Uganda and Rwanda are near the equator, so the climate does not change a huge amount. The short lighter rains are from October to November, whilst the rainy season tends to be from March to April. You are spending time in mountain rainforests, so you can expect rain at any time.
The rains do not affect the movement of the gorillas and you can trek at any time of the year, Unlike wildlife viewing elsewhere in Africa. For those keen on photography, just after the rains (January/February or May/June) is a beautiful time to travel as the air is clear, the skies are blue and the countryside is at its most fertile.
How fit do I have to be for gorilla trekking?
Anyone can enjoy gorilla trekking, provided they prepare psychologically for it. By its very nature, gorilla trekking will be challenging as you will be walking through mountain rainforests, with thick vegetation, on steep muddy paths.
Therefore, the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy it. It is important to bear in mind, however, that as this is a mountain rainforest, it’s not too humid and in fact will be quite cool and damp, although you will warm up during the trek.
The porters are also brilliant and you will be given the opportunity to hire them when you arrive at the park HQ on the morning of your actual trek. They will be there to help steady you as you walk and can help with camera bags. They are a great company and well worth the small payment.
What to take when I go gorilla trekking?
Healthy and Strong legs, a small rucksack in which you can put your camera, a jacket and comfortable, boots. Given that it will start off cold early in the morning, you need lots of light layers that you can take off and put on easily.
Before you trek, you will warm up, shedding layers as you go, but when you reach the gorillas and stop for the hour, it can turn cold very quickly, particularly if you are in shadow or shade. Light layers and fleeces are good, walking trousers are good, but anything that you are comfortable in, that dries quickly is best.
Be prepared for your clothes to get very mucky, possibly quite wet and probably ripped or torn as you may be scrabbling in some pretty heavy duty undergrowth. Strangely, you might want to consider taking gardening gloves as you will be pulling at thorny vegetation and nettles as you climb so this protects you against cuts and scratches.
Of course, take a fully charged camera and spare memory cards. For those with different lenses, a good zoom of around 300-400 mm should be fine but you will need a steady hand or tripod if you are serious. The ground is very uneven and you may be balancing on a slope to see the gorillas.
How long are the gorilla treks?
The gorilla treks vary enormously. Some families are very close and can be reached in around an hour, whilst others are on the far side of the parks and can take all day. That said, as the gorillas obviously move around, they are in a different place each day, so it is impossible to predict how long it will take you to reach them.
They can also move as you trek towards them, even when you are there, so you need to be prepared. If you are doing more than one trek, the rangers will try and ensure you see a mixture of groups to get a range of experiences.
On the morning of your trek, which usually means a 6 am start, you will be allocated a group (you can opt for an easy, medium or hard trek) and your ranger will then go through the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking. It is important you adhere to their guidance and do not get too close to the gorillas (they are very susceptible to catching human colds).
Then it’s time to head out to the park. Some groups can be accessed directly with a short walk to the start of the trail, but others might require a drive to the start of the trail further away. Our guides will always be there to take you to the gorilla treks and will then meet you at the end to drive you back to your lodge. If you arrive back to your lodge early, your guide will offer you some additional activities should you wish – although you may just want to collapse in your room!
What advice would you give for photography?
The photographic opportunities are incredible and these countries are almost designed to drain your camera batteries and eat up memory cards. The gorillas are the main focus for much of the trip so you should be prepared for a dark environment, with the gorillas themselves a dark subject matter, often in shadow, although this can vary and they are sometimes out in the open.
This means you will need a high ISO or a tripod or small monopod which can be quite useful if serious about photography. Also, whilst the rainforests are not humid (they are cooler mountain rainforests), there will still be a great deal of moisture around so it is a good idea to take some small silica gel packets to put into your camera bag and a small, dry cloth as lenses can mist up quickly, usually at the most inopportune moment.
It is essential to have a good zoom lens, with a minimum of 300mm. Aside from the gorillas, the scenery is as exciting – and possibly easier to photograph, with dramatic skylines and volcanoes, along with endless rolling hills and lakes. A wide angle lens may be worth considering to capture this. Finally, the markets and the people are bursting with colour and offer some amazing picture opportunities for these with even the most rudimentary understanding of photography.
As always when photographing people, it is best to strike up a conversation first before even asking if they mind having their picture taken, which is not only common courtesy but puts them at ease, making for much more natural images. That said, please don’t be offended if they say no. As with much of Africa, do not photograph military or government personnel or buildings.
End of gorilla tracking tips in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo