The Experience of Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda is dreamy and unlike any other experience in Africa. The atmosphere of the trek through the jungle mist is unreal. With each quiet step you take through the leafy jungle, your anticipation builds and the reward of seeing the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world is spectacular. The stage is set in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, is arguably one of the most mystical in all of Africa. To see the gorillas is incredible, it’s high cost to see them in their natural habitat is worth a bucket list item.
So what is gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking is a hike into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a jungle that is home to more than half of the world’s remain population of mountain gorillas. The trek involves getting a little dirty and bushwhacking through thick jungle with an experienced local guide to find a troop of habituated mountain gorillas.
A View of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from a trail above
The Gorilla Habitat
Mountain Gorillas can only be found in the Virunga mountains that encompases Virunga National Park in DRC, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks in Uganda. Uganda holds just about 60% of the total 1008 mountain gorillas left in the world with more than 440 of them residing in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This protected rainforest is the most popular place to trek the gorillas in Uganda. The park is located in the Southwestern part of the country and is one of the most diverse national parks in Africa.
Bwindi is divided into four regions: Buhoma region, Ruhija region, Rushaga region, and Nkuringo region. For a great gorilla trekking in Uganda experience, make sure to book your accommodation where your gorilla trekking permit is issued. Or contact our gorilla safari experts to help arrange your gorilla permits.
What Is Gorilla Trekking in Uganda Like?
Trekking through thick jungle forest in Bwindi
A typical day of gorilla trekking in Uganda starts at a designated meeting point and that can be one of the four regions offices in Buhoma region, Ruhija region, Rushaga region or Nkuringo. You show up at 7:30 for a short video and gorilla briefing with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. From there you’re divided into groups assigned to the different gorilla groups.
Groups consist of no more than eight people. Small numbers are easier to manage and do not overwhelm the gorillas.
There’s a reason it’s not called gorilla walking. One of our travellers narrated to her guide how she’d imagined a peaceful walk into the Ugandan forest until they came across a perfect clearing where they would sit and watch the gorillas frolic for the allotted hour. I think they got these ideas from watching the cartoon version of Tarzan, but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
Gorillas are nomadic animals and frequently on the move. They are wild animals in the park and free to move as they please.
The guides have a general idea of where they will be based on where they were the day before and the guides’ excellent tracking abilities, but they do not have GPS trackers on the animals. It is possible to trek fifteen minutes into the jungle and see them but just as equally possible to trek for six hours and never find them. On a resent hike with one of our travel group, they were able to find them after forty five minutes of intense hiking followed by nearly thirty minutes of crashing through thick jungle brush with a machete. Our success rate of finding the gorillas so far has been 100%.
Keep in mind that you’re in the jungle here in Uganda – and mountain jungles at that. You’ll hike up and down mountain slopes to get to them, and even the most fit of you may be huffing and puffing twenty minutes in.
Sitting with the mountain gorilla family
After you find the gorillas you have one hour to observe, ask questions, and take photos and video of your encounter. There is no drinking or eating around the gorillas and flash photography is prohibited.
Gorillas share about 98% DNA with us and they are highly suspectable to human diseases so humans should not walk closer than seven meters from the gorillas, unless they approach you.
The entire hour won’t be able to take our eyes off the gorilla family. They each have their own personality and demeanor that make for the most intimate wildlife encounter. When the gorillas look into your eyes it is humbling. One young female gorilla can ran up to grab your arm out of playfulness and curiosity. These gorilla groups are habituated to be familiar with humans. You’ll not be in any danger with these mighty gentle creatures. It just feels like you have wandered into a foreign home and quietly observed the father, mothers, and children going about their daily lives.
After an hour and two minutes of your unforgettable gorilla time is up. Too much time with the gorillas could do harm and make them agitated and uncomfortable. You’ll make the trek back through the forest and eat your packed lunch while reminiscing about your once in a lifetime wildlife encounter.
Gorilla Permit Cost in Uganda
In Uganda, permit costs $600 and can only be gotten from UWA. In contrast, permits in Rwanda cost $1,500.
There are strict regulations in place to make sure the gorillas stay healthy and wild—starting with the gorilla trekking permit process. Daily viewings of each gorilla group are extremely limited, so visitors should apply well before their desired dates.
The easiest way to acquire gorilla trekking permits in Uganda is to go with a local operator like Scenic Trail Ventures. A packaged deal that includes your lodging, transport, food, and permits will save you a lot of time and headache when booking. However, it is possible to do the trek by yourself if you have your own transport or patience on a local Ugandan bus and can get to Bwindi.
