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Gorilla trek. How likely is failure?

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Apr 10th, 2007, 11:56 AM
  #1
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Gorilla trek. How likely is failure?

Hi,

New to Fodor's. Great forum. Have used the search engine but couldn't find an answer.

In trekking to find the gorillas, has anyone ever been with a group that failed to find them? I know I'd be more than a little upset if I paid $500 for a permit and all the other expenses to get to Rwanda and then didn't see them.

Thanks,
Robert
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Apr 10th, 2007, 12:28 PM
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Good afternoon Robert,

Not sure how it works in Rwanda but in Uganda (doing trek in May) the Wildlife Authority has the following policy:

UWA shall refund the full tracking fee, if the visitor fails to track due to illness, this will be at discretion of Warden in Charge and this clause only applies to visitors who have made their way to either BINP or MGNP. Visitors who fail to track the gorillas (MGNP) as a result of their movement to the neighboring country shall receive a full refund on their permits. However, visitors who would track the whole day and fail to view the gorillas for one reason or another will be refunded 75% of the tracking fee. All refunds shall be effected at UWA Headquarters in Kampala through the Reservations Office.

∑ Visitors who fail to track the gorillas (MGNP) as a result of their movement to the neighboring country shall receive a full refund on their permits. However, visitors who would track the whole day and fail to view the gorillas for one reason or another will be refunded 75% of the tracking fee. All refunds shall be effected at UWA Headquarters in Kampala through the Reservations Office.

The reality is they are animals on the go and can disappear whenever they care to. From what I've read it doesn't happen often but I would suggest if going to Africa or Rwanda solely for the gorilla trek to schedule two treks. I've decided that if the gorilla want to play hide'n'seek the day I go then I'm sticking around for the next day with hopes that there will be a permit available for purchase or I'll be one mad and VERY disappointed gorilla lover.
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Apr 10th, 2007, 01:04 PM
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Hi bharlan, Welcome to Fodors!!
My husband and I did just one gorilla treck last year in Rwanda. If we had or if we were doing the trip again I would definately schedule two trecks as the experience is unbelievable.

Now, back to your question, the chance of not seeing the gorillas is tiny, so much so that they say they will refund the cost of the permits if you don't see them (this was what they said last year and I seriously doubt it has changed). I can honestly say that I never once worried that we would not get to see the gorillas and that is saying something as I am a born worrier who second guesses and 'if's' and 'buts' about everything. I have never heard either here or elsewhere of someone trecking the gorillas in Rwanda and not seeing them.

You really are in for an experience of a lifetime seeing Rwanda and those amazing animals.

Imelda
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Apr 10th, 2007, 01:38 PM
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I have NEVER heard of it happening to anyone in Rwanda.

I have heard once or twice of that happening in Uganda
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Apr 10th, 2007, 01:45 PM
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Robert,
The information you have gotten from others here is consistent with what I know. Just so you understand, these gorilla groups are tracked literally every day, and generally they don't move very far from day to day, They also destroy and stomp down vegetation in a very visible way as they eat and move, so tracking them is usually easy for the trackers. That is why the success rate is so high with the habituated groups in both Uganda and Rwanda.

The larger groups like Susa in Rwanda and Habinyanja in Uganda occupy larger territories to themselves and I believe they may move more than the smaller groups. It was explained to me that several of the habituated groups in Rwanda (like Hirwa and Group 13) live in the same general area of forest between Mt. Bisoke and Mt. Sabinyo, and their movements are limited because they don't want to run into the other groups. This, I was told, made failure fractionally more likely with the larger groups, but I have still never heard a tourist say that they went trekking and found no gorilas.

I think it is far more likely that you would find the gorillas and either the weather would be unpleasant or the gorilas would be in deep vegetation, making viewing more difficult. Hedging against that risk is the primary reason to do multiple treks (we did four).

Good luck planning your trip. I will reiterate what others have said: seeing gorillas in the wild is an unforgettable experience and totally worth the expense and effort involved.

Chris
My photo site: www.pbase.com/cwillis
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Apr 10th, 2007, 02:45 PM
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Robert-
The other posters are correct. Rarely does it happen, but sometimes it will. I've been trekking several times and on my last trip there were two occasions when our trek was jeopardized.

