From being critically endangered to endangered species, mountain gorilla numbers have surpassed 1000, the greatest wildlife conservation story in the history of the world.
Uganda is home to half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. About 430 mountain gorillas live in Bwindi Forest National Park – Uganda’s remarkable gorilla tracking safari destination.
Where to Go
There are two forests that protect the rare mountain gorillas.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi Forest covers about 332 sq km of evergreen tropical rain forests that survived the ice age 2.5 m years ago. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site for being one of the biologically diverse places on earth. On top of gorillas, there are more than 400 species of plants, 120 mammals and 350 birds including 23 species endemic to the Albertine rift valley.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Uganda also has a share of the Virunga Conservation Area. It has Mgahinga Gorilla National Park where there is a thriving population of mountain gorillas. You can enjoy a gorilla safari in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mgahinga has Nyakagezi, the only gorilla family with 9 individuals in the park. Gorilla tracking is offered in Mgahinga and the experience enjoys quietness since a lot of tourists go for Bwindi.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Several mountain gorilla families are habituated in both parks with Bwindi having the largest gorillas for tourists who enjoy getting up close encounters in the wild.
In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest there about 18 gorilla families that are habituated thus many tourists prefer to go to Bwindi over Mgahinga for gorilla tracking.
Gorilla tracking is limited to 8 visitors who can visit 1 gorilla family per day. Knowing that Bwindi gets a lot of visitors and gorilla permits are always on high demand. Visitors should therefore book gorilla permits at least 3-4 months ahead of the date one intends to do gorilla tracking.
There are visitor centers where gorilla tracking begins every morning. Bwindi has 4 visitor centers; Buhoma the headquarters has 3 gorilla families and it lies at the lowest altitude of Bwindi in the north thus gorilla treks are not that challenging. Buhoma is also close to Ishasha Queen Elizabeth national park.
Ruhija sector has 4 gorilla families and is considered the steepest part of Bwindi at 2000 meters above sea level, hiking can be quite challenging there. Rushaga sector in south has 5 gorilla families and because of many gorillas, the area has lots of accommodations. And lastly Nkuringo has 2 gorilla families and there are few accommodations in this sector.
For a limited time though, visitors spend 1 hour with gorillas during gorilla tracking. But to look into the eyes of a mountain gorilla is truly a life changing wildlife experience.
Tourists are always amazed by the experience of hiking itself on foot accompanied by guides, naturally figuring a way out through thick forests in search for the gorillas.
Once the gorillas have been found, what follows is you are told to leave everything behind and remain with only a camera in your hands. The trackers will let you get closer to the gorillas (normally keeping 7 meters rule) and start taking photographs.
In a gorilla family, visitors are always keen to look at the silverback the leader of his family. It also includes adult females, black backs, infants and sometimes babies. The first time you get to observe how these animals feed, interact and play, you will be overwhelmed. Think of the first time you drove a car, asked out on a date. Were you overwhelmed?
The silverback is always protective of its family thus it can charge when threatened and will beat its chest or make sounds. In such a situation, getting overwhelmed or sensitive to the extent that you feel like panting in your trousers is completely normal. However, gorillas are peaceful animals and you will learn why. There are always playful gorillas that tend to tap on visitors in particular gorilla families. Though it’s not allowed to touch the gorilla, it never fails to get visitors extremely excited and joyful. This doesn’t happen to every visitor. On YouTube you can watch a video “touched by mountain gorilla” to get a clear picture of what’s being said.
The Best Time to Visit Uganda for Gorilla Tracking
Uganda experiences equatorial climate with two seasons in a year. That is the heavy rainy season happens in March to May and short rains in October to November. The dry season is from December to February and June to September.
Gorilla tracking in Uganda can be done any time of the year regardless whether the season rainy or dry. However, the dry season is preferred as the best time to track gorillas. As there’s less rainfall, hiking is easier on dry trails in the forests but it can get tough and tiresome depending how far the gorillas will be.