This article answers all your questions about the gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Hey friends! A while ago I asked you to ask me all the questions you have about trekking gorillas in Uganda. Here come the answers:
Is it safe to be so close to the gorillas? And aren’t the gorillas annoyed by your presence?
We felt completely safe in the hands of the guides and trackers during our gorilla trek. However, we did ask our local tour guide beforehand about safety and also hoe bothered the gorillas would be by our presence. He explained to us that it is the job of a group of trackers to find the different gorilla families each morning and have them get used to people again. By the time the tourists get there, you can see that the gorillas have completely calmed down and don’t seem to take much notice of you. There were a few situations when our guide told us to stay behind and keep our distance – reading the animals’ behaviour perfectly (especially that of the silver back). But yeah, obviously this is not a zoo and you are taking a risk by hiking down into the deep rainforest to encounter wild gorillas 😉 #africaisnotforsissys 😉
Did you have a favourite gorilla?
There was one female that was soooo relaxed and she had a very calming presence. I didn’t even think about taking photos anymore. Frank captured that moment quite nicely in the Safari Sundays episode we filmed with the gorillas in Uganda. (See below)
Is Uganda safe to travel? And is it safe for a woman travelling solo?
Personally, I would not recommend a self-drive in Uganda because of road-conditions etc. You are way better off to go with an experienced local guide who knows local customs and can get you safely from A to B. I felt perfectly fine as a woman traveling Uganda, but of course I was with Frank the whole time. However, I did see plenty of solo female travellers (most of them volunteers – apparently Uganda is a hotspot for volunteer-projects… something I might write a detailed article about in the future. Cause #notafan)
Where can I book a trek to the gorillas? What’s your criteria to find a trustworthy tour operator?
We travelled to Uganda for two reasons: Number one: It was a big dream of mine and we did this for my birthday. Number two: Frank established partnerships for his family-run travel-agency www.safarifrank.com /.de – Visiting the gorillas in Uganda is a once-in-a-lifetime kinda experience. Make sure you book this through an agent. Naturally, I recommend safariFRANK 🙂
How long did it take you to get to the gorillas?
It took us a few hours to find the gorillas and the trek was pretty intense (especially because you have to hike it all the way up again later.) I’d say it took us about 2-3 hours to find the gorillas. We then spend one hour with them and hiked back for another 2-3 hours. It is a full-day-activity and you will be exhausted, but very happy by the end of it.
How much is the gorilla permit?
USD 600,00 per person.
How do you get to Uganda without damaging the climate (meaning: flying)?
Honestly? I cannot tell you. But I’m very grateful for this question. Air travel is a necessity for the majority of people who wish to visit African destinations. These tourists bring much needed money to the countries – money that is not only supporting the livelihoods of people, but more-so: Tourist money is the best life-insurance wild animals have. Without money, the national parks cannot be sustained and without national parks and the security they provide for the animals, there won’t be a future for the wildlife. It is a system us humans created: Wildlife needs to make money in order for it to be protected by us. Money, in this case, comes from the tourists.
Is the gorilla-trek actually benefiting the animals?
YES. And this in fact relates to the previous question: Not only are the gorilla families that exist in Uganda today alive and thriving because of the tourist gorilla-treks, but the gorillas are actually building a protective umbrella for all the thousands of other animal and plant species of the Bwindi Impenetrable forest – which would otherwise have to succumb to tea plantations and farmland. The people who are employed by the National Parks are very proud of their work. They are well educated, polite and passionate about what they do and the fact that they are bringing tourist money back home to their villages sends an important message, in my humble opinion. Gorilla numbers are on the rise because of the tourists that come to see them.
What is Uganda like as a tourist-destination?
Uganda seems to be developing rather fast with regards to tourism. When we were there it really felt like they were getting ready to host international tourists from all parts of the world. We were positively surprised by the whole trip but for us the highlights were definitely the primates and the rain forests.
What is the best time of year to trek gorillas?
You should be fine all year round. Just bare in mind that you are visiting a rain forest – so there will always be the chance for your to get rather wet…
Is it possible to do the trek with kids? What’s the minimum age?
The minimum age is 15 years.
Why did you choose Uganda and not Rwanda for your trek?
For the money. Gorilla permits are twice as expensive in Rwanda at the time of writing.
What camera equipment did you bring along?
See my post about camera equipment to get an idea of what we use.
How long in advance do you need to buy your gorilla permit?
We booked ours about one month in advance. The tricky part about the gorilla trekking in Uganda is that there are various starting points and different gorilla families to trek. Your chances of getting a permit pretty much last-minute are still fairly good because of the numerous starting points. However, if you are assigned to a starting point in the East, but your accommodation is far in the West – you might end up having to wake up in the middle of the night and drive to your starting point, as the trek begins early in the morning. Better to book at least six months in advance and have your tour operator arrange for accommodation close to your trek. This is definitely something you should be aware of when trekking gorillas in Uganda. I was told that in Rwanda, this is not a problem.
What locations would you recommend to visit in Uganda?
We truly enjoyed both Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for the gorillas and Kibale National Park for the chimpanzees. Furthermore, we loved Queen Elizabeth National Park – but only the South of it in the Ishasha-sector where a lot of the tree-climbing lions can be found. The North was a bit too busy for us.
What clothes would you recommend to wear on the trek?
A very good rain jacket and strong hiking-boots are a must-have. The park officials will provide you with a walking stick, so you don’t need to bring your own. Waterproof pants can’t hurt, but we didn’t have them.
Why were there so many people on your trek?
There were eight tourists in total for our trek. We were accompanied by local porters – that’s why there were so many people. It is recommended to hire a porter to carry your luggage and camera gear, as the hike can be quite steep. This also creates employment for the local villagers and it’s actually a lot of fun to hang out with your porter and chat to him, learn about his village and see the gorillas through his eyes. The porter needs to be paid in cash and he charges 15 US dollars. Make sure to also bring some dollars in cash as a tip for the park officials and the trackers.
How fit do you need to be?
In Uganda you need to be fairly fit for the trek. It is physically challenging to do the trek. I was told that Rwanda is a lot easier.