All You Need To Know About Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

If you are a wildlife junkie like I am, gorilla trekking should be on your bucket list. Most people go on a wildlife safari to Africa, starting with the Masai Mara in Kenya or Kruger National Park in South Africa. Over the years, I have done many safaris and game drives through Africa and seen more lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and giraffes in person than I imagined I would. But only in Rwanda, was I able to see mountain gorillas!

If you have watched the movie King Kong, you may be familiar with fierce giant gorillas portrayed to be monsters destroying cities. But in fact, gorillas are very docile and human-like. These gentle giants share 98.3% of their genetic code with humans. Therefore, their behaviors are very human-like. The large great apes are our third closest cousins after chimps and bonobos.

mountain gorilla of Rwanda

Where can you see gorillas in the wild?

Only 1063 gorillas are left in the world, of which 604 are in the Virunga Massif. Mountain gorillas are only found in equatorial Africa, in the dense jungles of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So, if you have never visited any of these three countries and been on a gorilla trek, then you have only seen gorillas in captivity.

Rwanda is perhaps the best option of the three for beginner gorilla trekkers. The country is well developed to support tourism infrastructure, so you can find good roads, high-end hotels, and well organized tours. The terrain is also relatively easier to navigate on Rwanda’s side.

What is the best time of the year to go gorilla trekking?

Since the gorillas live in these jungles year-round, there is technically no bad time of the year to see them. However, the wet season (from October-May) can be more challenging for hiking as the trails get muddy and steep. September is perhaps the best time to visit Rwanda if you want to trek and also watch the gorilla naming ceremony.

gorilla naming ceremony

Kwita Izina is the largest event in Rwanda, where baby gorillas born in the last year are officially named with lots of pomp and show. A big stage is set up at Volcanoes National Park where world-renowned performers energize the guests with music and dance. Over 50,000 visitors gather to celebrate the gorillas and Rwanda’s commitment to their conservation. Everyone from the president of Rwanda and international dignitaries, to business owners and community members attend. In 2022, 20 baby mountain gorillas were named by celebrity artists, sportsperson and philantropists. His Royal Highness The King of Wales also named a baby mountain gorilla virtually.

gorilla naming ceremony

Where does the gorilla trek start?

You will need to book a guided tour to trek with the gorillas in Rwanda. Once you arrive in the capital of Kigali, travel by a safari vehicle to the region of Musanze (about 3 hours drive). The road is windy, going through mountains and tea plantations. Plan to take medication if you tend to get motion sickness.

In Musanze, you can check in to Virunga Inn Resort and Spa, a lovely boutique or if you want to splurge, book a night at the ultra-luxurious One & Only Gorilla’s Nest.

The gorilla treks begin at the crack of dawn, so make sure to get a good night sleep before.

gorilla painting

In the early morning, you will drive to the visitor center of Volcanoes National Park, to receive further instructions and paired with your trekking party. Here, soak in the breathtaking scenery with morning mist rising about the Virunga volcanoes at over 4000 meters. There is lots of festivity at the visitor center with live music and dance performances, free tea and coffee vendors, as well as art and souvenir shops. You will have about an hour to walk around, get your gear on, enjoy some snacks and use the toilet facilities before heading out on your hike.

driving to the gorilla trek

What’s it like to gorilla trek?

Once the guides receive update from the rangers about the exact location of the gorilla families, it’s time to get going. Groups of eight people are formed and you may be given the option of taking a an easier or a more difficult hike. If you have a preference of which of the 10 gorilla families you prefer to see, that will determine your path. The mountain gorillas live in family groups of 5-50, led by a dominant male or silverback. The family may have more than one silverback in the group but only one is designated as the leader.

I opted for an easier hike. My only goal was the see the mountains gorillas, babies would be nice too. So we first drove about an hour and a half from the visitor center to the top of a mountain, crossing dirt paths, farms and villages. Our safari vehicle got stuck in the mud pool at one point and some farmers helped us get out.

trekking through the farms

Then we met with armed rangers and porters to start the hike. We walking for about an hour through potato farms and enjoyed beautiful views from the top. There were few golden monkeys too. We saw gorilla claw marks on eucalyptus trees, which was exciting. The gorillas had been in the area! As we made our way through the entrance of the national park, the foliage got thick and thorny. The bushes rose up above my height. Stinging nettles brushed my legs (yes it was painful but only lasted a few minutes). The rangers use machetes to clear out the path for us to maneuver through. My porters were very helpful in pulling me up the steep slopes and helping me manage my steps. Having more familiarity with the terrain, they could pinpoint where to step and which plants to avoid touching.

gorilla trekking at volcanoes national park

Once the rangers confirmed we had neared a gorilla family, we left our backpacks and walking sticks with the porters, and walked a few more steps to get closer to the apes. Only us eight people on the tour and the guide could get near the family. Everyone else has to stay back.

