Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the Ugandan Mountain gorillas’ capital and the center of ultimate gorilla trekking experience. This wonderful National park is about 6-9 hours drive away, literally the whole day from Entebbe International Airport. However, intending gorilla trekkers can choose to track gorillas from Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, then cross to Kisoro Town through Cyanika border (3-4 hours drive), thereby track mountain gorillas from the Southern sectors of Bwindi-Nkuringo and Rushaga sectors. If you are connecting from Kigali Town, the shortest safari to undertake is the 3 day Bwindi gorilla safari that involves a 3-4 hours drive crossing from Rwanda and spend the night at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
If Uganda and Rwanda are juxtaposed in terms of interesting attractions and activities, the former is a true nature paradise with numerous wildlife and species of birds and fascinating activities to relish than it is with the latter. The moment you decide to travel to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park through Entebbe International Airport, you are advised to spend at least two nights before proceeding with your intended gorilla trekking adventure to enjoy the other activities and attractions as stipulated in your itinerary. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a magnificent place, nestled in the South-western side of Uganda on the boundary of the Great Rift Valley. Its mist-blanketed slopes are occupied by one of Uganda’s ancient and biologically rich Forests, which have existed for more than 25,000 years and shelter exceptional mammal species, 348 species of birds and 400 species of plants. This National Park is particularly popular for offering home to an estimated 400 mountain gorillas-almost half of the World’s Mountain gorilla populations, including 12 already habituated groups of which 11 can be tracked.
For most trekkers who opt for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the conservation of the critically endangered mountain gorillas is the principal reason why gorilla permits are high, and presently go for $1500 per person for tourists tracking from Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, $600 per person for tourists tracking from Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and $400 per person for trekkers to Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a golden opportunity to track Africa’s Mountain gorillas-primates that share over 98% of their DNA with mankind, making them our close relatives. Gorilla trekking is a dream come true when you know that you are among the few lucky ones to meet face to face with these critically endangered primates, but saving their lives and working hard to ensure their threatened population grows is the reason for the high gorilla permits. Most importantly, the increased funding from gorilla tourism is the major strength behind the recovery and eventual growth in the population of mountain gorillas that now stands at over 880 individuals.
It is no surprise that today gorilla trekking is the main tourist activity that draws tourists to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and is interestingly the highest revenue earner for the respective governments, hence is conducted in a stringent manner so that the Mountain gorillas in the jungles benefit from gorilla tourism in addition to the local community members surrounding the National Parks where these mountain gorillas are found. Daily gorilla trekking safaris are planned/organized by reliable tour operators (tour companies), although intending gorilla trekkers can plan for the safaris independently.
As mentioned previously, there are currently 12 habituated gorilla groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, whereby the 11 are open for tracking by tourists while one is reserved for research purposes. These gorilla groups include Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura, Oruzogo, Bitukura, Kyaguriro (research group), Nshongi, Bweza, Mishaya, Busingye, Kahungye and Nkuringo groups. There is only one habituated gorilla family in Mgahinga National Park-called the Nyakagezi group. With over 480 mountain gorillas in both Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda is undeniably the haven to more than half of the World’s population of mountain gorillas that is estimated at more than 880 individuals and the majority of these exceptional primates call the different sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National park home. Only 80 mountain gorillas occupy the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes in Mgahinga National Park. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is an ideal destination for memorable gorillas safaris, although tourists are advised to be aware of the hilly terrains within the Park that requires tourists to hike through the hills on foot and descend to the deep valleys to see the mountain gorillas.
When you visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, you will be allocated to one of the 11 habituated gorilla families. The most interesting and exceptional thing about this Park is that the gorillas groups are distributed within the four sectors of the Park.
This Northern sector was the first to be opened for tourism in 1993 and is a home to three gorilla families that include;
Mubare family, the first gorilla family to be opened for tourism and is apparently the smallest group in terms of size with only 9 members including one dominant silverback called Kanyonyi.
Habinyanja gorilla family, the second habituated group opened for tracking in 1999 and is made up of 18 members including one dominant silverback-Makara.
