We had been walking for around 1.5 hours, and it was now beginning to get steep and slippery.
Our guide stops our group and asks us to get out our cameras, the gorillas were very near. Passing our trekking sticks to our support crew, we scramble down a dense area, clutching at tree branches and vines to stay upright.
Suddenly, five dark figures appear in the tree ahead of us.
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The first encounter with a mountain gorilla
Our trackers point out the female and her baby clung to her neck near the base of the tree as two juvenile gorillas were stretched out on branches, appearing not to have a care in the world.
A rustling sounds further up the tree as the sun shifts, branches part and I lay eyes on the mountain gorilla I had hoped to see today. I was looking at a huge silverback gorilla. His back was to us at this stage, yet his size and unmistakable silver markings across his enormous back gave me goosebumps.
Our guides slash some of the vegetation for each of us to take a seat on the muddy slopes of the jungle. We sat and admired these beautiful animals.
After a few minutes, the silverback effortlessly turns around in the tree and continues pulling fruits and leaves and chomps away. His size is intimidating, yet his face seems gentle. He didn’t seem to notice us, his interest was only to eat.
David, our guide tells us that a gorilla of this size will eat up to 25kg of food each day. 99% of this is fruits, leaves, and vegetation with the remaining 1% being safari ants.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda – An experience hard to describe
It seemed a little surreal. I felt humbled to be able to observe these mountain gorillas in their home. Then and there, I wanted time to stay still, I wanted to bottle this feeling of awe I was experiencing. Next to me was Marty and I turn to face her, her smile said it all. She felt the same.
Suddenly, the silverback hangs out his huge arms and climbs down the tree in seconds. We could hear him grunting and moving through the forest, yet we could no longer see him. Our trackers ask us to follow them.
We move quickly behind our two guards carrying rifles for safety. They cut more vegetation to reveal the big guy sitting on the ground, back to us and eating again. This was close, this was amazing.
Our guide tells us to get any last photos of the silverback, who now appeared twice the size as before. We held our breath as we were all quietly willing him to turn around. It wasn’t to be.
Throwing his huge hands in front of him, he darted off into the thick trees.
At the same time he departs, we catch a glimpse of the female sitting hidden in the jungle, close by our group. She lets out a quiet grunting sound as she slowly makes a move and disappears too.
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Trekking back to the village
In total, we spent almost an hour quietly observing these gentle giants. We re-grouped and followed our guides to make our way out of the jungle, the same way we had entered. I admired once again the stunning green countryside surrounding the forest, feeling accomplished and smiling from ear to ear.
It felt wonderful to have this unforgettable experience of gorilla trekking in Uganda and to be so close to them.
Before I went gorilla trekking in Uganda, I had many questions. Now that I’ve had this experience (and loved it), let me tell you everything you need to know if you’d like to do this too.
What should I expect?
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is where you will go gorilla trekking in Uganda. The park is located in the Southern part of the country. The borders of both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are close by in the North. The park has two points of entry, one in the North, and the other in the South.
There are many options for accommodation in both areas catering to every budget.
The Bwindi National Park has 12 gorilla families available for tourists to come and see. There is also the Mgahinga National Park which is home to only one family.
It’s an early start, you’ll need to be at the park entrance between 07:30 – 08:00 for a briefing. A group of other visitors will also be there to go gorilla trekking too. After a briefing about what to expect on your trek, some information about the conservation of the gorillas and a few points about safety, you will be placed into a group with a maximum of eight people.
Which group will you be placed in?
Group dynamics are based on who you’re travelling with, age or perhaps assumed fitness level. It can also depend on whether or not you have a driver. Those who don’t have a driver will often be placed in a group that visits the gorilla family closest to the park entrance.
Those who do have drivers have the capacity to visit a gorilla family that has been tracked further away, hence your group will be driven to another entry point and begin the trek from there.
How difficult is the trek? How long does it take?
Some of the gorilla treks begin at the park on foot and can take anywhere from 30 min up to a few hours. Other treks that begin with a short drive and then on foot are known to take from one hour or even the entire day.
Everyone’s gorilla trekking experience in Uganda may be slightly different.
What level of fitness is required?
Generally speaking, your fitness level should allow you to comfortably walk/hike for at least 2-4 hours. You will encounter some challenging paths, perhaps very slippery if it’s previously been raining heavily, so it’s something to keep in mind.
There is an option to hire a porter at the beginning of your trek to help those trekkers who may need a little assistance or support. The price is about $15 and these guys are strong.
They will carry your bags, but essentially they are there to offer support on uneven and slippery terrain and ensure you have a good experience.
What to pack for the gorilla trek?
A good pair of hiking boots – is required due to the muddy and steep terrain. I travel with Merrell waterproof hiking shoes around the world and these were perfect for the trek.
A good rain jacket is a good idea and some people even bring waterproof cover trousers. If it rains, you’ll be happy about being prepared. I wore some gators over my shoes to prevent safari ants from getting into my shoes along the trail. You can also get by with a good pair of socks tucked over your hiking pants. A woman at the briefing had wrapped a thick grey tape around the bottom of her trousers and shoes to do the same job. A good DIY option I thought.
Bring plenty of water and if possible, a packed lunch. Our lodge Rushaga Gorilla Camp prepared one for us to take for the day.
