Life is a journey

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

The gorilla trekking is the top tourist attraction and one of the major must do experiences in Uganda. To do the Gorilla Trekking you need to book the permit well in advance, as there are limited permits available each day.

Does anyone have a cold? the ranger asked. Nobody raised their voice, but some shook their heads. Myself included, even though I had a sneaking feeling I might catch one after the upcoming hike in the pouring rain. “If you do, it is important that you let us know”. «The mountain gorillas share 98 % DNA with humans, and can easily catch deceases, so you have to stay at least 8 meters away from them», he continued. All of us nodded, and equipped with a walking stick each, we ventured off into the woods. The ranger Fred and the guide Augustine were slowly guiding our group of eight on the quest to find the Mukiza family lead by the Silverback male with the same name.

In the beginning I tried to step on the sides and jump from rock to rock, but I soon realized it was pointless, and (almost) acted like a child in a pond. I kind of regretted it when I had to dig the dirt of the hiking boots, but I haven’t really been afraid to get dirty before, so this was absolutely not the time to start. The muddy trail embraced my shoes and the vacuum gave a popping noise for every step I made.

Hiking though the green forest. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.

Mind your step. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
Mind your step….

As the rain was seriously pouring down, there was not much use lifting my head to look around, so I kept the eye on the path to escape the largest mud ponds and jumping over the large wet roots (do NOT step on them, you will slide and fall).

As on the chimp track, we suddenly made a quick turn off the path, only this time it soon led to a steep incline. As the rangers had got notice that this was where the gorillas were, so we were going up as well.

Wearing the large rain poncho (thank God for that, by the way), it was sometimes too big, so I stepped on it and stumbled. The tall green grass was facing downwards, making it perfect to slip on. For a moment it felt like nature was putting us on a test. But we aimed to pass.

For every step, you slide back two... Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
Photo: Bella Falk – www.passportandpixels.com

Ferns were spread all over the hillside, and was sometimes the only thing to hold on to when crawling up the hillside to prevent falling backwards. I tried to ignore the fact that the plant is called “ormegress” in my native language, directly translated to worm grass….

Huffing and puffing while climbing steady upwards, I could not quite make out if it was rain or pearls of sweat running down my forehead, but anyway I was determined to get up there.

Steep climbs. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
It is much steeper than it looks…

After the accent, we walked for a few minutes before we were told to stop. “They are just over there”, one of the rangers said, and pointed in between the bushes. The distinctly grey hairs on the back of the gorilla clearly made us recognize the large silverback male, the leader of the group.

First sight of the silverback male. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
First sight of the silverback.

First sound of the silverback male. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.

And just as surprising as lightning from clear blue sky, it turned the other way and the rain stopped! I cannot believe the luck, after the constant heavy rain, it completely stopped as a stroke of magic. We instinctively started to whisper, and slowly moved towards the tribe.

The silverback male soon zigzagged among the trees, joining the rest of the family. From courageous young juveniles, to mothers with their shy babies. All minding their own business, continuing their everyday life without caring about our presence.

You looking at me. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
You looking at me??

Eating gorilla. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.

One of the youngsters seemed not to be informed about staying 8 meters clear of humans, and suddenly ran passed me on the path before climbing up the nearby tree for some delicious green leaves. Paralyzed by the close encounter, I just stood there, staring at the distant relative having his pre-lunch snack. Far away from the urban noises (though with the loud sounds of the forest), I could almost hear the leaves crush between his teeth.

Gorilla in a tree. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.

Pre-lunch snack. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.

Close encounter with one of the gorillas. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
Fellow traveler Bella Falk. Check out her awesome photos and blog – www.passportandpixels.com
Eating gorilla in tree. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
Photo: Bella Falk – www.passportandpixels.com

A noise behind me made me snap out of my moment. Some of the youngsters were playing up in the trees, rattling the bushes. Initially turning towards them, I noticed the youngest in the group, sitting with her mother being petted and cleaned.

Wet gorilla mother and baby. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
It looks like we were not the only ones feeling wet and cold…
Gorilla with her child. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
Photo: Bella Falk – www.passportandpixels.com

Our carefully measured hour was up, and we started the hike back. Even though the rain had stopped, we had to watch every step on the slippery grass going back down the steep hill.

As the mood was a little bit brighter (along with the weather), and we could focus on other things than looking straight down on the ground just in front of our feet, we had a nice long conversation with the rangers on our way back. The Mukiza’s that we had just met are a group of 13 gorillas, and one of four habituated families in Ruhija. In the whole of Bwindi impenetrable national park, there are 31 families, 15 habituated and 16 wild. To habituate a family, the rangers first spend just a little time with the gorillas every day, imitating their behavior and gradually making them used to having humans around. The whole process takes 2-3 years.