Rushegura family broke off from the Habinyanja family and was opened for tourism in 2002. The group is currently made up of 21 members including one dominant silverback-Kabukojo.
This is the eastern sector and is a home to three gorilla groups, two of which are open for tracking. The Kyaguriro research group is also found here.
It was named after Bitukura River (where they were first seen) and was opened for tracking in October 2008. It is currently made up of 13 members including one dominant silverback.
This interesting group is made up of 17 members including one dominant Silverback named Tibirikwata. What makes this family worth visiting is the exuberant nature of the infants and juveniles of the family which excites tourists.
This Southern sector is a home to the Nkuringo family that was opened for tracking in 2004. There are currently 12 members in the group including one dominant silverback called Safari.
This is also found in the Southern side of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and is a home to 5 habituated gorilla groups that makes it the region with the highest number of gorilla families. These families include Bweza Family, Kahungye Family, Busingye Family, Mishaya Family and Nshongi Family.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi or Uganda and any other country can only happen if you have a valid gorilla trekking permit. The most beautiful thing about gorilla trekking in Uganda is that unlike Rwanda, different categories of tourists are offered different prices of permits. Foreign non residents pay $600 per person, foreign residents pay $500 per person and East African residents pay Shs 250,000 per person during normal and high seasons. Budget tourists are also taken care of with the discounted gorilla permits offered in the low seasons (April, May and November) where foreign non residents pay only $450 per person hence saving $150 for other expenses, foreign residents pay $400 per person thus saving $100 for other things and East African residents pay Shs 150,000 per person allowing you to save Shs 100,000 for other expenses (like accommodation). Gorilla permits to enable you go for gorilla trekking in Bwindi can be acquired directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority Head office (the body responsible for wildlife conservation and tourism promotion in Uganda) by calling the Reservations/booking office at +256 414 355409/410 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tourists planning to participate in this life changing gorilla trekking experience are always advised to book for gorilla permits at least 6 months in advance by paying a 30% deposit (of the total safari cost) so as to book for the gorilla permits in advance.
What to pack for gorilla trekking in Uganda;
It is not as if you will be forced to carry and wear them but for the sake of your comfort and not disappointing your highly anticipated and expected gorilla trekking experience, you are advised to carry;
Long sleeved shirts, long trousers, a backpack, camera, sturdy waterproof hiking boots, a hat, sunglasses, a rain jacket a sweater for the chilly mornings and evenings, insect repellants, walking stick (will be got from the Safari Lodges or the briefing points) and long socks among others.
On the day of tracking the mountain gorillas, you will be expected to arrive at the Park Headquarters or the briefing point (depending on which sector you will be tracking from) by 7:00am. You will be oriented on the tracking guidelines and how to conduct yourself when with the Mountain gorillas. You will then venture into the jungles in search of the habituated gorilla family you are allocated to, which takes between 30 minute and over 6 hours depending on the pace of movement of your group and the position or home range of the gorilla family. Once you find the gorilla family, you will be allowed to spend only one hour with them and maintain a distance of 7 meters away to prevent any risks of spreading diseases and germs to the primates.
The dress code for gorilla trekking is long sleeved shirt, long trousers, rain jacket because it is difficult to predict when it will or not rain, sturdy hiking boots with enough grip to allow you to hike easily, long socks and tuck in the trousers into the socks to prevent insects from entering the trousers, gardening gloves to protect your hands from getting injured by the tree branches/thorns, a hat and sun glasses to protect your head and eyes from the direct sunshine. Do not forget to carry drinking water and packed lunch/snacks which can be carried in a backpack.
Although it is not a must, gorilla trekkers are always advised to carry a walking stick that will enable them to hike through the steep, muddy and slippery slopes of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Hiring a porter does no harm but is very beneficial because the porter will support you during hiking and also carry your backpack. Besides that, hiring a porter is a way of supporting local communities to benefit from tourism hence improving their standards of living.
Therefore, gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable national park is a golden opportunity and the main activity that draws thousands of tourists into Uganda. With the excitement involved in encountering these critically endangered primates, gorilla trekking is an adventure that you cannot afford to miss.