One of the most fascinating wildlife experiences is tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable forest.
This should not be a surprise because mountain gorillas are Homo sapiens closest relatives with similar behaviour and DNA.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda close to the border with Rwanda.
The park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the gorillas and vast rain-forest which cover an area of over 330 square kilometres.
The park is a sanctuary for mammals like leopards, forest elephants and duikers.
Several primate species live in the forest beside the gorillas like Colobus monkeys and chimpanzees.
Over 345 species of birds have been recorded in the park.
Despite this rich collection of flora and fauna, it is the mountain gorillas that stand out.
Mountain gorillas are considered an endangered species and are known to only thrive in the wild unlike their cousins the lowland gorillas.
Uganda is lucky to have half of the remaining population (about 1000) of mountain gorillas living in two national parks – Bwindi and Mgahinga.
The other half are found Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bwindi is one of the best locations to go gorilla Trekking
Bwindi is one of the best places to go gorilla Trekking because it hosts 14 habituated gorilla groups with more groups left undisturbed in the wild.
Bwindi is currently the only National Park where visitors can go and take part in the gorilla habituation experience.
This experience requires more time studying a particular gorilla group compared to the more common gorilla trekking.
The exercise takes a whole day and is led by prominent international primatologists (gorilla researchers), and experienced trackers.
Bwindi is also the only park where one can spot both chimpanzee and gorillas.
Apart from silverback gorilla tours, there are several other activities that one can get involved in while in the park.
Bwindi is also a great place to go birdwatching
As already noted earlier, Bwindi has a large collection of both resident and migratory bird species.
Birdwatching is a popular activity in Bwindi and can be combined with gorilla trekking and spotting the big five in Uganda’s other large National Parks for a more complete safari.
Birding can be arranged alongside nature walks to marvel at the beautiful forest and its creatures like forest antelopes, bush pigs and other smaller primates.
Another very popular activity is the Batwa cultural experience after gorilla trekking.
Meet the Pygmies tribe
The Batwa Pygmies were the original inhabitants of Bwindi Forest before the government decided to evict them and resettle them on land outside the park.
Unfortunately, the exercise was not a success – at least for the Batwa. Having relied on hunting and gathering in the forest for thousands of years, the Batwa were thrown into an unfamiliar world.
They struggle to survive outside the forest and face extreme poverty. Some of the Batwa are taking advantage of the tourism opportunities to earn an income by showcasing their cultural heritage to tourists through dance, drama and songs.
While on a visit to the Batwa community, tourists have an opportunity to learn about their earlier life – how they hunted, collected honey, prepared for war and used tree shoots as medicine.
By the end of the visit, visitors come out satisfied with the experience but also saddened by the many challenges faced by this indigenous African tribe as they try to adapt to a fast-changing modern world.
How is gorilla trekking organized?
The activity starts very early in the morning.
Trekkers gather at the park office as early as 07:00 am for registration, briefing and assignment of a gorilla group.
Some ground rules to give you an idea of what to expect:
– Only 8 people may track a particular gorilla family in a day.
– The briefing covers topics related to how to act around the gorillas, what to carry and what to wear.
– Shouting or making fun of the gorillas is strictly prohibited.
– You cannot run away when a gorilla charges at you.
– All you need to do is kneel down with face down in a submissive posture.
– Those who have transmittable diseases/infections or are below 15 years cannot track gorillas.
All the above information will be explained to you at the morning briefing as well as additional information.
After the briefing, trekkers go out in groups of 8 to track their group.
Bwindi is a large park with four sectors – Rushaga, Ruhiija, Nkuringo and Buhoma.
Some of these sectors are located far away from the park office and this may prolong the time taken locating a group.
The rangers usually know the location of the gorilla group based on where they built their last night nest.
Even with that knowledge, an advance team still has to be sent out very early to confirm their location.
The advance team is in constant communication with the Rangers leading the visitors using radio communication.
Locating the family can take between one to four hours depending on the gorilla family is assigned.
This will require some patience, but the reward will be worth it.
After trekking your way through thick vegetation with support from the park rangers, the visitor should find the family in around an hour.
Visitors are allowed only one hour with the gorillas to take photos/videos and observe the gorillas playing and the male silverback keeping stubborn members of the family in check.
Each group member has a different personality and there is the usual group dynamics which is interesting to observe.
The Cost of gorilla trekking and safety
How much does gorilla trekking cost? A gorilla trekking permit costs $600 US Dollars while the gorilla habituation experience costs $1,500 US Dollars.
By paying for the permits you will help to protect the gorillas, this is important to note as this fee is vital to secure the protection that they need.
The government through the Uganda Wildlife Authority uses part of the money collected for gorilla conservation activities and improving conditions in the park and nearby communities.
Gorilla trekking is a very popular activity and permits are on high demand.
Please note that Gorilla permits need to be booked months in advance from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or more conveniently through a good tour operator which requires some planning in advance before you arrive in Uganda.
You also need to consider the additional costs for hotel bookings, food, beverages, souvenirs, transportation and tourist Visa.
In total, it’s recommended to budget between $1400 to $2000 US Dollars for a gorilla tour trekking trip to Uganda.
This might come across as expensive, but the experience with the gorillas will be one of those things that you will remember for the rest of your life.
How about safety with the gorillas
Mountain gorillas are one of the most peaceful and gentle creatures on earth.
This is quite surprising when you consider their size and demeanour.
They never attack humans unless threatened so it’s important to listen to your morning briefing and follow Safety Considerations for Gorilla Trekking from your park ranger who has years of experience.
The big five (lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinos) animals can be far more aggressive.
Enjoy your visit to Uganda to see the wild gorillas
I really appreciate you passing by and reading my blog post about Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi National Park Uganda for first-time visitors.
I hope you found it useful and wish you a wonderful trip to Uganda and have an amazing time.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me and I will be more than happy to help.