The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda
Limited to Six Participants
We will be offering this
tour again in the Fall of 2010.
That tour will mark our 51st through 55th Mountain Gorilla Trek in Rwanda.
If you are interested in doing this tour, contact our office to get on to our 'First Contact List' for this trip.
Quite simply, this shoot may be the most exciting and exhilerating wildlife experience of your lifetime. Less than 750 mountain gorillas survive in the wild and our photo tour will visit all of Rwanda's habituated troops open to tourism. You'll be seeing silverbacks face-to-face and eye-to-eye, an incredible, humbling, yet up-lifting encounter you'll never forget.
There are several reasons! Perhaps most
importantly, most groups only do one or two visits to the Gorillas.
Very few do three. So, why do we do FIVE days of gorilla trekking?
First, there are four different groups, ranging in size from around
9 individuals to one group of over thirty gorillas! Each group
is different, in terms of group composition (the number of impressive
silverbacks, the number of babies, the number of playful juveniles)
and the physical conditions of the shoots may vary greatly --
from open clearings to bamboo forests (but more on that, below).
Tourist groups are limited to no more than 8 visitors, in addition to the trackers, gorilla guide, park rangers, and porters that accompany you up the mountain. Although there are 8 permits potentially issued each day, by only taking 5 participants, plus Mary and I for a total of 7, we have the chance of actually having a smaller group visiting the gorillas. If this happens, that's one less person to contend with when trying to photograph, and sometimes, in a jungle clearing, that's a real plus. Of course, there's always the chance that the 8th spot will be filled by a 'stranger' but on our scouting trip we only had 7 visiting the gorillas on 3 of the 5 days.
By having five days of trekking, we'll have the chance to visit our favorite group (which might be the biggest, or the closest, or the one with the best baby!) twice, as we'll be doing one group twice. Further, the weather can be quite varied, and having multiple chances to photograph gorillas gives you the best chance of shooting in great light. And what is 'great light?' Cloudy bright skies! Gorillas are dark gray or black, and when there is sunlight the contrast can be very taxing. Ideally, the best conditions are light clouds that create bright, soft light. Mist, or light rain is fine, too, and on our 2003-scouting trip we even did some excellent work during a downpour. At any rate, you don't want to spend two days with gorillas and have bright sunlight one day and heavy rains the next. Of course, you could have five days of either, but the chances are that the weather will be quite varied during our stay, insuring that you'll get great images during our expedition.
live in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park,
a forested region of the northwestern section of Rwanda. Unlike
most African game viewing, Mountain Gorillas are visited on-foot
by trekking to their mid-morning resting and feeding locations.
We're led by a Rwandan guide and accompanied by Park staff --
guards employed to protect the gorillas, and your gear is carried
by a porter. That's right -- your gear is carried for you!
All that is required of you is to get to the gorillas, which may involve a half hour hike but more typically requires a 'trek' of one or two hours one-way. The trekking is not difficult if you are in-shape and relatively fit, but we would not recommend this trip for anyone who is truly over-weight and out-of-shape. Hiking to the gorillas generally requires at least one-half hour of uphill hiking, and it may involve one or two hours (or more) of steady uphill hiking. The pace is slow, and your porter and the guides and rangers will help you with steep steps or muddy spots but, bottom-line, you have to be able to do the hike. Most treks begin around 7,500 feet (I'm giving figures based upon our scouting trip, which are typical hikes and distances) and involved a vertical gain of 800 to 1,000 feet over a one or two hour period. Expect to be at 8,500 feet, or higher, while photographing the gorillas.
When we find the gorillas, they may be feeding or lounging or resting or playing in an open clearing, in a forest, or in a bamboo thicket. Incredibly, almost every opportunity is a good one for shooting, as the guides actually clear vegetation that separates you from the animals. Sure sometimes an errant vine or leaf blocks a view, but it is almost unbelievable how the trackers and guide clear viewing windows to provide easy shooting access.
Can you do the trip? If you're in shape, or get into shape, there's
no question anyone can do this trip. One of our scouting trip
participants, who lives at sea-level and was bed-ridden with a
serious illness for weeks a few months before the trip, made four
of the five treks, taking one rest day on Day 5 just to 'not push
it' after the illness. If you can climb five flights of steps
without risking death, or if you could work out on a step-master
or climb 5-10 flights of steps once a day for a few weeks to get
your legs in shape, you can do this trip. But the fact is, you'll
be hiking, uphill, at some elevation, and we don't want to mislead
anyone who has health issues or fitness concerns -- it's too great
a trip for that! Once a trek begins, the group will continue on
to the gorillas. Anyone unable to complete a trek will be left
behind, with his or her porter, until our return from the trek.
The 'show will go on' even if you cannot, so please don't expect
the group to be compromised if your fitness level precludes your
completing a trek. Fair warning, and we're serious about this.
We do not advise this trip for anyone with heart problems or any other physical concern that might pose a health risk. Quite frankly, we are out in a fairly remote area and any health emergency could be life threatening. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult your physician. We cannot accept any responsibility or assume any liability for any health risks or results.
