Gorilla Trekking for older travelers is organized in the same way as others. The only difference is that they are assigned gorilla groups that are closer to the park offices. If an Elder cannot walk for long distances, they have an opportunity to hire special porters and a sedan chair.
A brief background. Mountain gorillas are arguably the most intriguing primates on earth. Everyone wants to see them because they cannot thrive in zoos like the lowland gorillas. To see mountain gorillas, you have to travel to Africa. They can only be seen in three African countries that are in DR Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. In Rwanda, the gorillas are found in the Volcanoes National Park while in Congo they live in Virunga National Park. Uganda is lucky to have half of the 1,000 remaining mountain gorillas in two national parks – Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Gorilla tours are expensive with a gorilla permit in Rwanda costing $1500 while in Uganda $600.
Well, one might be wondering why the permits are expensive, the answer is simple, An experience with mountain gorillas is considered the ultimate wildlife experience on earth. Mountain gorillas are endangered and that is one other reason why Gorilla permits sell like hot cake.
Tracking mountain gorillas can be very demanding depending on which gorilla family one is assigned. It is therefore important to go when prepared and in good physical shape. Some gorilla groups live close to the starting point for tracking and it can take only 30 minutes to find them if you are lucky. However, gorilla trekking can sometimes take up to six hours. Distance is not the only thing that one needs to be concerned about when deciding to track gorillas. As their name suggests, mountain gorillas live in mountainous areas with high altitudes (between 2,300 and 4,500 meters). Before getting to the gorilla family, the trek may involve passing through challenging terrain, steep slopes, and slippery (mud-filled) trails. These challenges can be a problem for people with disabilities, the elderly, seniors, and those who may not be in good physical shape for whatever reason.
Given what we have already discussed, one could be wondering if gorilla trekking is really something they should go for given their physical limitations or age. Gorilla trekking is not only for the youthful or those who are energetic and young. You don’t have to go for other wildlife encounters and miss out on the very best just because of your age, fitness, or physical limitations. In fact, most travelers who go to track gorillas are 40 years and above. You are never too old for gorilla trekking as long as you are allowed on a plane. If you wondering whether to bring your mum or granny for gorilla trekking, then you need to know that it is very possible as long as they can take a flight.
At the time of the briefing, the Rangers and wardens will check all the passports and identify all those who may need special attention. In case one is 60 years and above but fit enough, they will be assigned a nearby gorilla family. If you are 60 years but in excellent shape, you can request a longer trek to have more fun and adventure in the forest. You don’t have to accept an easier trek just because someone told you to do so. There is a lot to explore while tracking mountain gorillas. You will encounter beautiful flora and fauna (birds, primates, insects, butterflies, and moths) while on your trek.
Gorilla Trekking for disabled people in Uganda and Rwanda Apart from hiking ability and physical fitness, the other criteria used for allocating gorilla families is the availability of gorilla permits. When most gorilla permits have been booked, it becomes difficult to get an easier trek. Seniors are advised to book their trips at least three months in advance so that they can get a gorilla group close to a tracking point. Tourists who are doing double gorilla trekking (tracking mountain gorillas for two days or more) will be allocated a different group from the one they saw previously. Only 8 people may track a gorilla family in a day. This is to avoid stressing the primates and exposing them to human diseases through prolonged contact.
It is also important to inform your tour operator about any fitness concerns or physical limitations before booking a trip to see the gorillas. This will help the operator plan according to and arrange any special equipment with the park authorities. A special tour van may also be assigned to you as well as porters and sedan chairs if applicable.
Safari vacations and travel services add the price of the porters and sedan chairs Gorilla and Chimp trekking for the elderly the stand cost and share with you. Sedan chairs with handlers, seat belts, and a steel base are used to lift the elderly or those who are unfit to walk for long distances. Another alternative for people with disabilities is to be carried to the forest using a stretcher made out of local bamboo. 12 strong local porters (4 at a time) are assigned to carry the elderly. Only four men can carry the stretcher or sedan chair. The others will take over once the first four need to rest. The porters know the terrain and forest so well and have lived in the area for most of their lives.
The porters will carry the elder and never let him/her touch the ground until they locate the mountain gorillas. After spotting the gorillas, the porters will once again lift the elder and return them to the starting point where our driver would be waiting. Carriers and Sedan chairs cost between $400 to $500 dollars depending on the weight of the client. The cost includes that of porters who carry the client. Those who are concerned about their level of fitness but are not disabled can also hire porters to carry their heavy backpacks, and recording devices and give a hand during difficult sections of the hike. Hiring a Porter costs between $15 and $20. All trackers (fit or not) are given simple hiking sticks to help with their mobility. The elderly may need to come with their own special hiking sticks. By hiring porters, you would be contributing to their economic well-being. Many of the porters are students looking for extra money to pay college tuition or married men with large families to look after. As little as it looks, you would be making a great difference in their lives.