The gorilla trekkers. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
The trackers Elisha, Cosmas and Gereva set out an hour before to track the different families. They start from where the gorillas were seen the day before, and follow their traces – such as footprints, broken bushes and poop.

The Gorilla permit in Uganda is 600$, and needs to be booked well in advance. The price might seem a bit over the top, but it is important to know that parts of the money goes both to the community and the work to help save the species and increasing numbers. The census from 2010 counted 4oo mountain gorillas in Bwindi, and 480 in Virunga National park. The latter park is shared between the three countries Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic Congo. According to WWF, the numbers have however increased to more than 1000 in 2018, but they still face danger and annoyance.

Practical information:
It is highly recommended to book far in in advance, as spaces are limited to four groups per day (one for each of the gorilla families) with 8 people in each group. The permit cost 600$ and you can buy it directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, or if you book your tour around Uganda through an agency, they will probably arrange it.
We did the gorilla trekking in Ruhija, but there are also other places to go in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

What to bring:
First thing you need, is your passport to get registered. Depending of the season, it can be quite wise to bring a rain poncho or waterproof clothes to keep dry. As you will probably need to hold on to roots and grass or whatever the will prevent you from falling, it is recommended to wear gloves. We were not advice this upfront though, so here you go 😊 It is essential to wear good shoes, I was debating to bring my high cut hiking boots or the lower ones. The first ones won as we were also going to hike the Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo, but I was very happy to have them. As you will be hiking (and partially climbing) up and down in uneven terrain, you probably will feel quite warm at times. Wear layers so you can adjust the temperature, and bring both water and food as you never know how long you will have to search for the gorillas. And a small daypack to carry your stuff. And last but not least – a camera to catch some of the impressions, even though nothing can recreate the real experience.

Where to stay:
We stayed at Bakiga Lodge, an eco lodge aiming to limit the impact on the environment. By collecting rain water in large tanks and using solar panels, they are self-sufficient for water and electricity. It probably will not be the longest and hottest shower you ever had, and you may not be able to change your phone, but that is a small price to pay to contribute to a better environment.
Bakiga lodge is also a non-profit NGO that help finance water projects across the Kabale district.
We got a nice wooden hut with a terrace overlooking the green forest and fields below.
Our hut at Bakiga Lodge. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.

Even the bathroom had great views! Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
Even the bathroom had great views!

View from our hut at Bakiga Lodge. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.
Dirty hiking shoes with a view. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi. Ruhija, Uganda.

* We were offered the gorilla permits complimentary by Uganda Tourist Board. The description and opinion of the wet but amazing experience is of course my own.



11 thoughts on “Gorilla trekking in Uganda”

  • I love this post. You found a destination to write about that is truly off the beaten path. And your writing is great – it´s like reading a thriller! I was a little skeptical at first, as I usually am with posts about animal attractions, but I think it is great that these hikes contribute so much to saving Gorilla as a species. Thanks for sharing

  • This is a beautiful post – I love the photos. I work in ecotourism as a whale watch guide and am always looking for sustainable, eco-friendly tour operators when I’m trying to book trips. I’m happy to hear they have a good permit system in place to minimize impact to the wildlife! The lodge you stayed at looks incredible as well; I love when the accomodation is trying to be green as well!

  • Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I’ve been wanting to visit Virunga ever since I watched that incredible documentary about the park and its rangers (have you seen it?). I was lucky enough to visit an orangutan park in Borneo a few years ago—it was fantastic. Wildlife tourism, when it’s done ethically and responsibly, has to be one of the most rewarding forms of travel.

  • Wow, those photos! I can’t believe your luck that the rain just stopped when you got to the gorilla’s – awesome! But the wet furs of the gorillas made for beautiful shots, amazing. I went to see the gorilla’s in Rwanda several years back, and I was the same as you – huffing and puffing my way up through the jungle lol!

  • I said “WOW” out loud a few times reading your posts and looking at the photos. How incredibly adventurous to trek through the jungle like that. The emotions of the gorillas look SO human that it’s a bit eerie. Love this post, thanks for sharing.

  • OMYYYY! What an experience. Wow. I would be so scared and so amazed at the same time. Didn’t realized that you could get up so close to them!

  • This looks like a real adventure. I mean, getting so close to Gorillas is even possible. I never knew that. I’m scared just reading the post haha… It must have been out of this world experience for you I’m sure 🙂

  • What an amazing experience! That is so interesting about the cold, it makes sense, but is something I never would have thought about. I cannot imagine the feeling of having these animals so close, it is one thing to see them in zoos or animal sanctuaries but to see them in the place where they rule the jungle must be so exhilirating!

  • I did not know such a tour even existed! Well, thanks for giving me the exposure to a trek like this but $600 does seem like a lot for only 1 hour of a trek.

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