Trekking Gorillas Bwindi Uganda. The howl. The whooping. The sounds projected through the forest. Our ranger looked back at us. “We are close … five minutes.” The hair on my arms stood up at attention. I was about to see my first mountain gorilla in the wild. In the world, there are no mountain gorillas in captivity.
I was in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park located in the south-western part of Uganda. It is closer to drive here from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda than Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Bwindi is an UNESCO World Heritage site, and for good reason. It is chock-full of a diversity of species … over 100 mammals, 300 birds, 200 butterflies, and so on. Bwindi was gazetted in 1991, and this 25,000-year-old forest is best known for hosting mountain gorillas. Over 400 endangered mountain gorillas make their home in this lowland forest. Another 600 or so mountain gorillas can be found in three national parks in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC which overlap the Virunga Mountains. Thankfully, the population growth is moving in the right direction as they have experienced a 50% growth since 2008.
Gorilla trekking is not for budget travelers. To trek in Rwanda it is $1,500, in Uganda it is $750, and in DRC, it is a relative bargain at $400. Uganda hits the sweet spot offering tourist infrastructure, overall security, and a reasonable price. Rwanda in my opinion is overpriced and DRC lacks security and tourism infrastructure. This fee allows you one hour to observe the gorillas in the wild. Your total trek depends on how long it takes your ranger to find the gorillas. Your total trek might last a total of three hours or could be ten, depending on your luck. Gorilla trekking takes place all year, but it is suggested you skip the rainy season from March to May and October to November.
Check out my tour and agenda with G Adventures. I was invited by G Adventures to attend this tour. And I will earn a fee if you book a trip with G.
I am a G Wanderer, part of a team of content creators who work with G Adventures. I was invited to join the 8-day Culture & Wildlife of Uganda and Rwanda and share my experiences and impressions traveling with G.
Our group arrived at the park a smidge before 8 am. We gathered in a semi-open gazebo to receive a briefing by a ranger. The chairs were full with other tourists appropriately attired in their hiking boots. The ranger explained we would be divided into groups of eight and be guided by our head ranger as well as two other AK-47 wielding police offers. We would also have the opportunity to hire a local porter. This is beneficial for two reasons, one, you are supporting the local community and as a by product protecting the gorillas, and two, when you are on your hands and knees shimmying up the side of a steep hill, you’ll be happy you are not carrying your bag. It is well worth the $15. It is critical to create and involve stakeholders in the community, and this improves the chances that wildlife will flourish. And G Adventures has adopted an Animal Welfare Policy that provide for practical and helpful guidelines anytime you are interacting with animals, wherever you travel.
When we found the gorillas, we were instructed to keep a distance of 25 feet. And if you were sick, you would not be able to go trekking. Gorillas share 98% of our DNA, meaning it is fairly easy to transmit the flu from you to them. We would have one hour with the gorillas when we found them. There are nine habituated gorilla families in Bwindi, simply meaning they are familiar with humans and not threatened. In fact, when you come face to face with them, they seem to be quite indifferent. It takes approximately two years to habituate a family.
The briefing ended, and we were divided into our groups of eight. I was to be visiting the Mishaya Family, comprised of 10 gorillas. I was offered a porter which I gratefully accepted. I met Agnes who was clad in a pale blue jumpsuit. Despite her compact size, she quickly grabbed my bag and hoisted it on her shoulders. I was also offered a walking stick, which I would encourage you to use to help you keep your balance in the trek.
We departed within several minutes, and just as quickly our trail disappeared. Our guides left the path and began hacking through the thick forest with their machetes. At times the trek was difficult, I would be walking on a steep incline and be standing on over a foot of wet brush, unable to get a grip. And Bwindi is located in the mountains, meaning you will be trekking at over 3,800 feet.
Your trek might be as short as three hours or last the entire day. I was mostly prepared, meaning I was wearing hiking boots, long hiking pants, a long sleeve shirt, a hat, and gardening gloves. Also, at any given moment, even in the dry season you need to be prepared for rain. That last one sounds a bid odd, but you will be grabbing a lot of sharp foliage as you manage your balance. I brought my day pack and stuffed it with a box lunch, a liter and a half of water, and all my camera gear, of course with many extra batteries. I used my 70-200 lens which I found necessary to capture the gorillas.
Our group traipsed through the newly cut path and the ranger stopped us. We heard the gorillas howling. We dropped our bags and walking sticks in a pile and we headed off. In a moment, I was face to face with a giant gorilla.
The biggest males grow up to six feet tall and can tip the scales at 500 pounds. They are giant and fearsome. The oldest gorillas live 50 years. The gorillas are voracious eaters, packing away up to 75 pounds a day of leaves, fruits, roots, and bamboo. Gorillas start their days around 6 am and end in the evening at 6 pm. At dusk, they build a nest of leaves and twigs for their night’s sleep.
For the next hour, our group observed several gorillas. Most of that time they spent munching on nature’s snacks, resting, and occasionally moving spots. Several times the group had to follow the gorillas, with the rangers hacking away at the bush so we could get a better view.
Our time with the gorillas ended, and we gathered our walking sticks and bags and returned to the ranger station. Our entire trek in Bwindi lasted only three hours. I almost felt like I cheated since I had mentally prepared myself for an eight hour plus trek in the woods. But then again, I was looking forward to relaxing in the lodge for the afternoon. Our morning ended with a brief ceremony where the ranger presented us with a gorilla trekking certificate. Trekking Gorillas Bwindi Uganda.
Check out my other posts from Uganda …
Trekking Gorillas Bwindi Uganda