Trekking to Spend Time with a Gorilla Family in Rwanda

After making the over twenty-one-hour trip from Washington DC to Kigali, Rwanda, we immediately were transported to Volcanoes National Park where the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda are located. We got a few hours of sleep and then woke up early to climb into the rainforest to locate our gorilla family. We were expecting to make our way through the jungle to observe the gorillas through the trees and perhaps have the opportunity to get a little close to one or two of them. It turned out that we would spend an hour standing and walking amongst the entire gorilla family, who continuously walked in front, behind, and all around us as we spent time with them. It was truly one of the most incredible and unique experiences that we have ever had during our travels.

The Gorillas were Very Expressive
Silverback Walking Past Us
Juvenile Gorillas

There are only ten families that can be visited per day and the visit is restricted to no more than one hour. Each group that gets to visit with the gorillas is also limited to eight or nine people and our group was a group of eight. That means that only eighty to ninety people per day can visit with the gorillas, which makes it an experience that is not shared by a lot of people. The family that we visited with was the Agashya family and we were told that Agashya meant “special”, which had to do with the unique circumstances that this particular family was formed. When the former Silverback, elder leader of the family, passed away, normally the females would go off to join other families. In this case, though, they stayed together and other silverbacks tried to join the family. The female gorillas were not interested in the first few suitors that tried to join the family and then finally they accepted the silverback, which the guides named Agashya due to having never seen a family of female gorillas due what this family had done.

Thick Jungle Trekking
Showing Off for Us
Mommy with a Five-Month-Old Baby

Our encounter started with one of the two other silverbacks that were now part of the family who had strayed away from the rest of the family with another female gorilla, which would not be tolerated by the leader when he learned about it. A silverback is simply a gorilla that has gotten old enough for the hair on his back to turn gray, typically at about thirteen years old. He beat his chest for us, making sure we knew he was our boss and then came straight towards us. Our guide had us stay perfectly still as the over 500-pound gorilla walked past us making sure to brush up against us as he passed. At this point, we knew that we were in for an amazing day.

Deep in Thought
Amongst the Gorillas
Agashya is the Name of the Head Silverback and the Family

It took another hour or so to find the rest of the family and at that point our sixty-minute visit would officially start. One of the highlights was seeing a mother gorilla with her five-month-old baby riding on her back. As we walked amongst the gorillas, taking photographs, and watching as they showed off for us and genuinely seemed as curious about us as we were of them. Several of them brushed up against us and one juvenile gorilla even slapped the men in our group as the family departed for the day. Obviously, we’re sharing some incredible photographs of our encounter, but there is no way to adequately explain what it was like to spend time with the majestic creatures.

The Gorillas were All Around Us
Another View of the Baby
Playing Around

We would definitely recommend people take the time and spend the money to see these incredible animals and help with their conservation. Be prepared, though, as the trekking can be extremely difficult as you hack your way through the jungle with machetes and climb up and down steep, muddy hills covered with dense vegetation. It was well worth the effort, but it certainly was one of the hardest things that we had done as far as hiking and trekking goes. After spending the magical hour with the Agashya Gorilla Family, we made our way out of the jungle, images still dancing through our minds. This was only part of our first full day in Rwanda and it couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. We knew at this point that it was going to be a trip that would be one of the best of our lives.

Gentle Giants
Another View of Agashya
Being Protective of the Baby

The Varied Wildlife of the Country of Panama

Although Panama is a narrow country, it is also a very biodiverse country with oceans and rainforests. There are so many fascinating animals that live in Panama and we were fortunate to see many different varieties during our time there. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is certainly a highlight of visiting any country like this and we took several tours specifically hoping to see some of the nation’s wildlife.

Three-Toed Tree Sloth
Seabird Overhead
One of the Monkeys in the Trees
One of the Many Species of Birds
Anteater in a Tree in Panama

We kept our eyes on the tree limbs above our heads to see the different varieties of monkeys, sloths, and birds. We also saw a tree-climbing anteater as well as a somewhat cute rodent called an agouti. The tarantula spider that climbed out of the tree above our heads when we stopped to eat lunch was interesting and yet creepy at the same time.

