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Advice Please, Longer Time on Safari in Kenya or Gorillas?

Advice Please, Longer Time on Safari in Kenya or Gorillas?

Old May 9th, 2021, 09:39 AM
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Advice Please, Longer Time on Safari in Kenya or Gorillas?

My husband and I loved our safari in Tanzania nine years ago and are thinking of treating our family to a safari next summer to celebrate our upcoming retirement. The group would be all adults including our son, our daughter and her husband. The "kids" have travelled quite a bit but have not been on a safari.

Currently, I am thinking Kenya would be terrific but am wondering if we should try to add on gorilla trekking in Rwanda. My husband and I are in decent shape for 64 year olds but no one would mistake us for athletes. The "kids" are all in great shape. I have heard Rwanda has easier treks than Uganda although it is more expensive.

My dilemma is the piggy bank is not unlimited so I am wondering if our $ would be better spent on a longer time in Kenya versus a shorter time there and adding on the gorilla experience. I know this is a matter of personal preference but I am wondering what those who have done such trips would advise. We will be flying from the US west coast so the transportation to Africa is also not cheap. We are thinking of a trip of 7 - 10 days, or so.

Thanks for your thoughts!
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Old May 10th, 2021, 08:29 AM
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Safaris are great but there is nothing in the world like gorilla trekking. We did it in 2016 at time we were around 60 years old with two of the four in our party having suffered knee and foot injuries. We had a great guide who got us on the shortest trek each of our two days, and we had no trouble at all (hire porters!), although I found the altitude a bit of a challenge. We combined it with a Kenya stop over and Tanzania safari. Flew directly from Serengeti to Kigali on Coastal Air (no idea what the current world circumstances allow) and stayed at Sabinyo Lodge, which was wonderful.

So my advice is if budget allows, adding a gorilla trek would make a great trip even more special.
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Old May 10th, 2021, 12:36 PM
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Congrats on your upcoming retirement and what a lovely gift for the family to travel and celebrate.



I would not be concerned about your age and fitness. Sounds like you two will be just fine for the treks. Each family of gorillas can be visited by up to 8 people (6 during covid in some spots) and there are 10 habituated families in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. When you arrive at Park HQ at 7AM on your trekking date, you will have an opportunity to advocate for which family you prefer to trek; mostly based on proximity for those who may not be as fit to do the more arduous treks. With that said, for those whom are mobility impaired, there are porters and chair you can hire to be carried to the gorillas. You won’t need them, but just to give you an idea that park authorities have made it possible for just about anyone to spend time with the Mountain Gorillas.



You should also note that Gorilla Trekking is quite different from your previous Tanzania safari. You will fly to Kigali, likely overnight upon arrival, then drive 2.5-3 hours to your accommodations near the park. You will trek the following morning and view the Gorillas for up to 1 hr. What I am getting at is: it’s a long ways to go and a lot of logistical undertaking for simply 1 hr of Gorilla viewing. Each trek and family will produce very different experiences. For this reason, I recommend you do 2 consecutive days of gorilla trekking. Goes without saying that with permit costs of $1500/person/trek x2, you will need to budget accordingly. Alternatively, there is the option of going to Uganda where the permits are less than Ĺ the cost. Here’s a relatively simple explanation regarding differences between trekking in Uganda and Rwanda.



Doing a comparative analysis of Uganda and Rwanda for gorilla viewing is fairly nuanced. At the end of the day, you will see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Each country will sell you permits to visit a gorilla family for up to one hour per day. Uganda’s permits are currently selling for $700/person/day whereas Rwanda sells theirs for $1,500/person/day. The cost difference does not dictate the quality of the viewing or the degree to which these apes have been habituated; it’s merely a reflection of supply v. demand. I suspect that in the months to years ahead, the rates between the two countries will equalize. As for now, Uganda remains better value for money. In Uganda, you have the option to buy into a “Habituation Trek” where you can spend up to 4 hours with a Gorilla family that are currently in the process of habituation. This option is not available in Rwanda.



