The following packing list for mountain gorilla tracking was brought to you by Katie Barber.
One of the highlights of my time in East Africa was tracking mountain gorillas. It’s an experience that doesn’t come cheap and is physically demanding – our day started with the park guide explaining the various options if we became too fatigued to continue on, ranging from turning back to shelling out a tremendous amount of cash to hire a team to transport you through the jungle on a stretcher – but also enormously rewarding to observe the majestic mountain gorillas in their own environment.
Mountain gorillas are critically endangered, and the African Wildlife Foundation estimates that there are less than 900 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild. These small populations of gorillas reside in four national parks spanning three countries: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I visited the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, but no matter where you choose to track the mountain gorillas, the packing list should remain largely the same.
Note: This packing list focuses solely on the items you will want to bring with you on the day of your actual trek; it does not include other items that you might want for your time in East Africa.
Clothing & Shoes
Long-Sleeved Shirt or Jacket – Treks begin early in the morning, and you may be chilly at the start of your trek. Depending on the time of year, you may want long sleeves during the entirety of your trek. In addition to warmth, long sleeves are helpful for protecting your arms against stinging nettles or branches.
Short-Sleeved Shirt – Dressing in layers is a good idea. The day involves strenuous activity in the humid jungle, and you may want to shed your outer layers. (I know that I did!)
Long Pants – You will be encountering thick vines, fallen trees, and scratchy brush, and you will want to have protection on your legs. I found thick leggings to be ideal pants for the trek because they allowed me to move freely while still covering my legs.
Tall Socks – Keeping the biting “safari ants” out of your pants is important! Your guide will instruct you to tuck your pants into your socks, and tall socks are best for this task.
Hiking Shoes – Shoes with a good grip are a must. The terrain can be difficult to navigate, including thick vines, slippery rocks, patches of mud, and more. If your shoes are waterproof, all the better.
Rain Jacket – The national parks where the mountain gorillas live are largely rain forest, and it can rain unexpectedly.
Gloves – I didn’t hike with gloves, but other members of my group did. After I scraped my hands and accidentally grabbed a stinging plant, I wished that I had gloves as well.
Headband & Hair Ties
Toiletries & Medicine
Malaria Pills – This is the exception to my earlier note: you don’t actually need to bring your malaria pills with you on the hike, but I wanted to include them as a reminder. All of the four national parks where you can track the mountain gorillas are located in malarial zones, and you should discuss options to safeguard yourself from malaria with your doctor.
Insect Repellant – Malaria aside, being bitten by mosquitos is no fun and can ruin your experience.
Toilet Paper – It goes without saying that there are no toilets in the jungle. Remember that you must leave the forest with everything that you brought into it, so you may want to bring a plastic bag for this purpose.
Camera – For capturing the moment.
Binoculars – To watch and spot them from afar.
Documents & Money
Documentation – You should come prepared with any documentation or numbers related to your gorillas tracking permit.
Passport – Don’t forget to bring your passport, as you will need to show it when you check in for the trek.
Local Currency – Remember to tip your guide! Local currency is also useful if you decide you want to hire a porter or want to purchase souvenirs.
Water – Bring as much water as you can carry. Staying hydrated is important.
Packed Lunch & Snacks – Tracking the mountain gorillas is unpredictable, and you might be hiking through the jungle for as many as seven hours or more. Even if you are only hiking for a few hours, your group will likely stop for a bit to give everyone an opportunity to eat their packed lunches. You should bring some healthy snacks, too, such as nuts or dried fruit, to keep your energy up while you are hiking.
About the Author: Katie is a writer and recovering large law firm attorney currently backpacking across Africa with her boyfriend. Follow their adventure on their blog, Nonbillable Hours, or check out their Twitter, Facebook, or Katie’s Twitter.
*Images except for title image were submitted by Katie Barber.