Do you know what it’s like to look a Silverback gorilla dead in the eye? Do you want to know?
Visiting the critically endangered East African mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is a profound travel experience, and one that tops many travellers’ bucket lists – with good reason.
But doing so involves an Indiana Jones-style journey into the depths of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
The jungle is a seemingly everlasting thicket of tangled green with no street signs, walking trails or Google Maps abilities. To find the gorillas’ nest you must follow the footsteps (literally) of a team of local trackers who use machetes to clear a path through the jungle. It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating and it’s best to come prepared (with more than just a Harrison Ford fedora).
GO ON A GORILLA TREK IN UGANDA OR RWANDA WITH INTREPID TRAVEL
To keep you comfy throughout your ‘gorillas in the mist’ experience, don’t leave home without the following:
Bring a decent rain jacket
When Toto sang of the rains in Africa, they were probably thinking of the rainforest, where cold showers are unforgiving and also rather impromptu so squeeze a lightweight rain jacket in your backpack and avoid the damp. There’s nothing worse than trekking with wet socks.
Trekking boots are your best friend
Speaking of trekking, the jungle is thick and there are no designated hiking trails so you’ll have to put your best foot forward. Literally. And your best foot will be thick-soled, waterproof and with decent ankle support. After all, the road to gorillas is long, windy and full of potholes.
BYO gardening gloves
This might seem like packing overkill but trust us, once you enter the tangled vegetation you’ll be glad your hands are protected. The guides will do as much as they can to clear a path but you’re inevitably going to get your hands dirty and in doing so will want to avoid the prickles.
READ MORE: WHY FEAR CAN BE YOUR GREATEST TRAVEL ASSET, ACCORDING TO ONE FEMALE TRAVELLER
Insect repellent is essential
Gorillas live in the jungle. It’s a fact of life. And the jungle, besides fostering Mowgli, is also home to many other creepy crawlies. You’ll want to avoid said creepy crawlies, especially if they cause unnecessary itching. Douse yourself in insect repellent and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience scratch-free.
READ MORE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TREKKING WITH MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
In good news, this is something that we (Intrepid) look after. Because Bwindi and Volcanoes are protected environments, the local governments have introduced trekking permits to limit tourism each season. This serves to maintain the natural habitat and avoid the gorillas becoming overexposed to humans.
Long pants and even longer socks
Get ready to look your trendiest, folks. You’ll want to cover as much skin as possible which means, yep, tucking your trousers into your socks (for safety reasons). My guide was actually pretty firm on this rule and he kept a keen eye on our hemlines.
Extra batteries are a good idea
The trackers can’t guarantee how long you’ll spend trekking before you encounter the gorillas. It might be 45 minutes, it might be four to five hours. Make sure you bring spare camera batteries to last the full day.
There are no restrooms en route to the gorilla nest, but there can also be no controlling human nature. If you find that you’ve just GOT TO GO, make sure you have biodegradable toilet paper on hand. It will avoid an embarrassing situation and also won’t harm the environment.
READ MORE: STORIES FROM RWANDA: WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE VISITING MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
As mentioned, there is no way of knowing how long you’re going to be in the jungle. You could be on your feet for the better part of a day searching for the nest which means you’ll definitely be wanting extra sustenance. Our guides will provide you with water and lunch but if you’re a hungry hiker then it’s a good idea to BYO snacks.
Be safe, bring lotions
Despite being well-looked after by your guides and trackers, they cannot shield you from the prickles, nettles and bug bites that come part and parcel with life in the jungle. If you find yourself easily inflamed think about bringing a small tube of antiseptic or antibacterial lotion to rub on mosquito bites and small scratches to keep them safe and clean.
Do you want to experience a trek to see the gorillas for yourself? Book a trek with Intrepid Travel today.
All images by Damien Raggatt.