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How fit do you need to be to track gorillas in the wild?

In our series of articles about mountain gorilla trekking, we share tips from over 15 years experience of organising tours in Uganda and Rwanda.

One of the most Frequently Asked Questions we are asked is: “how physically demanding is gorilla trekking?”

Gorilla trekking offers a unique combination of adventure, connection with nature, conservation and indeed personal growth that appeals to the young – and the young at heart. The minimum age to track gorillas is 15 years but there’s no upper age limit.

The physical demands of gorilla trekking vary, according to several factors: the specific location, the family of gorillas being visited, the weather conditions, and your physical fitness. Generally, gorilla trekking is moderately to highly physically demanding. However, with the right equipment and support team, almost anyone can trek the gorillas.

Here are a few considerations to help you plan well:

What’s the terrain like?

The trek covers dense forests and rugged terrain, and frequent steep slopes, uneven ground, thick vegetation, and muddy or slippery surfaces. Navigating such terrain can require a good level of fitness, balance, and agility (but don’t worry, you don’t have to pump iron to qualify as fit!)

At what altitude are the gorillas?

As the name suggests, mountain gorillas live at altitude. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda (home to the world’s biggest population of mountain gorillas) ranges between 1,160 and 2,706 metres.

Walking at higher altitude can sometimes cause shortness of breath and fatigue. Dehydration can be a factor too, so we recommend you take two litres of drinking water, as well as your snacks. (You’ll be surprised how thirsty you’ll get!)

How long does the trek take?

Rangers will do their utmost to allocate a gorilla family that matches your fitness and interest levels. Trekking can vary from relatively short and easy hikes of an hour to longer, more strenuous ones of three or more hours – and this is before you spend your one hour with the gorillas. Typically, the gorilla trekking activity takes around half a day (including the walk back to your vehicle).

What weather can you expect?

As you can imagine, rain is very common in the rainforest. Weather conditions can range from hot and humid to cold and wet. Adjusting to these conditions requires the right clothing (and a small dose of endurance on occasion!)

Berggorilla in Rwanda Volcanoes National Park.

What help can you get?

All mountain gorilla trekking is organised and managed by expert rangers, supported by porters (and our own driver guides of course).

Matoke Tours driver guides have tracked the gorillas many times so are well placed to advise you on what to put in your day pack. They will make sure you have plenty of water too and can help you organise walking poles, for instance.

At the briefing point, you will be briefed by the wildlife rangers. Here you get a chance to hire a porter (or two). They can prove invaluable: carrying your belongings and helping you navigate challenging parts of the trail, which can alleviate some of the physical demands.

For those who need a bit more support – don’t be shy – it’s even possible to be carried up the mountain on a simple chair-type (or ‘stretcher’ in local parlance). What started as an emergency service run by the community, has evolved to be a safe and comfortable way for older or less-able visitors to reach the gorillas. This is one of the many extra services that our expert travel consultants can arrange.

How can Matoke Tours DMC advise your clients?

Matoke Tours DMC has substantial experience in accommodating a wide range of fitness levels and needs, so if you’re interested in gorilla trekking and have concerns about fitness or any other aspect, you can be assured that we’ve already answered 100s of similar enquiries. We can provide guidance on the best options and help your clients make an informed decision about whether gorilla trekking is suitable for them.

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