Among the many amazing things to do and see Gorilla Trekking is the amazing thing to do in Bwindi Uganda.
its home t0 the mountain gorillas, with the other being in the Virunga Mountains within the DRC or Democratic Republic of Congo, which is just on the other side of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. You can also trek gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. On our itinerary, we stick with Bwindi, as it is close to all the other excursions on our tour.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is considered Africa’s oldest forest and lies on the edge of the Albertine Rift in southwestern Uganda. It is home to the mountain gorillas, and you can also find other species of animals, such as chimpanzees, L’Hoest’s monkey and forest elephants. There are also numerous birds, butterflies, reptiles and approximately 120 mammals to practice your photography skills.
Below are some things you should be aware of when trekking the gorillas in Uganda.
#1 – Experience the best Apes Trekking in Uganda forest
While it is easy to find the closest family within 1-2 hours of the entrance gate to the park, it’s not necessarily true that this family of gorillas will be where you expect to find them, as they roam the forest finding a place to nest. Many times you will have to trek through the dense forest for hours at a time. It’s not flat terrain, so you will be going up and down dodging trees, puddles (if you go in the rainy season), and small to large hills as the experienced guides find you the gorillas.
You should be able to walk in both flat and steep areas for long distances, as we will be going through the rain forest for at least 5-10 miles at a steady pace.
Furthermore, when you go on a gorilla trek, make sure you bring proper hiking shoes and break them in before the trip, so you don’t incur foot problems while trekking. Also, the tour guides will not let you go on the trek if you have anything other than proper hiking boots or shoes as it is a possible accident waiting to happen.
#2 – You are supporting the local community too when you trek the gorillas
When trekking the gorillas, the experience is not just about the gorillas but also about visiting the local communities surrounding the park. Bwindi has four separate and distinct sectors or regions, known as Buhoma and Ruhija, in the north and Rushaga and Nkuringo, in the south.
On our photo tour, we visit the Buhoma sector, which is surrounded by the Buhoma community. These people love their gorillas and support themselves and the conservation of the gorillas through the making of arts, local coffee, and camps that support the gorillas’ research. Tourism is critical to their livelihood, so they rely on the daily visitors who purchase their handmade crafts and other goods. COVID unfortunately, has affected not only global tourism but local tourism, and Uganda is one of those countries where most of the population subsists on the expenditure from locals.
We also received a great surprise at the briefing point before undertaking the hike. The local community danced for and with us to rev us up for the trek. Kim couldn’t do it with her sore ankle, and I was not well to do it either, but look at the video below – can you believe how high they can jump?
On our last photography tour, my guest Kim and I stayed at the Buhoma Community Lodge, which was very rudimentary but welcoming at the same time. We met research students from everywhere around the world, including Canada, who were studying the gorillas. It was awesome to hear their tales of interactions in the field.
WATCH OUR VIDEO OF THE BAKIGA TRIBE DANCING HERE
#3 – the price is non-negotiable and keeps rising – here’s why
When I went to Uganda in 2018, for my initial trip, the cost of the gorilla permits was USD 600. Still, I did not do it at that time as I was there to research the itinerary and being that it was costly at the time, I decided to opt-out until the following year when I would be leading my first photography tour. I had booked in 2019 at a much higher cost of USD 700, but then came down mid-trip with a terrible gastroenteritis case and had to miss the trek.
Post-COVID, I imagine the cost to trek the gorillas will be much higher.
There are only 15 habituated groups of gorillas in Bwindi, with only eight permits per group per day. With a forest as vast and dense as Bwindi, it requires a lot of rangers and guides to lead the groups and protect the gorillas from possible poaching. Unfortunately, during COVID, a silverback of one of the groups was murdered. Due to a lack of resources and lack of tourism dollars, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority could not afford to pay for as many rangers due to the lack of tourists coming. Thus this Silverback fell prey to a poacher. On the plus side, two babies were recently born to one of the habituated groups.