Our Time Frame: The trek begins on the first night with the group meeting in Nairobi. Some of the group may be coming from Tanzania, after completing our safari to the Serengeti, while others may just be arriving into Kenya. On the morning of Day 2 we'll fly from Nairobi to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Upon our arrival in Rwanda we'll be heading directly to the Mountain Gorilla's Nest Lodge, right outside Volcanoes National Park, literally a few minutes drive from headquarters and some of the departure points for our treks. On the following day, Day 3, and continuing through Day 8, we'll be doing a morning trek for the mountain gorillas. On our 9th day we'll tour more of the Rwanda countryside for landscape and people photographs before we'll head back to Kigali where we'll overnight. On Day 9 participants will return to Kenya for connecting flights or to join us on our Kenya safari.
you may know, gorilla trekking involves a one-hour visit with
the gorillas. That may seem like an extremely short period of
time for a visit to Rwanda, but I can assure you that your days,
and your time with the gorillas, will be extremely well spent.
Here are the facts:
After a breakfast at approximately 6:15-6:30AM, we'll drive to the Park Headquarters where we'll register for our day's trek. Usually we're driving to our point of departure and beginning our trek by about 8AM or so. Trekking may involve a hike of an hour or more, so generally we're with the gorillas by 9:30-10AM or so, although that varies according to where the gorillas are. The HOUR with the gorillas is unbelievably intense, and is timed by when the group actually starts working with the gorillas. I can tell you that after 30 minutes of great shooting you'll be wondering if there's any time left -- the hour goes slowly, not because you're bored but because you just can't imagine the activity and action continuing any longer. Everyone after their hour's visit felt drained, happy, and satisfied. But the day's not done...
After the gorilla visit we'll return to our vehicle, generally arriving no earlier than 11AM but perhaps as late as 1 or 2PM or later -- depending upon the length of the trek. We'll have lunch and then head out for an excursion into the Rwandan countryside. Rwanda is incredibly beautiful and offers some wonderful shooting opportunities -- with landscapes, farmscapes, and mountain scenes, and with the people, who are friendly and accommodating. While some treks simply return to the lodge and rest until the next day's trek, we won't be doing that as a group. Of course, if you'd like to stay behind and rest, or relax, or catch up on sleep or reading, you're welcome to do so, but we'll be offering a full day's worth of activity.
The Physical Conditions: We'll be hiking through jungle in an environment
that's often damp or wet. The Volcanoes mountain chain receive
a good amount of rain, so it's possible you'll be hiking in a
mist or light rain, and perhaps even shooting in these conditions.
Most of the hiking is on established trails that lead to the general
gorilla area, but once we're near the gorillas we will be traveling
over or under brush and trees -- not especially strenuous but
not a stroll in the park, either. Trails can be muddy and slippery.
Raingear is highly advised to keep dry, and we'll provide all
participants with a complete gear list with our recommendations.
Unlike any other trip we've done, this trek is exceptional in that you don't have to carry your gear! Porters are available to carry your pack, tripod, extra clothes, etc. for a modest tip per day, and this is a real luxury that should not be passed up! Trekking suddenly becomes nothing more than a hike, as you are not burdened by your gear.
Once we're near the gorillas you'll be asked to get the gear you'll need, and you won't need much. You won't need to carry more than two cameras -- perhaps with one mounted with a 70-200 2.8, 120-300 2.8, or 100-400, and another with a wide-angle lens or wide-angle zoom. A tripod is especially handy for the lighting conditions, but faster ISO films and fast lens may eliminate that need. Again, we'll be offering full support regarding what equipment you'll need to all our registered participants. For the hour with the gorillas you'll be carrying the equipment you'll be using -- so going light makes sense, but again, you simply won't need 'big glass' or a lot of accessories.
The Gorilla Trek price for our October
27-November 4 trip is $7,770 and is based on land costs from Nairobi
including airfare from Nairobi to Kigali and back to Nairobi.
It includes all accommodations (double occupancy) in Nairobi and
Kigali, airport transfer, all land transport in Rwanda, all meals
in Rwanda, gorilla permits and park fees, all tips for guides
and lodge staff and temporary Flying Doctor membership while in
The price does not include lunch and dinner in Nairobi upon return, tip for camera porters, tips for room stewards and luggage porters, drinks at all meals, personal items or the single supplement if private lodging is requested.
About Your Leaders
My wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide
the most comfortable and thorough safari you will experience.
Both Mary and I are photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our
credits. These included National Geographic, National Wildlife,
Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, and
most nature/wildlife calendars.
In 1994 Mary Ann won two first place awards in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, in Endangered Species and in Bird Behavior. In 1998 she had three highly commended images published in the BBC competition, ALL THREE from Kenya! She won first place in the Cemex/Nature's Best photo contest in the Humor Division for Professional Photographers. In 2003 she won first place in Mammal Behavior in the Agfa all Africa photo competition with a dust bathing bull elephant from Samburu. Mary has written a number of children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.
I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and the New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography. In 1999 Todtri published my latest, African Wildlife, and in 1999 we produced our first instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald. The video has received rave reviews, and it is the definitive guide for preparing yourself for a safari. I've won several times for highly commended images in both the Cemex/Nature's Best and the Agfa all Africa photo competitions. In 2003 I won 2nd place in the World in Our Hands category in the BBC competition with an image from Africa.