need advice on seeing gorilla families in Virunga

Jan 13th, 2007, 11:36 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 5
need advice on seeing gorilla families in Virunga

I'm traveling Feb 11 for 2 day treks over 4 days in Virungas with Magic Safaris. I'm 48 yrs. old, 6'2", 225 lbs, and in pretty decent shape ~ been doing cardio to prepare for hiking. Planning to see Susa group for 1 trek and could use input about choosing another group for second day. Any news on new births or number of silverbacks or anything else for choosing which group to see?
Please respond with particular gorilla group names.
Would you see Susa group first day or second, or see them both times?
Any recommendations for reserving or getting the particular gorilla family group you want?
worldtrekCharleston is offline  
Jan 13th, 2007, 04:06 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440

If assigning groups works as it did when I was there a few years back, you were given your group the morning of the trek. So you may wish to see how you feel after the first Suza trek and reflect on what you saw. You can also get more recent info on the other groups. In fact, I'd pump your guide for gorilla info as soon as you are able because in addition to the goup membership, where they are is an important part of the viewing experience. Then you can make a more informed decision.

I'd do Suza first, if that is a group you wish to see.

After visiting Suza, I requested a second Suza visit the next day instead of whatever group I was supposed to see.
That's because there were 7-week old twins, many other babies, and it was the biggest group. I had been to Sabinyo the day before and it was very good too.
So I made up my mind after my Suza visit where I wanted to go next.

I have not mentioned the other groups by name since I do not know the family makeup of them right now. Suza is the largest I believe.

Drgough just returned from Rwanda and has posted that s/he is open to questions. Here is the Fodor's link that includes the direct email.

Please report back when you return, as there have been some inquiries into Magic and you are using them.

Have a marvelous time.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 11:18 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 79
My teenage daughter and I did 3 treks in August of this year. The Susa family is no doubt the most famous family. We did not visit Susa. My own opinion is that the quality of the experience might have less to do with which family you visit, than with where and when you encounter the family and the quality of the guide. French is the second language of the guides. Some guides speak better English than others. [I speak OK French, which helped throughout the country.]

One the first day, we visited the 13 Group. That was fascinating. Some members of the group had a respiratory illness--audible wet coughs, etc. Because our group was one person short, an American vet, who had been living in Rwanda for 4 years studying the primates, joined us. He was very kind and patient to answer the many questions that I had. The 13 Group was out in the open for the most part; but for that reason (and probably because of the illness), the guide kept us fairly far away from them.

The second day, we went to the Sabyinyo family. At least at that time, the silverback in that family was the largest of them all--225 kilos. We were in far more enclosed space than the day before. The gorillas walked right up to us or right by us. The male became annoyed at one woman who was filming and charged/touched our guide without warning. That guide, however, was pretty much just going through the motions. He rushed everything. In the very dense overgrowth, those of us at the end the line frequently lost contact with the guide and those at the front. I cannot say that the guide diminished the quality of the experience, but he added nothing to it.

Our third and final trek was to the Hirwa family. We drew the great guide Francois (as I recall his name). Two weeks earlier, he had guided Bill Gates. I also gather that he appears in some film or films about the gorillas. He is well known. As a very young man, he worked for Dianne Fossey. He stopped a lot and explained the flora and fauna, which was really interesting. He explained how/what the gorillas eat. He communicated with the gorillas. I would say that he was more relaxed about letting the gorillas get close to us. Hirwa had wonderful babies in August.

I guess that the point I am trying to make is that there may not be all much difference among the families, with the exception of new babies, etc. They are all truly awesome, and it is a privilege to be in their presence. If there were a "least interesting" family [which of course there is not], I would have sought to visit it if Francois was the guide. He added so much to my understanding of the region and the primates.

Lastly, the park people assign you to groups. You can make requests, but it is best to arrive early and have your own guide try to get you on the trek that you want.

No matter which families you visit, you will have what is truly a unique experience.

You might want to read the thread on Trip Advisor about "trekking fitness." I post there as JP & Mom. The thing that I was not prepared for was having to walk bent over. I am 5-8. It was hard on both my back and quads.