Agouti in the National Park
Adorable Baby Monkey
Tarantula Joining Us for Lunch
Getting a Butterfly to Pose Isn’t Easy
Monkey Relaxing in a Tree

We have been fortunate enough to see a wide variety of wildlife in various parts of the world, but we have to admit that Panama provided us some of our most interesting encounters. It is important to have your camera handy and having a telephoto lens often helps too, but when you get as close as we were able to get, it isn’t required.

Birds on the Shoreline
Lizard Trying to Hide
We Saw Several Tree Sloths Curled Up in a Ball
Sad Looking Monkey
Vulture in the Tree

Having the Opportunity to See the Big Cats of East Africa

We are currently contemplating returning to East Africa, although the focus of this trip would be to see the Gorillas and Chimpanzees, as well as other animals, in Rwanda. During our previous visit, one of the things that we truly enjoyed during our eleven-day safari in Eastern Africa was seeing all of the big cats like lions, leopards, and cheetahs. We certainly weren’t disappointed with our encounters as we had several that were all amazing and different in many ways. Whether watching the lion cubs at play, seeing a leopard climbing up a tree, or having a cheetah jump on the hood of our Land Cruiser, seeing these animals up close was something truly special. We saw lions at almost every park that we visited throughout both Kenya and Tanzania, but the leopards and cheetahs were rarer to see. We know that we were very fortunate to see the amazing variety of cats, including the caracal cat, which not everyone gets to see.

Lioness Snuggling with Her Cub
Cheetah Relaxing in the Grass
Leopard in the Tree
Caracal Cat on the Prowl
Male Lions are Majestic Looking

Cats have very expressive faces and keen eyesight and they definitely kept their eyes on us as we watched them from our vehicle. Regardless of the species of cat, one thing that they all had in common was how they ignored people and their vehicles with the exception of the encounter of the cheetah who definitely was not afraid of our presence. We visited the parks during the lion’s mating season and one of the more unique things that we saw during our safari was actually a lion and lioness mating. We also saw a leopard eating a gazelle as well as a pride of lions eating the remains of some sort of antelope. When on safari, you are in their environment and the animals are going to go about their lives regardless of the visitors that may come along to watch them.

Family of Cheetahs Heading Our Way
Lions Getting Ready to Mate
Unique Coloring Cheetahs
Caracal Cat on the Move
More Cuddling Lions

It is hard to decide which of the big cats was our favorite to see during our time, but there is no denying how impressive it is to see a large male lion within arms reach of the vehicle. We had many different encounters with male lions including one that was lying right on the edge of the road. We moved very slowly without sudden movements and spoke in low hushes as instructed by our guide so as not to provoke the lion. We were literally so close to him that we could almost feel his breath as he panted in the warm sun and kept a wary eye on us as we snapped photographs. For the first twenty minutes we were the only vehicle and as other vehicles arrived having been notified by our guide, the lion took offense, growled at us and for a moment there was a sense of fear that he might retaliate against us, but then wandered off into the tall grass before the others had the chance to see his power and beauty.

Male Lion on the Side of the Road
Leopard Climbing a Tree
Curious Cheetah
Pride of Lions
Caracal Cat Blending in with the Grass

There certainly isn’t any single animal that could be the considered the most important to see during a safari, but certainly seeing the big cats is a highlight. We took so many photographs during our trip that it is difficult to narrow down our favorites. Seeing how affectionate and playful they were was something truly spectacular. They definitely displayed a variety of emotion and caring for one another whether brushing against each other, wrestling with one another, or the lionesses cleaning the young cubs by licking them with their tongues. Although photographs can’t truly provide the same experience as being there, hopefully these images will give you a sense of what it is like to see these magnificent cats in the wild.

Close Up on the Male Lion’s Face
Lionesses Cleaning After Dinner
Leopard Walking on the Branches
Male Lion Laying Next to His Mate
Chasing Cheetahs