Gorilla Trekking for the Elderly and senior citizens

Gorilla Trekking for senior tourists is organized in a similar way as others. The only difference is that seniors are allocated gorilla groups that are near to the park offices. If an elder is unable to walk for long distances, they have an opportunity of hiring special porters, sedan chair and stretchers. We will discuss more later.

Mountain gorillas are the most interesting primates on earth. Mountain gorilla trekking is on the bucket list of almost every traveller because mountain gorillas are not in position to flourish in zoos like the low land gorillas. To see the mountain gorillas, you have to voyage to Africa. These mountain gorillas can only be seen in three African countries namely Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda, the gorillas are found in the Volcanoes National Park while in Congo they are harboured by Virunga national park. Uganda is lucky to have half of the remaining mountain gorillas and in two national parks Mgahinga gorilla national park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Gorilla tours are very expensive with a gorilla permit in Rwanda costing $1500 while in Uganda $800 and in Democratic republic of Congo $400. An encounter with mountain gorillas is considered the best wildlife experience in the world. Mountain gorillas are endangered species and this is one other purpose while Gorilla permits are on very high demand.

Trekking mountain gorillas can be demanding depending on which gorilla family one is allocated to. For that reason, it is important to go well prepared and in good physical shape. Some gorilla families stay near the starting point for trekking 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. Like their name suggests, mountain gorillas live in mountainous areas with high altitude (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.

Gorilla Trekking for the elderly and people with disabilities

Given what we have already talked about, travellers could be wondering if gorilla trekking has physical limitations and age limitations. Gorilla trekking is not only for the 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 tourist who go for gorilla trekking 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 you mum or grand parents for gorilla trekking, then you need to know that it is very possible as long as they can take a flight.

Gorilla Trekking Trekking for People with special needs.

Gorilla Trekking Trekking for People with special needs.

During briefing, the park rangers and wardens will ask for all the passports and point out all those who may need special attention. In case one is 60 years and above but physically fit enough, they will be allocated 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) along the way.

Apart from hiking ability and physical fitness, the other criteria used for assigning gorilla families is the availability of gorilla permits. When most gorilla permits have been booked, it becomes hard to get an easier trek. Seniors are highly advised to reserve their trips at least three months in advance so that they can be in position to get a gorilla group close to a trekking point. Tourists who intend to do 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 are allowed to 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 paramount to let your tour operator know about any fitness concerns or physical limitations before reserving a gorilla trekking safari. This will help the operator plan in accordance and organise any special equipment with the park authorities. A special tour vehicle could possibly be allocated to you as well as porters, stretchers and sedan chairs if necessary. Your company will sum up the cost of the porters and sedan chairs to the stand cost and share with you. Sedan chairs with handlers, seat belts and a steel-base used to carry the elderly or those who are not fit to walk for long distances. Another option for disabled people would be carrying them to the forest using a stretcher made out of local bamboo. 12 energetic local porters (4 at a time) are assigned to carry the elderly. Only four men can lift the stretcher or sedan chair. The others will take over once the first four need to get some rest. The porters well know the terrain of the forest and have stayed in the area for most of their lives. The porters will lift the elderly and never let him/her touch the ground until they locate the mountain gorillas. After seeing the gorillas, the porters will once again carry the elderly and take them back to the starting point of the trek where they will meet the driver guide to take them back to the hotel. Stretchers and Sedan chairs cost between $300 to $500 dollars depending on the weight of the client. The total cost always includes that of porters who will be assigned to lift the client. Those who have concerns about their clients’ level of fitness but are not disabled can also hire porters to lift their heavy backpacks, recording devices, cameras and give assistance during difficult sections of the hike. Hiring a potter cost between $20 and $30 and you can also tip them depending on your level of satisfaction of the services offered. All trekkers (fit or not) are granted simple hiking sticks to assist with their ability to move. The elderly might need to come along with their own special hiking sticks. By hiring porters, you would be contributing to their economic well-being. Many porters are students looking for

extra money to pay their school fees or married men with big families that need to be taken care of. As small as it looks, you would be making a great difference in their lives.

