Am I fit enough for gorilla trekking?

Trekking to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda can be physically demanding. Being in decent shape and prepared for what’s involved will greatly increase your chances of success. Often, the gorilla group you’re tracking can be found fairly quickly, but in some cases you can be on the trail for several hours, walking across uneven and sometimes slippery terrain with frequent steep ups and downs, in a climate you may not be familiar with.

If you’re a regular hiker or hillwalker, you should be fine – just ensure you have the correct clothing and try to make life as easy as possible for yourself.

The most significant way of doing that is by hiring porters. When booking a gorilla trek, porter fees will either be included in the trip price or you will be encouraged to pay a supplement for them. Hiring porters for a day is a fraction of the cost of flights or gorilla watching permits, and it is some of the most useful money you can spend. Plus, it directly benefits the local communities from which the porters are hired. Our guide to responsible gorilla trekking explains more about why you should hire a porter, and how much you should pay including tip.

The porters ensure you can trek unencumbered – useful if you’re carrying photography gear. They’ll help you up and down slopes and share stories on the trail. In many cases they are former poachers, now earning a living from wildlife tourism.

If you have limited or no mobility, you can still see gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda on one of our accessible gorilla trekking vacations. Chairs can be hired, which will be carried by teams of porters. It makes the trek more expensive, and it’s certainly not the most comfortable way to travel, but it’s worth it.

How hard is gorilla trekking?

Gorilla trekking isn’t as challenging as trekking in the Himalayas, but it’s certainly no easy-going stroll in the park either. Stamina is more important than speed, however, and no-one treats it as a race because you only get an hour with the gorillas no matter how early you arrive, so there’s no point in rushing. The reason for that is, research shows any longer than an hour of exposure to humans can cause the gorillas distress, and increases the risk of spreading transmittable illnesses.

How hard is gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains are composed of volcanoes (some active; some extinct) swathed in bamboo and evergreen forest – ideal habitat for gorillas, but no easy prospect for those trekking to see them. Our partners advise assuming you could be walking for anywhere between one and eight hours.

That said, gorilla treks in Rwanda are considered a bit easier than they are in Uganda, as most habituated groups of gorillas are usually found within two hours of the trail head, and the trails are a bit more open and gentle than those in Uganda.

How hard is gorilla trekking in Uganda?

The gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda need to be sought out through dense rainforest, which can be arduous to trek through. Trails can also be steep in places, and when it’s been raining, the sight of a porter’s arm reaching to help you up difficult bits can be very welcome.

Yet, as with Rwanda, a gorilla trek in Uganda is manageable if you’re in decent shape, and there are very few cases of people not making the distance. A few weekends of hillwalking before departure and a few hours on the treadmill at the gym should be adequate. Don’t underestimate the effort required, but don’t assume that you’ve got to be in peak condition.
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How long is a gorilla trek?

It’s very difficult to estimate how long a gorilla trek will take – it can be as little as 30 minutes long or it can be five hours… or even longer. Sorry we can’t be more specific, but you try telling a gorilla where it needs to be at a certain time and see how much luck you have.

Every morning at sunrise, gorillas go in search of a new ‘nest’ and diligent park rangers track them before radioing their location back to base so that your guides know where to head when you set off about 7am. Groups of trekkers are assigned a gorilla troop, and this will often be arranged by fitness, with the most limber heading to the furthest location or across the trickiest terrain. In fact, those who enjoy the thrill of adventurous trekking will often volunteer for these routes.

Luckily, park rangers and guides are experts in their roles, and so you can be confident that when you eventually reach your destination, the gorillas will be there waiting for you.

If you’re worried about your stamina (remember that you’ve got to walk back too) then you may want to consider a Rwanda gorilla safari, as it’s often, but not always, the case that less trekking is required.

What clothing do I need for a gorilla trek?

You need to approach a gorilla trek as you would a serious hike, so you’ll need good walking shoes or boots that are properly broken in beforehand. You should also wear lightweight but thick long trousers and shirts. Gloves are useful for grabbing branches to support yourself. We’d also recommend a set of collapsible walking poles.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Christopher Michel] [Intro: Thomson Safaris Tanzania Safaris and Kili Treks] [How hard is gorilla trekking: Nina R] [What clothing do I need?: Nina R]