In terms of accommodations, unlike the traditional safari, the accommodations have no bearing on the gorilla trek itself. This is because the treks are conducted by National Park Authority/Rangers. Generally speaking, Rwanda has seen more recent investment in their tourism sector leading to more high-end options for accommodations (on par with some of the best options available on traditional safari). Uganda has some lovely options as well, but not quite to the extent of Rwanda. In Rwanda, the upscale properties are 15-60 minutes driving distance from the park HQ where you briefed in the morning at 7AM for your pre-trek brief. In Uganda, the two finest lodges in the country are Clouds and Sanctuary Gorilla Forest. They are both a 5-minute walk from their respective park HQ.


For trekking conditions, Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is exactly as it sounds; impenetrable, but, most of the gorilla viewing is in the secondary forest on the edge of primary/virgin forest as gorillas like to feed in the secondary forest. It’s extremely dense with vegetation and there’s quite a bit of “bush-whacking” involved by the ranger to carve out a trail. In Rwanda, the vegetation can be less dense and the gorilla families are more established. Scenically, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is a stunner whereas Uganda feels like you are in a very lush forest. Both Bwindi and Volcanoes are considered equatorial rainforest thus resulting in approximately 300 days of rain per year.



Finally, the general feel of both countries are quite different. Uganda feels distinctly “African”. A densely populated country with lots of road-side culture. It’s a bit rougher around the edges and is certainly behind the times when compared to more touristed safari destinations. On the other-hand, Rwanda as significantly more investment in the tourism sector and there’s an element of management and control that doesn’t exist in Uganda. Rwanda is much more sanitized and commercialized; likened to South Africa. As an example, they have a Nespresso machine at park HQ!

Onto Kenya.

Kenya, like Tanzania, is a tremendously diverse country and what we refer to as a “stand-alone” destination in which you can easily spend 2 weeks. They are the champion to the notion of community based conservation where local communities have equity in the photographic tourism industry. If you went to Tanzania 9 years ago, you likely travelled within National Parks. Here’s a quick reference to the difference between National Parks and Private Conservancies in East Africa.

National Parks or Game Reserves are protected areas in Africa, often for wildlife protection/resource management, that are operated by the country’s national government or local council. Generally speaking, National Parks and Game Reserves are more laxed on the number of tourists entering said park with relatively inexpensive fees and relies on higher volume tourism to generate revenue. Meaning, some areas of National Parks and Game Reserves can get quite busy with general tourists and one must be quite selective in the chosen camps/lodges to avoid their exposure to mass tourism. Furthermore, most National Parks and Game Reserves impose fairly strict regulations on do’s and don’ts. In most cases, you will be restricted to the designated road networks and not permitted to off-road or night drive. Walking safaris areas are limited.

Private Conservancies/Concessions on the other hand are often land leased or bought by private entities (such as lodge holding companies, conservation organizations etc.) from the local communities or government to set up safari operations. As these safaris are conducted on private land, the conservancies can control and restrict the number of people in their concession and manage the number of vehicles per sighting (usually max 3) to allow for a more exclusive experience. In most cases, one can off-road, night drive in search for nocturnal species, and depending upon the camp, participate in an array of active safari options such as walking, biking, canoeing, boating, horseback riding, quad biking etc. In short, there’s more exclusivity and flexibility in terms of activities. In many cases, private land is adjacent or bordering National Parks or Game Reserves without fence lines delineating the two areas. This allows many private concessions/conservancies to enjoy the abundant wildlife viewing often synonymous with National Parks/Game Reserves without the crowds and restrictions.

All of this to say, in Kenya, you can have a stunning 10 day trip with tremendous diversity not only in wildlife, but also in the landscape, activities, focus on conservation and community.

I think it’s important to identify first: your objective for the trip, tolerance for lots of movement in a relatively short period of time, and budget. With this in mind, I am sure that posters on this forum can provide more color to help you make your decision.

Kota Tabuchi - Travel Beyond
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Old May 10th, 2021, 12:58 PM
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One of my trips to Africa, I combined Rwanda with Kenya. I'd been to Kenya before and wanted to end in the Mara, somewhere familiar where I knew I could really relax. My trip report from that trip is on here if you click on my name, you can read the entire thing.

