Okay! It's happening! The time has finally come for your incredible adventure. Brian and I couldn't have asked for a better experience with Treks2Rwanda, so we are going to take you through everything you can expect when you book a gorilla trek with them. Hope your bags are packed! Here we go.
BEFORE YOU LAND IN RWANDA
The booking process isn't overnight and you will have a few phone calls with your consultant before any money is exchanged. They want to make sure you are fully prepared before your safari. You will have a full itinerary, the names of your guides, all pick up times and locations, and any information you could possibly ask for, so don't worry! In this article, we wanted to take you through the experience too.
THE PICK UP
Around 9:00am your driver and guide will pick you up from your hotel in a very comfortable Toyota Land-cruiser, stocked with bottled water, maps, and various guides. The drive to Kinigi (where you will be staying) is around 2.5 hours on mostly well paved roads with plenty of beautiful landscape to keep you busy. During our drive, we stopped in a small town to pick up some extra reinforcements (including a bottle of Urwagwa, the local Rwandan Banana Wine).
After checking in and getting settled at your hotel, you will have lunch with your guide. We stayed at The Mountain Gorilla View Lodge and loved it. Each room is a spacious private bungalow with a wood burning fireplace which was lit and maintained every night. We chose the most budget friendly option offered to us but there are more luxury accommodations to choose from as well. Your tour company will send you a list of places.
Your safari package will most likely be full board like ours, which means all meals are included (not including alcohol, which can be purchased at the lodge). Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all buffet style in the main (and I believe only) dining room at the lodge. It’s nothing to write home about (a lot of Irish potatoes) but for buffet style hotel food it was pretty good. Also, meal times were fun because everyone is bouncing around sharing their experiences from their treks!
Following lunch on day one, we went on a hike through Twin Lakes which was beautiful and really enjoyable after a long car ride, but don’t worry, the hike isn’t strenuous at all; you don’t want to tire out your legs before the big day!
THE MORNING OF
Make sure you get a good nights rest as you have a 5am wake up call the next day. We like to pack everything the night before to ensure we don’t forget anything during those frantic early mornings while we are half asleep trying to get ready.
You’ll have your breakfast and meet your guide at 6:30am sharp. It’s a short drive to Volcaones National Park headquarters were everyone will meet. Here you can enjoy hot coffee/tea and local entertainment while your groups (no more than eight people) and permits get sorted out. Groups are organized more or less by your fitness level and age to ensure that you won’t be doing anything too strenuous or not strenuous enough before meeting your assigned gorilla family.
Now it’s time to start the adventure. From this point on, I can only give you details of our particular trek as everyone’s was different. We drove for over two hours (although we were told it was just an hour away) before getting to the base of our mountain and MAN was it a bumpy ride (make sure you have gone to the bathroom plenty before getting in the car). We were assigned Susa A Group (one of the hardest groups to track as they are always on the move, but not as hard as Susa B), and so we drove to Mount Karisimbi. Other groups trekked different volcanoes and therefore had different driving (and hiking) times.
Honestly, I think the excitement of the gorillas masked any bathroom dilemmas we may have had (I may have the world's tiniest bladder). If bathroom breaks are a concern of yours (like they are for me) while traveling, rest assured that neither of us remember it being a big ordeal (but bottom line, there are no toilets on the volcano). This is why I always have wet wipes and little (black) bags with me. Leave no trace!
Our hike started out at the base of the volcano on flat farmland. You will be greeted by lots of locals, especially children, along the way. If you want to take pictures, remember, it's always polite to ask first. Once you reach a short stone wall, you will sync up with your scouts. Here your guide will give you the basic tools you need to “speak gorilla.” Yes that's right, you will learn a few sounds and body movements to help in certain situations. Mainly, you learn the sound you make when you want to reiterate to the gorillas that everything is okay and then of course, what to do in the event that there is a hostile situation.
A set of Rangers had been tracking the family before our arrival to help guide us in the right direction. The first two hours or so were directly uphill through a deeply covered bamboo forest. The shade from the forest is great as you will most likely be pretty layered up to avoid as much contact with stinging nettles as possible. Once we cleared the bamboo forest, we hiked for another three hours or so before we had to leave all of our belongings and anything that was brightly colored, scented (like food), or anything hanging off of us behind. Once everything was squared away, we walked up and over a little hill and there she was, our first gorilla. I was completely overcome with emotion and even got a bit teary eyed. In total, we hiked over five hours and honestly I think over 8,000ft of elevation, but when you see your first mountain gorilla, it is all worth it!
Once you spot your first gorilla, your one hour on the clock starts ticking. If your family is on the move (like ours), you will move with them. If they are playing, eating, sleeping in one place, you will get to watch and observe. The whole experience goes beyond any words I have to describe it. The rule of thumb is to stay seven meters away but honestly, some of the gorillas, especially the babies, could come right up to you, if not crawl on top of you! As always, you have to take precautions and no matter what, listen to your guide, scouts, and rangers. They know these families and are there to protect you and the gorillas.
When it’s time to say goodbye, you will return to your bags (which unfortunately for us was another completely uphill climb), break for a short lunch, and start your descent (which takes half the time of the climb). You will be exhausted, sweaty, dirty, and if you are anything like me, starving and in desperate need of a bathroom, but you will never forget this day! I promise!
BACK AT THE LODGE
For a small fee, you can have your clothes and shoes cleaned (we decided to have our shoes cleaned). The lodge will provide entertainment if you want to partake or you can relax with a cold beer and start sharing your experiences with other travelers who just went through the same beautiful adventure as you. We did a little bit of both.
THE NEXT DAY
Your safari is most likely paired with a Golden Monkey Trek the following day. Brian and I at one point didn't even want to go (we were exhausted). We wished we splurged on a two day gorilla trek (again, if it's in your budget we highly recommend booking two days with the gorillas, and more specifically, one in Rwanda and one in Uganda as the driving times are much more manageable through Rwanda). However, to our surprise, the Golden Monkeys were so fun and a great way to end our time with Treks2Rwanda. The trek is super easy. The monkeys hang out in the bamboo forest and their playful personalities makes for a great morning excursion. Afterwards, you will return to the hotel one last time for lunch and a quick shower before heading back to Kigali where Treks2Rwanda will drop you off at your hotel.
Phew! I know that was a lot but we wanted to give you the full experience! If you want to read more about the golden monkeys, our time in Rwanda, or our gorilla trek, you can relive the experience through the links! And if you plan on spending any time in Kigali, make sure to check out our two day guide here!