All about Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
What is gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a long walk into the thick rain forest of Bwindi Impenetrable National park and Mgahinga National park in search for the gorillas. The hike involves getting a bit tidy, sweating, and getting tired and you go through the forests with experienced park rangers and guides to find a family of habituated gorillas.
Gorilla trekking is a thrilling activity that live tourists with unforgettable memories of the whole experience in the wild as they come face to face with the mountain gorillas. Uganda is home to half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas hence attracting thousands of tourists to come for gorilla trekking. Uganda shelters the type of gorillas known as mountain gorillas which are a subspecies of the eastern gorillas. Mountain gorillas are found in only 3 countries in the whole world. That is Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Where to go for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is done in two National parks; Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks
Bwindi impenetrable National park
This is situated in the southwestern part of Uganda in the districts of Kabale and Kanungu. The park was gazetted in 1991 mainly to conserve and protect the endangered mountain gorillas and in 1994 it was declared a UNESCO heritage.
Bwindi Impenetrable National park is divided into 4 sectors where gorilla trekking is carried out; Buhoma sector in the northern part of the park with 4 gorilla families including, Habinyanja, Mubare, Reshegura, and Katwe. Ruhija sector in the eastern part of the park with 4 gorilla families including, Oruzogo, Bitukuru, Kyaguliro, and Mukiza. Rushaga sector in the southern part of the park with 8 gorilla families including, Mishaya, Busingye, Rwigi, Nshongi, Kahungye, Mucunguzi, Kutu, and Bweza. And Nkuringo sector is also located in the southwestern part of the park with 3 gorilla families including, Nkuringo, Bikingi and Christmas.
Bwindi impenetrable National park has 19 habituated gorilla families, and this makes it the leading destination to see gorillas in the wild in the whole of Africa. Each gorilla group is allowed only 8 visitors on a daily basis. The park is about 8 -9 driving hours from Kampala or Entebbe International airport which is quite a long distance compared to other gorilla parks like Volcanoes National park in Rwanda and Virunga National park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the long journey is all worth it after embarking on the gorilla trekking experience.
Mgahinga National park
Mgahinga National park is found in the southwestern Park of Uganda in Kisoro district bordered by volcanoes National park of Rwanda in the south and Virunga National park in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west. This is another great home for mountain gorillas in Uganda. The park has one gorilla family known as Nyakagezi which is visited by a maximum of 8 visitors on a daily basis.
At just 33.1 square kilometers, Mgahinga National park is the smallest National park in Uganda and part of the larger Virunga massif shared by Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park was established in 1991 to conserve and protect the endangered mountain gorillas.
Mgahinga National park is located about 8-10 hours drive from Kampala or Entebbe International airport by road and about 3-5 hours drive from Kigali international airport.
What to expect on your gorilla trekking safari?
On the day of your trek, expect to wake up very early in the morning, after your cup of coffee head out to the park headquarters for a briefing by the park rangers about the does and don’ts of gorilla trekking. After the briefing, visitors will be allocated gorilla families that they are going to trek and each gorilla group is allowed to 8 people. Head to the forest with the company of rangers, and porters if you book any, guides and embark on the trekking experience as you search for endangered species in their natural habitats.
In the forest, you may see other wildlife species besides gorillas like birds, butterflies, monkey species, and mammals among others. During gorilla trekking, a high level of physical fitness is required because gorillas live high in the mountains which require the tourists to be physically fit. And sometimes the forest is challenging and tricky. The gorilla trekking experience usually goes from 3-6 hours or even the whole day. The trekking time depends on how far the gorillas have gone as they search for food.
Once you see the mountain gorillas, you are allowed only one hour in their presence for photography, and observation which is such an unforgettable experience.
How much does a gorilla trekking permit in Uganda cost?
A gorilla trekking permit in Uganda costs $700 for foreign nonresidents, $600 for foreign residents, and 250,000 Uganda Shillings for East African residents. The gorilla trekking permit in Uganda is quite cheaper compared to Volcanoes National park Rwanda which cost $1500 for all residents and is slightly higher than that of Virunga National park which is $450 for all residents. However, this gorilla permit doesn’t guarantee 100% of you seeing the gorillas but the chances of seeing them are 98%.
Please note that there are no low-season discounted gorilla permits anymore or any other discounts on gorilla trekking. The Gorilla trekking permit in Uganda is obtained from Uganda Wildlife Authority offices or booked through a registered tour operator. Usually, it is advisable to book a gorilla trekking permit 3 months prior to the trekking time.
Gorilla trekking rules and regulations in Uganda
The procedure of having gorilla trekking rules and regulations has helped in the conservation of the gorillas and their natural habitats. These rules are set by the Uganda Wildlife Authority a government body that regulates and protects wildlife in Uganda. These gorilla trekking rules include;
Gorilla trekking is only allowed for persons above the age of 15 years old. Children below that are not allowed to trek because gorillas are 98% humans so they easily catch diseases like colds, especially from children.
On taking pictures of the gorillas, visitors are not allowed to have flashlights on. This is because the flashlights disorganize the gorillas and they can charge as a way of showing their anger. So always remove flashlights from the cameras before you take pictures of the gorillas.
Visitors are not allowed to litter rubbish in the National park during the trekking exercise. The left-over edibles and polythene bags that are littered in the forests may cause diseases to the gorillas hence leading to death. There are always litter bins and all visitors are advised to throw their rubbish there and failure to, you pay a fine.
Do not come close to the gorillas however friendly they may be. These are wild animals that may change at any time they are not comfortable. Visitors are advised to keep a distance of 7 meters away from the gorillas as you take pictures and observe them.
You are required to turn your head away from the gorillas when coughing or sneezing. You are also required not to make unnecessary movements when you are with the gorillas.
What to wear during gorilla trekking?
Long-sleeved shirts and trousers
Wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers to protect yourself from being pieced by tree branches, thorns, or anything that can scratch as you pass through the tropical rainforests in search of these mountain gorillas.
The majority of the visitors tend to wear inappropriately as they head out for the gorilla trekking experience. Since the gorillas stay high in the mountains, you cannot wear sandals on your trek as you may not be able to hike up and through the forests. Hiking boots are required because the trails can be slippery when it rains. Hiking boots also give you stability, balance, and support while trekking.
Since gorillas live high in the rain forests, the rain may come down at any time whether it’s a dry season or a wet season. So, you should have a rain jacket on you. This will also help you to keep warm in case it rains while in the forest.
Gardening gloves help you support yourself on the tree branches as you hike through the passable forests. These prevent your hands from being scratched.
Wear a hat
This protects you from the sun and rainfall at the same time.
Best time to go Gorilla trekking in Uganda
Uganda’s equatorial climate means temperatures remain quite consistent throughout the year. However, rainfall and the dry seasons are the ones that separate the seasons.
Usually, the best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda is during the months of June to September and December to February. During these months is little or no rainfall hence making the trails less slippery and passable. During this time of the year, the roads that lead to the trekking destinations are clear. But it is also important to note that gorilla trekking can be done at any time throughout the year.