Uganda is a fairytale, you climb up ... and at the end, there's a wonderful new world. The scenery is different, the vegetation is different, the climate is different and most of all, the people are different. Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa. *Video credit of Discover Uganda
About Gorilla Tracking in Uganda
Uganda has been dubbed the “Pearl of Africa” for a good reason. There is so much diversity not only in geography, but also in the activities available to the adventurer. When many people think of going to Africa they think of going on a safari. While safaris can be a great way to spend your time seeing wildlife, gorilla tracking should really be at the top of your list—especially in Uganda.
You can enjoy this amazing activity in the southwest corner of Uganda, situated on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Worldwide, there are less than 800 mountain gorillas left with about half of them living in Bwindi. This includes the dominant male silverback gorilla.
It is at least $1000 USD per person to go gorilla tracking. Part of that cost is a $600 gorilla tracking permit. The money from the permits goes back into the conservation of the species, which over the years has helped with the survival of the gorillas and has increased their numbers. The Ugandan government has done a great job preserving and rehabilitating the population.
Only a maximum of eight people can visit a gorilla family for one hour per day. There are approximately 10 gorilla family groups that have been habituated to humans, so this means only 80 people per day are allowed in total. This limits the gorilla’s exposure to humans and conserves the forest.
When Weston and I went gorilla tracking back in August 2014 we went through Nkoringo Walking Safaris (they were amazing by the way! And ask for Alex to be your tour guide!). We were there for four days. The first and fourth days were spent driving because we flew into Entebbe, which is halfway across the country. Nkoringo Walking Safaris had a driver pick us up and take us to Bwindi.
By the way, Bwindi is not an easy place to reach. It consists of a couple hours driving on a dirt road in the high hills (that's called an African massage, by the way). It is quite a bumpy ride, however it is incredibly beautiful. Even though those two days of driving were long (about 11 hours each), it was worth it because we were able to see so much of the country by car.
The two days we stayed at the park were magnificent. The first day we spent tracking the gorillas. It didn’t take long for us to find them, about two hours (sometimes it can take the whole day). When we got there, one of the silverbacks came right up to me, within arms reach!
We were so close to the gorillas; everyone was mesmerized for the hour we were able to spend with them. There were even a couple babies that came right up to us. They were just as curious, if not more than we were. Words cannot even describe the awe and wonder that this hour brought to us. It was truly life altering.
On a side note, many people ask if what we did was dangerous by being so close to the gorillas. These are large creatures; a male silverback gorilla can weigh 400 pounds. That definitely didn’t deter us, but it was something we were curious about. The gorilla families that are visited by tourists have gone through a two-year habituation period where they become more used to humans being in their environment. This is done before tourists are allowed to visit these family groups.
According to our guide, they have never had a dangerous encounter in the 20 years they have been doing these tours. He said that contrary to movies like King Kong they are shy, gentle giants. However, that doesn’t mean something bad can’t happen, these are wild animals after all.
To be safe, there are two men besides the main guide who carry rifles. They follow in front and back of the tourist group as an added safety precaution. There are multiple gorilla families in Bwindi that have not been habituated to humans, and they are the ones that are a bit more of a threat if you upon them. We were told that if there was a threat, the guides would discharge their weapon into the air, which usually scares off these other gorillas.
Besides gorilla tracking, the second day was spent on a hike through the jungle, about 20 miles through the hills, over bridges, and into swamps. We saw all sorts of wildlife on the trail including several species of monkeys. It was remarkable, but our feet definitely needed some serious TLC after that one! After the hike, we left our lodge and walked down the dirt path through a neighborhood. Weston played some pool with locals and tried some local banana gin. It was such a great experience!
Weston and Agatha, one of our AMAZING guides :)
Singing Gorilla Projects
Our last experience was a performance from the Singing Gorilla Projects.
"Singing Gorilla Projects facilitate and fund community based projects in a remote part of Uganda that improve the welfare of communities and enriches the lives of individuals. Singing Gorilla Projects have set up a music school, installed water tanks, sponsored children to continue their schooling and is developing a Community Health Clinic." -Singing Gorilla Projects Website
It was a beautiful performance filled with a lot of character! It was the icing on the cake after an already amazing adventure with the mountain gorillas and our 20-mile hike. Check it out:
What We Recommend
I can’t recommend Nkoringo Walking Safaris or Gorilla Tracking in Uganda enough. It has been a highlight of our travels and we think about going back all the time. The fact that the money from the permits goes back into the conservation of the area heightens the experience that much more.
For more information on Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Gorilla Tracking, check out this website. It is a great resource.
We are also appreciative of our new friends from Nkoringo Walking Safaris and the Nkoringo Gorilla Lodge, Alex, Agatha, and Esther. Thank you for such an amazing experience and for being such friendly hosts!
If you get a chance to check this place out for yourself, ask for the three of them, they are the reason we had such a powerful experience.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Map