Rosenose is offline  
Jan 15th, 2007, 05:46 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 705
Let me second what Rosenose just said. I think the quality of your experience is FAR more dependent on where the gorillas are on a given day, what their attitude is, and how your guide is, than which group it is. All the groups are habituated and all are capable of delivering a really fine viewing experience.
I just returned from Rwanda and Uganda less than a week ago, and my trip report is in process. I trekked two gorilla groups in Rwanda (Amahoro and Hirwa) and two in Uganda (Nkuringo and Habinyanja). Habinyanja was the largest of the four groups, with 22 gorillas.

Before going, I had always assumed that going to a larger group would be better, but my own experiences did not bear that out. A larger group has more gorillas, but they do not just sit there all in one place together. Rather, they will be spread out over an area of several hundred yards, with only a few members visible at any given time. With the smaller groups we saw, we got just as close to just as many gorillas as with the larger groups, so I would say that just picking groups to visit based on number of gorillas is not a valid way to choose.

What I would suggest is that you should first choose based on your physical fitness level (Susa in Rwanda and Nkuringo and Habinyanja in Uganda are thought to be the hardest treks). Then perhaps consider trying to get Francois as your guide, regardless of what group he is leading (he was our guide for the Hirwa Group and was really fun to be with). I can also recommend Francis, a younger guide at Volcanoes National Park (but who still has 7 years experience). If you want to see the twins, go to Susa; if you want to see Guhonda, the largest silverback, go to Sabyinyo. But based on my recent experience, I don't think that pre-deciding on a particular group is an idea that has much effect on your experience. My advice would be just to go to whatever group and fate will decide what kind of experience you have. It is very likely to be a wonderful experience regardless of which group you go to. All four of our gorilla treks were excellent, but each in a different way.
Chris_GA_Atl is offline  
Jan 15th, 2007, 09:14 AM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 641
I just did 5 trackings in December and I did not see the Susa group. Because of the rainy conditions both days, those groups had difficulty finding them and when they did the viewing was not good. One day they saw 5 of the gorillas in the Susa group and they were hiding from the rain in the thick brush. I didn't care which groups I tracked as long as it was with Francois, which my guide Francis from Volcanoes took care of for me. I tracked the Amahoro and Hirwa groups with him and both experiences were superb. We saw many newborn babies and youngsters.
As has been said here, you get your group assigned when you check in that morning according to what you ask for and what you say your physical abilities are and who else is tracking that day.
There are some excellent threads on this subject already. You can find them here:

Uganda/Rwanda - Any questions -

Back from Rwanda and Kenya -

Gorilla trekking clothes and gear -

Booking Gorilla Trek in Uganda -

Rwanda gorilla trek difficulty? -

Rwanda or Uganda Gorilla Trekking? -

Uganda and Rwanda Trip Report -
safarimama is offline  
Jan 15th, 2007, 08:18 PM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 79
Safarimama & Chris -- Did either of you happen to hear anything about the health of the 13 Group? The respiratory illness was a great concern last August. I would like to know how that has resolved--hoping for the best.
Rosenose is offline  
Jan 15th, 2007, 09:50 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 641
Rosenose, There is information at The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) website about the respiratory problem you speak about -
safarimama is offline  
Jan 16th, 2007, 04:19 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 705
Several tourists staying at our lodge tracked Group 13 and then told us what a great time they had doing so. They did not mention any health problems or special precautions against getting too close. The only issue with Group 13 is that the silverback of that group had a confrontation with the silverback of the Hirwa Group the day we arrived in Ruhengeri, and the people who went to Group 13 reported seeing the signs of the battle in terms of injuries on the Group 13 silverback. We went to Hirwa two days later and the silverback of that group looked totally fine, although the group was moving around rapidly, according to Francois this was to avoid another interaction with Group 13.
Chris_GA_Atl is offline  
Jan 18th, 2007, 08:28 PM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 79
Chris & Safari -- Thanks for the information. I had not seen anything about the 13 Group on the Mountain Gorilla site, so concluded that the illness must have resolved. One cannot have spent a few hours in the presence of the gorillas and not remain concerned about their wellbeing.
Rosenose is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:13 AM.