Once when we were halfway into the forest, our guide got a call from the trackers who said that one of the silverbacks in the group was fighting with another silverback.
If they didn't stop, we would not have been able to continue. So we had to wait mid-trek for a while to see if things would settle down.
Luckily, they did by the time we got there but there was a point where we almost had to turn back, for our own safety.

The second time, we were en route up the volcano through the farmland to one gorilla group when the trackers called and said the group moved way too far up the volcano for us to get there and back in a reasonable amount of time.
So our guide contacted another group's
guide who were trekking not to far from us and luckily they had enough space for us to join them.

Remember, they are wild animals and once and a while things will come into play that are totally out of anyone's control. But 99% of the time, you will be successful.
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Apr 10th, 2007, 02:54 PM
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Hi! My hubby & I did 2 treks in Rwanda in Feb of this year (I am still to write a report but I will I promise!) Definately do more than one trek if you can. The figures we were told by the park rangers were very very small that you would not get to see the gorillas. On our first trek I did begin to wonder if we could possibly be one of those small numbers!! It took us 4 1/2 hours to reach the gorillas because they were on the move in the direction away from us! As we fought our way through the thick undergrowth with machete weilding guides beating us as much of a path as they could the thought entered my head "at what point would they turn us back". I did not dare say that out loud though! Then we head the trackers and 10 mins later we were at the gorillas! 8 hours after we left the car we got back to it totally worn out and totally elaited. It was a very steep trek both directions. It was a fantastic experience and if you have a passion to see these amazing creatures in their own environment I think it is worth the very small risk. By the way on our second trek it only took us an hour to get to the gorillas on a relatively flat trail! Happy & safe travels J
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Apr 11th, 2007, 07:40 PM
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Thanks to everyone for your replies and reassurances about the Mountain Gorillas.

Robert
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Apr 12th, 2007, 06:07 AM
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I know of one person who has failed to see the gorillas but as she was a foreign resident it wasn't such a big deal (at that time it was cheaper for foreign residents and she could easily come back). It used to be a risk that the tourist took but from what others have said it may now be the parks authority that takes the risk (ie offers a refund). You might want to double check...

If you can, try to speak to someone to get yourself on the trip to see the largest group although it will be a much more strenuous climb to see them compared to the other groups.
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Apr 14th, 2007, 08:24 AM
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I have been wondering the exact same thing. Thanks for asking, bharlan.
I am glad to hear that it seems most likely that you will see gorillas, but I'm also having a huge debate inside my head about whether the cost will be worth it.

I am at the VERY beginning stages of planning our first trip to Africa and have been considering Rwanda (for the gorilla trekking), Kenya and Tanzania.
But I'm flabbergasted at what this will apparently cost!!
It sounds like the cost to do the gorilla trek (2 treks, airfare, hotel and transfers included) is around $3000US per person.
I'm trying to decide if spending that $6000 for both of us will be worth the 2 hours we might spend with the gorillas.
I know that in the moment I will just be beside myself with excitement if we get to see them...but I'm one of those worriers...what if we don't.
Even so, that seems like a tremendous amount of money!
I know we would enjoy getting to experience a new country, and I know we would appreciate seeing the Never Again memorial.
Has anyone else struggled with this decision????
The main reason I struggle with it so much is that we're trying to fit as much into our trip as possible but still stay within a budget. I was hoping to keep it under $12000 for the entire 2 week trip (not including airfare to Africa).
The gorilla trek just takes up such a large portion of the budget, I can't decide if it would be better to leave it out and get more safari in or have less safari time and do the gorillas.

Anyone else have this struggle and what did you decide???

Thanks
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Apr 14th, 2007, 08:34 AM
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I went to Bwindi on my 2nd trip to see the gorillas. My group walked out of the park, through some banana platations and right to the gorillas in 45 minutes. A guy we met there at the same time took 3 consecutive days to finally be able to view a group. Up early in the AM and returning late in the afternoon. Never seen anyone so buggered from hiking like that before. It isn't easy trying to catch up with gorillas on steep, overgrown hills where there are no trails.
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Apr 14th, 2007, 12:18 PM
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luv2globetrot-

My husband and I did Rwanda in February and it is well worth it. Shop around, as you can probably find something a little less expensive. I used Volcanoes Safari, did one trek and spent an entire day with a private guide in Kigali seeing the memorial and other sites. I stayed at Gorillas Nest as it was cheaper than the place that Volcanoes normally puts their people in. Regardless, it will still seem like it is costing an arm and a leg, but after you have looked into the eye of a gorilla, you won't regret any of the money you spent.

