Your guide leads you along the narrow path upwards into the mountains. It is cool and the mist seems to hang in the air. The route is arduous as you climb down into, and then out of, gullies. Sometimes, all that is holding you up, it seems, is a strong vine. A thick bamboo stock prevents you from losing your footing as you climb up a steep incline. Yet, the goal is in sight. Your guide and tracker have assured that, on what you hope will be the first of many African wildlife safaris, you will see a silverback.
African wildlife safaris come in any forms – you could be travelling by vehicle or even go by elephant. Yet there is something special about heading off into the mountains in search of mountain gorillas. You have several choices of how to do this, and among the most popular parks hosting African wildlife safaris of this type are Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, and Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) in Rwanda.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, is home to a subspecies of the same mountain gorillas found in Rwanda. The area has a population of over 300 gorillas. In this 330-km2 (127-sq mi) park, enormous hardwood trees mingle with giant ferns, hanging vines and snarled undergrowth. It is the only forest you will find in East Africa that is home to both chimpanzees and Mountain Gorillas.
Mountain gorillas live in small groups. This national park has 30 small groups of which 6 are used to receiving guests. To reach them involves following the exact directions of your guide and tracker. It also means obeying the specific “Gorilla Rules” as contained in the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s brochure. This includes Gorilla etiquette.
While this is truly one of the most magnificent experiences among those you may encounter on African wildlife safaris, it is one that is physically demanding. You do not rely on vehicles of any sort take you to the ever-changing site of the mountain gorillas. You must walk, climb and slide towards your destination. You will rise early in the morning, don waterproof clothing, hiking boots and a hat. Take a camera but be sure to carry it in a waterproof pouch. Be ready to walk for miles – and then walk some more. Yet, this 60-minute visit with these truly remarkable animals is well worth the price you pay both physically and literally
Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans)
The Mountain Gorillas you will see in the Volcanoes National Park are those made famous by the legendary Dian Fossey. To reach them, you again need to climb high. The landscape here consists of the remains of five dead volcanoes – a rough jumble of craters and peaks. As in Uganda, you must have a guide and a tracker. A porter to carry your belongings is optional.
The routes are long and never straightforward, but the journey is certainly justified to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. It is essential to purchase tickets at least two months in advance as only small groups are allowed. However, the time it takes, and the sometimes long wait to see the mountain gorillas, here or in Uganda, is worth the effort to experience perhaps the most rewarding of all African wildlife safaris.