We traveled to Rwanda specifically to visit with the gorillas, and it was one of the top adventure experiences in our lives. The pictures simply don’t do justice to the actual experience. We booked through Eco tours in Rwanda managed by Nature Adventure Africa Safari Limited.
We arranged our trip through the above mentioned reliable tour company. On the day of our trek, they transported us from our lodge to the central meeting point for the park. At this location, the guides and tour operators met to review our information and pair us with different families of gorillas. I’d heard from friends that you can try to request to visit with a specific family, but we decided to let them assign us. We were then put into groups of up to 8 people and assigned to a specific guide. Our guide showed us photos of our family, and told us a little bit about the individual members. From there, we returned to our tour operator’s vehicle and drove about 20 minutes to our next destination, which was a small parking lot in the village at the base of the trail. There was a small set of squat toilets available at this location.
From here, we were able to hire a porter for $10US. Friends recommended we hire at least one porter, to help if the trail was muddy. Our group ended up with two porters, and they were extremely helpful, especially in terms of clearing away the thick brush on our ascent, and helping us navigate the very muddy areas.
We walked for about 20 minutes until we hit the “wall” that surrounds the park. From there, we had a fairly intense 2 hour hike up the volcano. It had rained the night before, and it was quite muddy and slippery. All of us had worn normal hiking shoes or boots, and were immediately jealous of the simple rain boots the guides and porters wore. These would have been much more practical for the conditions of the day. Portions of the hike were vertical and fairly difficult, even for our relatively fit group. Three members of our broader group struggled with both the ascent and descent, and one woman really relied on one of the porters to get her back down the trail. To provide additional perspective, my husband mentioned this hike was more difficult than any day he spent climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Once we reached the top, we met with the amazing Amahoro family, who spent an hour with us, before our time was up. One of the females, carrying a 4 month old baby, even stopped right in front of us for a few minutes. It was an incredible experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who can make the journey.
Gear tips: We brought gaiters and gloves which were very helpful in dealing with the stinging nettles. I also recommend you check with the guides and determine if hiking boots or rain boots (willies) would be better for your particular hike. Most lodges will rent gear, including gaiters, gloves, rain pants, etc., so I also advise checking on this if you don’t have your own gear, or don’t want to have to pack the items in your luggage. Also make sure to bring your own water for the day.
Guides: We had a good guide, but the porters were outstanding. They used their machetes to clear a path through the dense brush, and also helped members of our group through the very slippery areas. At $10 US, even if you want to carry your own pack, as we did, they are worth the money! Consider at least a $5-10 tip for the porters, on top of their fee, and think about leaving behind some of your gear.
Gorilla Families: Think ahead about the type of experience you’d like to have, and alert the staff before they make the assignments. There are several different families available to visit, and the treks are at varying levels of difficulty. The area where we met our family was very steep and slippery from the previous day’s rains, which meant it was not for the faint of heart. But, because we were willing to make this journey, we were rewarded with a great family!