Gorilla trekking in Uganda is an amazing activity where travelers engage in a trek done in the forests of Bwindi and Mgahinga to be able to explore more about the mountain gorillas of this region. Gorilla trekking in Uganda is done in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and in Mgahinga National Park. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can be done in Rushaga, Ruhija, Buhoma, and Nkuringo. In Mgahinga national park, gorilla trekking is done from Ntebeko. These mountain gorillas are endangered species and half the population of the world’s gorillas are found in Uganda. Gorilla trekking experience offers tourists an opportunity to interact with these endangered species in their habitat.
Requirements for gorilla trekking include a gorilla trekking permit which is booked in advance with Uganda Wildlife Authority or alternatively, a gorilla permit can be booked through a tour company. Payments for gorilla permits are made in advance to avoid inconveniences associated with payment and to ensure permits are secured for clients for a successful gorilla trekking experience. A gorilla trekking permit costs $ 600 dollars for foreign nonresidents, $ 500 for foreign residents and 250,000 Uganda shillings for East Africans. Though the prices of gorilla permits trekking in Uganda have been increased to $700 and $600 for foreign non-residents and residents respectively of late which will take effect in 2020. The fee for a gorilla trekking permit includes the guide fee, park entry fee and a contribution to the community and the money got from payment for gorilla permits is used to protect the gorillas from poachers and snares and also to develop the surrounding communities of the forests. A gorilla trekking permit is only valid for one gorilla trekking experience.
The last sighting of gorillas is a key factor in determining where to trek the gorillas from and which trail to follow in order to catch a sight of gorillas. There are 11 habituated gorilla families that are trekked and they include the following; Rushegura, Habiyanja, Mubare, Nkuringo, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye, Busingye and Bweza. These gorilla families can be sighted depending on the gorilla trails followed leading to the following sectors during gorilla trekking:
- Buhoma Sector is more rewarding for birders and the gorilla families in this sector are the Rushegura, Mubare, and Habiyanja. The buhoma sector can be accessed by road from Ntungamo and Rukungiri through Butogota and finally to buhoma.
- Rushaga sector is located in the southern parts of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park in Kisoro. The gorilla families in this sector include Nshongi, Busingye, Kahungye, Mishaya, and Bweza. It can be accessed through Kabale from Kampala City. From this trail, the Virunga ranges can be seen and also Lake Mutanda can be seen from the Rushaga area. Flights to Rushaga area are available and a connection can be made to Rwanda through the Kisoro border about 15 minutes’ drive from the Rushaga sector.
- Nkuringo sector is found in the same region as the Rushaga sector in Bwindi impenetrable national park. Gorilla families in this sector include Nkuringo, Bikingi, and Bushaho.
- Ruhija Sector is not as hilly as Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors and is recommended for the elderly who wish to participate in gorilla trekking in Uganda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Gorilla families in this sector include Bitukura, Oruzogo, Kyaguriro, Mukiza.
Gorilla trekking Safaris in Uganda are done by a maximum of 8 people per gorilla group to avoid crowding the gorillas and scaring them away. Rangers accompany the tourist group for the Uganda gorilla trekking experience for safety purposes and also act as guides for the tourists. The time allocated for a gorilla trekking safari is 1 hour though the search for the right spot to view the gorillas may take longer.
Before a tourist participates in gorilla trekking activity, their health condition is a great factor which determines whether he/she will be able to trek. Tourists with illnesses such as colds and cough are discouraged from participating in gorilla trekking to avoid infecting the gorillas. In the same way, tourists who have experienced heart failure/ heart attacks or have undergone heart surgery are discouraged from carrying out gorilla trekking since it is a tiresome activity which requires a lot of physical strength in order to find the gorillas in their hiding places.
All year round gorilla trekking is possible but the number of tourists may vary according to their preference of the season in which to carry out gorilla trekking. During the dry seasons of January, February, June to September, the weather conditions are favorable for gorilla trekking. During the wet season, the trails are a bit muddy but the gorilla trekking experience is rewarding as the gorillas move to lower altitude areas due to the favorable temperature and also due to the abundant food supply there.
Rules associated with gorilla trekking include the following and can be classified into dos and don’ts before gorilla trekking and rules to follow during gorilla trekking. These rules and regulations are put in place for the safety of both the tourists and gorillas and they include the following;
Rules before gorilla trekking
- Maximum of 8 people per gorilla group.
- Do not visit the gorillas in case of a cold or any infectious disease.
