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BonitaApplebum

Gorilla Trekking: A Photographic Trip Report

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BonitaApplebum

It's been some time since I've posted here so I hope this finds you all well.

 

I just returned from a week of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. In that time I completed four gorilla treks, managing to visit a different group each time. Needless to say the experience was incredible and something I would highly encourage like minded photographers/travellers to give a go at some point.

 

I have to make special mention of the tour company I used, as they were integral to me having such a good time. Umubano Tours is based in Rwanda and specializes in Gorilla tours. The principal there is a man named Herbert while my specific guide was named Bosco. Herbert was incredibly responsive and helpful while I organized the trip, setting me at ease throughout the process. Bosco, a former primary school teacher, counts many of the gorilla trekking guides among his former students! These relationships, coupled with it being low season, enabled two of my four treks to actually be totally private. That is, just me, the guide, the trackers, and the gorillas. Instead of tacking me on with another group of tourists, I was able to have a whole gorilla group to myself. I'm told this would normally require one to buy every single permit for a group, however my new friends at Umubano were able to make this accommodation for me and for that I feel compelled to let everyone interested in visiting Rwanda know who these guys are.

 

I stayed at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, located about 10 minutes from Park Headquarters where we were assigned to our respective gorilla group each morning. The lodge was simple but comfortable, and the staff was very kind. Wifi in the lounge was strong enough to get emails out.

 

Anyways, on to the gorillas! Gear used for this trip was two Canon 5DMk3s, one equipped with the 24-70 2.8 Mk2 and the other with the 70-200 2.8 Mk2.

 

 

The dominant silverback of the Agashya group:

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This silverback from the Ntambara group wasn't interested in having lunch with me. A few minutes after we arrived he moved up into the bush to both finish his lunch and keep an eye on me.

 

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A young black back from the Agashya group drinking in the river. The hike to this group was my favourite of the trip. We wound our way through a thick bamboo forrest and found the gorillas in an idyllic river valley where they were resting as a group.

 

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Three month old baby from the Sabynyo group.

 

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This baby was 12 days old! Was incredible watching the intimate interaction with the mother. From the Umubano Group.

 

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A landscape just for good measure. Mt. Sabynyo looming in the background. A very beautiful country.

 

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A couple of thoughts. First, the infrastructure in the areas of the country I visited was impressive. The road from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park was paved and smooth all the way. A surprising amount of villages have access to electricity and the rich soil nearer the volcanoes in the north are used to produce food that not only feeds the rest of the country but provides an export business as they supply Tanzania, Burundi, and others as well.

 

The airport in Kigali, while small, is the nicest I've yet to visit in Africa. Very clean, organized, and modern. Moving in and out of the country was a breeze.

 

Happy to answer any questions for those interested in gorilla trekking. Thanks for looking.

Edited by BonitaApplebum

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Tom Kellie

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~ @BonitaApplebum:

 

Your images are TERRIFIC !!!!!!!!

Whatever camera and lens you used, and whatever settings you preferred, yielded stunning photographs!

When I looked at your post, I smiled and shook my head at the very, very high quality of each photograph.

The saturated colors of the landscape above are a master class in how its done.

The gorillas must have generally been photographed in relatively low light, yet each image is outstanding.

Thank you so much for sharing your artistry with Safaritalk.

It's also most useful to know about your positive experience with Umubano Tours.

Your gorilla trekking trip report is a standout, thanks to your lovely images.

The gorilla eyes are beautiful!

With Appreciation,

Tom K.

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twaffle

@@BonitaApplebum absolutely stunning portraits. Rarely seen more beautiful or expressive ones. Thank you for coming back and sharing them with us.

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AKR1

@@BonitaApplebum,

 

Spectacular images. Thanks for sharing.

Edited by AKR1

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JohnR

Great portraits. I love the second photo of the eye in the bush.

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michael-ibk

Wonderful gorilla shots, thank you very much for sharing. How many treks did you do?

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marg

Fabulous photos....thank you!

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Zubbie15

Thanks for the photos, I'm off to Rwanda next February so these give me something to anticipate. What would you say was your most used lens/focal length?

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BonitaApplebum

Thank you all for the very kind words. Having never trekked for gorillas, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect with regards to photography. I planned the trip during the rainy season as I knew cloudy skies would be ideal for photographing the dark apes. Fortunately every morning was beautifully overcast for the most part and the skies opened up later in the afternoon when I was back at the lodge.

To answer a few of your questions:

@@michael-ibk I went on 4 treks in total. I visited the Ntambara, Agashya, Sabynyo, and Umubano groups.

 

@@Zubbie15 By far I used the 70-200 the most. My intent was to use the 24-70 to get more environmental shots; trying to show the gorillas in their natural habitat. I found, in reality, that I preferred slightly tighter framing to really appreciate the detail in the gorillas, especially their faces. The 24-70 ended up being great for capturing snaps when the gorillas would pass by very closely, sometimes brushing us on their way. I also had a point and shoot that I kept in my pocket to capture quick shots along the hike. Was also great to hand to the guides to take photos of me with the gorillas.

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egilio

Stunning photos! Your planning worked out very well!

