This morning we have a very early start driving to the park headquarters where we are briefed on our gorilla trek by the guides of Parc National des Volcans. This 13,000 hectare national park protects the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains and includes a range of six extinct and three active volcanoes that straddle the border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bamboo forest is interspersed with alpine moorland, grassland and marshland. In this park, there are ten different gorilla families - Group 13, Sabinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Susa, Kwitonda which has recently arrived from the DRC and are now settled in Rwanda and the Hirwa group, newly formed from different habituated families.
Gorilla trekking is highly controlled with only 80 gorilla trekking permits available each day. Once a trekking group encounters one of the gorilla families, only one hour is granted in the presence of the great apes before trekkers must leave the family, however reluctantly.
The trek can be strenuous and may reach altitudes of almost 3000 metres above sea level. Depending on weather conditions, some of the paths can be slippery and these paths themselves can change depending on the location of the gorillas. Hence it is very hard to predict how long we need to walk for, but a very good level of fitness is recommended for everyone taking on this trek, as it may take anything between 40 minutes and five hours to reach our designated gorilla family. The trackers have already set out and located the gorilla family by the time we start our trek, so our actual time of walking can usually be predicted when we set off.
Generally the time spent walking is not as long as for a similar activity in Uganda. All this may seem like hard work, but the end result is one you are sure to cherish forever, as to stand so close to these amazing animals is indeed an emotional experience. As lunch can only be taken upon return to the hotel, it is recommended that you bring a few snacks to keep you going throughout the morning. At the end of the day the comforts of the hotel beckon, along with a chance to reflect on what is sure to be a truly memorable day.