands and feet which so resemble ours.
Watching the gorilla families eat, play and preen is an absolutely majestic experience. Nothing compares with a gaze from one of these imperial creatures; an enormous Silverback casually strips and chews on a stalk of bamboo while watching you intently. Powerful and so closely human, sharing 98% of our DNA, they were very comfortable with us in their home habitat.
We trekked for three days, and each family we visited was very different in personality. A rainy day yielded the largest Silverback in the community – his enormous outstretched arms resembled tree trunks – Godzilla was small in comparison.
The last 15 minutes of our final trek was spent viewing a mom, her toddler son and a 2-day-old infant. Baby cuddled in her arms and nursing, the toddler sibling gazed intently at this very human looking baby.
Best place to stay is Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge – luxurious in a gorgeous garden setting, and very close to the park headquarters. Tucked high into the foothills of the Virunga Mountain range, the only five-star lodge in the remote area features individual cottages with patios and fireplaces. Wake each morning when your butler delivers coffee, rolls and cookies and helps you adjust your trekking gear.
Arrive back to the lodge for lunch where your guards help you up the steep jungle lined path to the lodge and the manager warmly greets you. Trays of chilled lemonade are passed; while you rest near the warming fire, your butler is there to quickly remove your mud caked boots and provides a foot massage! We lucked out meeting the visiting General Manager from the sister property, Governors Camp. Mike Kirungi seemed never to rest, always inquiring on our well being, opening the gift shop during his dinner – truly a congenial manager who understands the welcome!