And when you finally see them

When I first saw the gorillas, I was dumbfounded. It felt like I stepped into my television set and got into the National Geographic documentary I keenly watched. Perhaps I was having a 5-D experience? It was surreal! The Susa family I saw has 18 members, including 3 silverbacks and 2 babies. They were rolling in the bushes, scratching their heads, covering their eyes, and taking long naps. At one point, a mommy gorilla picked up her baby, brought it close to her face and gave her a big gorilla kiss. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen!

The Susa family is one of the most difficult ones to spot as they live in the higher altitude that is challenging to trek. Susa is also famous for having the first set of surviving twins in the history of mountain gorillas in 2004. However, today they had come down the mountains, so I got very lucky. The two babies in the group were – Muganga Mwiza named by Mr Laurene Powell Jobs, and Baho named by Dr Frank Luntz.

The gorillas seemed oblivious to our presence. They were seeing us. We made eye contact, but they didn’t seem to be bothered. My guide told me that sometimes the gorillas come and put their arm around you or play with you. I would have loved that!

gorillas in Rwanda

Maintain a 10-foot distance from the gorillas but they can get closer to us. Of course, you must not touch them.

You can spend up to an hour will the gorillas, but the hour goes by very quickly. I must have taken a thousand photos and videos during that time.

Then it was time to say goodbye to the Susa family and trek back down. Our entire tour lasted about 6-7 hours and we were back at the lodge for a late lunch and shower. Other groups who opted for more difficult hikes were out for about the same time, but returned back muddier and more tired.

view from the trek

How difficult is it?

Comparing notes with other trekkers I found that every gorilla trek is different. Some can last entire day, others only a couple of hours. You may have easier walks or cross steeper slopes, but you are guaranteed to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

One thing is for sure, Gorilla trekking is not for the faint hearted. You need to be in good physical shape to endure bumpy roads, long hikes, changing temperatures and come face to face with the giant apes. If you are afraid of getting close to wildlife, this may not be the right adventure for you.

How much does it cost?

Visiting gorillas is more expensive than other African animals safaris. Because of their delicate habitats, the government of Rwanda limits the number of visitors to protect the welfare of the gorillas and their homes. The entry fee to Volcanoes National Park is $1500 per person and limited to 80 people a day. That allows you to visit the gorillas only for up to one hour. It does not include your accommodations or meals. You also have to pay for rangers, drivers, guides and porters. Add to that, international flights and other tours, and you are looking at a few thousand dollars for an adventure of a lifetime.

It is worth noting that 20% of tourist revenues from gorilla trek permits go to the local communities surrounding the park. The rest is used for the maintenance of the infrastructure in and around the national park.

Packing and preparing tips

In terms of packing for your trip to Rwanda, there are no luggage restrictions unless you plan on taking the jumper flights between cities. You definitely need to bring a waterproof backpack, a rain jacket, lots of layers and good hiking boots. Wear long pants and shirts to protect against the cold, sun, bugs and nettles. The weather in the mountains can change drastically. It was actually quite cold the first day I was there. Carry a winter hat and fleece.

Because gorillas and humans share the same genetic makeup, they can pass on respiratory diseases (including flu and COVID-19) to each other. You may need to get tested and have to wear a mask while visiting the gorillas.

porters for trekking in Rwanda

Make sure to visit an ATM or convert currency to Rwandan Franc and carry loose change to give as tips. You should pay $15-20 to each trek leader, guide, tracker and porter for the service they provide. The rangers have tough lives. They live in the remote jungle for 5-10 hours each day, guarding each gorilla family and tracking their locations. Tourism is the biggest source of employment for locals in this area. The locals depend on the limited number of travelers who visit the area. Many of the guides are former gorilla poachers. By creating alternate sustainable sources of employment, it helps protect the environment as well. My two porters were farmers and carried bags for the treks as a second job.

Also worth noting, is 20% of tourist revenues from gorilla trek permits goes to the local communities surrounding the park and the rest for the maintenance of the infrastructure in and around the national park.

