One of my most amazing wildlife experiences was gorilla trekking in Uganda. The day was something I will never forget. I can still vividly remember the first gorilla I saw and the buzz of excitement I had in my tummy. There’s nothing that prepares you for seeing and trekking with these amazing mountain gorillas.
Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda you have a great chance of seeing a gorilla as this is home to over half the mountain gorillas in the world.
Read about my experience gorilla trekking in Uganda and see whether you think it is worth the money. I’ve also included my top tips on what to wear, what to else to take and tips for photographing the gorillas.
Table of Contents
- 1 Arriving at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
- 2 Gorilla trekking in Uganda
- 3 Gorilla Trekking in Uganda – My Top tips
- 4 Further information on gorilla trekking in Uganda
Arriving at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
After travelling 2 hours by minibus from Lake Buyoni, along steep (and very scary) mountain road. Our group arrived at a remote part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where the park’s headquarters was based.
We were then split into smaller groups of eight and listened to an important safety briefing. This included how to behave around the gorillas in order to make sure everyone enjoys their experience (including the gorillas!)
Gorilla trekking rules
- You must not get closer than 7 metres to the gorillas
- Never run from a gorilla (you’ll know this if you have watched the film Gorillas in the Mist!)
- Don’t make eye contact
- Don’t make sudden movements
I’m listening carefully but I’m so excited I want to shout, ‘please can we go now!!’ But at the same time, I’m super nervous, what if we don’t see any.
After the safety briefing, it’s another 30-minute drive nearer to where the gorillas were last spotted the day before by the trackers (who help protect the species).
Gorilla trekking in Uganda
Finally, our gorilla trekking adventure begins. Our local guide leads us up a hill to a clearing where we look across to where we will be heading. It’s just a mass of dense green trees! Next, we hike downhill through a huge tea plantation then back up a steep muddy track.
The time trekking to find the gorillas can vary in time, depending on when the gorillas spent the night. And where they have decided to move to in the morning. We had been told the hike could be between 1-8 hours to find the gorillas.
However, luck was on our side that day. An hour after trekking through the dense forests we are told to take off our backpacks. From now the only thing you would need would be your camera.
Spotting my first gorilla
This was it, I was going to see my first mountain gorilla in the wild. Around the next group of trees, they suddenly appear out of no-where. I remember so vividly the emotions creeping up on me and I want to start jumping around. But somehow I manage to keep my cool, phew embarrassment averted! For me personally, there’s really nothing better than seeing animals in their own environment and this was certainly a memory to treasure.
At first, there are two gorillas hanging out, eating whilst keeping an eye on our movements. But as we follow our guide and team of trackers through the forest we see more and more, the whole family of gorillas are around us.
Spending time with the gorillas
It’s amazing seeing the gorillas and they are pretty entertaining too. One tries hanging off a branch that clearly can’t carry his weight and falls backwards into the forest. It’s hard not to laugh out loud. And another bangs his chest loudly, shouts and does a mini charge. We are not in any danger, he’s letting us know that we are on his patch. But it’s great to see the natural behaviours.
Our guide leads us through to a small patch to sit (on the ground) and observe their behaviours. This is a great chance to take a few photos but also sit back and take it all in. Our guide has ensured we are all following the 7-metre rule, but lower down the path a few baby gorillas are playing and climbing branches. The next thing a HUGE silverback comes crashing through the trees, stops and stares. My heart is racing like crazy. No-one is doing anything wrong but it’s time to move a little bit further back and respect his wishes!
“a HUGE silverback comes crashing through the trees, stops and stares”
My gorilla trekking highlights
I have numerous highlights from the day, but two that stick in my mind was the time when the gorillas broke the rules! Hmm, did they not attend the safety briefing?
Well, twice the gorillas came within the 7-metre rule. One walked past me, less than a metre away and all I could do was sit back, hold my breath and enjoy the moment. Wow, it was intense.
You’ll notice in the picture above I had the perfect opportunity to capture a great shot. But my nerves got the better of me and all I succeeded in doing was capturing 0.5 seconds of video, as I clicked the on/off button at the same time. Doh!
The second time was heading down the mountain. I turn around and notice one gorilla is following us. I kind of freeze to begin with then decide moving out of the way is probably the best idea. He stops, takes a long look at us, then crashes left through the forest. Another moment that gives me shivers thinking about it.
During the hour gorilla trekking, our group saw 16 gorillas, including three very cute babies and the mighty, if not a little scary silverback.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda – My Top tips
What to wear?
- Firstly all safari clothes should be camouflage/neutral colours – i.e. no bright colours – browns/khaki green is best.
- Walking boots or good walking shoes
- Long sleeved top (to stop things biting your arms!)
- Walking trousers/pants – not jeans as these aren’t practical when wet
- Hiking socks – long enough to tuck into your trousers to prevent creepy crawlies from climbing up them/stinging nettles/biting ants.
- Gloves – ideally cheap gardening gloves, again to save your hands from any stinging nettles/thorns
What else to take?
- Waterproof jacket
- Water bottle
- Snacks for the walk
- Walking poles (optional)
- Camera with full battery and a good quality memory card – you don’t want to miss the opportunity
Tips for photographing the gorillas
- Move very slowly when taking photos or videos so as not to alarm the gorillas
- Often the gorillas can be hiding in thick bushes/jungle so practice taking photos in manual settings.
- The auto setting will sometimes focus on the closest object – ie a branch so use the manual ‘single point focus‘ setting to capture the gorillas and not the branches!
- Keep your camera either around your neck or in your hand so it’s easily accessible
- Remember to enjoy the experience and watch the gorillas as well as just photographing them
You might like to read: 15 wildlife experiences for animal lovers
Further information on gorilla trekking in Uganda
Is it expensive to go gorilla trekking?
The short and long answer is YES.
Why is it so expensive? The mountain gorillas are an endangered species and as such the permits to see them cost a lot. Plus on top of that, you have the costs for flights, accommodation and guides.
Permit costs – from $600 USD or $450 USD (May, October and November). *Source
When is the best time to go gorilla trekking?
To enjoy your gorilla trekking experience, I would try to avoid the rainy seasons between Mid March to the end of May, October and November. Of course, it’s more expensive but it means you can capture better photos and generally have a more enjoyable and drier experience!
Peak season is in December so be sure to book far in advance if you want to go then.
How fit do you need to be?
The gorilla trekking experience is 100% amazing but can be strenuous too. If you not used to trekking regularly then hiking the steep muddy slopes of the mountain for numerous hours can be tough.
My answer would be the fitter you are the more you will enjoy the trip. Don’t just book your trip and expect the gorillas to come and find you whilst you take a few photos.
Go out and do some hill walking, be prepared as you possibly can. I promise you will enjoy the gorilla trekking much more if you increase your fitness just a little bit.
Would I do it again?
YES! Hey, it’s only money isn’t it, you can’t take it with you so go for it. Book that trip!
Are you planning on going gorilla trekking in Uganda? Do you have any more questions? Ask me anything in the comments below or send me a message on Facebook