Common Mistakes To Avoid When Planning a Gorilla Safari to Africa
Planning a gorilla safari to Africa is extensively tasking. If you were comparing it to planning a city tour in Asia or France, think again. From finding permit availability and the proper ground transport to getting accommodation and preparing your expectations, the whole process can be discouraging for travelers used to planning far-away journeys on their own.
Gorilla trekking is one of the African safari experiences that all travelers shouldn’t miss. But it’s also the hardest safari to plan. Mistakes in planning gorilla safaris are common because Africa has a whole other side of travel logistics. Language differences, long-distance, and limited infrastructure make planning a safari to African destinations challenging.
We look at some of the most typical mistakes you should avoid when planning a gorilla safari to east-central Africa.
Choosing the wrong destination and park
You must know which destination suits your travel arrangements and what type of gorillas you want to see. Otherwise, choosing the wrong destination will open up a can of bad experiences during your much-anticipated trip to Africa.
Gorillas live only in the tropical rainforests of central and east Africa. They are divided into two species, namely lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas, based on where they live. Your best chance of seeing the lowland gorillas is in a zoo near you or central Africa.
Mountain gorillas live only in two separate populations on the Virunga mountains slopes shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC and in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest within Uganda. The best destinations for gorilla trekking are Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC on the extreme left.
A gorilla safari in Rwanda is for those that want to spare nothing on the experience. A permit alone in Rwanda costs $1500 per person, and the accommodation price does not lag far behind.
Uganda offers a more budget-friendly gorilla safari with a permit costing $700 per person. Accommodation is widely available outside the gorilla parks for all budgets. DRC is on the lower end of the budget, but accommodation options are limited to a few.
Avoid the common mistake of booking the wrong destination for your gorilla safari to Africa and do a little research on the gorilla species, where they live, and how to get there.
Choosing the wrong gateway airport
How you get, there is a big question for most travelers. But you could reach your destination through the wrong airport, adding gruesome hours to the journey and spoiling your entire experience. Avoid getting in through the wrong airport or border by knowing the easiest and fastest route to the gorilla parks.
Let’s say, you want to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda; the entry point into Uganda for most travelers is Entebbe International Airport. Entebbe is about a 9-hour drive to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park. You can choose to drive the nine hours or take a domestic flight to one of the two airstrips, a two-hour drive outside Bwindi.
Alternatively, you can fly to Kigali Airport and drive four hours to Bwindi. But you have to deal with the border immigration bureaucracy between Rwanda and Uganda.
Many travelers want to avoid the transport logistics in Uganda. Instead, they plan a gorilla safari in Rwanda for a good reason. Volcanoes National Park is just a 3-hour drive from Kigali International Airport.
Planning a gorilla safari in DRC is a bit challenging for transport. Virunga National Park has an airport with limited flights connecting to Entebbe, Nairobi, and Kigali. You can come through Goma city, about 35 kilometers (35 to 45 minutes driving). The best option is to go through Uganda or Rwanda and cross the border into Virunga National Park.
Avoid the common mistake of flying to the destination through the wrong airport and plan your gorilla safari with the least travel time. That way, you spare enough excitement and energy to see Africa’s mighty apes.
Booking your gorilla permit with a wrong person
A gorilla permit is a government ticket that allows you to join the trekking excursion. It is an essential item on a gorilla safari to Africa. You can book it on your own or use a local person or company to secure it on your behalf.
Many travelers avoid the exhausting logistics of booking the gorilla permit on their own. Although anyone above fifteen can buy a gorilla permit. Avoid the mistake of securing your gorilla permit through the wrong person or company.
Getting the permit on your own is not a bad idea. But you will find it next to impossible to get permit availability during busy seasons because you are thousands of miles away. Or, you could obtain the wrong permit, book the wrong date or pay the wrong person. Imagine losing all that money.
You could get any company online to process the permit for you. Wrong move. Not just any local company. You want to book your permit through a registered and trusted safari company, answerable to the authority for any wrongdoings.
Uganda and Rwanda have associations and boards that credit local travel companies like Encounter Africa. When you pick your travel company, ask for their accreditation and verify their credibility before sending them your hard-earned money.
It is more legitimate and assuring to book through a travel company because they will guide you. Throughout the whole planning, they will tell you which type of permit to buy and for which gorillas, check availability, and book it for you. When you book the entire trip with the local company, they may charge you nothing to process your permit.
Buying the wrong permit
Many travelers mistake booking through a friend or random travel company and find out at the last minute that they have the wrong document. Unfortunately, they can not make last-minute changes and lose their money.
Let’s say that you planned your gorilla safari in Uganda. In that case, you have five different permits for five trailheads. Uganda Wildlife Authority does not allow transferring permits between trailheads, and all gorilla excursions start at the same time at 08:00 hours.
If you made the mistake of booking accommodation far from the trailhead, get there and find out at the last hour that your gorilla permit allows you to track at a different location. You will not have enough time to get to the next site because the sites are pretty far apart. And when the permit expires, there is no refund.
Once you book your permit, ask your travel planner for the location and date to determine accommodation and the rest of your gorilla safari activities.
Reserving the wrong accommodation
Because the gorilla trekking excursion begins at sunrise and is a physically demanding activity, avoid the mistake of booking your gorilla safari accommodation far from the starting point.
There are many accommodation options near visitor’s centers; select and choose the suitable accommodation that matches the location on your tracking permit. That way, you’ll be at the briefing point in time to join the trekkers.