Things to do while in the area

If you go gorilla trekking in Rwanda, plan to spend at least a week or two to visit other national parks, lakeside towns and cities. In Musanze, learn more about the mountain gorillas at the brand new museum located at the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

enjoy Rwanda culture after a trek

The Red Rocks Intercultural Exchange Center is also a good place to learn about Rwandan culture. Here you can stay overnight in the modest hostel. Or book day time organized touristic workshops such as banana beer making, music and dance. There are also many art galleries and fair-trade shops around Musanze town.

A Secret Way to the Top of Table Mountain

Table Mountain is possibly the number one destination for travelers visiting Cape Town, South Africa. The prominent landmark consisting of approx. 500 million year old rocks, forms a dramatic backdrop to the city.

Most people take the aerial cableway to the top of Table Mountain, which offers spectacular views of jagged rocks, bare vegetation, and the city below. Once you reach the viewpoint, plan to spend an hour walking around to see as far out as Cape of Good Hope in the south, Devil’s Peak in the east, and Lion’s Head to the west. Buy tickets in advance, though also note that the aerial cableway is closed when there’s adverse weather, high winds or needs maintenance. On busy summer days, the lines can be very long and the visit may take an entire day, if not a better part of it.

Sunset is the best time to be on top of Table Mountain and local residents can get tickets for half off.

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When I was in Cape Town in late December, I was stuck in traffic to get to the entrance of the park, it took about an hour in the line to get to the cable car (with advance tickets), and 2 hours to get back down. There was one restaurant on top, but I couldn’t get anything to eat or drink, because the lines took forever.

Another way to explore Table Mountain is by hiking, and the Platteklip Gorge trail is the most direct and popular trail up the mountain. It normally takes 2 hours each way. Some areas can be slippery and steep. In summer, this may be strenuous as the sun is quite strong and there aren’t many trees. You must carry lots of water, walking poles, some granola bars, hat and sunscreen.

The best way to see Table Mountain is a private wine safari. I met with my Durbanville Hills Table Mountain Wine Safari Guide, Henri Bruce, at the SANParks Table Mountain office, and we rode in his open safari jeep straight past the lines, unlocking barriers marked as no private entry, and driving through the winding rugged paths through the mountain. On the scenic drive, Henri pointed out the different shrubs and flowers indigenous to the mountain, and shared interesting stories of his many hikes. We stopped to take photos of sparkling fynbos trees and vibrant protea flowers, as well as False Bay, and the beaches dotting Cape Town below us.

Once we reached Devil’s Peak, we got off the vehicle and went for a walk around the block house and historic cannons. Meanwhile, Henri set up a picnic table with different kinds of cheese, fresh fruits, and cold cuts, accompanied by a selection of Durbanville Hills wines.

We spent about 3 hours wine tasting, talking about travel, and enjoying the infinite scenery, while an occasional hiker or two would walk past, perhaps a little jealous of how relaxed we were, while they still had the afternoon sun ahead. It also gets quite windy midday on top of the mountain, so make sure to bring a jacket.

After a beautiful day, Henri dropped us at the Cape Grace Hotel for a wine tasting at the bar, and a scrumptious dinner at Signal restaurant.

The experience can be booked through the concierge desk at Cape Grace Hotel, a charming family-owned boutique hotel located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, or directly through Durbanville Hills.

Ten percent of all proceeds are donated to South African National Parks (SANParks) for the conservation and general upkeep of South Africa’s national parks.

Where to Sustainably See Wildlife in South Africa

Seeing wildlife in South Africa may be on top of your bucket list, or just one of the things in your itinerary. During my recent visit, I felt there were more places to see wildlife in South Africa, than anywhere else in the world. The reason being there are not just one or two national parks, there are countless reserves, safaris, game ranches, sanctuaries, farms, and more.

Perhaps you aren’t aware that many travelers go to South Africa for hunting and poaching as well. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that allows private ownership of wild animals, so game ranching is a big industry. A simple google search will show you how many companies offer “trophy hunting” packages where you can select an animal to kill and bring back home. Many of them will claim that you are helping “conserve wildlife” by hunting the animals outside the parks that would otherwise harm agricultural land (which is usually not true). One such website offers an all-inclusive package of 1 x Impala, 1 x Blesbuck, 1 x Zebra, 1 x Redhartebeest, 1 x Warthog for only $5,000! Others, offer killing elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, and crocodiles. Sadly, majority of these hunters come from the US.

