Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
There is nothing more awe inspiring than being up close to mountain gorillas in their natural environment. I was fortunate enough to view a family of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. We witnessed curious toddlers, a mother feeding her new baby, several adolescent gorillas and 3 silver backs. Being this up close and personal to gorillas in the wild was a dream come true for me (minus the moment that the silver back charged us!).
Critically Endangered Species
The gorillas live in the mountainous forests of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, northwest Rwanda, and southwest Uganda. Mountain gorillas are a critically endangered species due to a history of poaching, loss of habitat from the expanding human population, and ongoing civil conflict. Thankfully conservation efforts including ranger-based monitoring, community and tourism development, anti-poaching activities, and habitat conservation have increased the gorilla population from 620 animals in 1989 to approximately 880 today. Income generated through gorilla tourism benefits conservation efforts and the respective communities of the gorillas.
Planning Our Trip
There are a number of tour operators to book a gorilla trek with in Uganda. Providers will often offer tours combined with safaris in nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park. We decided to book our tour through Africa Tours Adventure, a reasonably priced local company. The company took care of all arrangements including acquiring our gorilla permits, booking lodges, tours, meals, and providing a guide and private transportation for all activities (including an 8 hour drive from Kampala to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park). We were also able to choose our level of accommodation (budget, deluxe or luxury). We opted for the budget Bakiga Lodge for our stay in Bwindi and splurged on luxury accommodation for our last night at Katara Lodge near Queen Elizabeth National Park. Both lodges boasted amazing views and wonderful staff. Our room at Katara Lodge even offered 2 beds in the room, one which was on wheels that we were able to have it put on the balcony to sleep under the stars!
What to Expect on the day of the Gorilla Trek
On the day of our gorilla trek we were driven to the rangers station for briefing and to be divided into groups of 8 to track the habituated gorilla families. My husband and I were extremely lucky to be the only tourists that day, so we had a private tour to see the gorillas. We were there at the beginning of March, which is typically the start of the rainy season, so I think we were the only ones brave enough to risk the rain. Mother nature worked in our favour and we had a beautiful sunny day for our trek!
Depending on where the gorillas are located, you could be hiking anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours to encounter a gorilla family, so some level of physical fitness is required should you end up hiking all day. We were fortunate in this respect as we only hiked for 45 minutes before encountering the gorillas. I would definitely recommend well worn in hiking boots for the trek. The first part of the hike is on a path, but once we were near the gorillas we were hiking through long grass and steep brush. We didn’t have gardening gloves but these would have been helpful as we were often moving up a steep hill covered in prickly brush. Long pants are a must that can be tucked into your boots – to save your legs from the prickly brush but also from the fire ants!
We were allowed 1 hour viewing time with the gorillas. We had been instructed to keep a distance of at least 7 metres away from the gorillas to keep them relaxed and to ensure that human diseases are not transmitted to the gorillas. A few curious toddlers did approach us more closely, but we kept our distance as best as possible, remembering that although the gorillas are habituated to humans they are still wild animals!
For me this was nothing short of an experience of a lifetime!