I agree with most of what Kota outlines above. A few other points:
-- I think Rwanda is worth a visit even without the gorillas. Spend some time to see the sights in Kigali, and consider seeing another of their national parks. My biggest regret is that we didn't. Akagera in particular is of great interest to me now (I think you can get a discount on your gorilla trek fees if you go to another park in Rwanda). And I learned so much about Rwanda's history and the mindset of the people following the genocide just in the day we spent seeing the sights in Kigali. And Rwanda is, hands down, the cleanest country I've ever been in. It is mind-blowing.
-- I would do two gorilla treks, but I'm not sure I'd do them back to back again. I was 47 and in excellent shape (I trained all winter on a step mill to do the hikes and I'm a runner and road cyclist for fun, exercise is a part of my daily life) and I was wiped out after two back to back days of gorilla trekking. It was fine because we left for Kenya the day after the second trek but it was a long, torturous day in transit (left Kigali hotel at 5 am, arrived at our camp in the Mara at 3:30 p.m.) and being so physically tired didn't help. You could, on the in between day (between gorilla treks), do a golden monkey trek which is far less arduous and very flat and really quite fun. They are gorgeous creatures. But you may want to do two gorilla treks because you'll likely have two very different experiences. Our first group was sedate, lazy and out in full sun (not so great for photos) but the second group was in a bamboo forest and very active with lots of little ones climbing around us. Both were great experiences, and I'm glad I did both.
-- Hire a porter for whatever treks you do. First, they are usually former poachers and you are giving them an income to keep them from returning to that. Second, not only is it great to have them carry your stuff, but they hauled my sorry butt out of more mud pools and up slippery inclines than I ever would have thought. They are strong men and like the sherpas of Rwanda. Do it. I was annoyed that people who didn't hire their own wanted to use mine when they were struggling...just hire your own. Even if he just carries your bag, at least you're giving him work.

In Kenya, I highly recommend the conservancies, no matter what region you stay in. All but one of my camps has been in a conservancy and I love the concept as well as the high quality safari they offer. My one experience in a camp in the Maasai Mara Reserve flew in the face of what I'd heard about how horrid the Reserve safaris can be. I wasn't crowded, didn't see a ton of other people and had some of the best wildlife sightings of my 5 safaris and quite close up. I chalk all that up to the guide, who lives and works there and had just opened his own camp. I definitely benefitted from being in his "office" with him for the time I spent there with him.

Happy to help if you have specific questions beyond this.
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Old May 10th, 2021, 04:35 PM
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Thank you for the tremendous amount of information and helpful advice. You have all given me so much to think about and I really appreciate the effort you all put into your responses.

It is time to mull over everything and I am sure I will be back with more questions.
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Old May 10th, 2021, 06:34 PM
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Agree with amyb. My trip was long ago, but I cobbled it together myself (Kenya + gorilla trekking in Rwanda). Absolutely worth the hassle. You can probably find it under my trip reports, but just look at it in terms of timing/logistics. It's been too long for me to recommend any outfitters. I did Rwanda (gorillas and golden monkeys only, though I would go back to see more of the country tomorrow if I could) - Mara (conservancy--I am a big Kenya fan) - Tsavo (self-catering with friends).

Go for it!
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Old May 10th, 2021, 08:10 PM
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A hard decision no doubt - but if the trip is to be only 7 days I would definitely say no to the gorillas - you would need a minimum of 3 of those days for that - leaving only 4 days in Kenya - particularly this being the first safari for your 'kids'. A trip of 10 days (assuming all 10 days are on the ground - not including arrival and departure days) then perhaps. I would certainly look to flying into Nairobi and out of Kigali or vice versa to reduce time spent in airports.

The cost of the gorilla trekking in Rwanda is far more expensive than in Uganda - as noted above - and I (mid-fifties smoker) found trekking the gorillas in Bwindi quite arduous - definitely needed a porter (or two) although my teenage daughter and much fitter mid-fifties wife had no trouble. We didn't trek the gorillas in Rwanda - opted to hike to Dian Fossey's camp instead (rained all day and was probably one of the hardest hikes I have done in many years). But logistically - to my mind, Bwindi would be out of the question anyway given your time frame - it is pretty remote from both Kigali and Entebbe.

An alternative might be Mgahinga Gorilla NP in Uganda - not so much further from Kigali than Volcanoes NP in Rwanda (maybe 1-2 hours more driving all going well - so could also be done in 3 days with the right arrival and departure times from Kigali) - far fewer people than either Volcanoes or Bwindi - and priced at the Ugandan level. We trekked golden monkeys there - not gorillas - but the terrain for the gorilla treks seemed much easier than Bwindi. Easiest to sleep in Kisoro - if not up to the prices of the beautiful Mount Gahinga Lodge - didn't stay there but admired it as we drove past.

