Ever thought of that one magical experience in life and you are not sure of which one to take part? Well, if that is the kind of experience you have always dreamt to have and you have not yet included gorilla trekking in your bucket list then it is a high time you added it. This is one of a few dramatic wildlife experiences you need not to miss if you are to have lasting memories while on Uganda safari. Imagine that moment after that lengthy trek and then you bump into a group of mountain gorillas. Such a magical encounter is what brands this adventure lifetime. Worldwide, you can be part of this unique adventure only by embarking on a trip to Uganda, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In Uganda, you have all the two options to realize your dreams with these dramatic creatures and they include Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The two parks all straddle in the southwestern side, along the Albertine rift at the border with the DR Congo. Gorilla treks in Uganda take you through any of its 15 to 17 habituated gorilla families.
If you are looking to visiting Bwindi National Park, expect to start your gorilla journey in any of the 4 main trailheads of Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rushaga or Ruhija. Each of them features habituated groups with Buhoma sector featuring mainly Mubare, Rushegura, Habinyanja and Katwe group; Rushaga sector has Nshongi, Mishaya, Busingye, Kahungye Mucunguzi Rwigi Bikingi and Bweza; Nkuringo is composed of Nkuringo, bushaho and Christmas family. In Ruhija, includes the Bitukura, Kyaguliro, mukiza and Oruzogo. In Mgahinga National Park there is Nyakagezi which is the only habituated group set for gorilla trekking.
Best time to go for gorilla trekking
For a successful gorilla experience, the dry and wet/rainy seasons are the two most significant seasons you need to mark. Each of these seasons has their own advantages and disadvantages. The longest dry season for this case is experienced from June to September and the short begins from December to February. During this period there is very low rainfall and gorilla habitat remains relatively drier and hence making it easier for you to hike through the dense vegetation and steep slopes while in search for these unique creatures. The wet season on the other hand kick starts from March to May and from October to November. This is mainly characterized by heavy rainfall and it is usually challenging for one to hike through the dense vegetation and slippery steep slopes while in search for these creatures. However, it is a period when there is plenty of food for these creatures to depend and this makes it simpler for one to find them in nearby areas unlike the dry season which comes with limited food supply that makes them to move in search for what to eat.
Gorilla permits in Uganda
To take part in gorilla safari in Uganda, a permit is a must to have at hand and you can obtain one at $600-if you are a foreign non-resident, $500-foreign residents and shs.250000 for East African residents. Make sure that you book your permit early enough at least 3 months earlier before the actual trek as there is high demand. You can obtain your permit through a trust worthy tour operator or through reservationist at Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The gorilla permit prices have been revised to US$700 for Foreign Non Residents and US$600 for Foreign Residents effective 1st July 2020. You can still use this chance to book your gorilla safari at US$600 before July 2020.
Packing list for gorilla trekking
Preparation for a gorilla adventure means you consider which items to pack and that said, the following items should be a must in your packing list
- Waterproof hiking shoes – You need sturdy hiking shoes to take you through rocky and slippery surfaces. Remember the trails can be muddy and slippery most especially during the rainy season.
- Insect repellent
- Gardening gloves – Sometimes you may need these gloves most especially when the gorillas are ranging within sparky, thorny and stinging vegetations.
- Camera – A good camera is essential in order to get the best shots. Please note that flash photography is not allowed while photographing gorillas,
- Bottled water – Given that the gorilla trek involves a hike through highlands, you should pack at least 2 litres of drinking water.
- Packed Lunch – You can pack some energy giving snacks. Remember the time spent on the gorilla trek is unpredictable.
- long sleeved shirts and long pants are needed to protect you from coldness and stinging nettles.
- Mini First aid kit should be carried for any likelihood of minor accidents. You can also pack some wipes or small towel that you may need while hiking.
- Water proof backpack to keep your passport, camera and even fragile items.
There is a good number of safari lodges near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. From budget lodges to luxurious properties, you are not limited in your choices. If your choice is the midrange safari lodges for your overnight you can stay at the Gorilla Mist Camp, Gorilla Valley Lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Camp, Ichumbi Lodge, Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Camp, Silverback Lodge and Engagi Lodge.
The budget options include Broadbill Forest Camp, Buhoma Community Rest Camp, Wagtail Eco Safari Camp and Nshongi Camp.
Luxury safari lodges on the other hand include Buhoma Lodge, Gorilla Safari Lodge, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Mahogany Springs Lodge, Clouds Mount Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Lake Mutanda Safari Lodge, Volcanoes Safari Lodge and many more.
If you are looking at gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the nearby lodges include Mount Gahinga Lodge for luxury seekers, Traveler’s Rest Hotel for midrange, Mucha Hotel Kisoro, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, and Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp for budget travel.
Getting to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park – The last Eden
Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park can be reached by road and air.
By road, the options include-the Kampala-Kabale-Kanungu-Buhoma route that takes you on a tarmac highway till Kabale for about 414 kilometers and this is about 6 to 8 hours’ drive. You then connect via Kanungu and Kanyantorogo to Buhoma. You may also start your journey from Kampala via Kabale to Rushaga- Nkuringo and this is ideal for those you who wish to explore habituated families within Nkuringo sector. The other route takes you from Kampala to Ntungamo to Rukungiri then to Kihihi and Buhoma. This is one of the most rewarding route the fact that it takes you via Queen Elizabeth National Park where you have a chance to catch a glimpse at the rare tree climbing lions at Ishasha sector.
For those of you who wish to explore gorillas in Mgahinga National Park, you can take the Kampala-Kabale-Kisoro route and this can take you approximately 8 hours. Alternatively, you can take a flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airfield and you land into Kisoro Airstrip where you can connect by road to either Bwindi or Mgahinga National Park.
The dos and don’ts for gorilla trekking
Among other significant rules and regulations that will be briefed to you on gorilla trek include:
- Visitors must maintain a distance of at least of 7 meters while in presence of the gorillas. You should not touch a gorilla even when it comes to you!
- No use of flash camera while taking photos and if your camera has a flashlight, please turn it off;
- Do not go to track gorillas if you are sick. Gorillas can contract human diseases. Tourists visiting the gorillas must be free from communicable and contagious diseases. While in presence of the gorillas cover your mouth when coughing or your nose when sneezing. You must turn away from gorillas when sneezing is a must.
- You cannot smoke, eat or drink when you are with gorillas.
- Maintain a distance of 7 meters away from gorillas at all times
- Only 8 visitors are allowed to track a habituated gorilla family and only 1 hour is given to you to strike your imaginations with gorillas.
All in all, Uganda is an ultimate destination for gorilla trekking, a rare experience that will bring you up close with the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild. With no single mountain gorilla in captivity, Uganda is a must visit if you are looking to the golden opportunity of sitting amidst the gorillas in the mist of Central Africa.