Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Gorilla trekking in Uganda officially started in 1993 in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park with Buhoma now the headquarters being the first spot to trek gorillas.
The 331 sq km Bwindi forest is a UNESCO world heritage site which spans three districts of Kisoro, Kanungu and Kabale in southwestern Uganda at the edge of the Albertine rift valley.
In the whole world, there are 880 mountain gorillas. Bwindi forest has half of their population estimated at 400 individuals are the main reason why tourist on a safari visit for gorilla trekking. Travelers who wish to visit Uganda on a safari for gorilla trekking to Bwindi forest, here is what you should take note of.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is an interesting place for you to enjoy mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda. The park is divided into four sectors where different trail heads for different gorilla groups commences from!
Which are the best areas for mountain gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?
Buhoma sector is the only area with the lowest altitude in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and remarkably it is recommended for less breathtaking tracking experiences. This area has several lodging facilities right from budget to luxurious up market set ups with clear views of the thick tropical rainforest. The lodging facilities at Buhoma sector include the Buhoma Lodge, Gorilla forest camp, Silverback Lodge, Mahogany Springs Camp, Lake Kitandara, Buhoma Community Rest Camp, and Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp. In most cases, the lodging facilities facilitate visitor’s interest to visit the habituated gorilla families especially the Mubare gorilla family, Habinyanja gorilla family and Rushegura. There also several activities to be enjoyed in this area which includes village walks where a visitor get chance to interact with local community people, explore their culture and traditions, hikes into the Bwindi, mountain bike rides, village bike rides which are also guided. Truly, there are several reasons to regard Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park an interesting and perfect area for you to enjoy mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda.
To access Buhoma sector, tourists can take the Kampala-Ntungamo-Rukungiri-Kihihi-Buhoma or Kampala-Kabale-Kanungu-Buhoma; Kampala-Kabale-Ruhija-Buhoma. If you are in Queen Elizabeth National Park, you easily connect through Ishasha area via Kihihi to Buhoma.
Ruhija sector is a diverse sector in Bwindi National Park especially if you are interested in tracking the habituated mountain gorilla groups like the Bitukura family or the newly created Oruzogo family. The most notable lodging facilities for you to stay in while in Ruhija include Cuckooland Tented lodge, Ruhija Gorilla Mist Camp, Ruhija Gorilla resort and Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort and Campsite for budget tourists. You can connect to Ruhija through Kampala-Kabale-Ruhija; Kampala-Ntungamo-Rukungiri-Kihihi-Butogota-Ruhija.
Ruhija sector has 2350 meter elevation which 1000 meters higher that Buhoma sector. This sector has stood as birders haven for several years and currently there are two gorilla families that visitor go to track. Other activities include village walk, waterfalls and birding walks as well as guided walks to the Mubwindi swamp or the Bamboo trail with a lush of vegetation and most stunning view of Lake Bunyonyi.
Rushaga sector is regarded as a “Capital city of rare mountain gorillas” just in the Southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and it is a newly created area with up-market and rustic budget lodging choices for you to stay in. The Lodging facilities include Gorilla Safari Lodge, Nshongi camp and Gorilla Valley Lodge. The sector is composed of six (6) habituated gorilla families which include Bweza, Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye and Busingye. Rushanga sector also offers unique tourism products like Gorilla Habituation Experiences that you are not found in any of countries where mountain gorillas live. Bikingi and Bushaho gorilla families are the only two families that are designated for gorilla habituation experience in Rushaga and Nkuringo sector respectively.
This is one of the most scenic sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest but also an area to give you a bit of breathless hikes during mountain gorilla trekking. The sector is blessed with prestigious and moderate lodging facilities which include the Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Nkuringo Safari Lodge, Chameleon Hill Camp and Nkuringo Gorilla Camp. There are also village walks where visitors can chance to taste locally brewed sorghum beer and local food and then interact with community members. As well, never miss the “top of world walk” for stunning panoramic view of the Virunga Volcano chain and where possible sight at the fiery and smoky volcano mountain in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
If you miss to track mountain gorillas in Bwindi, Uganda still offers you another opportunity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park for ultimate mountain gorilla experiences. The park is a home to 80 mountain gorillas with only one habituated gorilla family set for tourism purposes. You can obtain your gorilla permit even on the last minute compared to Bwindi but it is not a must always. Book for your gorilla trekking permit in advance! The beauty that lies at the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is not centered within the mountain gorillas alone but also golden monkeys that you as well track or choose to do volcano climbing.