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kittykat23uk

Fabulous images! :)

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SafariChick

I echo everyone else's sentiments on your gorgeous images! Thanks so much for sharing! Visiting gorillas is top of my list for my next safari if I think I can manage it physically so I am interested in that aspect of your trip. Can you talk a bit about the treks, how hard were they, how long did they take, and how did you choose which group(s) to visit?

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BonitaApplebum

I echo everyone else's sentiments on your gorgeous images! Thanks so much for sharing! Visiting gorillas is top of my list for my next safari if I think I can manage it physically so I am interested in that aspect of your trip. Can you talk a bit about the treks, how hard were they, how long did they take, and how did you choose which group(s) to visit?

 

I did four treks in total. I visited the Ntambara, Agashya, Sabynyo, and Umubano groups. To give some perspective, I'm 34 years old and quite fit (I love to hike/jog with my dog). That said, I found the treks all exceedingly easy. On one trek I had a 70 year old man with Parkinson's join me! So, if you're in decent health I imagine you would be fine. A porter will carry your gear and you can just focus on the walk. If anything, it was the circumstances that provided the greatest challenges. I was there in the rainy season, which meant that the gorillas were closer as the food was abundant at low elevations (a plus) but it was often very muddy and this meant slow going. Some treks were through very dense brush which slowed us down though the grade was usually quite gentle.

 

This was my experience, yours may vary. In the dry season the gorillas often move farther up the mountains. Also, a turf war between silverbacks might lead one or both groups higher up still. I've heard of treks that can take many hours up steep terrain. You can request the level of difficulty you'd like, though in the end the gorillas will move wherever they please.

 

The pace is slow and steady, there's rarely any sense of urgency. The guides and porters are exceptionally helpful and easygoing. They'll get you to the gorillas!

Edited by BonitaApplebum

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KaingU Lodge

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

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Kitsafari

stunning photos!

 

I especially love the photo of the mother cradling the 12-day old baby. it's such a tender moment. thanks for sharing.

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graceland

Another 5* review; outstanding photos and I love the young baby as well.

 

Thank you for sharing your experience and including trek details.

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pault

Beautiful shots of the gorillas. The third is unusual and wonderful.

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Marks

These images are absolutely top-notch. Truly professional level. I love the fourth image (the "surprised" portrait)! Would love to see more "countryside" photos if you have any available.

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Alexander33

Thank you so much for your post. Like others have mentioned, your photographs are breathtaking.

 

Thank you also for your remarks on the condition of the infrastructure in the parts of Rwanda that you visited and the tour company that you used. This trek is on my short list, so I appreciate that kind of insight.

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Africalover

You have alibi photos, ordinary photos, good photos, really good photos and then - there are yours. Photos that touch you and in a league by it self. Thank you :-)

 

Cheers.

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SafariChick

@@BonitaApplebum thank you for your thoughts on the difficulty, etc. I am rather older than you, and not in good shape so I'm sure it would be considerably harder for me, but I am working to see if I can change some of that - can't change the age but I can change some of the other stuff!

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Zubbie15

Thanks for the response @@BonitaApplebum, that's about what I expected. I had my wife stand 7 meters away from me a few weeks ago as a test (I think she thought I was a little crazy :)) and it seemed like you'd need to get into the telephoto range for the portrait style of photos.

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JulieM

Wonderful images! I'd love to hear some more details about the logistics of your trip. How do we contact the company you recommend? How was the lodge? How far ahead did you book? I'm looking at doing this next year in addition to our trip to Zimbabwe but I think it is going to be prohibitively expensive to do. Thanks for your thoughts.

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BonitaApplebum

Wonderful images! I'd love to hear some more details about the logistics of your trip. How do we contact the company you recommend? How was the lodge? How far ahead did you book? I'm looking at doing this next year in addition to our trip to Zimbabwe but I think it is going to be prohibitively expensive to do. Thanks for your thoughts.

 

Umubano Tours can be reached through their website, http://www.umubanotours.com/. The principal is named Herbert and please feel free to tell him Shaadi Faris sent you.

 

I stayed at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. It's clean and comfortable, if a bit simple. For me, it was perfect. Location is about 10 minutes from the Park headquarters where you go each morning to be assigned to your respective gorilla group. Each room is its own cabin, with tons of space. If anything, it gets quite chilly in the evening, though I found the space heater they leave in the room powerful enough to take the chill out of the air. Electricity was good, with only short outages at any given time. The grounds are quite large with beautiful views of the surrounding volcanoes. Best part, it's a fraction of the cost of the premiere lodges like Silverback Lodge and honestly, I find all the extra frills at those places exceedingly poor value for money.

 

In Kigali I stayed at the Manor Hotel. Was quite comfortable and I enjoyed the Indian restaurant there.

 

I booked about 5 months in advance. As it was rainy season, there was no problem securing gorilla permits. Further, there was no day where all the spots were filled when I was there. I'm told the dry season, July-September or so, is very busy and if that's when you plan to travel it's prudent to book upwards of 9 months to 1 year in advance.

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TonyQ

@@BonitaApplebum

Superb photos of such beautiful animals. (It brings back lots of memories!)

Given the very high quality of those pictures you have shared with us, you must have a few more :) . I am sure lots of us would like to see them

Edited by TonyQ

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