- Persons under the age of 15 years are not permitted to participate in gorilla trekking.
- Visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group per day.
- Do not use flash photography.
- Avoid making noise during gorilla trekking.
- Do not litter
- Smoking, eating, and drinking are not permitted during the tour.
- Maintain a 7meter(21ft) distance from the gorilla
Tourists proceed to participate in gorilla trekking after being briefed on the rules and regulations of gorilla trekking in Uganda under the guidance of the rangers who lead the way during the Uganda gorilla trekking safari experience.
Recommended attire and trip necessities for gorilla trekking include; hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, and trousers, thick gloves, waterproof bags, sun hats, insect repellant, sunscreen, water and energy giving snacks. Packed lunches are also recommended for gorilla trekking and lunch is had along the trails during trekking.
During gorilla trekking, the group participating in this activity is required to stay together and avoid wandering off alone and far away from the trail. Rangers who move along during gorilla trekking ensure that every member of the group is accounted for before heading back to the point where the trek started.
Walking sticks are provided for gorilla trekking due to the nature of the trails which may require extra support. For a successful gorilla trekking experience, porters are also available at a fee in case of need for their services and tips can also be given to them.
Other activities which can be done alongside trekking include;
- Nature walk/hiking: This can be done during gorilla trekking or during nature walks through Bwindi impenetrable forest. Different hiking trails are existent depending on the major aim of the hike as different trails lead to different attractions within the park. Trails include the Muyanga waterfall walk, Rushura hill walks, Muzubijiro loop, Ivi river walk, Buhoma – Nkuringo trail, Habiyanja trail. Nature walks are at a fee of $30 for foreign nonresidents, $ 15 for foreign residents and 10,000 Uganda shillings for East Africans.
- Birding. Different bird species such as the short-tailed warbler, blue-headed sunbird, red-headed bluebill, common bulbul and many other birds can be seen during a gorilla trekking activity. The birding spots include; the buhoma waterfall trail and Mubindi swamp in Ruhija. Butterflies can also be seen during these birding expeditions.
- Wildlife viewing. Different species of wildlife which live in the same habitat as the gorillas can be seen during gorilla trekking and they include black and white colobus monkeys, bush backs, red tailed monkeys.
- Biking. This activity is done along the Buhoma trail to the Ivi River by bicycle. This activity is an initiative to help the Buhoma community under the management of Ride 4 a woman.
- Batwa Experience. This is a unique experience that involves interaction with the Batwa people who live within Bwindi impenetrable forest to share their traditions and way of life with the rest of the world. The Batwa are short in nature with a well-built body structure. The Batwa are generally hunters and fruit gatherers and are also known to dress in barkcloth as their traditional wear. They also have traditional herbs which they use as a source of medicine. Despite the influence of modernization, the Batwa will still offer you an experience that is worthwhile during the interaction with them. The women also teach tourists how meals are prepared traditionally by the Batwa and the food is later served and shared with the tourists. The Batwa men who are hunters also give pointers on how to shoot using a bow and arrow. The Batwa experience is at $ 40 for both foreign nonresidents and foreign residents and 40,000 Uganda shillings for East Africans.
There is the availability of accommodation for gorilla trekkers and the accommodation facilities are classified into luxury/ upmarket accommodation, mid-range accommodation, and budget accommodation.
- Luxury accommodation; Lake Kitandara camp, Gorilla resort, Bwindi volcanoes lodge, Gorilla forest camp.
- Midrange accommodation; Buhoma community haven lodge, Bwindi jungle lodge.
- Budget accommodation; Rushaga gorilla safari lodge, Nshongi gorilla camp, Ruhija community rest camp.
Accommodation can also be grouped according to the sector where the tourist wishes to track gorillas as follows;
- Nshongi area: Clouds mountain gorilla lodge, Nkuringo gorilla camp, Nshongi camp, Nyundo valley hillside camp.
- Ruhija: Ruhija gorilla safari lodge, Ruhija gorilla mist camp, Trekkers tavern cottages, Gift of nature lodge, Ruhija gorilla resort, Ruhija community rest camp.
- Rushaga: Gorilla safari lodge, Gorilla valley lodge, Rushaga gorilla camp.
- Buhoma: Lake Kitandara camp, Gorilla resort, Gorilla forest camp, Buhoma homestead, Buhoma community bandas.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda offers a platform for travelers to go for an adventure in the wild to interact with the gorillas in their natural habitat surrounded by forests and jungle sounds as birds and butterflies create an aura of nature’s peaceful melodies.