Important Things to Know Before Going on a Gorilla Trek
Before going on a gorilla safari in Uganda, people normally have expectations and among them are discussed below:
Expect to wake up early – indeed, its true that Gorilla trekking starts early morning at around 7:30 am with briefing. Briefing takes 30 minutes and thereafter, trekkers will set off into the forest to search for the amazing creature. The duration takes while looking for Gorillas is un predicated but determined by the movements of Mountain Gorillas. When they move far, the trekkers will walk for many hours and the reverse is true. Unlucky visitors may spend full day in the forest and fail to see any tough the chances of encountering them is 99% in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from meeting Gorillas, trekkers benefit more from fresh air, seeing other attractions, team working among others.
Briefing is a must – It’s a must done but all trekkers before setting off. Briefing starts at around 7:30 am and end at 8am. During briefing, trekkers are equipped with Dos and Don’ts while in the forest and when with Gorillas. Among the rules and regulations include: Maintaining 7 meters distance between you and Gorillas, keep silent while with Gorillas, avoid trekking when infected with infectious diseases like cough, TB, COVID-19 among others.
Dressing code – Wear water proof clothes and long sleeved, put on hiking shoes, hat and gloves to protect you while in the forest. In mountainous and forested areas, rain is expected any time. For more information, its better to avoid shouting colored clothes.
Serious hustle – Its true that Gorilla trekking exercise is not a walk over. You need some level of fitness. The trek requires climbing hills and sloping down. Crossing water streams through slipper trails. Sometimes, rangers go on clearing paths to allow guests reach the home stead of the mountain Gorillas. You can walk for 3-6hrs or spend full day in the forest. However, the thrill obtained after meeting Gorillas erases the bad experiences you went through while looking for them.
Keep rules and regulations – While briefing, a list of rules and regulation governing Gorilla trekking is given to every body. Among them include: Avoid dumping rubbish in the forest, dig a deep hole to ease yourself, maintain 7 Meters distance, keep low voices when with Gorillas, avoid flash photos and leave Gorillas when charged among others.
Walking a long distance – Especially in rain season, Gorillas move in far distances to look for food and warm places. During this period, guests walk long distances while looking for Gorillas. However, lucky visitors meet Gorillas after few minutes’ walk from the park headquarters and sometimes Gorillas visit at the Lodges.
Present your Documents – At the park headquarters, visitors are supposed to present their documents to the officers at the park. Among the documents to present include copies of Gorilla permits, National Identity Cards/ Passports/ work permits among others. If you didn’t buy your permit in advance, you can buy them from the park headquarters before allowed to trek.
Take many photos – trekkers are free to take as many photos as they can as guided by the park rangers. While in the forest searching for Gorillas, expect to come across many attractions like birds, insects, reptiles, vegetations, unique topography and drainage among others. When you meet Gorillas, take films and photos as well.
Wear water proof clothes – Water proof clothes protects you from getting wet. While in the forest, it can rain, the trees can splash moisture, the dew from grass and moisture from waterfalls trekkers come cross. The hiking should as well be water proof -and long-sleeved shirts and trousers is an added advantage to protect you from thorns and insect bites.
Chat with Gorillas – looking into the eyes of a mountain Gorilla is really a life time event and memorable experience. Under the guidance of rangers, stay with Gorillas and chat with them while maintaining 7 meters distance. But avoid making Gorillas charge in the process.
Guided Gorilla tour – Expects to be guided by rangers through out the exercise. Wild animals are dangerous so, expect to move with armed rangers to guard you and feed you with the necessary information. The aim is to make Gorilla trekking safe, informative and memorable.
Gain physical fitness – Climbing hills, ascending down slope, crossing rivers while carrying your bags, water bottles among others. The hustle trekkers go through while looking for Gorillas enable them exercise their bodies hence gain fitness.