Uganda has five locations where gorilla trekking starts, and just outside the entry points are scattered incredible lodging options. Right outside the four corners of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are four entry points at Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rushaga, and Ruhija. The fifth is at Mgahinga National Park’s entrance point with few lodes, but many are a drive away in Kisoro town.
Kiningi town, an hour’s drive to the starting point, is the only location with reasonable accommodation in Volcanoes National Park. But, you have to book transportation from your lodge to the starting point and trailhead, which is a bit of a problem.
Forgetting your gorilla permit date
The mistake of forgetting your permit day can lead to missing out on the experience or coming too early for the experience and spending more to have it.
You must book your permit first and use the date on the permit to plan the activities on your gorilla safari to Africa.
If you are visiting another African destination like Kenya or Tanzania, plan your safari to end with the gorilla trekking activity to avoid burnout. Some travelers will begin with the gorilla experience and take a slow relaxing time in the big-name safari park before heading back home. Either way, don’t make the mistake of setting your gorilla date to the middle of your journey.
Trekking in the wrong period or season
There are two seasons in the gorilla trekking region, all based on the weather patterns. Most travelers avoid the wet season during the rains and choose to go during the dry season that sells out. Do not make the mistake of planning your gorilla safari to Africa during the rains when you can’t handle walking under heavy rains.
Go for the dry seasons of June to September and December to February. The trails and roads are dry, and there are minimal rain chances during your expeditions. However, the dry season is the high season when most travelers plan their gorilla safaris. The availability of permits and accommodation is lacking, which means you have to start planning very early.
The wet season of October, November, and March to May is favorable for availability. There are fewer travelers during that period. Service providers offer discounts, and gorilla safaris promise complete privacy.
However, you have to deal with the rain in all your outside activities. Use a 4×4 truck customized for safari and walk-in difficult forest conditions. Many travelers prefer such challenging experiences to the sweet luxuries of the dry seasons.
Not shaping your expectations with pre-travel information.
You should not make the mistake of under or overestimating your gorilla safari to Africa with uneducated assumptions. Bury yourself with the lasted information about the experience.
Read guidebooks and stories about the experiences of other travelers. Ask your travel company to give you photos or articles to read. Know about what you should or not expect, and come with a favorable mindset to avoid disappointment.
Many travelers like the surprise experience and avoid collecting too much information to corrupt their judgment. They level your expectation to allow the happening moment to furnish them with new wonderful experiences.
Do not travel with this huge bag of expectations that will weigh down your experience and spoil your once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Not improving your health and fitness levels before you come.
Unless you go tracking in the lower Congo basin for the Eastern gorillas, mountain gorilla trekking requires a bit of muscle strength. Gorillas in Africa roam free in forests man has not yet tamed.
You’ll be trekking for hours on steep slopes and uneven and wet ground. The forest vegetation is thick with no visible trails, so you’ll cut your way through. Don’t make the mistake of bringing your couch-sloppy muscles for the gorilla safari to Africa.
Join the gym club, take regular walks or visit the national forest near you several times a month before coming for the safari.
High altitude is a challenge for some travelers because mountain gorillas live in high altitudes above 7000 ft. If you have problems with high altitudes, come a few days before your tracking date and stay in the lower altitudes to acclimatize.
Not following the rules and regulations
Gorilla trekking rules are important to keep the guests safe during their visit and protect the park and animals. Guests that make the mistake of not following the rules put the local rangers, protected animals, and other guests at risk.
Gorillas are an endangered species highly protected by government and conservation organizations. Millions of people depend on their existence, especially the local communities living around the park. Massive research is invested in making the rules; you must understand and follow them during your gorilla safari.
A few of them are explicit, like keeping a safe distance of 32 ft from the gorillas once you meet them. Gorillas (and Chimpanzees) are more related to us than any other animals. That means we can quickly spread our diseases to them and wipe them out with a simple virus. So you have to wear a facemask and stay a safe distance away.
Gorillas are wild, respect their domain and submit when provoked. Keep your voice low. Don’t eat or shit near them. Avoid flash photography and, for goodness sake, put the camera away. The experience of standing a few feet from a giant ape is not something your camera can record. You have to be present with your whole self.
Not packing right and light
Luggage mistakes are common among many travelers. Bring the wrong shoes, and you could break an ankle. Wear heavy clothing and sweat like Pumba in the humid forest. Pack too much, and the stress of clearing luggage at the airport comes along like a smelly fart. And forget your sweater and freeze into pneumonia.
Pack right and light. That’s it! The cold weather requires a sweater or jacket to keep you warm at night. But you will not need the sweater during trekking. You will wear a light pair of trousers, a long-sleeved shirt, a long pair of socks, and lightweight hiking shoes. Bring a poncho or light rain jacket and waterproof backpack if it rains. Most of the other things you can figure out on your own.
Not taking a porter
Potters are strong local people who, for $20, come with you and help you carry your backpack and gadgets and push you through difficult walks. They are instrumental in making your experience more comfortable by taking care of your excess physical load.
Don’t make the mistake of not hiring a potter only to find challenging obstacles in the forest. You could be in the forest for almost half the day before seeing the gorillas. Your porter will chat with you and sometimes encourage you during the most physically trying moments.
The potter gig employs thousands of people coming from the communities around the gorilla park. Hiring a porter gives directly to the community and supports their families—a sustainable way to travel and support local people.