Gorillas in the Mist

Since watching the famed story of Dian Fossey, it has always been on my bucket list to visit the beautiful and unfortunately endangered Mountain Gorillas, but it is not as easy to turn a dream like this into reality.

The Mountain Gorillas can be found predominantly in the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes that border three African countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda.

When deciding on which country to visit a number of factors need to be considered. The DRC is unfortunately going through political unrest and not the safest place for two women to travel on their own. Rwanda has been named the 6th safest country in the world however permits into the Volcanoes National Park are around $1500 per person per permit. Uganda permits range from $700 per person per permit however only 160 permits are available per day.

So, what made us choose Rwanda, these were some of the main factors:

  1. The safety aspect, for two women traveling alone into Africa, Rwanda’s safety rating was a big deciding factor.
  2. During off peak season Rwanda offers a reduced permit rate to South Africa citizens and we only paid $500 per person per permit.
  3. Tour operates offer great group and private tours that are tailored to your needs. (I highly recommend a private tour. It gives you the freedom to enjoy the experiences at your own pace.)
  4. The whole trip can be completed in 4 days and the flight to Kigali is only 4 hours and you can fly direct.

Once in Rwanda you spend a day and a half in Kigali, the capital city. You visit the genocide museum, have launch at a local restaurant, and visit the local market. The next day is a coffee master class and then you are off to the Volcanoes National Park. The park is about a 2,5-hour drive from the city, but your tour vehicle is very well equipped for a little nap.

On arrival, we visited the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, a great preview for the excitement that lay ahead of us. The campus gives guests an insight into the life of Dian Fossey and the work that the fund is doing to preserve the gorillas and increase their population along the Virunga Mountains. There is even an interactive section that teaches you to speak like a gorilla.

The day started with an early morning met at the park office for a briefing and allocation of hiking groups. We were grouped with 5 other guests for a medium hike to the Igisha family, one of the largest families in the Volcanoes National Park consisting of over 30 members.

The hike was 7km in total and took about 5 hours. It rained the night before, so the terrain was very wet and muddy which proved to be quite challenging for me. However, the group was great, stopping for breaks regularly and encouraging each other to reach our goal. This hike really doesn’t need training and you don’t have to be ridiculously fit. The teams are equipped to help you every step of the way and you can hire a porter to carry any of your heavy equipment as well.

I would definitely recommend the following if you are planning a trip like this:

  • Long sleeve hiking shirt
  • Long hiking pants
  • Hiking boots
  • Gaiters
  • Gloves
  • A wide brim hat
  • Hiking socks
  • Walking sticks are provided by the park and are really a great help

At the end of the day the trek was definitely worth it, and the hour spent with these majestic creatures is a something that you really cannot describe. With only about 1000 Mountain Gorillas in existence if the conservation work done across the Virunga Mountains range does not continue, we could see the extinction of these amazing animals very soon.

I hope this by reading this and seeing the photos that we managed to take that you will be inspired to visit the Mountain Gorillas. Every cent of your park fee goes into the conservation project and will help preserve this species for generations to come.

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