The idea of getting up close to such an imposing creature is terrifying however, contrary to common belief, gorilla trekking is a very safe activity. Sitting a few meters away from a family of gorillas and seeing your humanity reflected in their warm-brown eyes and social rituals is one of the most purifying and intimate wildlife encounters in Africa. If not, the world.
Mountain gorillas cannot survive outside their natural habitat—certainly not in any zoo. They live only in two far-flung rain forest jungles in east & central Africa, specifically Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC. These governments jealously protect the last remaining giant apes like a medieval king’s castle. Your chance of seeing the mountain gorillas is only by visiting either of the three sovereign nations. Uganda is arguably the best in delivering a raw untethered jungle experience to the savvy nature lover.
In Uganda, there are two gorilla trekking destinations where you can see mountain gorillas; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. These two parks offer trekking excursions at five trail-heads; Nkuringo, Rushaga, Buhoma, Ruhija in Bwindi, and Ntebeko in Mgahinga, all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority.
All the sectors combined have 20 habituated mountain gorilla families, and 160 gorilla trekking permits are available daily.
Without doubt the best destination to see mountain gorillas in Uganda is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which has half of the world’s total population. Bwindi is a prehistoric, montane, and lowland forest spanning 131 sq km (128 sq mi). The jungle is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its incredible biodiversity and many endangered species that find sanctuary within its protected boundaries. Bwindi outshines all the gorilla trekking destinations because of the many habituated gorilla families available for tourism.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the second gorilla park in Uganda, takes a 13 sq mi chunk from the more extensive Virunga habitat stretching 168 square miles into Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Gorilla trekking is defined as the guided hike into the rain forest jungles of the Virunga-Bwindi highlands through tall, tangled scrubs and ancient trees with a machete, heavy boots, and thick trousers.
Since these endangered apes can’t survive in captivity, tourists can only see them by trekking into their natural habitats. The terrain is rugged, steep and the jungles are misty and thick, reaching 14,763 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level.
Daily treks begin at five visitor center locations at 08:00 am, in small controlled groups of eight tourists, an expert tracker, and two armed rangers. You will be walking in untamed territory where anything could potentially be dangerous. Armed rangers are for your security from dangerous animals and anything else that cause visitors harm. The tracker will also be carrying a fine-edged machete for clearing your path and a walkie-talkie to communicate with other rangers and trackers.
Your tracker guide will be communicating with another group of rangers who go out at dawn to find the gorillas before they leave their nests and stay with them throughout the day. They then send coordinates to your tracker and make your trekking less challenging.
When you finally find the gorillas, your trekking guide will ask you to wear your face-mask and observe them in silence for one hour at a safe distance of about 32 ft (10 m). Visitors usually find them at their mid-morning break, so there’s less movement during your experience. Mountain gorillas have a very calm demeanor and graciously ignore your presence unless you get out of line with the rules and all!
Because of their vulnerability to human disease, by law, you’re not allowed to reach out and touch the gorillas. However, they can sometimes reach out and touch you, especially the curious youngsters. In such instances, do not engage the gorillas and humbly avoid any contact. If the Silverback charges, don’t sprint or make sudden movements but curl down in a submissive position, and he’ll back down.
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