Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the most selling activity in this gorilla trekking national park in the country. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a magnificent verdant and lush forest that is on the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley in the districts of Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro in the southwestern part of Uganda. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was designated as a national park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 for its contribution to the protection of biodiversity. Bwindi indeed is an ‘impenetrable’ forest that inhabits a variety of flora and fauna. The park is, however, most known for inhabiting the world’s endangered mountain gorillas which can only be found here and the Virunga ranges that consist of Virunga National Park of the Congo, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. It is in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that the highest number of mountain gorillas are recorded, with over half of the total population in the world.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is an activity that involves hiking deep into the lush impenetrable forest of Bwindi in search of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Mountain gorillas, since they are wild animals, are first habituated to accommodate human interaction. Though there are more than 400 mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the park only has about 19 habituated mountain gorilla groups that usually have between 7-25 individuals per group. It is these habituated mountain gorilla groups that can be tracked by tourists. Only 8 persons can track one gorilla group per day and spend only one hour with them.
Gorilla groups that tourists can visit while gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are located in the four sectors that the park is divided into. These are the Buhoma gorilla sector in the north, Ruhija in the east of the park, Rushaga and Nkuringo located in the south of the park. The Buhoma gorilla sector was the first to introduce to tourists for gorilla tracking with Mubare gorilla group as the very first habituated gorilla group. The Buhoma sector also has Rushegura, Habinyanja and Katwe gorilla groups while Ruhija sector has Bitukura, Oruzogo, and Kyaguliro gorilla groups. Nkuringo sector has the Nkuringo gorilla group, Christmas and Bushao gorilla groups while Rushaga gorilla sector which currently has the highest number of gorilla groups has Nshongi, Mishaya, Bweza, Kahungye and Busingye gorilla groups which tourists can choose to track. It is also important to note that it is still in Rushaga gorilla sector that gorilla habituation can take place.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can be done throughout the year, but travelers are most advised to plan their gorilla trekking trip during the dry season that runs in the months of June-September and mid-December to February during which time the ground is firmer that the roads are not slippery and the vegetation in this ‘impenetrable’ forest is not so over grown. Whereas the wet months of March, April, May, October, November and early December are not advised, planning a trip to run during that time has its advantages say easy access to the gorillas as they do not move further away in search of food as it is readily available and there are less tourists in the park that you can even choose which gorilla group to track from. The rains fall in Bwindi at any time, even if it is a dry season. Travelers are advised to always keep this in mind and therefore pack appropriately and also make sure that vehicles used are 4WD that can manage the terrain and roads of the park.
For one to be able to take part in gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a gorilla permit is required. A gorilla permit is the pass that allows one to be granted a gorilla trekking experience I any of the sectors of the park. Gorilla permits can be purchased from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala at a cost of $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and ugx250000 for East Africa citizens. Travelers can alternatively have a trusted tour operator purchase for them gorilla permits and arrange for them a gorilla trekking safari to Bwindi. Gorilla permits are not so many in number and they do sell out very fast, so travelers are also advised to book gorilla permits way in advance to have them secured.
Packing the essentials for a gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in particular, will highly influence your experience levels. Hiking boots with a good grip and preferably waterproof to keep you dry in case you step in puddles, rivers or it rains, waterproof jackets, long-sleeved shirts, long safari trousers, waterproof backpack, sun glasses, insect repellent creams, garden gloves, camera with no flashlight and energy giving snacks with enough water for refreshment and regain energy during the long hike are a must-carry for one to have a wonderful gorilla trekking experience.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park usually starts very early in the morning with a briefing at the UWA headquarters at 7 am by a park ranger who shares what travelers should expect on the gorilla trekking experience. It is during the brief that travelers are also given rules and guidelines to be followed during the trek. After the brief, travelers are placed in groups of 8 and allocated gorilla groups to track. during the trek, travelers are advised to keep an eye out for other wildlife in the park like forest elephants and bushpigs, a number of birds and the guides and rangers will share with you information about the forest and all its inhabitants. Upon encountering the mountain gorillas, travelers are allowed only one hour with them. Get to marvel at the gentle apes as they feed on foliage and fruits, groom each other and play around- mainly the juveniles playing around the silverback. Some very curious and playful juveniles might even come up-close and play with you, be conscious of all that you do as the silverback will be very watchful. After the hour has elapsed, travelers trek back to the starting point where they will find their driver guides waiting for them.
Some of the rules and guidelines that travelers are shared with by the rangers during the brief include;
- Noise should be avoided and if need to talk necessitates whisper.
- Maintain a 7-meter distance away from the mountain gorillas.
- Only persons 15 and above are allowed to trek
- Do not use flash cameras when taking pictures of the mountain gorillas, this is a threat to them and they could react aggressively at you or even charge at you
- Stay calm and do not run in case a gorilla charges at you. Lower your head and try to follow whatever instructions the ranger will be sharing
- Do not look straight into the eyes of the gorillas
- Do not touch the mountain gorillas
- Leave the park as you found it, do not liter.
- Waste must be buried in a 30cm deep hole which can be dug using a machete borrowed from the rangers
- Do not leave your group and do not surround the mountain gorillas
- Always follow your rangers’ instructions
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can be accessed by both air and road. By road, travelers have an 8-9 hours’ drive from Kampala or Entebbe through Masaka –Mbarara –Ntungamo- Kihihi, or even the Kampala -Kabale -Kisoro route. The drive though long is scenic and a number of rest stopovers can be made. By air, travelers can have chartered flights booked from Entebbe to Kihihi or Kisoro, and then get transferred in 1-2 hours drive to respective lodgings. Travelers can also fly into Kigali International Airport and then transfer to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park through the Cyanika border in a 3-4 hours drive.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is not the only activity that travelers can take part in while at the park. Bird watching, nature walks or cultural encounters can all be arranged. Travelers can also have their gorilla trekking safari combined with one or more national parks like Queen Elizabeth National Park which is about a 4 hours’ drive to Bwindi, or travelers can have gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park as the highlight of their African safari by having it as an add-on. Whatever your choice is, a trusted tour operator can help you with it.