When you think of undertaking a Uganda safari or a Rwanda tour, the first thing that should come at the back of your should be striking your imaginations with the rare mountain gorillas while in their natural habitat. For a test of time, gorilla trekking has featured as a major safari highlight for most travelers on a safari to these two incredible tourist destinations. However, it is also possible for you to track them in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but it is currently closed till 2019. Uganda and Rwanda are blessed with a huge number of these large apes in the world what is interesting is that, visitors have freedom to choose which destination they need to visit to see them or even combine their tours and compare their experiences. Entirely, a trek to see a group of these gentle giants involves you hiking through the thick jungles and steep slopes and can last for about 2 to 8 hours thus requiring some physical wellness in you. It is strenuous but so rewarding and at the end of it all, it doesn’t leave trekkers in regrets. Imagine after a long trek and then you strike your eye at a group of these dramatic creatures! Ideally, it is such a magical encounter that you need not to miss to part a fact that you can’t get it anywhere in the world except only in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. Up on getting them, you will spend an hour with them face to face while exploring their behavior, body gestures as your guide will be interpreting them to you, take many photos as you can and after, walk back to where you started your trek when filled with memories the Africa’s wilderness has rewarded you.
In Uganda, you can have fun time with these amazing primates only in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park where nearly half of all the mountain gorillas that still exist live. The two parks are situated in southwestern Uganda and Mgahinga extra ordinarily straddles within the Great Virunga Mountain ranges that are also shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo. To trek gorillas in Bwindi, there are four main trailheads also called sectors where daily treks always start from and they include Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga. Each of these tracking areas has habituated families which are readily available for visitors to track every day. Buhoma sector consists of habituated groups like Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura; Ruhija area comprises of Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro; Nkuringo has only Nkuringo group while Rushaga features Busingye group, Kahungye, Mishaya, Nshongi and Bweza family. Mgahinga National Park on other hand has only one habituated group called Nyakagezi. While on your trek, you will also have a chance to spot out some of the bird species and butterflies which all will make up your experience.
Like other adventures, gorilla trekking also comes at a cost but the experiences thereafter can’t even be quantified. You will need $600 to secure your permit if you are to be part of this thrilling experience in Uganda and can be booked through a tour operator or through Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) whose headquarters is based in Kampala. A permit at hand gives you higher chances to track one habituated family in a group of 8 visitors.
How to reach to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park
To get to Bwindi or Mgahinga National Park, you will spend at least 9-10 hours on road from Kampala or Entebbe. Depending on which route you will take, but a drive via Queen Elizabeth National Park rewards you with lots of amazing encounters especially the rare tree climbing lions at Ishasha sector and after, you continue with your journey to Bwindi or Mgahinga National Park. If you want to save time, there is also another alternative for you and the best you can do is to take a flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airfield and then land in Kisoro airfield where you connect up to the park by car.
In Rwanda, gorilla trekking is only done in Volcanoes National Park which is situated in the northwest side of the country about 80 kilometers’ drive off Kigali Airport about 2 hours’ drive. This park consists of 10 (ten) habituated groups where treks are conducted each day and they include the Susa A and B group, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Hirwa, Ugenda and Bwenge. Gorilla permits in Rwanda cost $1500 per visitor. Besides, you can also pay a visit to Dian Fossey tomb site and explore more about her conservation tireless endeavors to save the critically endangered mountain gorillas that the world boasts of today.
When to go for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda
Regardless of the fact that both countries have favorable climatic conditions due to their strategic location, there is need for you to take note of which season you intend to pay a visit to any of them for this lifetime experience as each season has its own advantages and disadvantages. Uganda and Rwanda have 2 (two) wet seasons with the long one starting from March to May and the short rainy season begins from October to November. This season is of great advantage in that it is time when there is plenty of food for these Great apes to depend on and becomes easier for one to track them as they don’t move very far. However, the disadvantage with it is that, the habitat can be slippery and muddy making it challenging for trekkers to hike through the steep slopes and thick jungle to look out for mountain gorillas. The dry season on the other hand has for long been regarded as the best for this lovely adventure and large numbers of tourists have been registered in respective country’s parks, meaning that you will need to secure your permit as early as possible since the demand tends to be very high. This season is also experienced twice a year and the longest dry spell is usually encountered from June to September and the short one from December to February. During this season, the parks remain relatively dry making it easier for one to track gorillas in the thick forests and steep slopes. However, given the nature of the habitat where these creatures live, you have to expect rains at anytime of the day whether it is a dry or wet season.
What to pack for your gorilla trek
Interested visitors on gorilla safari to Uganda and Rwanda are advised to park appropriately for this adventure and your packing list should include items likes waterproof hiking boots and these should be light weight, gardening gloves, long sleeved shirts or t-shirts preferably environmentally friendly, energy giving snacks, bottle of water, binoculars, rain jacket or poncho, hat, camera and additional batteries, first aid kit, walking stick which you can find at the park headquarters or at your lodge and many others.
Where to stay while on gorilla safari in Uganda and Rwanda
Depending on how much you have, Uganda and Rwanda have wide range of accommodation options right from budget to luxury. The available safari lodges for your overnight stay while on gorilla vacation in Uganda include Buhoma Lodge, Clouds Mount Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Chameleon Hill Lodge Nshongi Gorilla Resort, Mahogany Springs Camp, Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge, Gorilla Mist Camp, Gorilla Valley Lodge, Silverback Lodge, Broadbill Forest Camp and many others. In Rwanda Volcanoes National Park, the notable accommodation options include Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Bisate Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Kinigi Guesthouse and many more.
Rules and regulations for gorilla trekking
A fact that mountain gorillas are listed among the critically endangered species in the world, there is need to ensure that their lives are secured and in order to achieve this goal, there are set rules and regulations to be observed by every tourist on gorilla safari to Rwanda, Uganda or DR Congo. They include among others-a distance of about 7 (seven) meters must be observed at all times away from these creatures and avoid any contact with them, only persons above 15 (fifteen) years are allowed to track gorillas, you are not allowed to go for a trek when you are sick and in case you have flue or you are sneezing/coughing make sure that you cover your nose or mouth, only 8 tourists are assigned to one habituated family, cameras with flashlight are not welcome and if you have one, you are advised to turn it off while taking photos otherwise you will irritate these creatures, permits are a must to have if you are to be part of this life changing adventure in any of the destinations, don’t make noise while in the forest, only an hour is given to you to have a face to face encounter with these beautiful creatures and many others. Early in the morning, you will gather at your respective park headquarters and be briefed on these dos and don’ts by one of the park officials before you set off to the forest to look out for these unique primates.
In conclusion, with not more than 1004 mountain gorillas that still exist in the world, Uganda and Rwanda should be a must visit destinations while you are on your vacation in Africa. This primate adventure is strenuous and requires you to be physically fit but rewards you with lifetime experiences. Note that a visit to these countries isn’t complete without a glimpse at the rare mountain gorillas in the wild.