THE ULTIMATE GORILLA EXPERIENCE IN UGANDA
Difference between gorilla habituation and trekking
Although these two experiences both involve close interaction with gorillas in their natural habitats, they differ in several ways as we shall find out later on. Gorilla habituation is defined as the process of gently introducing wild Mountain gorillas to the presence of human beings for purposes of research, conservation, and care. This process takes 2 to 3 years. Gorilla trekking, on the other hand, involves going on a hike that is guided by a ranger through a dense rainforest with the aim of spending time with a particular gorilla troop in their natural habitat.
Furthermore, there is a plethora of information that is necessary for you to know as you prepare and plan for these adventures. Having this information will definitely contribute to a benevolent experience.
A brief overview of gorillas in Uganda
Gorillas are the largest living primates on the planet. They are herbivorous highly intelligent ground-dwelling apes that are usually covered in black fur and are only found in the tropical forests of equatorial Africa. What’s more, these primates are divided into the Western and Eastern Gorillas; with the latter species also consisting of the Mountain Gorillas, which are found in Uganda. Gorillas have families or troops, with each one having a leader; the silverback.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable national park in Uganda is a renowned mountain gorilla sanctuary and is thus the best place for gorilla trekking and habituation. It is important to note that gorillas used to be critically endangered animals, but that changed due to the increased efforts in conservation which moved them to the endangered category. Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa as well as the Pearl of Africa, is home to half of the world’s mountain gorilla population which makes it the most suitable tourist destination for a remarkable gorilla experience.
Best time to go for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking in Uganda can be done throughout the year, however, due to the fact that it is done in the dense tropical rain forest; Bwindi Impenetrable forest to be exact, it is advisable to go during the dry season. There are two dry seasons throughout the year, with one running from January to March and the other from July to September. With particular regard to the time of the day, it is always better to start early in the morning at around 7 am. You wouldn’t want to be caught up by nightfall while still in the forest.
Differences between gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation experiences
|Gorilla trekking||Gorilla habituation|
|Travelers have only one hour with the gorilla family||Travelers have up to four hours with the wild gorillas|
|Involves going on a guided hike to spend time with an already habituated gorilla troop||Involves gently introducing wild mountain gorillas to human presence and interaction|
|Permits: $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents, Ugsh.250000 for East African citizens||Permits: $1500 for foreign non-residents, $1000 for foreign residents, Ugsh.750000 for East African citizens|
|Number of people : 8||Number of people : 4|
|Travelers move with a guide and a ranger||Travelers move with rangers, researchers, habituation experts, and doctors|
|There are 19 habituated families in the four sectors of the park that can be tracked||There are only two families that are being habituated and are found only in the southern sector|
National parks for gorilla trekking and habituation
The only place where one can take part in the gorilla habituation experience is in Bwindi Impenetrable national park, particularly in the Rushaga sector which is located in the Southern part of the park. Having said that, gorilla trekking in Uganda can be done in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; in all four sectors namely: Rushaga, Nkuringo, Ruhija, and Buhoma; and also in Mgahinga National Park.
Benefits of these gorilla experiences
To the travelers, gorilla trekking and habituation are life-changing, extraordinary experiences that are definitely capable of giving them unforgettable memories and stories to share with their loved ones. In addition to that, these experiences bring you to one of the most beautiful places on earth, given that Bwindi Impenetrable forest is one of the few remaining tropical mountain forests in the Albertine rift edge.
To the gorillas, when tourists take part in the ultimate gorilla experience in Uganda, they contribute to the protection of the endangered mountain gorillas and facilitate payment of the park rangers as well as the development of the park community welfare through the selling of gorilla permits.
Access to Bwindi Impenetrable national park
In light of all the foregoing, there are two ways in which you can access Bwindi Impenetrable national park for the gorilla experiences. You can either travel by air or by road; although traveling by road is the easiest. Bwindi is located in the Southwestern part of Uganda and is approximately 464 kilometers away from Kampala.
You can either access Bwindi Impenetrable forest from Queen Elizabeth National Park; this journey is a 2 to 3 hours drive, or you can travel from Kampala through Mbarara to the park (easiest connection from Entebbe International Airport); it takes about 6 to 8 hours. Alternatively, if you are in Kabale town; it takes about 1 to 2 hours by road to reach your destination. All the above-mentioned routes converge at Butogota which is located around 17 kilometers from the Buhoma sector entry point. If you are in Rwanda, you can travel from Kigali by road, then cross over to Uganda at the Katuna border and have a stop at Kabale town before proceeding to the national park. The journey may take 3 to 4 hours.
Due to the long-distance and other related factors, I recommend booking with a recognized tour operator such as Pamoja Tours and Travel for a phenomenal gorilla trekking safari.
On the contrary, one can access the the national park by air, depending on the choice of the traveler. One can choose to fly from Entebbe or from Kampala (Kajjansi airfield) to the airstrip located in Kisoro and then travel by road to the national park. There are three other airstrips that serve the park namely: Kihiihi, Kayonza, and Nyakabande.
What you need to pack for gorilla trekking and habituation
Whilst you are preparing for gorilla trekking in Uganda, you need to, first of all, buy a gorilla permit. You can get the permit from Uganda Wildlife Authority but your tour operator can get it on your behalf. Afterwards, you can get yourself a plane ticket according to where you are coming from.
More to that, the essential items that you need to pack include: N-95 surgical masks, waterproof backpack, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, snacks and drinks for energy, biodegradable toilet paper, raincoats, extra batteries for the camera, camera, trekking poles, long-sleeved clothes and long socks to protect your skin from bugs and thorns, outdoor gloves, a hat, sunglasses, and waterproof trekking shoes. You can also carry binoculars for spotting other wildlife such as monkeys and birds from a distance.
A glimpse of what to expect while gorilla trekking
Before starting the trek, all travelers go for briefing by the rangers and guides. In addition, they sanitize their feet and hands multiple times to maintain strict hygiene and safety standards for the ultimate gorilla experience in Uganda. This is because gorillas are closely related to humans and are thus prone to human diseases and infections. During the briefing, the guides instruct the travelers to keep 7 meters away from the gorillas. The rangers, further, inform the travelers that although gorillas are usually peaceful and harmless, one should keep their voice low and avoid direct eye contact so as to prevent panic. In the event that a gorilla charges at you, you must stay still and give it space to pass by.
The park rangers
The park rangers then guide small groups of about 8 people into the forest to begin tracking the gorillas. These rangers are fully capable of ensuring a safe experience. During the trek, there are scenarios where the guides may cut down some of the surrounding vegetation to create paths through the dense forest.
Also, at different intervals, travelers can stop and take pictures. One should keep it in mind that the trekking experience is strenuous since it involves hiking over long distances through difficult terrain and thick vegetation but it is absolutely worth it.
What it takes to see the family
The time it takes to complete the tracking highly depends on how far the troop of interest is from where it was nesting the previous evening. When you eventually see the mountain gorillas, they will effortlessly sweep you off your feet. Standing a few meters away from the troop, the behavior of the young ones will leave you in awe, since it is similar to that of human babies. Not forgetting, the enormous silverback having quality time with its family members. You may see some of the gorillas climbing nearby trees or eating roots and fruits as the infants climb their mothers’ backs.
Many of the people who have had gorilla trekking or habituation experiences concluded that there is nothing like it. Actually, it is difficult to put together the right words that can explicitly describe it all. Watching the silverback and his family peacefully going about their business in the beautifully vast and thick vegetation is an absolute game-changer. You cannot afford to miss out on this marvelous gift of nature.