For most people, a trip to Uganda, Rwanda or DR Congo to trek the endangered mountain gorilla is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unlike most safaris, gorilla trekking is done completely outside of the safari vehicle and often requires you to scramble through wet and slippery stinging nettles. But, the rewards far outweigh the inconveniences and, especially if you come prepared.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help make your gorilla trekking experience the best…ever.
Do hire a porter
I will admit that I was hesitant to do this on my first trek. I hike often and consider myself to be in pretty good condition. But, as soon as I saw that my money goes directly to the porter, I remembered why I came all that way and didn’t hesitate to use one again on my second trek.
Not only did my porter carry my bag, but he was ready for me when I wanted to switch lenses or put something away. And, as you are not allowed take anything when visiting the gorillas, it was great to have him put my bag around my walking stick, high above the wet, muddy ground.
Don’t bring over a 200mm lens
The proximity to the mountain gorillas is much closer than you’ll be expecting. I had on my 400mm lens, thinking I was going to get a superb shot, but we were so close, I could only see his nostril! Luckily my porter was there and I was able to quickly swap to my 24-120mm zoom lens and, I rarely zoomed in all the way.
Save yourself, and your porter, the trouble of carrying around a heavy lens. This pensive baby gorilla was taken at 120mm.
Do wear sunscreen and, if needed, a cap
The first day we trekked it was cool and foggy out. We left early that morning and, without thinking, I put on some sunscreen. During the first hour or so of our hike it began to drizzle. It was still drizzling during our gorilla encounter and the brim of my baseball cap came in very handing for blocking some of the moisture.
Weather changes quickly at altitude and, within minutes, we were hit with an intense sun. This was the case for the remainder of our journey, which lasted another two hours. Some people in our group were badly sunburned.
Don’t be ultra-cautious and bring a surgical mask
I’d read so much about gorillas and lack of immunity to the human cold, that I thought I’d be ultra-cautious and bring a few surgical masks along to help ensure their safety. I was in fine health, but after a long-haul flight on a plane that had many people coughing, I didn’t want to take any chances. My guide took one look at it and said that this would make them go crazy. Apparently, when doctors come to tranquilize them for studies, they wear these masks. Maybe not one of my better ideas, but my intentions were good.
Do wear sturdy, waterproof boots
Even the rangers wear black rubber boots, so I felt right at home with my black wellies. They fit nicely in my bag, were super easy to hose down after all that trekking, and the grip on the bottom was remarkably solid when trekking uphill through so many stinging nettles. I also saw people with hiking books and gaiters.
As long as your calves are covered, you’ll be fine.
An hour spent with the incredible mountain gorilla is something you’ll never forget. And, if you’re prepared with dry feet and camera ready, you’ll be able to completely enjoy your hour without any distractions. Enjoy!
Javier Luque is a Co-Founder and Director of Your African Safari.
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