Our honest review of Gorilla-trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. With detailed advice on how to book a tour, where to stay and what to wear on your trek.
For our honeymoon this past August, we were lucky enough to tick off a major bucket-list item. Gorilla-trekking in Bwindi impenetrable forest, Uganda was something I’d wanted to do for a very long time. And to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect! From our research it seems everyone has a different experience. Gorilla-trekking in Uganda is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
We combined the gorilla trek in Bwindi with a safari in Serengeti (as well as other amazing stops) and I have to admit it was the best honeymoon I could imagine for myself!
As promised, in this piece, I will give you all the details about Gorilla-trekking in Uganda. As well as answer all the burning questions you have been asking us since our return.
If you plan on spending more time in Uganda, this guide to visiting Uganda is so detailed and I found it really helpful!
Why add Gorilla-trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to your bucket list
The sad fact is that there are only two populations of mountain Gorillas left in the world. One population lives in the Virunga mountains of Central Africa. The second population (and the one we visited) lives deep in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.
According to results released in May 2018, the number of mountain Gorillas is estimated to be just 1,000 individuals. This puts them on the critically endangered list, which is just two classifications away from completely extinct!
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Why we chose Bwindi Impenetrable Forest over other area’s in Africa
Gorilla-trekking in Uganda is only done in two national parks – Bwindi & Mgahinga. At the last count, there were found to be 17 mountain Gorilla families living in Bwindi and just one family in Mgahinga. Bwindi has almost 500 individual mountain gorilla’s – which makes your chances of seeing these majestic creatures all the more likely. The range of accommodation options in Bwindi were far greater too.
Why didn’t we choose to do gorilla-trekking in Rwanda you may ask? The cost of a gorilla-trekking permit in Rwanda is significantly higher at $1500USD per permit versus Uganda’s $600USD. So, a primary reasoning in choosing Uganda over Rwanda was the cost. Trekking for gorillas in Rwanda is supposedly easier and a less-strenuous hike – this day trip from Kigali is highly recommended.
Why not read next our Serengeti Safari experience
Our experience Gorilla-trekking in Bwindi impenetrable forest
We started planning our Gorilla-trek in Uganda at least six months in advance. Advance planning is essential as the permits sell out quickly – there is a limited number available daily. We researched all the gorilla-trekking companies in depth and finally decided on Adventure in the Wild. Adventure in the Wild are fairly priced are quick and honest in their responses to our questions over email. We also liked the accommodation options they offered for our two nights in Bwindi impenetrable forest. This particular tour is very similar to the option we chose.
At the start of our 4-day tour, our guide – Elias (who was fantastic by the way) collected us from our accommodation in Kigali, Rwanda. We planned a more unique route and spent a night in Akagera National Park. Before making the long journey into Uganda and finally to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Be prepared for long periods in the car, the journey from Kigali & Entebbe to Bwindi is at least 4 hours each way.
We arrived in the late evening to our accommodation at Gorilla Mist Camp and quickly dropped our bags at our cabin before going straight to the buffet dinner. We were told that it would be a fairly early start the next day (breakfast at 7am) so we headed to bed early and found hot water bottles in our bed which was a cute touch as it does get pretty chilly in the evenings.
The day of the trek in Bwindi
We had breakfast before our departure to the meeting point at Bwindi National Park headquarters, there we were given a briefing and treated to a welcome dance by the local women! You are then split into smaller groups and they try to match you with others of similar fitness levels – most of the other trekkers were over 50 so we weren’t expecting an overly strenuous hike. You can choose to hire a porter to carry your bag and help you on the hike – which I highly recommend doing as it’s giving more income back to the locals. And even though I’m fit I definitely used my porters help more than I expected to. I think it costs from $10 USD for a porter.
It took us less than an hour to reach our gorilla family. It was a steep downhill climb through dense forest but we suddenly stumbled upon a family of 8 gorillas eating near a tree. You have only an hour in their presence to observe and take photos.
I can’t recommend this experience enough and honestly it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life! You can book a tour to Bwindi from Kampala; from Kigali in Rwanda. Or you can include it as part of a 10-day Uganda Safari!