Gloves (optional): During your gorilla trekking in Uganda experience, you may be grabbing branches, trees, and vines for balance. Your hands may get scratched up a little. A pair of gardening or hardware gloves will do the trick. We didn’t use any on the day and we were fine, however, it was a good option for some of the more mature trekkers.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda – Is it safe?
For many people, the thought of being near these huge animals is frightening.
The gorilla families that you will visit are very used to humans. During my gorilla experience, I didn’t feel unsafe at any point and the gorillas didn’t seem interested in me at all.
You will see that the rangers with you will carry rifles, just in case. This is more to shoot away from the gorilla in the hope to frighten him off if any danger seemed imminent rather than to kill it.
Before you get close to the gorillas, your guide and ranger will ask you not to drink or eat when viewing them.
This ensures you don’t leave any traces of foods behind and also ensures we aren’t altering their eating habits or leaving possible human traces of disease that may cause problems for them.
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I’ll admit it, the permit to go gorilla trekking in Uganda isn’t cheap. In saying that, it really is that ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. The permit for the privilege to do so is USD$600. These can sell out very quickly in the high season.
Aside from the initial permit, you have additional costs to consider such as transport to get there, accommodation and food.
There are approximately 1000+ mountain gorillas left in the wild today.
The price of the permit is different in each country. A permit in Rwanda is the most expensive, with a price tag of $1500.
Uganda permit is currently $600 as I mentioned, but soon to be rising to $700 in 2020. In the DRC, the permit has the cheapest price tag of $450, however, visitors prefer to visit the other two countries as DRC has experienced a lot of political instability in the past.
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Best time of year to go gorilla trekking in Uganda
The best time of year to go tracking gorillas in Uganda is during the dry season. This runs from June-August and December-January.
In the dry season, you’ll have a better chance of warm, sunny days and likely less rain (which means less mud, making it easier to trek).
In the past, Uganda used to offer rainy season discounts on gorilla permits, but it’s no longer offered as tourist numbers have increased.
During the rainy season (September to November and February to May), your chances of securing your permit without advance booking are better. The downside is you may end up walking all day in heavy rain before sighting any gorillas. The rainy season in Uganda is wet, cold, and super muddy.
How do I book it?
There are two ways you can go gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Book a Tour
There are hundreds of tour providers out there and it’s always hard to choose the right one. We contacted K Safaris Uganda, a local tour company.
These guys had outstanding reviews online and we emailed them directly. We spoke with Richard, the owner and asked him to put together a 4-day package that would include the gorilla permit, accommodation, transport for the duration in a private 4×4 vehicle and some additional days to explore the highlights in Uganda.
Although we often travel independently, we chose this option as we were short on time. We just didn’t have the extra days available to spend on the logistics of getting around the country using public transport. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time in Uganda and we were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the rest of the country was.
Richard was our guide on our trip and his contagious smile and professionalism were another highlight for us.
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Travel independently and arrange the permit yourself.
You can book your own gorilla permit and travel independently. In saying this, it’s an option best suited to experienced travellers with no limits on time. From what we’ve heard from others, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare to go it alone, but it’s possible for sure.
To apply for your gorilla permit, check Uganda Wildlife Authority. Book your permit as soon as possible as they book out weeks or even months in advance. All kinds of accommodation options in this area are listed on Booking.com.
A few tips:
Bring USD cash with you. You will also find ATMs in all cities and small towns in Uganda to get local currency, Ugandan Schilling. But most of the lodges/accommodations accept payment in USD or by credit card so it’s helpful to have USD cash.
Accommodation: There are options that cater to all budgets, from campsites to luxury resorts. However, everything in this area is overpriced compared to the rest of Uganda. We stayed at Rushaga Gorilla Camp. This place was fantastic, the rooms are very comfortable, the meal in the evening was exceptional and the staff were wonderful. This lodge is located very near to the Bwindi National Park entrance which is very convenient to get there in the morning, less than 10 minutes drive.
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Yes! If you’re planning on gorilla trekking in Uganda, allow some extra time to see some other highlights in this beautiful country. I’d recommend including Lake Bunyonyi in your itinerary. We spent two days here after the trek. It was great to chill by the lake and recharge.
A popular place to stay here is at Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort, which has options for camping, permanent tents as well as rooms. Fantastic views.
You should also plan to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park. Click here to view properties on Booking.com.
Visiting gorillas in the wild had always been high on my travel wish list.
We chose to go gorilla trekking in Uganda as we’d heard wonderful things about this country and we wanted to see a little more whilst we were here.
Where To Book A Gorilla Trekking Tour
A huge thank you to Richard from K Safaris for being our wonderful driver/guide during our 4-day trip to Uganda.
We’ll forever have amazing memories from our time discovering Uganda with you and of your brilliant smile each day.
Aside from gorilla trekking in Uganda, K Safaris also offer travel experiences combining Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and DRC.
This is convenient for visitors wishing to explore several countries during their time spent in East Africa. Interested in gorilla trekking in Uganda or exploring East Africa?
You can contact Richard at K Safaris for more information on what is guaranteed to be an African travel experience of a lifetime.
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Travel Tips for Africa
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda is an awesome experience, I hope you get to do this once in your lifetime. If you’re travelling further in Africa, read our post about 17 things to know before travelling to West Africa, it covers many useful tips that would apply to many regions of Africa.
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