If you dream of trekking with mountain gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the place to be for gorilla gazing. Located in the South Western part of Uganda, Bwindi is home to some 320 mountain gorillas. Visitors keen on eco-tourism should flock to this World Heritage site for a close-up view of the largest and rarest of all ape species.
When I was backpacking through Africa I had a chance to go and it truly was one of the most magical experiences.
From the Ugandan capital city of Kampala, I traveled to Nkuringo, the newest section of Bwindi National Park. Daily, only 18 tourists are allowed to visit one of the park’s three habituated gorilla families, so it’s important to book a permit in advance.
A one-day permit costs around $360USD which includes the guide fee, park entry and a one-hour visit with the gorillas. Permits should be booked a few months in advance through the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, visit www.uwa.or.ug Last minute permits, for one or two people with flexible dates, are sometimes available at local UWA offices.
Under the direction of several armed rangers, our group of sweaty tourists descended into the jungle. The length, difficulty and distance of the trek changes and depends on a variety of factors including. the weather, the location of the gorillas and the physical capability of the group. There is no guarantee that tourists will see the gorillas but, if rangers fail to locate them, a large percentage of the permit fee is reimbursed.
Finding the mountain gorillas was half the fun. We followed our machete wielding guide; clawed up grassy knolls, bushwhacked through thick vines and scrambled on hands and knees.
A few quick tips: While trekking, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy hiking boots. Bring a raincoat, snacks and several liters of water. It can be a tough trek, but porters are available for hire if you need help carrying your stuff.
It took about an hour-and-a-half before spotting them. This family of five mountain gorillas, scattered among the trees, were in the middle of breakfast. A blackback teen chomped on leaves while a curious baby frolicked with mom. As we tip-toed towards them, the dominant silverback grunted and shot us a look. Separated by a mere seven meters, I felt humbled by the size of this massive vegetarian. Huge and hairy, his arms were as thick as tree trunks; his body, a bulk of fur; his facial expressions and mannerisms proved Darwin was right.
Habituated in a project that took rangers several years, the dominant male gorilla lost interest in us tourists. He grunted again, grabbed a fist full of leaves and shoved them into a King Kong-sized mouth.
Seeing these animals up close and in their natural habitat is truly amazing! It’s one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had while traveling. It inspired a deep connectivity with nature and a burning desire to protect it.