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Getting to see gorillas is not easy, nor are you guaranteed to see them. The trek to where the gorilla groups live takes you through very dense vegetation, up steep slopes and can last several hours. The dense vegetation is filled with burning and stinging nettles, so wearing gloves is a good idea. Red ants are also common, so wear long socks to tuck your trousers into. Gorillas move around so they aren't all that easy to track. The gorillas you'll be meeting are habituated to humans which is why you are able to get quite close to them. Some basic rules of tracking gorillas include:
- You have to be over 15 years of age
- You can not be sick or have any infectious disease
- Only one hour is allowed with the gorillas and you have to keep a distance of at least 5 metres
- Maximum number of visitors per day is 6-12 people per group
- No flash photography is allowed
- Trekkers must be fit and well equipped, which includes warm clothing for the wet cool climate high in the mountains.
- No eating or drinking in the vicinity of the gorillas
- No touching the gorillas (although they may decide to touch you)
- No pointing at gorillas
You need an official permit handled by each of the national parks to see the gorillas. Usually you have to obtain these several months in advance. If you are going with a tour it will be arranged for you.
In Uganda it costs USD 500 per day per person for a gorilla permit in high season. In low season a permit costs $350 to track gorillas during the months March - May and October - November. You can get the permits in Kampala (the capital of Uganda) at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) headquarters. It is possible to make an international booking for permits using email direct with UWA but they do not accept credit cards so it gets a bit complicated. See their web site for more details. To make it simple, you can just purchase your whole gorilla tour through a specialized company, like Gorilla Trekking or Volcanoes Safaris.
In Rwanda you can get permits through the Rwanda Tourism Board offices (ORTPN) in Kigali or Ruhengeri (near the PNV). The permits cost USD 750 per person per day (from June 2012). Most people will get their permits through a tour operator that specializes in trekking. It is difficult to obtain a permit without booking a tour at the same time. When I went Gorilla tracking in Rwanda, permits were sold out for 4 months in advance, so book early especially if you plan to go between June - October.
In the DRC its best to just arrange your permit (USD 400) and tour through Amohoro Tours