Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
When I was travelling for two weeks through Uganda, the Gorilla trekking was my absolute highlight. It was my first time on mainland Africa, and although it was amazing to go on my first safaris. Seeing lions, elephants, giraffes and many more amazing animals. Nothing was as special as seeing the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Part of the reason why this amazing experience was that it didn’t come easy. When going on a gorilla tracking, there is no such thing as an open jeep where you can take a nice and comfortable seat, and see what the day is going to bring. While you are being driven around by a driver and a guide.
My trekking experience
To find the gorillas you go on foot. Into the mountains. An easy hike? No, not all. The gorillas live in the tropical rainforest; it is wet, muddy, warm and full of mosquitos. My decision to go and find the gorillas during the rainy season did not make it easier, the slopes were wet and slippery. The top layer of sand was completely saturated and the whole group was constantly slipping. Not only downhill, but also while going up the hill. We all had a big stick which helped us to have more grip, but the guide only told his best tip at the end of the way home… I think he quite enjoyed seeing us struggling.
Some people are lucky and find the gorillas quite quickly… I was slightly less lucky and tracked for about 2,5 hours before we found the group! But the moment you stand there, standing straight in front of the of them, all of it is worth it. They are so massive and so beautiful. Knowing what a silverback gorilla is capable of, keeps a healthy amount of consciousness among all of us. But your heart just melts when you see the baby gorillas and toddlers. There are so many resemblances between human and gorilla babies and toddlers, they just have slightly more hair…
I do not think I have ever been that tired in my life before, after we returned to our camp. We have been hiking in an impenetrable rain forest for 5 hours and spend 1 hour at the gorillas. Most of us slid down the hill on our bottoms countless times because of the mud. Taking others with them in their path downstairs. But what an experience, I would do it all over again, without a doubt. Even if it meant I had to hike even more than those 5 hours…
Gorilla beringei beringei
The mountain gorilla is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla and lives in Congo, Uganda and Rwanda living in troops lead by the famous silverback gorilla. They fill their days with resting eating and travelling. They eat the foliage of the forest. Such as; leaves, twigs, stem and pith. Fruits are a small part of their diet. In the evenings the gorillas build a nest to spend the night before they move on to another spot. They will not spend two nights in a row in the same place and these nests are usually located on the ground.
Did you know that gorillas are highly related to humans? about 98.3% of our DNA is the same. The gorilla and the human diverged from a common ancestor 7 million years ago. Only the chimpanzees have a higher percentage of similar DNA… When I look at the pictures I took while being on my gorilla tracking, I can only see all the resemblance, the look on their face, their hands and the love for their infants.
In 2011 gorillas were categorised as critically endangered on the red list. There was an estimated total of 680 individuals left in the wild. The population in the Virunga mountains, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, dropped to only 240 individuals in the 1980’s. Due to hunting, habitat loss and disease. Extreme conservation started, involving day-to-day protection of gorilla families. The latest survey done revealed that there were 604 individuals, a great result after three decades of hard work.
in 2018 the total population of mountain gorillas was estimated on 1069 individuals, leading to a change of status on the IUCN red list, they want from critically endangered to endangered. This does not mean that they are no longer in danger, but this is definitely a step in the right direction! This year, 2020, there are already seven newborn babies documented in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Five of them were born in just six weeks. This is fantastic news!
How to prepare for a gorilla trekking
The very first thing you have to decide is where you want to do your gorilla trekking and obtain a permit. Gorilla trekking is done in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Keep in mind the permit has to be bought up to 10 months (!) in advance. The permit can be bought directly through Uganda Wildlife Authority for gorilla trekking in Uganda. Do you want to go to Rwanda, contact Rwanda Development Board and for Congo, you contact the Virunga park offices. For each country, you can also get your permit booked through a respected travel agency.
Congo is the cheapest option, but also the least safe. Rwanda is very popular due to its close proximity to an airport, and a smaller forested area. Allowing to be reached easily and often the hikes are shorter. It is also by far the most expensive one, double the costs of Uganda. You will have to book accommodation close to the starting point as it is often a long and exhausting day.
Do I need to be fit for the trekking?
Prepare for your trek with a regular walking regimen in the months before your trip. Seek out trails and hilly areas. On a treadmill, use a variety of incline settings to get used to walking uphill. Porters can make accommodations for people with physical limitations, but most travellers should expect to walk several hours during a gorilla trek. You will be hiking in uneven mountainous terrain up to 2000 meters in elevation. Trails may be narrow or non-existent.
Mountain gorilla trekking can occur year-round. When to go is determined by your schedule and personal preferences about the weather. This area of the world has wet and dry seasons. The dry seasons take place in summer and winter, with temperatures ranging from about 10ºC in the morning up to 30°C in the afternoon. The wet seasons are in spring and fall, and temperatures tend to be milder. While rains are concentrated in the wet season, dry days can occur then, and rains may occur in the dry seasons.
And do not forget to tip your porter and guide when you came back from your gorilla trekking!