It is paramount to note that among the gorilla trekking national parks, Bwindi is the most ideal for the elderly. This is because it is located in less mountainous areas. Bwindi impenetrable national park is not among the Virunga ranges of mountains like the other three national parks. It is located on lower altitude and the trails are relatively flat compared to Mgahinga gorilla national park, Virunga national park and Volcanoes national park. Many of the gorilla families stay on lower ground hence offering an easier hike. It is also paramount to note that since Bwindi impenetrable national park has more mountain gorillas than the other 3 national parks, there are more habituated gorilla groups available for trekking. There are now more than 17habituated gorilla families in Bwindi. Bwindi has four sectors (Rushaga, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Buhoma) each with its own gorilla families. If a tourist can book a permit early enough, they can be assigned a gorilla family which isn’t too far away from the starting point.

Gorilla trekking in Ruhijja sector is exceptional 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. Nevertheless, it is paramount to note that the time taken to find the gorillas is unforeseeable regardless of which sector you choose to do the trekking. You will be lucky to get a gorilla family within 30 minutes of walking from the starting point.

Before booking a gorilla trekking safari or showing up at the starting point, it is paramount to study about the different gorilla groups available in the different national parks to evaluate which one is favourable and closer to the starting point of the trek. Seek guidance from your tour operator and check if you can be allocated to the particular group. The tour operator will guide you basing on his/her experience and expertise 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.

Other things to consider during gorilla tour for the elderly

Besides the ability to finish the trek, elderly tourists might get worried about security in the park considering that they are already fragile and even vulnerable. Security and safety during gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda are excellent and we confirm that both destinations are safe for tourism related activities. Gorilla trekking is led by armed rangers whose major responsibility 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. Currently, democratic republic of Congo is closed for tourism related activities because of the on-going war hence declared unsafe for tourists until further notice. Gorilla trekking in Congo requires getting used to numerous security checks and more escorts.

Elderly tourists always worry about the driving distance from Entebbe international airport to Bwindi and Mgahinga. If you land at Entebbe international airport, driving to either Mgahinga or Bwindi will take you approximately 11 hours driving non stop while if you land at Kigali international airport, you will only need 4 hours to cross to

either Mgahinga or Bwindi. There are two solutions for the problem of driving for long. One is to arrive from Kigali Rwanda instead of Entebbe in Uganda. The driving time and distance from Kigali to Bwindi impenetrable forest is shorter.

If you land at Entebbe international airport, driving to either Mgahinga or Bwindi will take you approximately 10 hours driving non stop while if you land at Kigali international airport, you will only need 4 hours to cross to either Mgahinga or Bwindi.

Another solution for the long driving distance is to reserve a local chattered flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi airstrip to 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 to book a local flight, you don’t have to worry. The gorilla parks are located in areas with beautiful sceneries and other amazing wildlife reserves. You will not be bored even if you choose to travel by road. You will encounter amazing countryside, national parks, mountains, valleys and natural African wilderness that will leave you impressed. Tour companies always organise for small stopovers and uncover unseen points of interest like the equator crossing. If you are blending gorilla trekking with other wildlife activities then the tour can be organised to reduce on driving time. You would be having stopovers in different national parks each day until you track the gorillas.

What about accommodation for gorilla trekking? The accommodation facilities within and around the gorilla parks are of high quality. They range from upmarket, luxury, midrange to budget hotels. Choosing a hotel for your gorilla trekking tour depends on your budget and the services you need. 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 middle aged unfit, it is also important to prepare in advance by doing some light exercises a few months to your gorilla trekking trip and this will help improve your fitness levels. Other activities that can help you prepare for gorilla trekking include strolling, climbing, light running and walking for long distances.

When going for gorilla trekking, heading out f, try to carry enough drinking water and energy snacks. They will help keep the body in good condition and energetic.