My Gorilla Trekking Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Before heading to Tanzania, I wanted to experience a bit of the neighboring countries. Upon researching top destinations nearby, I was intrigued by Absolute Africa’s Gorilla Stop tour to Southern Uganda. The Mountain Gorillas, beyond being beautiful and fascinating animals, are an endangered species, with just ~800 remaining in the world, so I figured while I’m in the region, I should go see them. It seemed like a once in a lifetime experience. Also, in my head I was like “I’m gonna be like Jane from Tarzan, sweet!” And that’s about all I knew going into the experience. My lack of research and go with the flow attitude made for one interesting trek.

To give some background, there are gorilla trekking experiences in the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, a big difference being the cost of the permit. With the gorillas being endangered and many people wanting to see them, it is a rather expensive excursion, but the money for the permit goes to conservation. Once you arrive, you are briefed on the experience, then everyone is split into groups of up to eight people plus a leader, two people providing security, and porters if anyone would like their bags carried for them. Walking sticks in hand, you head down a path to see your group’s family. There are trackers that go out early in the morning to try to find the families to help the groups see the gorillas as soon as possible. While there is no guarantee of seeing them, most people do. With a price tag of $600-$700, it sure would be disappointing to walk out without seeing them, making it one really expensive hike.

I was tracking the Bweza family. When we set off on our hike, the trackers hadn’t found the family yet, but we felt hopeful. As we began the trek and realized how steep of a climb we had ahead of us, we started to worry, not wanting to exert so much energy to come out without seeing them. Once we hit extremely the muddy patches, with the kind of mud that tries to steal your shoes right off your feet, our worrisome mentality intensified, saying “we better find these gorillas!!”

Sure enough, we did. After just over an hour of trekking, we found a silverback. Within a couple minutes, he was off into the forest. We found him and lost him a couple more times, eventually losing him altogether. About an hour after that, we found our family! 

It was pretty surreal being just a few meters away from them, watching how playful the young ones are and how caring the mothers are to their children. They’re so similar to people, making them all the more fascinating to observe.

Now for the parts that I wasn’t prepared for: 

  1. I cannot stand the feeling of being wet. If I’m in the shower or submerged in a pool, no problem. But being poured on? Absolutely not. So being in the rainforest during a thunderstorm with the sky pouring buckets of water on us led to a whole lot of swearing in my head. I would try and smile to myself or sing a happy song, but once my shoe would get stuck in the mud again or I’d nearly wipe out from the slipperiness, the stream of profanities would ensue. Despite my shoes being water-proof, I felt like I was stepping in puddles INSIDE of my shoe with every step that I took. Gore-tex is helpful, but stood no chance in this weather. The bottoms of my pants were coated in a thick layer of mud (mixed with what I believe was some forest animal fecal matter). My pants, once a light gray, were now dark gray, soaked all the way through. I will give a shout out to my Frogg Togg raincoat, though. That thing really kept me and my backpack nice and dry. 
  2. It was more about photography than I thought it would be. I was excited to be in the presence of the animals in the wild, but most seemed to have come to capture the animals through their camera lens. Anytime I would put my phone away to just stop and watch them, people kept asking if I was okay.
  3. We were told we’d have to stay 7 meters away from them during the briefing. That ended up not being the case on the hike, as we were encouraged to get much closer to them. While the family of gorillas was taking shelter from the rain, the trackers used their machetes to chop down the branches around them, opening it up for more photo opportunities. What I thought would be a distant experience became close and invasive, with the gorillas shouting out each time the trackers pulled their shelter away from them.  As soon as our group left, the gorillas left to find a new shelter.

Am I glad I went? Yes. 

Would I have gone if I had done more research ahead of time? I’m not sure. 

Would I go again? Nope. 

For me, it truly was a once in a lifetime experience. It was surreal and unforgettable to be so close to such beautiful animals in the wild, but with all the other parts of the experience in mind, once is enough for this girl’s lifetime. That being said, I would still recommend people go if this is something that interests them. Most people I’ve met who have done it rave about it. Some of the people on the Nairobi to Cape Town overland tours say it’s the best part of their 70+ day journey. Overall, it taught me I may not be as open to wildlife adventures as I thought, particularly in rainy weather. One of what I’m sure will be many learning experiences for me this year. 

If you’re going to see the gorillas, here are a few tips:

  • It is likely to rain, so come prepared with a raincoat and a waterproof backpack or cover to protect your bag. 
  • Unless you have the best rain proof gear out there, bring yourself a change of clothes. No one in my group did, so we spent the 1.5 hour+ drive back to Kisoro shivering in our sopping wet clothes. 
  • Hiking rain boots (like wellies) would be a much better shoe than a regular hiking shoe.
  • Use the walking stick! I am not normally don’t like to hike with one, but in this terrain, they are going to keep you standing upright. 

Thanks for reading! 🙂

6 thoughts on “My Gorilla Trekking Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

  1. Wow, what an amazing adventure to remember in years to come! Seeing gorillas in their natural habitat, or any wild animal for that matter, is such a bucket list experience! Thanks for sharing and safe travels 😀 Aiva

    Like

  2. I love this article! I felt like I was with you 🤗 You are a great story teller! You need to write a book some day!
    Love, love, love this! 💕

    Like

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