The worldwide population of mountain gorillas sums up to around 1000 found in only three countries and Uganda is part of them. Over 600 of these endangered primates are located in Uganda in two different locations, Bwindi Impenetrable forest and Mgahinga National Park. Uganda holds the biggest numbers, followed by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The existence of mountain gorillas has made gorilla trekking a popular tourist activity that drives lots of people to get curious and excited to meet the largest primates in the world as they live comfortably in their natural habitat. Unlike other animals that can easily thrive in zoos, mountain gorillas can only survive when left in their natural environment as it can’t be replicated anywhere. Therefore, Uganda is one of the unique destinations that offer opportunities to meet the endangered species also known to share about 95% of their DNA with humans and that is why we share similar emotions like sadness and laughter and even family settings. Gorillas live in families made up of 1-30 members and each family is led by a silverback that ensures to protect the family.
Uganda has 22 fully habituated gorilla families found in southwestern Uganda in both Bwindi and Mgahinga parks. Bwindi holds the largest number of gorillas in the world; it’s a dark rainforest containing lots of vegetation like 324 tree species and 1000 plant species that make the area an impenetrable forest and the perfect home for the gorillas. At 25,000 years old, Bwindi is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Africa’s oldest rainforest. On the other hand, Mgahinga which is part of the Virunga Mountain ranges is a steep mountain blessed with abundant vegetation supporting the survival of the one and only gorilla family known as Nyakagezi Gorilla family located at the mount Mgahinga.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda started in 1994 when tourists visited the first gorilla group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, since then both the tourist and gorilla family numbers have kept on increasing.
Gorilla trekking activity involves hiking to cold and high-altitude areas because that is where the primates love staying. The trek starts very early in the morning like at 7 am and you are first briefed about the activity which lasts about 4-6 hours depending on your fitness levels and also where the gorilla family is located, some are so close and easy to find while others are hard to find and stay in very high altitude areas, you are to spend about an hour once you meet the gorillas. Only a maximum of 8 members above 15 are allowed to meet the gorillas in a 24-hour period.
Some of the rules and regulations you will be briefed about before starting your trek include not feeding the gorillas, having direct eye contact with any of the gorillas, wearing dull-colored clothes especially those that earth toned, not disposing of your waste in the park, remaining calm once a gorilla charges at you, not using cameras with flashlights and getting very close to the primates and above all you should have a gorilla trekking permit and be above 15 years of age.
Some of the items you should pack when preparing for a gorilla trekking experience are earth-toned clothes, long clothing, raincoats, and warm clothes because the destinations usually experience rainfall even during dry seasons, good hiking boots, insect repellents, cameras without flashlights, food and water, a walking stick and also check whether your fit enough to embark on this challenge. Your travel documents and gorilla permits are a must-carry.
Gorilla trekking costs in Uganda are moderate compared to other countries, the gorilla permits cost $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents, and Ugx 250,000 for all East African citizens. In addition to gorilla trekking, you can go for gorilla a habituation experience which involves visiting the unhabituated gorillas that are still being trained and prepared to get accustomed to human presence. You join a team of researchers studying and making sure the gorillas get used to human presence. This experience goes for $1500.
Trekking gorillas when you start from Kisoro town.
After obtaining your permit and arriving in Kisoro town; depending on what sector in Bwindi you will visit, the drive from Kisoro town to Mgahinga is about 45 minutes and in southern sectors of Bwindi is 1.5 hours, the trekking experience is similar no matter where you are coming from, however, Kisoro has some advantages such as being close to both Mgahinga and Bwindi parks and you can easily connect from Kigali, Rwanda to Kisoro by road. Bwindi Gorilla Trekking from Kisoro only takes 3-4 hours from Kigali to Kisoro town and then connect to Mgahinga National Park, or to Nkuringo or Rushaga gorilla sectors of Bwindi National Parks.