Our best gorilla trekking experience was in the DRC - Kahuzi-Biega NP outside Bukavu - substantially cheaper than even Uganda and nobody there except us the day we visited - comparatively easy terrain and we stayed with the gorillas for nearly 3 hours - as opposed to the pretty strict 1 hour limit imposed in both Rwanda and Uganda. That, though is far more logistically difficult.

We visited end of 2019. Enjoy the planning and if you do decide to trek to the gorillas (whatever location) don't be deterred by your age - if you're in decent shape - and hire porters - you'll be fine.

Last edited by Greenhorn; May 10th, 2021 at 08:46 PM.
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Old May 11th, 2021, 04:24 AM
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If you can stretch it to 10 days, it's totally doable. I guess it depends on how much safari you and your family want, vs. a mix of gorillas too.

My itinerary was:
Arrive Kigali around 9 pm
Day 1 - city tour, drive to Volcanoes NP
Day 2 - Golden Monkey trek
Day 3 & 4 - Gorilla trek. Drive back to Kigali and overnight Kigali day 4
Day 5 -- Flight Kigali to Nairobi, Nairobi Wilson to Mara (long layover in Nairobi due to unreliable traffic). Arrive at Mara in time for afternoon game drive.
Day 6-9 -- Offbeat Mara game drives (pay for 3 days, stay for 4 package)
Day 10 -- fly back to Nairobi and depart late day Nairobi

I used Treks2Rwanda to arrange everything in Rwanda. I booked our flight from Kigali to Nairobi, and I booked Offbeat Mara's package on my own, which included pickup from Nairobi, transfer to Wilson and back again. We also added in a stop at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi to visit the elephant orphanage and a nice long lunch in Karen. I got a day room to clean up and have dinner before our 11 p.m. flight. Offbeat provided a driver for that entire day for us.

The Mara is in my opinion the best of the safari experience, especially if you have limited time. If you have a guide who knows the area and its resident wildlife well, there's not much you won't be able to find in 4 days.
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Old May 11th, 2021, 07:35 AM
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You’ve received some good advice! Just a few more thoughts.

If you are looking to extract the best value for money, I suggest you take a harder look at Gorilla Trekking in Uganda over Rwanda. With the combination of Air Kenya & Aerolink, it is possible to fly from the Mara to Bwindi (or visa versa) with a quick stop in Kisumu & Entebbe to exit & enter the two countries. If coming from Kenya, it’s possible to distill your Uganda experience to three nights and still account for 2 Gorilla treks. This will allow for more time in Kenya and perhaps do two different reserves/ecosystems to diversify your experience. Something along the line of the following could work really well:


1 night Nairobi upon arrival


3 nights Lewa (Lewa Safari Camp or Kifaru House), Loisaba (Loisaba Tented Camp & Loisaba Star Beds) or Ol Pejeta (Kicheche Laikipia or Ol Pejeta Safari Cottages)

3 nights Mara (Elephant Pepper, Kicheche Mara or Kicheche Valley)

3 nights Bwindi, Uganda w/ 2 Gorilla Treks



That accounts for a total 10 nights in “Africa”

Lewa Safari Camp, Kifaru House, Loisaba and Elephant Pepper are all a part of the Elewana Collection. If you do 6 nights with Elewana, your nightly rates will be reduced by 10%. Alternatively, if you combine Kicheche Laikipia with one of their Mara Camps, you will receive a pay 5, stay 6 promotional rate. Even in peak season, there’s way to craft your itinerary to receive some incentives.

Travel Beyond – Kota Tabuchi
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Old May 11th, 2021, 06:12 PM
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So much terrific advice here. Thank you! I am going to run all of this by my family (5 people, 5 opinions, LOL) and likely will be back with more questions. Thank you so much!!
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Old May 11th, 2021, 07:38 PM
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I love Kicheche camps.

