Sitting in utter silence on the cold ground of an East African tropical rainforest for 60 minutes might be one of life’s greatest privileges. The population of mountain gorillas in the past years dwindled to just 1000 gorillas and gorilla trekking has given an opportunity to tourists to observe these mysterious creatures and conservationist to keep multiplying that number.
Mountain gorillas only live in the dense misty mountain vegetation of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and along the dormant volcanic Virunga mountain range that stretches across Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 1981, environmentalists estimated there were only 254 mountain gorillas left in the world, but the small population is rising slowly thanks to intense international conservation efforts. Since these critically endangered creatures can’t survive in captivity, the only way to see them is by trekking up to their natural habitat: misty cloud forests that can reach altitudes of 14,763 feet (4,500 meters).
Gorilla trekking or sometimes called gorilla tracking is the activity of being guided (by park rangers and trackers) into the misty jungles of the gorilla habitat, hiking, tracking, sometimes listening out in total silence and breaking twigs to get to a mountain gorilla family.
Once located and found, you’re allowed to spend 60 minutes in their presence with strict rules not to interfere with their ongoing living like camera shutters off, total silence, keeping three meters away, don’t look the male silverback (dominant leader) into his eyes, etc. After this intense experience, you’re led away through the trail that brought you back to your sanctuary.
All this can only happen after you purchase a gorilla permit. A card issued for a hefty amount, by the government wildlife authorities, that allows you to get up-close to these mighty creatures.
Mountain gorillas are found only in the dense forests on and around the Virunga mountains shared between three countries, Rwanda, Uganda, and the DR Congo.
There are two gorilla trekking spots in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Gorillas don’t pay mind to political borders, so populations across the Virungas are relatively fluid especially between Virunga National Park (DRC), Mgahinga National Park (Uganda) and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Uganda has an edge, however, since Bwindi alone is home to more than 400 and others in Mgahinga making it more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas found in Uganda.
Ruling out DRC for its insecurity problems over the years, the only other place you can do gorilla trekking is in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
In Uganda, UWA (governing body) recently announced an increase in gorilla permits for the year 2020. Gorilla tracking fees will increase from US$600 to US$700 for Foreign non residents, and US$500 to US$600 for Foreign residents.
In Rwanda, a gorilla permit costs US$1,500 per person per day.
Recommended: Uganda Gorilla Permit Fees for 2020
You can acquire a gorilla permit through our reservation desk easily or directly through the issuing wildlife authority.
There are strict regulations in place to make sure the gorillas stay healthy and wild—starting with the gorilla trekking permit process. Daily viewings of each gorilla group are extremely limited, so visitors should apply well before their desired dates.
Since tourism is now Rwanda and Uganda’s most lucrative industry, and the majority of tourists come to see the mountain gorillas, trekkers are encouraged to seek out ways to give back to the communities they visit. One popular option is to hire a porter, who is always a local resident and occasionally a reformed poacher. The landscape within the parks is unpredictable and difficult; porters help guide trekkers through river crossings and up steep, muddy inclines.
Other options is to participate in community-led cultural initiatives. In Bwindi village, the Bwindi Bar trains disenfranchised young adults in hospitality through rigorous classes and work experience. Around Mgahinga, elders of the Batwa tribe lead visitors on a forest tour along the Batwa Trail, explaining how their self-sufficient, forest-dwelling tribe traditionally used medicinal plants.
One look at southwestern Uganda’s green terraced hills and rolling volcanic slopes and it’s clear this area of the country is not for the faint of heart. Add in the high altitude and the challenging terrain, and gorilla trekking in Uganda promises to be the adventure of a lifetime.
It’s hard work to reach the gorillas. It requires navigating uphill and downhill through thick tangles of vines, thorns, and roots. The appropriately named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is only accessible by foot. There are no paths, no signs, no directions—and more often than not, no clearings (which is why the park rangers carry machetes). The good news? The reward seems that much better after all of the hard work.
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