Surely no wildlife experience rivals an encounter with these magnificent, mesmerising and fascinatingly human-like beasts. Trek up rainforest-covered volcanoes for an unforgettable few hours watching them feed, play and strut. Africa adventure travel expert Sue Watt recommends the best places to do it.
Travel bucket list idea:
Trek to see mountain gorillas in Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Western Region, Uganda|
No wildlife experience rivals a rainforest encounter with mountain gorillas. Depending on your choice of trek, you’re allowed between 1-4 hours with these gentle giants once you find them: it’s an experience you’ll never forget, mesmerized by their stature and strength, their playfulness and posing, and by their distinctly ‘human’ characters.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to half the world’s mountain gorillas, permits here aren’t cheap but they’re worth it, contributing towards the conservation of these rare and majestic creatures.
While you’re there
Batwa Pygmies were evicted from Bwindi for gorilla conservation. Visit the Batwa Experience and learn about their fascinating culture and how they lived in the forests for over 4,000 years. It demonstrates the rich forest heritage of this Pygmy tribe and preserves it for their future generations.
Getting there & doing it
Charter flights take around 1.5 hours from Entebbe or Kajansi to Kihihi or Kayonza, with 40- or 120-minute drives respectively to Bwindi. Alternatively, it’s an interesting 8-hour drive by 4WD.
There are two trekking options – the standard option where you get to spend one hour with the gorillas, or a new ‘gorilla habituation experience’, where you can spend 4 hours with them, for double the cost.
Only eight people can see each of the eight groups daily, hence permits are difficult to obtain so book your trip early. You’ll need to pay for your permits in full at the time of booking. Although it’s possible to arrange independently (through firstname.lastname@example.org), it’s easier to book a package (with accommodation and travel) through tour operators, and let them organise permits.
Some tour operators combine this with gorilla tracking in Rwanda, flying in to one country and returning from the other. A scenic road transfer between the two takes 6 hours.
Gorillas move on every day and finding them isn’t guaranteed. Some people buy two permits to increase their chances of an encounter and double the income for gorilla conservation too.
Food & drink
There’ll be no food available on the trek. Have a hearty breakfast at your lodge and take snacks and water but remember you mustn’t eat or drink near the gorillas.
Buhoma Lodge, a 5-minute walk from Park HQ and the tracking departure point, has a beautiful first-floor terrace bar perfect for a celebratory drink after your gorilla encounter.
When to do it
Mountain gorilla tracking is available year-round. Visitors gather at the Park HQ at around 6.30am for a full briefing and film, then start tracking at 8.30am.
With steep hills and tricky terrain underfoot, it’s more pleasant tracking gorillas in Uganda’s drier months between December to February and June to September. But be prepared for cool evenings.
Rains can occur at any time in Bwindi but are heaviest from March to May and October to November, when slopes are muddy and exhausting. Permits are easier to obtain and can be cheaper.
Round-ups that include this experience