I did kind of a similar itinerary as amyb, but with a few tweaks. SFO-NBO-KIG, arriving in KIG and driving straight to Parc National des Volcans. I had booked a private driver n Rwanda. Gorilla trekking, Golden Monkey trekking, gorilla trekking (3 days). Maybe I did Golden Monkeys the first day as a soft landing after all the travel. After my gorilla trek on the third day, I went on to Lake Kivu where I spent a relaxing late afternoon-evening.

Lake Kivu made me want to return and someday, hope against hope, see gorillas in DRC too. Next morning on to Kigali, where I visited the Genocide Memorial (a must, in my opinion) before a late afternoon/evening flight to Nairobi. I overnighted in Nairobi, and was up and out on a flight to the Mara the next morning.

A superlative safari. I traveled in June.
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Old May 12th, 2021, 12:19 AM
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A slight variation on the great itineraries of amby and Leely2 should you wish to do 2 gorilla treks and a golden monkey trek (and save some money) - and I do recommend a golden monkey trek:

Day 1 - morning tour of Kigali including the Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial, the Campaign Against Genocide Museum and the Genocide Memorial - preferably in that order. Once you are thoroughly disgusted with most human beings - set off for the gorillas - to Mgahinga Gorilla NP in Uganda - (5 hours drive at worst - more likely 4 hours).

Day 2 - gorilla trek - only 1 gorilla family here and very few tourists - your group of 5 may likely be the only gorilla trekkers on the day - then onwards to Volcanoes NP in Rwanda - (2 - 2.5 hours drive).

Day 3 - golden monkey trek and perhaps visit to Gorilla Guardians Village in the afternoon - touristy but nonetheless colourful and enjoyable - and provides income to a local community.

Day 4 - gorilla trek and return to Kigali (2.5 hours drive).

Day 5 - onwards to Kenya.

For a party of 5 the saving at current prices would be some $4,000 doing 1 of the gorilla treks in Uganda - to be weighed against the (to me - slight) inconvenience of moving accommodation and the few extra hours on the road. Bonus - see environments and cultures (albeit limited) in 3 different countries and contribute to gorilla preservation in Uganda - perhaps more needy than Rwanda in terms of funds for wildlife conservation.

It Is active - but as you no doubt know from your previous safari - African safaris reward the active.

Last edited by Greenhorn; May 12th, 2021 at 12:55 AM.
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Old May 12th, 2021, 04:24 AM
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The one thing I would caution when working with safari planners or travel agents to put this together...check and double-check your lodgings should you book your gorilla treks in Uganda. When I was in the Rwanda vs. Uganda decision stage, I had two different itineraries presented to me that had me well over an hour from the start of the treks, which would mean an incredibly early morning. In Rwanda, we were maybe 10-15 minutes from the check-in point where you receive your assignments and it seems that most/many accommodations in Volcanoes NP are fairly close. I know there are similarly close accommodations in Uganda, but I was surprised that any safari planner would even think of booking accommodations so far from the treks.
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Old May 12th, 2021, 09:17 AM
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Amyb, good point. The two best lodges in Bwindi are Clouds and Gorilla Forest Camp which are both about a 5 minute walk from their respective park HQ. There are some lodges on the Rwanda side, like Virunga Lodge, that are also a bit of a drive from park HQ requiring an early AM departure for your 7AM briefing. In short, both Uganda and Rwanda have lodges that are a bit more removed from your AM briefing so booking Rwanda doesnít not make you immune to your TO exercising bad judgement on accommodations based on your particular needs. I suppose same holds true for your Kenyan safari Ė your safari specialist should take into consideration all of your parameters/wishes and disclose all pros/cons of a particular camp, area, season etc. before you commit to your final decision.

Kota Tabuchi - Africa Director - Travel Beyond
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Old May 13th, 2021, 05:03 AM
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I recently booked Kenya/Rwanda for next September, and I think it really depends on budget and what your priorities are. For us, gorilla trekking was a bucket list item and the primary goal of this trip, and while Iíve been on safari several time (SA, Tanzania, Zambia) Iíve never been to the Mara so the combo was a no-brainer. Definitely a very expensive trip with the gorilla permits, etc. but itís for a milestone birthday and I could have cut out some of the higher-priced accommodation options to save on price if needed. Weíre also booking international flights with points/miles, which helps. Weíve got 15 days on the ground so a few more than youíre planning, but our itinerary is:

