Travel Review: Gorilla Trekking, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Day 10 - Gorilla Trekking

I recently went to Kenya and Uganda for vacation. Part of the trip was to check out the great plains of Africa by sampling the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya. The second part, and the greater objective, was to go see the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. Having seen the movie King Kong once, this was a thrill of a lifetime. Also, they are highly endangered creatures and I thought it would be cool to see them before their inevitable extinction because humans are garbage.

I’ve seen a few guides as to what to do, and what to expect, so I figure I might as well add to this. Let’s tackle this from a Q and A perspective.

Why see the Gorillas?
The mountain gorilla is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla. They live primarily in one particular mountain area in Eastern Africa. This area is comprised of three countries – Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The gorillas usually live in families of some number and are led by the silverback. These silverbacks are super strong and will definitely fuck you up if you piss them off. Anyways, the gorillas are highly endangered with roughly 800 or so living today. That’s a Bon Iver concert.

You might have heard of these animals in:
– The Netflix documentary Virunga
Gorillas in the Mist
– BBC Nature docs (David Attenborough’s encounters with Gorillas in 1978’s Life on Earth is an iconic moment)

Where can you see them?
Realistically, your best options are either Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (best name ever) or in Rwanda. DRC isn’t terribly safe right now, but neither is the US, so I guess pick your poison. Anyways, I chose Bwindi Impenetrable NP, and did it as part of a tour. When in Africa, it’s usually easier to just book a tour that will do all the work for you, leaving you with all the time to look for animals. I used Nomad Adventures and I enjoyed the services they provided, it’s my second time using them and I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again. Typically you will land in either Kampala or Nairobi and make your way there. This park isn’t really in a very reachable location so prepare for a lot of driving. It’s all pretty driving though.

Is it expensive?
Yes – a permit to see the Gorillas for 1 hour is about 750 USD. On top of that, you will have to fly to East Africa, book a trip of some sort, get equipment and then yellow fever vaccinations. It all adds up but it’s the memories that are priceless (actually a few grand).

What actually happens on the trek
Here is a general itenary of what happens. The timings depend on where you stay. Most people will stay outside the national park near Lake Bunyonyi, which has nice lodges to chill out in while you are waiting your turn. If that is the case, as it was mine, here is your schedule:

The night before: You are assigned a Gorilla family – there are 13 families in the park that are used to humans, each family is assigned around 8-10 guests.

4:30 AM – You wake up and eat
5:00 AM or 5:30 AM – you get in your transport to go to the park
7:30 or 8:00 AM – you arrive at your designated launching spot
8:30 AM – you are briefed and meet your guide and then two other guys in the back with guns to protect you from elephants. you can also hire a porter for around 15-20 USD to carry your stuff. It’s good for the locals so if you have a heavy backpack you might want to consider this.
9:00 AM – ???? you hike.

Day 10 - Gorilla Trekking

Basically the trekking goes like this – in the morning before you have arrived, two trackers go out to find the gorilla families. They mostly know where the gorillas were the night before so they start from there. Once they find them, you basically go to where they are.

Hiking there involves a lot of hiking through thick vegetation up and down steepish mountains. The trails are mostly not so much trails as they are paths hacked by your guide as he takes the most direct path to the gorillas. It’s not terribly easy, but you will have a walking stick to help you and it’s kind of fun to trek like this. You’ll probably fall once or twice, but it’s generally a nice soft fall since you are going slow anyways.

Day 10 - Gorilla Trekking

The trek can last anywhere from 45 minutes to 6 hours depending on where your gorillas are.

Once you see the gorillas, you mostly follow them as they do the things for the next hour. You have strict instructions which you follow because the last thing you want is a pissed off silverback headed your way. These instructions are pretty simple

- do not eat or drink near the gorillas
– do not talk about the fight club
– do not have flash in the photos
– do not make prolonged eye contact with the silverback

When you reach the gorillas, it’s magical – you basically realize how tiny you are in this world and just marvel at these majestic animals as they go on about their daily lives. I mean, imagine if some random person flew halfway across the world, endured all kinds of shitty roads, woke up at the crack of dawn and hiked 5 hrs through a mountain and forest just to see you take a piss and watch Netflix. That’s essentially what we are doing, but it feels great.

Your hour ends pretty quickly and about 500 photos and crappy videos later, you hike back to camp.

What do I pack?
I’m going to skip what you need for a safari, instead, here I will put what is necessary.

- Water proof hiking boots
You are hiking in a mountainous rain forest, it’ll be wet and muddy, you definitely don’t want water in your shoes.

- Long socks
– Hiking pants that are light
– long sleeve UV protected hiking shirt

You are hiking through a dense forest with stinging plants and army ants. You need to expose as little skin as possible, as annoying it is, because it’s freaking hot. You are also in altitude so the sun is strong. Get UV protected clothes

- garden gloves
They will provide you with hiking stick, but you will be grabbing all the branches as you walk through mixed terrain. Sometimes you don’t even know where the bottom is, as all you see below you is vines. Grab a branch for balance. You want gloves in case you grab something that stings.

- sun hat
– sunglasses
– bandana (for sweat management)

- rain jacket
– rain pants
Don’t be dumb. It’ll rain if you don’t bring it, and you don’t want to be drenched for 7 hours.

- backpack to hold all that shit in.
It’ll be hot, get a real hiking backpack (with ventilation and pockets) and leave your Fjallraven backpack at home.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. One of life’s most unique adventures, and an opportunity to see one of our closest relatives in our animal kingdom. I always tell anyone I can that travelling to different parts of Africa is the best thing you can do on your travels, and I stand by that – beautiful land, amazing nature and great people you meet along the way. Highly recommend.

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Posted on by Ricky in Everything

About Ricky

Britpop lovin Chinaman, consumer of all things irrelevant. Toronto Raptors fan.

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