Have a great trip!

Monica
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Apr 14th, 2007, 03:02 PM
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luv2globetrot, I completely agree with Monica in that to look into a gorillas eyes is priceless. If you can at all, beg, borrow, maybe not steal, but you get my drift ... visit the gorillas. It is an experience that will stay with you for many many years to come. If you have to cut back a little elsewhere it is totally worth it. Also, it is VERY possible and quite easy to do Rwanda independently! We did it that way last year. We booked flights, hotel, permits and a guide separately and saved quite a bit of money. You could possibly do flights from Nairobi with two trecks with 3 nights and a driver for 3 days for around $2000 each or maybe a little less. If you used public transport instead of a guide you could cut costs even lower (although, if I were doing it again I would have a driver as it is so much easier).

PLease don't give up on Rwanda because of price, it is such an amazing place and the gorilla experience cannot be compared to anything I have ever experienced before.
Imelda
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Apr 15th, 2007, 04:42 AM
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There are some things in life you can't put a price on....seeing the gorillas is one of those things. After seeing the gorillas you'll never think about the cost again! GO!!!!!
Lily
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Apr 15th, 2007, 07:30 AM
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OK, you're all doing a great job of convincing me...which is what I hoped would happen when I posted

OnlyMeOirish,
I'm intrigued by your idea of doing Rwanda independently.
We've traveled many places and have always done our own thing, but it seems with Africa, most everyone goes with a company, so I just had it in my head that that was the way we'd be going.
Do you have any tips /ideas you could send my way on how I would get started with that?
And can most of this planning be accomplished over the internet, like booking lodging, the trekking permits, a guide, etc??
Thanks for any help you can give!

Happy, safe travels
Lisa
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Apr 15th, 2007, 08:55 AM
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HI Lisa,
Like you I tend to book all my holidays independently but never thought that I could 'do' Africa Independently. What actually prompted me to do it that way was, I wanted a specific lodge in the Mara but none of the agents could gurantee me it (I didn't start booking until February / March for a July safari!!). I e-mailed the lodge/hotel chain directly and low and behold they could confirm reservations for me for one of the sets of dates I wanted (I gave them two sets of dates as, at that stage we could do either Rwanda first or Kenya first with availability of the lodge being the deciding factor) ... so that was the start.

To summarise how I booked :

Kenya Airways website - flights from Nairobi to Kigali - around $900 for the two of us. WE booked with credit card and needed to produce the same credit card at the airport where payment was taken.
I used ITT to book the jeep plus driver (opaid by cash on arrival). This worked out great because we had flight delays and missed our flight from Nairobi so were on the later one and because we had a driver it made it easier not worrying about missing buses etc. I am still in touch with the guy who drove us around - an absolutely amazing person who adores his work. He does transportation bookings independently of ITT so if I were going again I would just book Richard direct.
We booked our trecking permits through Amahoro Tours (before I discovered ITT) and Greg charged $50 for the service (we collected the permits on the way to Ruhengeri and paid in cash). In hindsight I would just have booked directly with ORTPN (the people who actually issue the permits).
We stayed at the Gorillas Nest. It is basic but the nearest place to the ORTPN headquarters - the starting point for the treck. There are a couple of new more luxurious options but are much further from the park and a LOT more $$$. The Gorillas nest cost $100 per night and Greg at Amahoro arranged it for us as I couldn't find an e-mail address for them.
We did just one Gorilla treck - if I were doing it again I would do 2 as it is such a fantastic experience. It took us about an hour to reach the group (the Amahoro Group) and we had a fantastic viewing ... they had a 2 week old baby at the time and Muhabura (the 2 year old tearaway!) will remain in my memory for a long time to come!
Richard, our driver, drove us to the ORTPN headquarters and once assigned our group he drove us to the trecking point. After our treck (at about 11am) we stopped for lunch and drove back to Kigali. Because we took a little more time than expected at lunch (due to good conversation with Richard!), we missed the Genocide Memorial by literally 2 minutes.
We stayed at the Hotel Des Milles Collines in Kigali (booked on their website with a follow-up phpone call to make sure the booking went through as I got an error on the booking page .... it had gone through! - paid in cash) which I would NOT recommend .... dirty and rude are the two comments that apply. I would stay at the Intercontinental (I think it's now the Serena) for about $180 but if budget was a concern I'd probably stay at Chez Lando (they have a website too).

