Gorilla Trekking Hope Tours Africa

Is Gorilla Trekking Safe?

Yes, gorilla trekking in the mountainous rainforest jungle is safe, both for the gorillas and the visitors provided rules and regulations in place are followed. With a dominant silverback weighing up to 200 kilograms and reaching nearly 6 feet when standing, it is valid to feel vulnerable when watching mountain gorillas.  

This blog details more about the safest gorilla trekking destinations in Africa, how safe is gorilla trekking, safety guidelines for gorilla trekking and more useful tips to follow about this extraordinary wildlife adventure. 

In Africa, there are only four places where gorilla trekking is done. 

The best and most popular places for safe gorilla trekking in Africa are Uganda and Rwanda which are home to rare and endangered mountain gorillas, the other only place where you can see mountain gorillas is the Democratic Republic of Congo but it is not visited these days due to the ongoing political instability.

Uganda

Uganda is a popular destination for gorilla trekking and its visitors rarely experience crime, the local people are warm and very welcoming towards visitors. Moreover, the parks where the mountain gorillas live are particularly well maintained and patrolled. 

The safety of visitors is a top priority at the parks (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park) and experienced rangers and often security, accompany travelers into the forests to visit the mountain gorillas. Gorilla treks in Uganda are trouble free and it has been like this for years. 

 The misty forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s population of gorillas, due to its rich biodiversity and diverse habitats. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the best place for gorilla trekking in Uganda, the other place where you can see gorillas in Uganda is Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.  

Rwanda

Rwanda is arguably the safest country in Africa and you will feel this immediately upon arrival in the relaxed and charming Kigali City – the capital of Rwanda.  

Gorilla tours in Rwanda are well managed and mostly safe. In 2022, Rwanda was listed as the 6th safest country in the world for solo travelers. The country’s response to the genocide of 1994 was an attempt to pull the country together rather than further dividing it. 

Today, this has the effect of a solid safety record for travelers and Rwandans with an emphasis on security. There are around 300 mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park – the oldest national park in Africa where gorilla trekking is done in Rwanda. 

Though mountain gorillas are extremely large and powerful, they are not interested in hurting humans unless they feel threatened. Moreover, the gorilla families that people visit on gorilla trekking tours are habituated to the presence of humans.  

There are of course some fairly rational rules that you should follow while trekking for gorillas to ensure your safety as well as the well-being of the gorillas. And your gorilla trekking guide is the person to look to if you are ever uncertain about what to do (or not do). He or she is there to protect you and knows the visited troop well. 

Mountain gorillas are exceptionally large and powerful, a silverback can weigh up to 220 kgs (485 pounds). But despite their unfair reputation, they are not interested in hurting humans, they are really gentle giants and are quite shy by nature. 

Mountain gorillas are predominantly vegetarians who sometimes eat small insects. 

So while gorillas will defend themselves if attacked, they are not aggressive animals and they have no interest in messing with humans.  

To further enhance everyone’s safety is the fact that the mountain gorilla families you visit on a trek are habituated, this means these gorillas have undergone a long process of slowly becoming accustomed to human presence. They are therefore less likely to become alarmed and agitated by your presence.  

Moreover, when you go on a gorilla trek, you go in the company of a trained guide and armed rangers. Such men and women know the gorilla family groups being visited and know what and cannot be done, it is important to always listen to your ranger and stay with the group while trekking. Always listen to what you are told to do and not do. Poking a silverback’s stomach for instance and touching the gorillas is not allowed. 

 But if you follow the rules of your trek guide and act with common sense, you are perfectly safe visiting the gorillas. However, you are not safe from getting very muddy on a gorilla trek  

Obviously there are rules to follow when trekking and watching the mountain gorillas that are geared towards not angering, frightening or in any other way upsetting the gorillas. Some of the safety guidelines to follow when in presence of mountain gorillas are as:

  • Don’t use flash photography as this could startle them and make them angry 
  • Only stand as close to the primates as the trek guide says you can (which is usually no closer than 7 meters/23 feet) 
  • Do not make sudden movements or loud noises as these could alarm the gorillas 
  • Don’t wear bright or neon colors and don’t wear strong cologne or perfume

 

If a gorilla comes, remain submissive and do not look them in the eye, as this is interpreted as a challenge. As tempting as it is, do not touch a baby gorilla. 

 If you happen to look into the eyes of a gorilla, take a brief moment to enjoy the experience. But then immediately take your gaze off the gorillas’ eyes and look down. This signals to the gorilla that you are not a threat and that everyone can relax. 

Always stick with your group under the leadership of the park rangers and guides. Moving out of the group without a ranger could put you in danger.

Mountain gorillas live in montane forests which means you have to walk along forest trails to find them, a gorilla trek is all about seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat, after all.

Every forest trek varies in length and difficulty depending on a few factors like which park you visit, the weather and the particular gorilla troop you have been assigned. The location of the troops are monitored by park rangers and each trek group is assigned as a specific troop to visit.  

Generally, visitors can ask to be assigned a troop near or far from the starting point. The less fit for example may wish to have a shorter hike. Hikes range from about half a n hour to three or four hours. There are no overnight hikes.  

Gorilla hikes are special and rewarding

You Need To Be Prepared

The biggest danger on a gorilla trek is to do with navigating the mountainous and forest terrain, often you walk along narrow or even non-existent trails. You should cover up your arms and legs to avoid being scratched or bitten by insects. 

Also, you should wear thick gloves as you will likely want to hold onto some vegetation for leverage but there can be thorns. 

Also note that the route you walk is likely to be steep in places as well as muddy and slippery, so you want hiking boots with good grip and you might also consider bringing along trekking poles or walking sticks as many others do.

Also, you can hire the services of a porter who not only carries your backpack for you but also helps you to navigate tricky sections.   

It could really be cold in the early morning as well as hot at midday when there is no cloud cover. And it often rains as if you are in a rainforest after all, so you will need to be prepared for all kinds of weather having warm layers, a waterproof shell and sunscreen and a sunhat.  

Travel With A Local Tour Guide

Also, we recommend traveling with a local tour guide to further ensure your safety. No matter where you go in the world, having a local person look after you is always a great idea as they know the culture, environment, people and wildlife of the place.  

Book With A Good Hotel

It is important to stay at a good hotel or lodge which provides both comfortable rooms and security as well, your tour operator can help you select the best hotels with good security policies in place. Do not book with hotels or lodges that have poor reviews or are less known by other travelers. 

Very cheap hotels normally have crowds that can be penetrated by criminals.

You wouldn’t wish to wake up only to find your room broken into or your valuables missing. Go for the mid-range and luxury options if you can.  

Request For An Easier Hike

If you doubt your fitness or are an elder, we recommend that you let your tour operator know about it before booking your gorilla tour. 

On the day of briefing, the rangers will allocate gorilla families based on fitness among other factors. If you are unfit or an elder, insist on tracking a gorilla family that is closer to the starting point to avoid having to hike for long distances. 

If you think that you are fit enough, you should go for a medium or more difficult hike.  

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