From Ash Adventure’s website

What I know is most of these animals are not really wild. They are the ones you have pet at so called “sanctuaries” that offer wildlife encounters (touching a lion, feeding a cub, walking with cheetahs, etc), even volunteer vacations taking care of animals. Therefore, the animals are attuned to humans. When they are released in a restricted area with a hunter, they don’t run away, and end up being killed rather easily.

So, if you want to see the Big 5, the best thing to do is see them in their natural habitats, which is mainly at Kruger National Park in South Africa, though there are a few other national parks where you can spot wildlife too.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money going on a safari, or perhaps are traveling with young kids who won’t appreciate being in the wild, there are other options to see wildlife in South Africa sustainably.

African penguins at Boulder Beach, South Africa

Penguins at Boulder Beach

Watch African penguins at Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town, about an hour south of Cape Town. This beachfront penguin colony resides in the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area. You can kayak around the beach or watch them breed, swim, and moult from wheelchair friendly boardwalks. When I was there in late December, I saw lots of babies! Admission: $5 adults; $3 kids

White lion at Panthera Africa

Big Cats at Panthera Africa

See white lions, Bengal tigers, leopards, cheetahs, caracals and more at this sanctuary. Panthera Africa rescues captive bred big cats from private homes, circuses, game ranches and other places. The nonprofit’s mission is to allow the cats to spend the rest of their lives abuse free. They have plenty of space to roam, playtime and food. But unlike other “cat sanctuaries,” you can only visit Panthera for couple of hours a day, and won’t have any physical contact with the animals. Admission: $14 adults; $10 kids

African Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Here too you can see rescued orphaned elephants that are mostly sent on to private reserves to live out their lives. Advance reservations are needed for a guided visit where you will be briefly allowed to touch and feed an African elephant. The Knysna Elephant Park is a good place to learn about elephants, but if you want to see them in their natural habitat, go to Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape. Admission: $23 adults; $12 kids; Free for under 5

Lunchtime in Monkeyland

Monkeys at Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary

Monkeyland is possibly the worlds first free roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary, located in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. You will get up close with lemurs, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins and gibbons. You walk through a jungle-like setting through a thick canopy of trees and a hanging bridge, while the monkeys go about doing their daily business, oblivious to humans. The best part is seeing all different species of monkeys come together over the dinner table! Please do not touch the monkeys. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Exotic Birds at Birds of Eden Free Flight Sanctuary

This is most beautiful bird sanctuary I have visited anywhere in the world! You can easily spend an entire day walking through 2 hectares of trails with different habitats. Birds of Eden is home to over 3,500 birds of over 220 species, with the main focus being African birds. While it may not yet be a home for the rare cape parrot, which is infact the rarest African bird, there are still so many other beautiful birds to admire that you can’t not be happy walking around the sanctuary. Most of the birds are rescued caged birds that have only lived in small spaces and some are very friendly with humans. However, they go through a rehabilitation program where they relearn to fly, build flight muscles, and socialize with other birds. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Victims of lion bone trading displayed at Panthera

Please keep in mind that when you are visiting a fake sanctuary, petting a wild animal, purchasing animal products (such as zebra skin, tiger bones or ivory jewelry), or keeping wild animals as pets, you are directly and indirectly involved in the exploitation of wildlife.

To learn more about volunteering with animals in South Africa and big cat conservation, watch my interview with Panthera.

Beyond The Beaches…Seven Must Have Experiences in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is not like other islands where all you do is lay on the beach and snorkel in the sea. Sure there are plenty of places to do that around Sri Lanka, but it is also a country full of rich cultural activities. Here are some experiences you should not miss during your visit…

Get an Ayurvedic Massage

Ayurveda is an ancient medicinal practice based on natural plants and roots. Because Sri Lanka is abundant with natural resources, spices and flora, it has used ayurveda to prevent and heal diseases of the eyes, skin, breathing, digestion, and mental health for thousands of years. One of the best places to experience ayurvedic treatments is Siddhalepa Resort where you can consult with an experienced doctor, receive massage treatments based on his/ her prescription, and enjoy organic healthy meals. The Siddhalepa Group has hotels in Wadduwa and Mt. Lavinia in Sri Lanka, as well as in Berlin, Sliac and Bad Homburg. They manufacture over 400 kinds of oils, balms, elixirs, cosmetics and teas, so make sure to pick up some gifts to take back.

