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Just Got Back: Gorilla Trekking in Africa


Travel Age West, Hope Smith


This February, I went gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda with Volcanoes Safaris. I had gone to Rwanda in 1981, and it’s a very different experience now. For one thing, a gorilla permit in Rwanda is now around $1,500, and it was about $150 back then. For clients who can’t afford that, the permits in Uganda are about $600.

Rwanda has become a lot more upscale. I visited Bisate Lodge, by Wilderness Safaris, which is brand-new and runs about $1,300 a night. Several more luxury lodges are currently being built there, too. I loved traveling with Volcanos Safaris, which has been in the area forever.

I don’t really try to sell this kind of trip — people come to me with the desire to do it. My best tip is to tell clients to plan ahead because permits are limited, and they go quickly.

In both Rwanda and Uganda, the experience is incredible. After almost four hours of trekking uphill, we finally found a group of gorillas. Even if you try to stay away, if they are curious they will come check you out. In Uganda, I had a huge silverback come right in front of me. It’s really moving and beautiful — you feel excited like a little kid again. It definitely touches the soul. That’s the beauty of it.

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To protect gorillas from disease, no children under 15 years are allowed to go gorilla tracking. For guests booking a stay at Virunga Lodge, please note that the minimum age limit for children at Virunga Lodge is 12 years.

Safari Activities

Chimpanzee Tracking

Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.

Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.