Each group has approx. 8-15 gorillas, and thus many rangers are needed to protect the interior of the park. The cost to take care of these gorillas, protectors and guides keeps climbing. I would gladly pay higher to ensure these majestic beasts are well taken care of and kept safe.
#4 – There is a difference between the gorilla trek and the gorilla habituation experience
As I mentioned before, you can trek the gorillas and or do the gorilla habituation experience. The gorilla trek allows you 1 hour with the gorillas after finding them. Depending on where your group of trekkers starts from, sometimes you can be trekking for 1-2 hours up to 8-10 hours, but regardless of how long it takes you to get to the gorillas, you will still only have 1 hour to observe, photograph and stand there in awe of them. Conversely, the gorilla habituation experience targets one semi-habituated group, which has been consistently attended by the researchers over a few years. You get to follow along and be with them for up to 4 hours. You can watch how the researchers collect their stools to look for parasites or watch as the researchers observe their behaviours solely and as a group. The goal of this trek is to try to habituate them. The habituation experience is also in the Rushaga sector only because it is far from Buhoma. We usually don’t do this on our itinerary as we want to be able to see all the sites around Queen Elizabeth National Park and Fort Portal, which is closer to Buhoma. The cost for the trek is USD 700.
In contrast, the habituation experience starts at USD 1,000. It has to be booked a year in advance sometimes due to the popularity and the fact that there are only a total of 4 permits given out each day, to limit the interaction with the gorillas and not stress them out.
#5 – There’s a time of year that’s best to visit and do the gorilla trek
The best times to do the gorilla trek are in the dry season, which is in January, February or June to September. The trek is much more difficult in the rainy season due to the muddy ground. Chances of seeing the gorillas are also limited as the vegetation is denser in the forest during the rainy season. During the rainy season, plants and trees in Uganda grow higher, which provides more cover for the gorillas and other forest animals to take shelter, thus limiting your view of them.
#6 – It’s essential to wear the right clothing and shoes for the best trekking experience
When I do the chimp trek, I can get away wearing sandals, even when it is muddy as the terrain is not steep. However, when you do the gorillas trek, you must make sure to have the proper hiking gear and clothing. I advise you to wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants that cover your ankles and feet as you will be walking in the dense brush or wading through the forest. You will inevitably come across the red ants, that leave a nasty bite or the stinging nettle that can leave an unpleasant rash, although not dangerous, it is not pleasant either. Red ants climb fast, and thus where one leads, the rest will follow. On my trek to see the gorillas, I wore shorts and sandals the first time and learned my lesson the hard way as I came out of the forest with too many bites to count.
#7 – Booking your trek with us is an exceptional experience
There are numerous tour companies in and outside of Uganda, offering the gorilla experience, but the reason we stand out is that we put your comfort first. We are aware that not everyone will be at the same fitness level or have the same confidence to trek the gorillas. Once you book with us, you will get a questionnaire that will enable us to book you with the proper ranger, who will guide you within 1-3 hours, depending on your stamina to trek.
Last year, our traveller Kim, who came from British Columbia, took a nasty fall the night before and twisted her ankle and was about to cancel the trek. We took care of her ankle and ensured she was fit to go the next morning. Our tour guide Venex from Rwenzori Safaris is a previous environmental journalist, and having the right connections with the Uganda Wildlife Authority was able to hook her up with a guide, who took her to the habituated group within 1 hour of starting the trek. She also had a porter to carry her belongings so she could concentrate solely on trekking. She came out of the trek, beaming like a little school girl, and her eyes were alight as she exclaimed that it was the best experience ever and that her dreams of going to Africa were now complete.
Want that experience too?
We are now offering you the chance to book your spot on our tour next year with no deposit. There are only seven spots available, and if you cannot go at the time, then cancel – no obligation, no deposit. What’s better than that other than trekking the gorillas in Uganda?