Shop at an Open Air Fish Market

Fishing is the main occupation for locals in southern Sri Lanka. It is interesting to see fisherman carrying their large nets on wooden boats heading out into the sea early morning, and returning to the shore with their fresh catch at sunset. The chef from Cinnamon Bey Beruwala hotel showed us where he gets his daily catch from and we picked our dinner together at the market. If you are lucky, you can also see stilt fishing, where fishermen perch balancing on poles, careful not to cast shadows in the water, as they skillfully draw spotted herrings and mackerels from the shallow waters.

Watch Traditional Mask Dances

The ancient traditional of dancing wearing devil or spirited masks was another way of chasing away health and mental issues. Rituals would start at night and go on until sunrise to chase demons out of the human bodies. These masked dances were also performed during comedy shows and for entertainment. You can see how the intricate and colorful masks are handcrafted of very light wood in the village of Ambalagodan. At Cinnamon Grand in Colombo, I also watched live mask and fire dances.

Take a Safari

The Sri Lankan safari experience is very different from what you may have experienced in Africa. There are dense tropical forests with thick canopy, so it’s difficult to spot leopards (though they exists). Yala National Park is one of the best places to spot wild elephants, deer, monkeys, wild boar, buffaloes, peacocks and other exotic bird species. Plan to spend at least half a day in an open air jeep to get a good view of the local animals.

Go Whale Watching

The warm waters of the Indian Ocean along the coast of Sri Lanka make for one of the ideal places to sea whales in the world. From Mirissa, a charming coastal village in the south, embark on a whale watching cruise early in the morning and spend a few hours looking for the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale, with experienced guides. The best time to see whales in November to April, though you may be able to spot them year round in Sri Lanka. For whale watching along the Pacific Coast of America, san diego whale watching will make for a fantastic and unique day out.

Feed and Bathe Elephants

I am strictly against riding elephants as in most cases the animals have been captured, trained and abused to make a profit. But at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, baby and adult elephants who have strayed away from their packs, found on the roads, or orphaned and brought to live freely in an open space. They seem to be well taken care of. Some of the elephants who previously worked and interacted with humans are allowed to be fed and bathed by visitors, for a small fee. I enjoyed feeding chunks of pineapples and watermelon to a charming lady, with the assistance of a local guide. Please remember you cannot touch, ride, or even go close to wild elephants as they are very dangerous.

Cruise Down Madu Ganga River

The Madu River area is a swampy marshland covered in mangrove forests and abundant in wildlife. You can spot over 100 species of birds, reptiles, butterflies and molluscs when cruises on a boat safari through the river. Additionally, you can visit locals living around the river who live on cinnamon and fishing industries. Stop to visit an open-air fish spa, watch how the locals peel cinnamon, weave palm leaves, purchase cinnamon soaps, tea, oil and spices directly from the source.

Meaningful Ways to See Elephants

If you are traveling to Asia, you are probably very excited at the prospect of seeing, even riding elephants. But do you know that around 75% of the world’s captive elephants have been illegally captured, with over 3,000 used for entertainment in Asia alone?

PETA, whose driving force is that animals are not ours to use for entertainment  is highlighting that elephants used for rides are often forcibly separated from their mothers as babies. They are then immobilised with tightly bound ropes, and gouged with bullhooks or nail-studded sticks during “training.”

Please do not accept elephant rides!

Many tour companies are pledging not to promote cruel elephant rides, and if you see someone offering an elephant ride, I urge you NOT TO ACCEPT.

There are some other ways in which you can still enjoy seeing elephants sustainably by visiting small sanctuaries and spotting them in the wild.

Crossing the river at Periyar National Park

Periyar National Park, South India

Periyar National Park in Kerala is one of the most well-preserved natural habitats I have visited. Here you can see the Indian Elephant, a subspecies of the native Asian elephant, in the wild. Take a walking safari at sunrise or sunset and you will most likely spot the elephants hanging out near the river.

The Elephant Transit Home and Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to a population of up to 4,000 endangered Sri Lankan elephants. While many travelers opt to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, there are some concerns about the treatment of the elephants and ethos of the orphanage.

This is a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured elephants, with a strict no-contact policy. Visitors here can observe the elephants in a natural atmosphere and see how they interact with one another during feeding time

Pranburi, Thailand

There’s chance to get off the beaten track in Thailand and discover the Wildlife Friends Foundation – an organization rescuing and rehabilitating sick or injured elephants.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park is located in Northern Thailand outside of Chiang Mai. This park is dedicated to caring for elephants who have endured mistreatment in camps and circuses with more than 35 elephants currently cared for.

Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

Visits to the Minneryiya or Kaudulla National Park gives travelers the opportunity to climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, before taking an elephant safari. A jeep Safari in Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park with Rickshaw Travel comes as part of the Elephant‘s in Buddha’s Garden trip.