It is important to note that among the gorilla trekking national parks, Bwindi is the most ideal for the elderly. Why? Because it is situated in less mountainous areas. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is not part of the Virunga ranges of mountains like the other three national parks. It sits at a lower altitude and the trails are relatively flat compared to Mgahinga and the Volcanoes National Park. Many of the gorilla families live on lower ground hence offering an easier hike. It is also important to note that because Bwindi has more mountain gorillas, there are more habituated gorilla groups available for tracking. There are now 17 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi. Bwindi has four sectors (Rushaga, Nkuringo, Ruhija, and Buhoma), each with its own gorilla family. If one books a permit in advance, they can be assigned a gorilla family which isn’t too far away from the starting point.
Gorilla trekking in the Ruhijja sector is excellent for the elderly because it has been observed that tourists who trek there come back much earlier than those who go to other sectors of the park. However, it is important to note that the time taken to find the gorillas are unpredictable regardless of which sector you choose to do the tracking. You will be lucky to get a gorilla family within 30 minutes of walking from the starting point.
Before booking a gorilla tour or showing up at the starting point, it is important to read about the different gorilla groups available in the different national parks to find out which one is ideal and closer to the starting point of the trek. Consult safari vacations and travel services to check if you can be assigned to a particular group. The tour operator will advise you based on their experience and knowledge about the group. The group structures keep changing year after year and what was easier to track a year ago may have migrated to a different location which is further away from the park offices.
Apart from the ability to complete the trek, elderly travelers may worry about security in the park considering that they are already fragile and vulnerable. Security and safety during gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda are excellent. Gorilla trekking is led by armed rangers whose role is to protect tourists from forest animals like elephants and buffaloes. There have been no cases of militias in Uganda and Rwanda in over two decades but the park authorities leave nothing to chance. The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be unpredictable given the different security incidences in the past. Even then, security is tighter than even in Rwanda and Uganda. Gorilla trekking in Congo involves having to get used to countless security checks and more escorts.
Another issue that worries tourists is the driving distance from Kampala or Entebbe to Bwindi Impenetrable forest though it’s rewarding as you will have the opportunity to see other attractions on way like the Mpambire drum makers, the equator, and the Ankole long-horned cattle. Note that the long-distance can be cut short into two as you can first visit Lake Mburo for more exciting activities and experiences.
There are two solutions to this problem. One is to arrive from Kigali Rwanda instead of Entebbe in Uganda. The driving time and distance from Kigali to Bwindi impenetrable forest are shorter. Driving from Entebbe to Bwindi can take 8 hours or more. From Kigali, it takes only 3 hours to reach the Bwindi forest. Another solution for the long driving distance is to book a local chartered flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi to the nearest airstrip in Bwindi. Your local tour operator can then wait for you at the airstrip to take you to the park. The local flights are expensive but the reward I to reach the park in only one hour.
If your budget cannot allow for a local flight to Bwindi, then you don’t have to worry. The gorilla parks are located in areas with remarkable scenery and other amazing wildlife reserves. You won’t be bored even if you choose to travel by road. You will encounter amazing African countryside, national parks, mountains, valleys, and natural African wilderness that will leave you impressed. Tour companies often arrange for small stops to relax and discover hidden points of interest like the equator crossing. If you are combing gorilla trekking with other wildlife encounters, then the trip can be designed to reduce driving time. You would be stopping in different national parks each day until you track the gorillas.
The accommodation facilities within and around the gorilla parks are of high quality. They range from ultra-luxury hotels, luxury hotels, mid-range offerings, and budget options. It all depends on your budget. The facilities are in form of standard cottages with grass-thatched roofs, self-contained tented camps, dormitories, and basic campsites. Most of these hotels are built to allow people with disabilities to move about easily.
In case you are of middle age but relatively unfit, it is important to prepare in advance by hiking around your house. If you live in a forest, mountainous or hilly area, use the chance to move about to prepare your body for your tour. Other activities that can help you prepare for gorilla trekking include strolling, climbing, light running, and walking for long distances.
When heading out for gorilla trekking, try to carry enough drinking water and energy snacks. They will help keep the body in good condition and energetic.
Apart from securing an easier group and being carried in the sedan chairs, elderly people need to know what to pack for gorilla trekking. A gorilla trekking packing list should include hiking boots, hand gloves, rain jackets, sweaters, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, walking stick, insect repellents, and first aid kits.
For more information about the gorilla trekking for the elderly, seniors, and the disabled, contact safari vacations and travel services. We advise you to book the permits in advance and you can do this through us as we go directly to book your trek in the main offices on your behalf after you confirm the dates you intend to make your trek and confirm the payments or you can book via online but that’s a bit tiresome.