For many visitors to Uganda, us included, gorilla trekking is the activity they anticipate most. On the morning of your trek, excitement, expectations and adrenaline run high, fueled with the hopes of encountering and experiencing a mountain gorilla family in the wild.
There are approximately 900 mountain gorillas in the shared-border forests that extend into Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo, with approximately 400 of them in Uganda. Of those, nine families of gorillas have been habituated, meaning that while they are in the wild, they have become accustomed to visits from people and thus are unlikely to attack.
And while there are no guarantees of mountain gorilla sightings when you set off, the tracking procedures in place at Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park virtually ensure you an unforgettable encounter. Here’s all you need to know to make the most of your gorilla trekking experience.
GET A GORILLA PERMIT
The first hurdle to overcome is obtaining a gorilla trekking permit ($600, except in the season months of April and May when permits are $350). A gorilla trekking permit is included in all G Adventures tours in Uganda. If you travel independently, you should apply to the park or through a local operator several months in advance, especially if you expect to go during the high season (June-August).
HOW MANY TIMES CAN A GORILLA PERMIT BE USED
Everyone’s gorilla trekking experience is different and depends on the weather, the depth of your forest hike, where the gorillas are hanging out, and a host of other considerations. It’s important to be prepared so you can focus your time on finding gorillas, not fussing with your gear.
Remember that you’ll be walking through mud and be covered in dirt by the end of your trek. Consider bringing clothes that are not precious, that you don’t mind ruining.
ding on their physical abilities and interest. You will need to express your interest so that they allocate you a gorilla group that will help you achieve it. For more information and gorilla permit booking and allocation, do contact us at Klek Uganda Tours
WHAT TO CARRY FOR A GORILLA TREK
Please contact us with date/month and year when you want to trek gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda, we will check availability of gorilla permits and inform you. We will send you an invoice and once you have transferred your funds on to our account, we will pre-purchase your permits and send you scanned copies.
To help us do this, you need to send us your passport details which are needed by Uganda Wildlife Authority in order to print and issue your gorilla permits.
Now that you have all the Gorilla Permit Booking Information at your fingertips, we would like to interest you in some of our tailor-made gorilla trekking tour packages that many of our travelers have rated highly. Because hundreds of our travelers have rated our tours highly, we’re able to get you low rates on many high-end Lodges, transportation and getting a gorilla permit is so easy for our team.
GUIDES, SCOUTS, TRACKERS, PORTERS
You’ll need your passport with you when you arrive at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park since officials will need to verify your trekking permit. After a quick briefing on the activities of the park, safety measures and how to prepare yourself for the day, you will be assigned to a group of a maximum of eight people for your gorilla family search and visit.
Each group will consist of a lead guide and two scouts who carry AK-47 guns and walk before and after the group. The reason for armed scouts is to protect the group in the forest in case it comes across wild elephants or angry, unhabituated gorillas. In case of such encounters, scouts are trained to fire shots into the air first in order to scare away the animals.
Each gorilla family also has assigned to it a pair of trackers who have been sent out in the early morning (prior to your arrival in the park) to find the location of your specific gorilla family and to assess where they may be headed. Trackers communicate the gorillas’ movements to the guide so he can decide on the best approach to meet the gorilla family.
STARTING YOUR TREK
During our visit, some groups entered the forest direct from the National Park entrance while others, like us, drove further and began our hike from a local village about fifteen minutes further up the road.
The length of your overall experience and the amount of time it will take to actually meet your gorilla family is said to vary widely. It may take as little as 30 minutes to find your family and as long as five to six hours. The day we went, the longest a group spent in the forest was three hours.
The Ugandan forest is lush, humid and damp and there are no trekking paths as we have come to know them. It is also full of hills and steep slopes where you will be required to pull yourself up steep jungle grades by grasping onto branches, plant roots, bushes and more.
Although gorillas move around effortlessly, this is not particularly easy terrain for humans.
HANGING WITH THE GORILLAS
Once your group finds the gorilla family this is when the clock starts: you have approximately one hour to spend with them.
Stay quiet and avoid sudden movements. It’s not a problem to look a gorilla in the eye, but if he begins charging you, hold your ground but lower your eyes to indicate that you do not want a confrontation.
Photos and videos are fine, but no flash. In an ideal situation, you’ll find several gorillas together in a clearing on the ground eating and hanging around. This provides you the most visibility and you can just sit on the ground and observe. In other situations, the gorillas are up in the trees, behind bushes, or walking around through dense brush. Follow the lead of the trackers and guides and stay close behind them as they move around to find other gorillas.
If the gorilla is behind a series of trees or bushes, the trackers will often clear the brush with their machete so you can get a clearer and closer look. It is incredible how large, graceful and peaceful these animals are. You’ll be especially amazed when you see the silverbacks (mature males).