Adopt an elephant at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage

Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage, Kenya

Watch baby elephants rescued from all over Kenya at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage as they are fed every morning from 10-11am. There is no physical contact with the elephants though they may come close to you on their own during playtime.

For a $50 annual donation, you can even also foster a baby elephant and receive newsletters with rescue stories.

World Elephant Day

The annual World Elephant Day (12 August) is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants, as many fight to change this fate.

There are two species of elephants: African comprised of two different species (forest and savannah), with less than 400,000 remaining worldwide, and Asian, with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide.

While they are similar in physiology, they are too biologically different to interbreed. Recent scientific findings suggest that the forest-dwelling African elephant is a genetically distinct species, making it a third elephant species. (Courtesy Rickshaw Travel in Travel Alliance Bulletin)

Get Lucky! Have the Most Amazing Safari Experience

Are you addicted to those National Geographic documentaries on Wild Africa where they show lions hunting down a buffalo or thousands of wildebeests migrating across the Serengeti? I have probably exhausted the entire selection on big cats and wildlife shows found on Netflix. So, when I planned my trip to Masai Mara in Kenya with The Village Experience, I was very excited to get up close to the animals, this time in reality.

What I didn’t know was that I would be so, so close! And there would be animals everywhere! We (meaning my guide and I) really didn’t have to drive around looking for them. From the moment we were driving on the highway close to Lake Naivasha, I saw zebras running around. Over the next 24 hours, I saw 70 lions, 3 cheetahs, 1 leopard, and thousands of giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, impalas, gazelles, hippos, and buffalos!

Some people may think that this is an everyday sighting at a game drive in Kenya. But in fact, I was truly lucky. A few of my friends have been on safaris 4, 10, even dozens of times, and seen only a fraction of what I saw! Some of it may just be luck, choice of season, or my wonderful presence, but there are things you can do in advance to have an amazing african safari experience.

Stay close to the reserve

There are all kinds of tented camp accommodations around the animal reserves, some offer more luxury than others. My lodging at Sekenani Camp were comfortable and luxurious. I had hardwood floors, a deck overlooking a creek and a en suite bath tub with hot shower. I could hear hyenas, lions and birds from my bed all through the night! Don’t worry, there is always a security guard who accompanies you from your tent to the restaurant and around the property so you never walk alone at night.

Sekanani Camp was a 20 minutes drive from the Masai Mara park’s entrance. Being so close to wilderness meant, we really didn’t have to go very far to spot the animals. Zebras and giraffes were roaming right outside our camp.

Hire an experienced guide

I cannot emphasize enough how much a good driver and guide can make or break your safari experience. My guide, Danson Kahuria, was born and brought up near Masai Mara so he was quite familiar with the territory. He had also gone to college to learn about birds and animals, and conducts workshops of other guides.

Danson had a keen sense for knowing where the animals would be and how they typically behave. He could predict when a lion cub was about to yawn, which direction a leopard would walk towards, and which animal a cheetah was about to hunt down. As a result, I got to saw the big cats in action – eating, sleeping, mating, hunting – all in just a few hours!

A good guide will also maneuver the car (following park guidelines) in such a way that you can get the best photo opportunities! Since Danson knew which was the animals were going to turn, we were always ahead of their game.

Have some patience

If you have limited days, (I only had one) it is best to leave early morning for a game drive and plan to stay till sunset. Animals behave differently at different times of the day, so you want to be able to see their moods. My advise is to wear comfortable clothing, carry sunscreen, bug spray, a light jacket and lots of snacks and water for the day. I have heard stories of people going in a group and one of them was hungry so they left the park after a couple of hours. Remember you have to pay hefty entrance fees ($80-200/ person) so make the most out of it! Also, pack lots of extra batteries and memory cards. I took 500 photos and videos in less then a day!

Depending on your vehicle, you may have open roof or sides, to allow good viewing. But it also means more sun, heat and bugs, so be prepared.

Sunsets in the mara are spectacular. Don’t miss it.

Respect the animals

Remember, you are in the habitat of wild animals. Take every precaution to respect that by not getting out of your vehicle, feeding them or attracting their attention. Some people get excited and want to get closer, but park rangers are always secretly watching and will fine you if you get off the marked trails. Also, please do not litter the park.

An African safari is a bucket list for most people. If you get a chance to be one of the lucky ones to see wild animals in their natural habitat, do it right the first time!