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Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda Guide – Gorilla Safari Tours

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park ranks among the absolute highlights of gorilla safari tours in Africa. The exhilaration attached to first setting eyes on a wild mountain gorilla is not easy to describe.

These enormous apes, almost 3 times as bulky as an average man, with luxuriant shaggy coat hair, are remarkably peaceful creatures despite their fearsome appearance.

More impressive than the gorilla’s size is their unfathomable attitude toward people, which greatly differs from that of any other wild animal.

And a big part of what makes the gorilla trek so special is that these big apes are so closely related to humans (the difference in DNA is only about 1.6%)

Almost all visitors who visit gorillas experience an almost misty sense of recognition.  Often, one of the gentle giants will stop whatever he is doing—playing with a youngster, munching a celery stalk—to look thoughtfully into a visitor’s eyes as if trying to understand him, and the visitor returns the gaze, with feelings described variously as awe, mutual curiosity, and an almost mystical sense of connection between two beings that have traveled long related and finally divergent evolutionary paths.

Below are some of the important things to know as you plan your Uganda gorilla trekking safari tour to Bwindi.

What Is It Like on a Bwindi National Park Gorilla Trekking Tour?

  • On the day of your Uganda gorilla trek in Bwindi, you and your driver guide have to transfer from your hotel, lodge, or camp to park headquarters.
  • Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has four headquarters, one in each sector (Buhoma, Ruhiija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo), and trekkers must meet (with a passport or photocopy thereof in hand) at the relevant park headquarters at 8 am.
  • There is no single lodge you will find at the park headquarters, but rather at some distance away. If you book a gorilla permit for trekking in Buhoma, then also book a lodge within the Buhoma region to avoid long drives and disappointments.
  • The ranger guides at the park headquarters are very good and speak excellent English. At headquarters, you will be divided into groups of 8 (currently 6 during this period of COVID-19). You will be given a short briefing about what to expect before you depart into the forest, safety, and gorilla trekking etiquette.
  • Please note that it is no longer the case that permits specifying which gorilla family you will track. At the headquarters, the rangers usually do their best to allocate older or relatively unfit-looking trekkers to whichever group they expect to be the easiest to reach on the day, so if you need special consideration, best get there a bit early.
  • If you feel you need assistance carrying any photographic equipment or other gear you have with you, you can hire the services of a porter for the duration of your gorilla trek.
  • Once on the trail, don’t be afraid to ask to stop for a few minutes whenever you feel tired or to ask the guides to create a makeshift walking stick from a branch.

How hard is gorilla trekking in Bwindi?

  • Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park should not present a serious physical challenge to any reasonably fit adult, whatever their age, but the hike can be tough going.
  • Exactly how tough varies greatly, and the main determining factor is basically down to luck, specifically how close the gorillas are to the trailhead on the day you trek ( 2 to 3 hours is typical, but anything from 4 to 6 hours is possible)
  • Another variable is how recently it has rained, which affects conditions underfoot-June to August are the driest months, and March to May are the wettest.
  • The effects of altitude should not be underestimated. Trekking in Bwindi usually takes place at around 1400-2000 meters above sea level, but gorillas can easily be encountered closer to 3000 meters, which is sufficient to breathe out of anybody who just flew in from a low altitude.

Note: Nkuringo is the most physically challenging of all gorilla-trekking locations. Unlike other trekking sites like Buhoma, there is no vehicle access from the Nteko Ridge to the park boundary, which follows the Kashasha River.

The trekker faces a 1 to 2 hour climb back up to the ridge. This is not a problem for the fit, but Nkuringo is definitely not for the unfit or faint-hearted, though a number of routes have been improved by the addition of steps and gentler switchback turns.

Preparation For Gorilla Trekking In Bwindi Forest

Drink plenty of water, and do carry some quick calories, such as biscuits and chocolate. The good news is that in 99% of cases, whatever exhaustion you might feel on the way up will vanish with the adrenalin charge that follows the first sighting of a silverback gorilla.

Put on your sturdiest walking shoes for the trek, and wear thick trousers and long sleeves as protection against stinging nettles.

It is often cold at the outset, so bring a sweatshirt or jersey. During the rainy season, a poncho or raincoat might be a worthwhile addition to your daypack, while sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are a good idea at any time of the year, as are gloves to protect against vicious nettles.

