Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of the top activities that is most anticipated by travelers who are looking to visit Uganda. Situated in south western Uganda in the districts of Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is an exceptional tourism destination that every traveler must include on their African safari. Just like the name states, the park is an impenetrable forest that was hoe to the Batwa pygmies hat had co-existed with the wildlife in this African jungle. The forest was given a national park status in 1991 and the humans that settled there- the Batwa pygmies were evicted such that efforts to protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas at that time would get underway. The park is regulated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority a body responsible for the conservation of the wildlife in the country. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 because of its importance of contributing to the protection of bio-diversity. The park receives an annual rainfall of 1,500mm with an altitude ranging from 1,160m in the north of the park to as high as 2,607m in the southern part of the park.
Bwindi impenetrable National park inhabits numerous plant life and wildlife but tourists frequent the park majorly for the mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking is the most done activity that hundreds of travelers flock the park for. The park is a home to the highest number of mountain gorillas with over a half of the total population in the whole world concentrated in one park. These gorillas are habituated over a period of time and are then made available to tourists to visit in an activity commonly known as gorilla trekking. Gorilla trekking is an activity that involves tourists walking or hiking through the dense forest in search for the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
There are over 10 habituated gorilla groups that tourists can visit. These gorilla groups or families are in the four different sectors of the park. Ruhijja sector in the east of Bwindi has three gorilla groups say Bitukura, Oruzongo and Kyaguriro families, Rushaga sector has Busingye, Kungye, Bweza, Mishaya, and Nshongi gorilla families, Nkuringo sector has only the Nkuringo gorilla family habituated for tracking and Buhoma in the north has Rushegura gorilla family, Mubare family (the very first habituated gorilla group) and Habinyanja gorilla family, all of which are open for tracking in Bwindi Forest. Each family can only be visited by a group of eight people per day for a maximum of one hour.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda can be done any time of the year. Uganda experiences two season say the wet and dry season. Travelers interested in gorilla trekking in Bwindi are best advised to plan their visit for the dry season in the months of June to September and mid-December to February, when the ground is dry and the vegetation is not very over grown thus a much easier trek compared to the wet months that have the ground wet and slippery thus a harder trek. Trekking in the wet months of March, April, May, October, and November also has its advantages say the gorillas are easily reached since they don’t move further distances to search for food when there is plenty of forage for these mountain gorillas.
Since there is a high demand for the gorilla trekking permits, securing yours way in advance is advised before your trip date. At least 3-4 months in advance should be considered ad travelers can book for the permits even up to two years in advance. Gorilla trekking permits in Uganda are at $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and UGX250,000 for East African citizens. They can be purchased through a trustworthy ground tour operator in the country or through the reservations office of Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala.
When packing for your long awaited gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park safari, there are essential items that shouldn’t miss out on the list. They include waterproof hiking boots, insect repellent creams, waterproof jackets, long sleeved shirt or t-shirt, trousers, sun glasses, waterproof backpack for your important equipment, a camera with no flashlight, energy giving snacks and water for refreshment during the long hike. Consider packing environmentally friendly clothes and avoid shouting colors.
Mountain gorillas live in high elevation areas and this definitely means that the trek would require you to have some level of fitness and to be physically well. However, there are porters that can be hired to help carry you on a stretcher should you fail to go any further. Hiking sticks are availed at the park or in the lodge and these should also aid you on your hike.
Gorilla trekking usually starts with rising very early in the morning say at 6 and you are transferred to the park headquarters for a briefing which usually starts at 7am or the latest at 7:30am. During the brief, you will be told of what to expect but above all, rules and guidelines will be laid out for you that you must pay keen attention to, they include among others:
- Maintain a 7m distance from the mountain gorillas. Since we share a 98% DNA, they are very prone to acquiring our illnesses.
- Only persons above 15 are allowed to trek gorillas
- Do not sue flash cameras if you are to take pictures.
- In case a gorilla charges at you, keep still and avoid eye contact with the gorillas as this is a threat to them.
- When in danger of any sort say a gorilla charges at you, follow whatever instructions the ranger or guide will be showing you.
- A maximum of one hour is given to you when you get to the gorillas.
- Do not litter the forest, leave it as you found it.
- Noise should be avoided, whisper if need be.
After the brief, you will be grouped in groups of eight and allocated a gorilla group to trek. You can ask to be given a particular gorilla group if it is in the sector you are trekking from. You will then embark on a trekking expedition through the forest up until you encounter the gentle creatures. A ranger will notify you when you are almost there but you may as well be in the know if you pay keen attention to the distinctive sounds made in the forest. During your hike, pay close attention to your surrounding as your guide will keep pointing out important and worth-to-note features or creatures, say other wildlife like elephants, bushpigs, chimps, and various bird species and plants. The total time taken during the trek can range from 30 minutes up to five hours or more depending on the location of the mountain gorillas.
To access Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one can use either road or air. By air, daily flights are operated by Aerolink from Entebbe or Kampala to Kihihi or Kisoro airstrip. The drive from Kihihi or Kisoro to nearby lodges takes between 1-2 hours. Driving from Entebbe however can take up to 9 or 10 hours. The popular routes used ae the Masaka-Mbarara-Ntungamo-Kihihi-Butogota and then to Buhoma, or Mbarara to Bushenyi and then follow the Ishasha road to Kihihi and then to Butogota and finally to Buhoma, or maybe Kampala- Kabale to Kisoro and proceed to the various sectors.
There are a number of other activities that can be done in Bwindi apart from gorilla trekking, say gorilla habituation. Gorilla habituation is an activity that involves tourists spending more time with the gorillas and interacting with them. They usually spend about four hours with the gorillas, in small groups of four. The price for gorilla habituation is $1,500 for foreign non-residents, $1,000 for foreign residents and UGX750,000 for East African citizens.
Visiting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for gorilla trekking is one of the must-do activities of many travelers. Come visit the near-human creatures in their wild habitat and be captivated by their beauty and gentleness. Get in touch with your trusted tour operator and you will be amazed by the magnitude of satisfaction and thrilling sensations you will feel when you encounter these endangered species.