Where to stay near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
For our two nights in Bwindi, we stayed at Gorilla Mist Camp. It’s rustic-chic and we had our own cottage with a large balcony and fantastic views. Dinner and breakfast are included with your room and is served at set times. Also, because of it’s remote location electricity and hot water are only available at certain times. It gets cold at night but the staff place a hot water bottle in your bed at turndown service, which is a wonderful touch.
Some other great hotel options near Bwindi include,
- Bwindi Forest Farm and Campsite – at this basic campsite you can choose a double room with a shared bathroom or pitch a tent. It’s a great budget option and offers breakfast.
- Bwindi Forest Lodge – with lovely garden views this Lodge also has a restaurant and children’s playground. The rooms are cabin-style and comfortable.
- Bwindi Guest House – set in a gorgeous location and with a garden and a terrace to enjoy the views. The rooms are larger than most in the area. There’s also an on-site restaurant and 24-hour reception.
- Rushaga Gorilla Lodge – one of the only hotels in the area with an outdoor pool – this is certainly one of the more luxurious options.
Is Gorilla-trekking in Uganda safe?
In short yes, our experience felt completely safe and we didn’t have any problems. Before even venturing into the national park, you are given a detailed briefing at the park headquarters. Some of the most important things to note from this are that:
- You must remain 7 metres away from the Gorillas at all times, don’t eat or drink in their presence
- Don’t make any loud noises
- Refrain from using flash photography
- Do not may eye contact with the Silverback Gorilla
- If a Gorilla gets too close to you then you are told to act submissively and bend or crouch down – do not run away!
Our gorilla family were very habituated and unaffected when a large branch broke off from a nearby tree making a loud noise. At one point, our Ranger even took me right up close to a large female Gorilla sleeping on the ground. She wasn’t affected by my presence, even though she knew I was standing just a metre away.
Gorillas are notoriously clever. We had an hour in their presence, and when the time was up the Gorillas knew before we did and began moving into the thick forest away from our prying eyes.
In short, follow all the guidelines outlined in your briefing and also your rangers recommendations while in the Gorilla’s presence and you will have no issues.
Why not read next, why a honeymoon in Zanzibar is a good idea
How much does it cost to go Gorilla-trekking in Uganda?
The permit alone costs $600USD per person, which is significantly lower than Rwanda but higher than the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can also choose to have a local guide accompany you on the trek, to help you with your backpack and assist you down the steep hills and narrow paths to your gorilla family. This costs $15USD per guide.
In my opinion, it is definitely worth it. And even though I consider myself fit, my guide was incredibly helpful whilst going down the very steep muddy hill to our gorilla family. In hiring a guide you are also contributing to the local community.
Besides the permit and the local guide, you will still need to pay for transportation to and from Bwindi as well as accommodation here. This is why we chose to book with Adventure in the Wild as they gave us a 4 night package which included everything.
Why is Gorilla-trekking so expensive?
Conservation of the mountain Gorillas is not as cheap as you may think. Up until mid-2018 they were classed as ‘endangered species’. A lot of the money from the Gorilla permits is invested in trying to increase their population. And thankfully it has helped, as their numbers now surpass 1,000.
About 75% of the funds from the permits are channeled back to support the growth of these Gorillas. The local community takes about 10% and the government retains the remaining 15%.
What to wear on your trek
- A good pair of hiking boots with ankle support, synthetic material as opposed to leather is best. And a sole with a good grip. These are the newer version of the hiking boots I had and I found them brilliant! My husband had these ones!
- A rain poncho as opposed to a rain jacket as it is lighter and easier to pack in your backpack. This is a great all-round rain poncho!
- Long pants and a long sleeve top – ideally with built in insect repellant. I had this pair of ladies waterproof trousers and they were so comfortable. These mens waterproof trousers are the pair my husband had!
- Thick wool socks, preferably merino wool so you feet don’t get too sweaty. These are a great pair of merino wool socks! We also recommend tucking your pants into your socks to limit insect bites
With all of the above tips, we hope you have all the information you need for your Gorilla-trekking experience in Uganda. It is trully an amazing experience. One you will undoubtedly remember for the rest of your life!
If you have any further questions about Gorilla-trekking in Bwindi – feel free to ask us in the comment section below.
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