Meeting the Gorillas in Bwindi National Park

Ordinary trekkers are permitted to spend no longer than 1 hour with the gorillas (people who sign on for the habituation experience can stay for up to 4 hours).

It is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, urinate, or defecate in the vicinity of gorillas. You should also not approach gorillas more closely than 10 meters, and it is strictly prohibited to use flash when taking photos.

Above all, do bear in mind that gorillas are still wild animals, despite the ‘gentle giant’ reputation that has superseded the old King Kong image. An adult gorilla is much stronger than a person and will act in accordance with its own social codes when provoked or surprised.

Accidents are rare, but still, it is important to listen to your ranger guide at all times regarding the correct protocol in the presence of gorillas.

When should I go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?

Gorilla trekking safaris can be done throughout the year. The hiking itself can be more arduous in the rainy seasons from April to May and in November, but at an altitude of 2000m and more, it can of course rain here at any time of the year.

The most popular times for gorilla tracking are during the drier months, between December and February, and from about June to mid-September.

What Should I Carry for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?

  • Hand sanitizer and face masks
  • Sturdy waterproof hiking shoes
  • A light long-sleeved shirt and long trousers are essential to avoid stinging nettles and branches. Tuck pants in socks to avoid ants.
  • Rain jacket/Poncho
  • Gaters or long hiking socks are recommended through the thick bush to avoid those ants up your pants.
  • Pack extra socks. Since the gorillas live on the side of the mountains, the ground is always damp. It is very likely that the pair of socks you are wearing when you start the trek will become wet, either from the conditions or from sweating.
  • Don’t forget gardening gloves. This sounds funny, but they were handy for grabbing branches for support and pushing those stinging nettles off.
  • Floppy hats, bandanas, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen will protect you from the strong sun.
  • Plenty of cold water and hydrating fluids.
  • Energy-giving snacks are also good for a quick energy boost.
  • A walking stick can be found at the park headquarters to keep the ground sturdy.
  • Pairing binoculars, a camera, and extra batteries is never a bad idea in Africa.
  • You need to carry a waterproof bag to protect your camera and a rain jacket.
  • Insect repellent with DEET.
  • Basic first-aid  kit for simple illnesses.
  • To avoid any potential hassles, carry your passport with you at all times, in addition to your gorilla-tracking permit.

Gorilla Trekking Permit For Bwindi

When gorilla trekking was introduced to Uganda in 1993, it was limited to a single habituated group at Buhoma.

Today, by contrast, 19 fully habituated groups can be tracked from four different sites in Bwindi (4 from Buhoma, 4 from Ruhija, 8 from Rushaga, and 3 from Ruhija).

Eight (8) gorilla trekking permits are issued per gorilla group daily (currently 6 during this COVID-19 period).

This means that 152 Uganda gorilla trekking permits are available daily (and only 114 during this coronavirus period).

How Much Are Gorilla Permits in Uganda?

Uganda gorilla trekking permit fees are as follows:

Visitor categoryPermit fees
Foreign non-residentsUS$ 800
Foreign residentsUS$ 700
East African citizenUS$ 250,000

Rates include a guide fee, park entrance fees for the day, and community development contributions. It doesn’t include accommodation, ground transport or meals.

How do I get a Gorilla Permit in Uganda?

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a government agency in charge of managing tourism and wildlife conservation, issues gorilla permits in Uganda.

If you are in Uganda, the most straightforward option is to visit the UWA headquarters (Kira Road, Kampala) in person and book a permit there.

If booking from abroad, you could contact UWA through email or do an online booking. However, this can be a hit-and-miss process.

The more efficient approach is to get a reliable locally-based tour operator to book permits on your behalf. Most tour operators include a gorilla permit as part of the overall cost of a gorilla safari.

If you are booking the permit yourself, don’t leave Kampala or Entebbe unless you have paid the permit in full and seen confirmation of booking.

When should I book a Uganda gorilla permit?

Book at least six months ahead of time to ensure availability. If you are in Uganda and you want to track gorillas, it may be possible to obtain unsold permits for trailheads other than Buhoma in the shoulder season (March, June, October) and often quite easy in the low season (April, May, November).

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