If you’re at all interested in wildlife or going on a gorilla trek, you should read this post and watch my video. That will give you the best understanding of what the experience is like.
I did some research before I went on my gorilla trek and I think I prepared pretty well for it. You might have a completely different experience so you might feel like you brought too little or too much. You won’t know if your trek will take one hour or three, and you don’t know if it will rain that day, or the day before. So from day to day your experience could be completely different.
I was adequately prepared except that I forgot tall hiking socks. Luckily a girl in my group had an extra pair, otherwise I would have been in some major blister pain. I think the only thing that I didn’t have that would have been helpful in a few cases would have been garden gloves. Not for warmth, but for gripping a possibly prickly tree to help get my boots out of mud. Luckily we had enough porters to help us with this, but had I had gloves I probably wouldn’t have needed much assistance from them.
WHAT I RECOMMEND TAKING ON A GORILLA TREK:
+ Rain jacket with hood
During Rwanda’s rainy season (March through May, and October/November) it rains a lot. It can also get chilly up in the mountains so a light rain jacket with a hood is a good to wear. It also protects you from all of the plants. I wore mine the entire time we were in the Volcano National Forest. And was glad I had it to shield me from snagging my sweatshirt on a ton of plants. It got dirty, but not ruined. I wouldn’t wear anything too precious.
You will want photos and video. You get pretty close to the gorillas. I brought my 55-250 zoom lens and my 28, and ended up using my 55-250 most of the time. I felt like the 28 was too close and made it hard to capture the scene the gorillas were in.
You only have an hour and it goes by really quickly, so take as many photos as you can, especially because you may not have a good angle for long, as the gorillas will move around.
When I edited all of my video together it was under 9 minutes, and with all the movement I should have put my camera on the sports setting a lot earlier in the hour than I did. It’s also all about angles. You don’t really have the option to move around to get the best angle so you just have to photograph from where you are.
I wouldn’t worry about bringing multiple lenses unless you are a serious photographer. Bring one that is universal. You won’t want to waste time switching lenses out. 60 minutes goes by very fast.
+ 2 bottles of water and a snack
Unless you do a lot of hiking and working out at a higher elevation (around 6,000ft) then you’ll be breathing heavy and need to drink some water. They tell everyone to bring two bottles. I only drank one. But it depends on how far up your gorilla family is. Had we hiked 30 more minutes I probably would have finished the second off as well.
You’ll be hungry when you get back down so I recommend bringing a snack with you. The whole thing from the meeting spot, to driving to the location, getting prepped, and starting your hike, being with the gorillas for an hour, then hiking back down takes at least 4-5 hours.
+ Cash for porters and tips
Before you go on your trek you will have the option to pay for a porter. Ours only cost $10 each. For our group of eight, we got three porters. They will carry your bags, coats, and help you along the way. I highly recommend having them. It’s so cheap and they are super helpful, especially if you have anyone who isn’t in shape or isn’t an experienced hiker. Your boots will get stuck in the mud, and the trails are not like the hiking trails we have in the US. They are barely used. There’s lots of ducking and moving branches out of the way. They will help you get your footing, tell you where to step, give you a steady hand to get through a difficult area. Three was the perfect amount for the eight of us, but you could always have more.
+ Tall hiking boots or wellies if you are a really experienced hiker
The guides and porters wear wellies because it’s so muddy. They, however, are used to the terrain so they don’t need the extra grip and support that a hiking boot will give you. One of the women in our group didn’t bring hiking boots so she was able to rent wellies for the trek, and she did just fine.
Your boots will get very muddy, so either bring an old pair that you might just want to throw away after the trek, or leave yourself enough time afterward before you leave or need to wear them again to let your boots dry after you hose them down. Our hotel hosed ours down for us, but we were leaving that day, so we had to transport them from Rwanda to the US wet.
+ Hiking socks
You would think with hiking boots this would be obvious, but I completely forgot mine. Luckily a friend had an extra pair. You don’t want to wear running socks in hiking boots.
+ Gloves are optional
If you aren’t an experienced hiker or don’t have good balance, you might want to bring a pair of garden gloves. This will allow you to grab onto the trees and bamboo for balance. I didn’t need them but had we not had porters, I would have wanted them.
+ Athletic pants, or pants that repel stinging nettles
You will get warm — you are hiking up a mountain — so you don’t want to wear something super thick. But you will want to wear pants. I wore yoga pants that I didn’t care if they got ruined. For the record, they are fine, just got a little muddy. My leggings were fine, but if you have a pair of athletic pants that are made of a fabric that doesn’t puncture with certain plants that might be better.
There are stinging nettles on the trek and they really do sting you through your pants. I felt it a few times, but it’s nothing that I would have went out and bought new pants for. The sting isn’t that bad.
+ Bug spray
It’s the mountains, there are bugs. I recommend spraying down or using bug spray wipes on any exposed skin before you start your trek. Also I wouldn’t wear perfume or anything.
+ Dress in layers
You might get warm depending on the temperature and how far you are hiking. I had a tank, sweatshirt, and light rain jacket. I took my coat off for a short time. Probably the last 30 minutes of the uphill stretch, then I put it back on. I’m always cold, so you might only need your coat for the very beginning. I just shoved mine in my backpack, but the porters were carrying some of the other coats.
If you plan to get porters you won’t necessarily need a backpack. They will carry your coat/camera/water. I took two lenses with me, and I’m a germophobe so I didn’t my water to get mixed up with anyone else’s water so I just brought my own backpack. It wasn’t heavy, so it didn’t really matter either way. It got a little dirty, but nothing terrible.
If your nose runs or you have allergies, you might want to stash a few tissues in your pocket.
It’s not too complicated. You don’t need a ton of stuff. Just a few things that will make the experience better. You will probably be hungry right after you get back, so that’s what the snacks are for, but I’d make a plan for where you are going to eat lunch near your trek before you go. They will give you a hiking stick to borrow for the trek. I think you can buy them, or buy a clean one after the trek if you want.
Have any of you ever been on a gorilla trek? Have any tips to add?
Boots courtesy of Cat Footwear.