Mountain Gorillas~Rwanda

Led By Professional Wildlife Photographer Paul Renner

September 13 through 17, 2013


Join professional wildlife photographer Paul Renner for this exciting photo safari to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda for an unforgettable close up encounter with mountain gorilla families.  You will always remember your first encounter in the highlands jungle with a large silverback gorilla and his family of several females, adolescents and babies.  These non-aggressive, vegetarian gorilla families are accustomed to visitors and are accessible by hiking to their habitats in the Parc National des Volcans in northern Rwanda.  This will be one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences you will have in your lifetime!

WHAT MAKES OUR TRIP UNIQUE?
We make three treks in to see the gorilla families.  There are currently ten gorilla groups that are habituated to human contact so we should be able to visit three different families. The families range in size from 8-9 individuals up to 30+ in the large Susa Group.  Some of the family groups are nearby and relatively easy to visit, while some may be higher up in the jungle and require more trekking to get to them.  We spend four nights in the beautiful, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge near the entrance of the park.  The food is excellent! The rooms are large, clean, heated by fireplace and and the views of the nearby volcanoes are beautiful!

Visiting the gorillas several times can be very helpful for getting right the light.  The best light to photograph the gorillas is overcast or cloudy.  Bright sunlight tends to cause harsh contrast between the dark animals and the light green vegetation they live in.  Fortunately the weather is often misty and cloudy in the mountains and we greatly increase the chances of photographing in the best light by trekking into the gorillas on four different days.

Paul is a professional photographer with a lot of experience photographing wildlife.  He will be available and is happy to provide assistance or answer questions about camera settings, exposure, clothing, equipment or anything else that may arise.

CAN I MAKE THE HIKE TO SEE THE GORILLAS?
The Verunga Volcano range, where the gorilla families live, ranges in elevation from 7500’-10,000’ and is a tropical rainforest.  The trek usually begins along a trail through farmland but soon turns into following the guide and tracker through the dense jungle growth.  The hikes can be strenuous and are not for everyone.  However the pace is slow and the guides are accommodating and helpful, offering a hand when necessary.  At this elevation it is best to hike at a slower pace.  The gorilla families live at varying altitudes so the hike up the side of the volcano can range from half an hour to several hours, depending upon the location of the gorilla family we are visiting that day.  Gorillas eat and move in the mornings and evenings and when we come to them they are usually resting or foraging.  The guide-naturalist and trackers are very helpful and will clear the brush when possible so we have better views for photographs of the gorillas in their habitat.  We are asked to stay twenty feet back but frequently a curious baby or adolescent will approach closer, creating great opportunities for photographs.

At the trailhead we meet porters who carry our camera bags or backpacks up to the gorillas.  Some of the porters were former poachers so we provide employment which assists the local economy and also provides a viable alternative to poaching.  Not carrying our own gear in the jungle makes the hike much more pleasant and enjoyable for us.

We will be staying at the new Mountain Gorilla View Lodge which is located near the entrance to The Volcanoes National Park.  The day begins early with an early breakfast so we can be in the park for the early morning orientation before driving to the trailhead.  We then hike into the jungle and visit a gorilla family.  Once we encounter them, we are allowed to spend sixty minutes with the family.  This may not sound like a long time but there will be numerous opportunities for photographs and it is not unusual to take hundreds of images.  When the sixty minutes are up, we then hike back to the vehicles and return to the lodge.  After lunch we will visit various locations in and around Musanze, the small town on the edge of the park.  The Rwandan countryside is very scenic and the people are colorful, friendly and photogenic.  There is a nearby cultural village which we will visit where the locals share their cultural dances, singing, drumming, food and traditions with visitors. The village area also has striking views of the countryside and nearby volcanoes.

HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH THE GORILLAS:
The good news about visiting and photographing the gorillas is that we get close, the light is often perfect and sometimes it feels like they are posing.  Flash is not allowed, but the guides and gorillas are accustomed to visitors with cameras.  A tripod or monopod can be helpful and we recommend taking them along, but there may be times, if there is a lot of activity, when it may be easier to increase the ISO setting and hand hold the camera.  Long range telephotos are not necessary.  It is a good idea to carry two bodies with different lenses.  On one camera body I use an 18-135 mm lens and on the other I keep a 100-400mm lens.  This way I don’t have to change lenses just as something exciting happens and this combination works well for me.  One hour sounds short but there are numerous opportunities to get great shots and there is always some interaction going on between the gorillas that makes the time you spend with them special and unforgettable. The guides and rangers are very helpful and communicate with the large silverback with grunts and groans to let them know we are approaching.  They will also let us know if one of the males is going to pound his chest or do a bluff charge.  And the nice thing about having several visits is that you will be able to look at your images and make adjustments on the following trips.

SCHEDULE AND PRICING:

The price for this trip is $6055.00 per person, double occupancy.  A single
supplement costs an additional $981.00.  The trip originates and ends in Kigali.  The price includes all airport transfers, land transportation, meals and lodging in Rwanda.  It also includes park and gorilla permit fees.  The trip can be booked through Best Safaris (800) 757-6625.

The price does not include international airfare, any tips you may wish to give the guides, porters on the trek, the porters at the lodges or alcoholic and bottled beverages at the meals.

TRAVEL IN RWANDA:
When many people hear the name Rwanda they naturally think of the tragic genocide that occurred in this country in 1994.  This horrible inter-tribal conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis resulted in the death of over one million Rwandans and left two million as refugees across the borders in the Congo and Burundi.  It is difficult to comprehend that this genocide occurred so recently when you visit Rwanda.  Today the people are open, friendly and happy–they love to dance and sing and smiling children are everywhere. When you ask Rwandans about the genocide they become more serious and reflective–they are as shocked as the world was that this tragic event occurred in their country.  Today they all see themselves as Rwandans and do not like to talk about their tribal heritage as Hutus or Tutsis.  But almost everyone you speak to can tell you about a family member or close friend who was killed in some brutal fashion when they were younger.  Today Rwanda is peaceful and Kigali is considered one of the safest and most secure cities in Africa to visit.  Our trip will include an unforgettable visit to the Kigali Memorial Center, which was built to inform visitors not only about this genocide but the others that occurred in the twentieth century: the Armenians in Turkey, the Jews in Germany, the Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge and of course, the Rwandans.

DAILY ITINERARY:

Day 1 .  13th September  

Transfer to the airport in Nairobi for your 10:40am flight to Kigali. You will be met on arrival at airport and transfer to Kigali. Briefing on your safari.  After lunch, depart for PNV. The journey north goes through the beautiful terraced hillsides that characterize much of Rwanda’s landscape, gradually climbing to the base of the awesome Virunga volcanoes, sometimes with as many as five peaks visible. O/N Mountain Gorilla View Lodge  ( LD )

Day 2 .  14th September  

Go gorilla tracking in Parc  National des Volcans (subject to permit availability at the time of booking).  Tracking the gorillas through the light mountain forest on the slopes of the  Virungas is a magical experience.  If you are lucky you can get to the  gorillas, spend an hour with them, and be back at the base in time for a late lunch!  Some gorilla families however are more elusive, and tracking can take a full day, especially when it is wet and muddy.  O/N Mountain Gorilla View Lodge  (BLD )

DAY 3 .  15th September 
Go gorilla tracking again in Parc National des Volcans  (subject to permit availability at the time of booking).  In the afternoon, either visit the local school, community projects or walk to Lake Bulera.  O/N Mountain Gorilla View Lodge  ( BLD )

DAY 4.  16 th September 
Go gorilla tracking again in Parc National des Volcans  (subject to permit availability at the time of booking).  In the afternoon, either visit the local school, community projects or walk to Lake Bulera.  O/N Mountain Gorilla View Lodge  ( BLD )
DAY  5.   17 th September 
Leave for Kigali.  Time  permitting, go for a tour of the city including a visit to the market, a pottery project, handicraft shops, and the genocide memorial.  Later transfer to the airport for your Kenya Airways flight departing at 6:25pm (BL)

To make your reservations for the gorilla trek contact:

Paul Renner at 949.295.3136
Email: paulrenner3@cox.net
www.rennersafaris.com
or call
Gaby or Prem at Best Safaris – 800.757.6625
e-mail: info@BestSafaris.com

Smug and Secure
Photos are copyrighted by Paul Renner 2010

(to safari listings)