The following morning we used the airport shuttle and flew back to Nairobi. There we met another driver who took us to Lake Nakuru. We booked Kennedy through recommendations here and he met us at the airport. Another driver drove us to Nakuru. (We paid Kennedy in Cash when we arrived). Stayed 1 night at the Lion Hill Sarova which Kennedy booked for us as he could get a rate slightly cheaper than I could direct. (we paid in cash for this - not sure if we paid Kennedy or the hotel directly ... think it might have been the hotel).
Drove to Lake Naivisha with driver where we got a SafariLink transfer to the Mara Serena. SafariLink booked by e-mail. We 'should' have paid by cash in Nairobi on arrival before leaving for Nakuru but there were some wires crossed ... Kennedy sorted it out for us though - he went and paid them and we reimbursed him when we returned to Nairobi.
Mara Serena booked by e-mail (deposit paid by CC when booked, remainder paid on departure).... there are a lot of different 'ways' to book the Mara Serena, packages sometimes are MUCH more expensive than booking flights separately. 4 nights here.
Flew back by SafariLink to Nairobi. Kennedy collected us and we toured Nairobi for the remainder of the day 0 Elephant Orphanage foster parent visit(HIGHLY recommended!), KWS.
Booked the Nairobi Serena (same time as the Mara Serena), got a slightly better rate because of having booked the Mara Serena but it was still a little expensive ... the BEST meal we had in all our trip was in their restaurant upstairs however (and it wasn't very expensive!)!(paid on departure).
We had Kennedy for the next day also to do what we missed the previous day. Back to the Serena to pick up our luggage and off to the airport.

We spent just 10 days in Africa and saw so much. We booked everything independently and the cost was probably less than $7000 for the two of us, not including flights from Ireland or tips. On the tips issue - we had thought before we left that tips were 'high' but on getting there we found that we tipped WAY above the recommended on most occasions.

We had a few 'little' issues / mishaps along the way but they serve as some very funny stories now. If you would like to read it, I have a trip report posted here: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...e=OnlyMeOirish

Hope this helps some, If you have any questions feel free to ask.
Africa is an amazing place!

Imelda
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Apr 15th, 2007, 09:50 AM
  #17
 
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I just want to reiterate the fact that you will never regret a gorilla trek, no matter how much it costs. If you're already going to Africa anyway, do not miss it. If you're a wildlife lover it will be the most amazing part of your trip by a long shot, and possibly the most amazing experience of your life.

One more note - I used a local tour company called Kiboko Tours and Travel and found them to be very affordable. They booked my permit for me and I had my own guide who drove me to and from Kigali for the trek. I paid $200 plus the cost of the permit.
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Apr 15th, 2007, 10:12 AM
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I'll add my two cents.

My wife and I travel the world. The only reason I work is to make money for travel. I have loved just about everywhere I have been and everything I have done, from the Ritz in Paris to a small motel in the Louisiana swampland where we went alligator hunting (with cameras). I have been to all seven continents (hence my username here) and on safari in Africa 5 times (East, South,you name it).

My wife and I still say the greatest single vacation experience we have ever had was the one in Rwanda where we spent one hour with the mountain gorillas.

Yes, it is expensive, but if you really want to do it and can in any way handle the price, I recommend you do it. You won't regret it.
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Apr 15th, 2007, 10:33 AM
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I'm ready to book my 2nd trip to Rwanda and haven't even been on my first yet!
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Apr 15th, 2007, 11:18 AM
  #20
 
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WOW!!
What great replies!! Thanks all!

OnlyMeOirish...thanks so much for all the great advice. I will go over your post again with a fine tooth comb and may have more questions for you
Can't wait to read your trip report!

grommet19 and sevendown...
I got tears in my eyes reading your posts!!!!
I'm totally convinced now!!!!!!
Thank you all so much!

Happy, safe travels
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