2 nights Nairobi (Giraffe Manor)
3 nights Lewa (Sirikoi)
5 nights Mara/Conservancy (Salaís Camp & Ngare Serian)
1 night Kigali (Serena)
3 nights Volcanoes/2 gorilla treks (Bisate Lodge)
1 night Kigali (Heaven Retreat)

Since youíre going to be needing multiple rooms, I would consider booking (or at least reaching out to a TA) sooner rather than later, especially if youíre planning for peak season or have any specific camps/lodges you have your heart set on. We booked in March and I was surprised that things were already booked up for some properties 18 months out - we were able to get everything we wanted with tweaking our dates but I think some people have been moving 2020/21 trips to 2022, so I donít know if thatís contributing, or if people are just anxious to travel.
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Old May 19th, 2021, 02:31 AM
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Accommodation in the peak season can be challenging. Precovid, you had to book a gorilla permit at least six months in advance. So, depending on when you paid for your permit, the planner may not have had many options for accommodation. At $600 then, the Uganda gorilla permit was on high demand (right now it is on promotion at $400 to help travel recover). Such prices mean that more people have extra to put on great accommodation and thus greater demand. Also Uganda has 20 families habituated for tourism so there are bound to be more trekkers.
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Old May 23rd, 2021, 05:08 AM
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It’s been nearly 20 years now since I tracked gorillas in Rwanda. I had been doing some volunteer work for the Anglican diocese in Cyangugu, where I had one trip to nearby Nyungwe Forest National Park, which has 13 species of primates. We were only in the forest a short time, but were rewarded by a sighting of a troop of colobus monkeys. I would liked to have spent more time there to see other species, but we had also arranged a tour of a tea factory just outside the forest that day.

I was determined to see the gorillas during the trip, but my travel companions had either seen them before or weren’t interested. I gather procedure is different these days, but I bought my gorilla permit at the ORTPN headquarters in Kigali as soon as we arrived in Rwanda. Two days before my trek I boarded an Okapi bus in Cyngugu and stayed overnight back in Kigali. Next day I took a bus to Ruhengeri, the town just outside Volcanoes NP, and stayed overnight in an Anglican Church guest house, which was safe and comfortable. I won’t even tell you how much I paid for the room, but it was very cheap. The money for the room went towards the schools and medical facilities operated by the church.

The next day we walked to park headquarters, which was in Ruhengeri at the time. I was accompanied by a South African I made friends with on the bus the day before. We were allowed to choose which family we wanted to visit, so it is a good idea to do a little research beforehand. There are groups which stay near the park boundary, and others further away. My new friend wanted to visit the Susu Group, which was the largest habituated gorilla family at the time, but also the hardest to reach. I was two weeks shy of my 60th birthday at the time, but fairly fit despite previous coronary bypass surgery.

We were transported in a pickup truck as close to the park boundary as it could get, then had another hour or two of walking a steep incline through farmer's fields to the boundary. We had a short rest at the boundary fence, which was decorated with land mine warning signs. This was only 8 years after the war ending the genocide.

After we hopped the fence into the park it was thick montane rainforest, with our guides clearing the path with their pangas. Luckily the group was near the park boundary that day, and soon we heard the telltale chest beating sounds. We emerged into a clearing, and had the sight of 35 gorillas before us. The guides stopped us the obligatory 10 meters from the group, but the family was slowly moving while feeding, and we were soon surrounded by gorillas. That was one of the most memorable experiences of my life!

I hope you haven’t been bored by my story, but I wanted to convey to you the almost life changing experience of gorilla tracking in Rwanda. Some of the details have changed since then, and the permit now costs $1,500 instead of the $250 I paid at the time.
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Old May 23rd, 2021, 11:25 AM
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Thank you for all of your wonderful responses and insight. We decided to focus on Kenya this trip but my husband and I really hope to see the gorillas in the not too distant future. I appreciate your help.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2021, 08:57 AM
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If you have interest in gorilla trekking, do that now! I waited too long and my knees are no longer up to it. I'm so disappointed, but maybe in my next lifetime I will do it sooner!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2021, 03:17 AM
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It may not be too late even with knee problems. I have knees problems (from rafting injuries) but have managed to trek gorillas. The terrain in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is somewhat easier. It may be an option you could explore.
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