It is not advisable to show up to the park without gorilla trekking permits, as they only issue a set number per day and during high season it can get busy. Instead, I suggest contacting the Ugandan Wildlife Authority at least one month before your arrival to Uganda to set up your gorilla trek on your own. If this is not an option check out their office in Kampala to see if you can get a gorilla trekking permit in person.
What to bring on a gorilla trekking trip.
What to wear
Lightweight and waterproof safari clothes are recommended. The goal is to blend into the forest so greens, khakis, and general dark colors do well in Uganda. I cannot stress the importance of layers and long sleeves enough. The altitude is forever changing and one minute you are cold and the next burning hot. Whatever you do – bring one long sleeve shirt!
I would recommend also bringing a rain jacket in case you get caught up in a morning shower. Gaters or long hiking socks are recommended through the thick bush and to avoid those ants up your pants. We recommend a good pair of safari boots.
What you should carry with you
- Walking Stick to help your fragile knees up the hike – you’ll be provided with one of these either from Scenic Trail Ventures or the safari lodge you stay in.
- Binoculars are a great idea to see beyond your vision.
- Gardening gloves – If you like to grab trees and things when on a hike then make sure to bring some basic gardening gloves. Many of the trees and branches have tiny thorns on them.
- Insect repellent – you might as well throw some sunscreen in just in case.
- Bring a good carry-on sized backpack or great travel daypack to keep all your belongings in. It is advisable to bring one to two liters of bottled water on your trek as well. Make sure to have your nearby lodge provide you with a packed lunch in case those gorillas take four to five hours to find.
- Of course the camera! You’re going gorilla trekking so I’m sure you will want something to take photos with!
Mountain Gorilla Conservation – How you can help.
You Can Fight Habitat Destruction by Supporting Community Enrichment. Habitat destruction is the main threat to mountain gorillas. Communities around the parks are heavily populated, and residents have traditionally used land around national park boundaries for farming or logging.
Since tourism is now Uganda’s most lucrative industry, and the majority of tourists come to see the mountain gorillas, trekkers are encouraged to seek out ways to give back to the communities they visit.
Community Porter helps out a trekker in Bwindi
One popular option is to hire a porter, who is always a local resident and occasionally a reformed poacher. The landscape within the parks is unpredictable and difficult; porters help guide trekkers through river crossings and up steep, muddy inclines.
Other options is to participate in community-led cultural initiatives. In Bwindi village, the Bwindi Bar trains disenfranchised young adults in hospitality through rigorous classes and work experience. Around Mgahinga, elders of the Batwa tribe lead visitors on a forest tour along the Batwa Trail, explaining how their self-sufficient, forest-dwelling tribe traditionally used medicinal plants.
Tourist Activities To Do in Uganda
This unique experience is available all year round, but due to the somewhat damp seasons experienced by the jungles in which these gorillas stay, June to September is the best time.
Private Vacation Holidays
Combine a beach holiday in Zanzibar with a jungle gorilla trekking safari and scenic Savannah game drive in one of Uganda’s beautiful safari parks to make a perfect Private Vacation Holiday.
Best Time to Visit Uganda
Equatorial Uganda has a blissful springlike climate – a 25oC with cooling night time breezes perfect for an African Safari night.
Uganda sits squarely on the equator with an average altitude of around 1,000m, which tempers the heat and means this really is a year-round African safari destination. March-May and Oct-Nov see the highest rainfall, but gorillas are still lurking in the mist – although trekking to find them will be slippery and slower. However, accommodation can be much cheaper at this time. The best time to visit Uganda is June-Sep, which is the peak season – but Uganda remains happily oblivious to mass tourism and you won’t need to worry about crowds.
Responsible Travel in Uganda
Surrounded by phenomenal volcanic landscapes, wildlife that many of you grew up dreaming of seeing with your own eyes, and some of the continent’s most friendly, welcoming people making you feel like a VIP wherever you go – being in Uganda can feel like such a privilege. Uganda really gives visitors all it can, and as guests we really should try to repay this kindness in some way.
Most tourism in Uganda takes place in its national parks with official guides – which shuts local residents and businesses out. But by looking beyond the parks, even for just a couple of days of your holiday, your money will go much further, and you’ll completely shift your opinion of Uganda as a place to see wildlife. Uganda’s people are every bit as fascinating.