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by Augustin Ndikuriyo, Owner, Augustine Tours
Yes, gorilla trekking is absolutely worthwhile. You will never regret it.
Various companies offer different types of tours across Africa, such as wildlife safaris, but my favorite experience by far was our recent gorilla trekking tour in the Volcanoes National Park. My wife and I did not know what to expect on this trip, and were overwhelmed by what turned out to be an adrenaline-packed experience. It was a great privilege to visit these highly intelligent, strong, but gentle creatures.
Mountain gorillas were on the verge of extinction
We met our tour guide bright and early for the trek and proceeded to the forest to start our hike. He explained mountain gorillas were “critically endangered” until 2018, which means they were on the verge of extinction. For the first time since 2008, when only 600 were left in the world, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) upgraded their classification to “endangered” from “critically endangered” as their numbers rose above 1,000; one step further away from extinction.
To protect the mountain gorillas, the government limits the number of tourists allowed to interact with the gorillas. He also explained the national policies in place designed to reimburse farmers whose trees or plants become damaged by these glorious creatures. This way, the gorillas can move about freely without fear of negative consequences. In addition, new employment opportunities created by the gorilla trekking tour business help the local economy.
“It’s a testament to the tireless work of the brave men and women who risk their lives every day to keep gorillas safe in their natural habitat, and also further proof that a joined-up approach to conservation is delivering results”, said Gorilla Organization Director Jillian Miller after the re-classification, “That means working with local communities in Africa to halt and reverse habitat loss, while also supporting vital ranger patrols to keep gorillas safe from immediate threats like poaching and insecurity.”
We received safety instructions before starting the tour, including:
1. Avoid eye contact
2. Stay quiet
3. Disable camera flash
4. keep a safe distance from the gorillas
A life-changing experience
Our guide explained to our small group we might see a number of different species of gorillas on this tour. These gorilla families included Titus, Karisimbi, Amahoro, Hirwa, and others.
After climbing a bit, we saw our first family of gorillas, which were from the Hirwa family. They are truly astonishing creatures. The excitement in our group was palpable as we prepared to capture the moment with our cameras. We kept a healthy distance between us, which, as the guide explained, was to safeguard the gorillas from contagious human diseases. We remained very still and did not make eye contact as instructed.
The gorillas munched on bamboo leaves as we watched them. They carried on their interactions with little concern for their human visitors, though they observed us with interest. The little ones stole our hearts as we watched them play around their mother. Some did adorable impressions of their silverback gorilla father beating his chest. The male gorilla, less active than the others and weighing almost 500 pounds, sat alone, watching over his family. We watched in fascination throughout our rendezvous which lasted about an hour.
Mountain gorillas share 98% of DNA with humans
While watching the gorillas, I was struck by the similarities between them and us. Like us, mountain gorillas have 10 fingers, 32 teeth, forward-looking eyes and sharp color vision. In addition, their gestures, mannerisms and behaviors are very human-like. These knuckle-walkers are highly intelligent and said to know the meaning of more than 2,000 words.
Is it worth the expense?
Rwanda is an example of ecotourism at it’s best. Yes, a trekking permit is expensive in Rwanda at $1500, but the amazing experience is well worth the price. Also, while you create lasting memories, you help preserve the gorilla wildlife and benefit the local economy at the same time. As the number of travelers who visit the gorillas increases, the relationship of the local communities to these animals grows stronger.
Put it on your bucket list
We enjoyed our experience immensely and highly recommend gorilla trekking in Rwanda for anyone who loves wildlife, hiking and exquisitely beautiful nature. Most tourists who book trekking experiences are aged 50+ with a decent level of physical fitness. However, the tours are tailored to meet the needs of those on the trek; some active adults can and want to climb mountains, while others prefer a flatter terrain.
Talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, and actress, Portia de Rossi, did their first trek together in May, 2018. Ms. de Rossi described the experience as
“the most shocking, exhilarating experience of my life; When you see something that could easily tear you apart with their bare hands choose to just tolerate you-it’s like no other experience”.
The Bottom Line
Why wait? Book a gorilla trek today if you seek an incredible experience that also intentionally boosts a struggling economy and preserves natural wildlife. A gorilla trekking adventure tour checks all the boxes.
Finally, an extravagant vacation you can feel good about.
image source: Augustine Tours,
Augustin Ndikuriyo is a tourism entrepreneur and the founder of Augustine Tours, a travel company offering custom tours in East Africa for families, small groups and solo travelers. His unwavering belief that tourism is a great channel for both educational and cultural exchange was inspired by a quote from St. Augustine, ” The World is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page”. Tour guides are well trained locals who speak fluent English and truly enjoy sharing their knowledge with tourists.
originally published 11.10.2019
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