What You Need To Know About Bwindi, The Best Gorilla Trekking Destination
Mountain Gorilla tourism has over the years gained popularity as people seek exclusive gorilla trekking experiences. People travel from different parts of the world to the forested mountains of East and Central Africa for mountain gorilla trekking. One may wonder what are mountain gorillas and why are they special?
Mountain gorillas are endangered primate species with over 95% DNA similar to humans. They live in the forested mountains at elevations ranging from about 8000 to 13,000 feet above sea level. They are covered with fur that helps them survive the cold temperatures of the forested mountains.
Gorillas live in families headed by a dominant male called Silverback and are pure vegetarian with their diet consisting of plant vegetation and bamboo shoots. They are endemic to the Virunga massif along the Rwanda, Uganda & DRC Border and Bwindi impenetrable Forest in Uganda.
The total mountain gorilla population is now estimated at over 1000 and Bwindi Impenetrable forest has almost half of the total population. Bwindi is currently the best gorilla trekking destination and here is more information you might need to know.
1. Various Gorilla Trekking Sectors
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is an extensive park covering about 321 square kilometers. The park has different gorilla trekking sectors evenly distributed each sector with various gorilla families.
The northern and busiest sector is called Buhoma with 6 mountain gorilla families. Closer to Buhoma is Ruhija the eastern sector with 4 mountain gorilla families. It takes about an hours drive from Buhoma to Ruhija and you can therefore have a gorilla trek there incase you had accommodation in Buhoma.
Rushaga and Nkuringo are situated in southern Bwindi. Rushaga has 8 gorilla families while Nkuringo has 4 gorilla families. The Nkuringo region is however steep and one having a gorilla trek there will require some level of fitness. Ensure to know the exact sector where your gorilla trekking experience will be and book your accommodation accordingly.
2. Varying Gorilla Trekking Elevation
Bwindi has many hills with a gorilla trekking elevation from 1190 to 2607 meters above sea level. With this, the gorilla trekking experience comes in handy. You must therefore know if the gorilla family you are tracking will require a lot of hiking.
Much as gorilla trekking doesn’t require any levels of fitness, there are some gorilla families that live at high elevations. Those with altitude sickness, the elderly and some health restrictions need to ensure they track families that don’t require a lot of hiking.
Luckily Bwindi has over 22 gorilla families and one has a range of options to choose from. An average hike takes 2 to 4 hours though others take longer and a full day. Talk to your local safari guide or park ranger to ensure you are allocated an easier family to track.
Bwindi impenetrable can be accessed by both road and air transport. If you are coming from Entebbe international airport or Kampala by road, it takes a 9 to 10 hours drive. Its a long one but impressive going through the Ugandan countryside. You would have en route stop overs for photography at the Equator and for a lunch break and proceed to Bwindi.
Incase you don’t want the long drive you can fly to an airstrip near the park. There are two airstrips serving the park, one in the north and the other in the south. Kihihi airstrip serves the northern and Eastern sectors. Its 30 to 40 minutes drive to Buhoma sector and about an hour and a half drive to Ruhija
Kisoro airstrip serves the southern sector and its an hour drive to the park. Flying saves a lot of time and its the best option for those who don’t want the long drives. It also offers great aerial views of the countryside and other open savanna parks.
4. Best time for Trekking
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi can be enjoyed anytime of the year. The best time though is in the dry season from June to September and December to March. During this time there is minimal rainfall disturbances and the tracking trails are therefore dry. With this, there is easy movement and great chances for better wildlife photography.
In the wet season from April to May and October to November gorilla trekking is possible but rainfall can occur anytime of the day. Its an adventurous experience having a downpour while in the jungle but some people don’t like it.
5. Gorilla Permits
Mountain gorilla trekking permits for Bwindi cost $700 per person for international tourists, $600 per person for East African foreign residents and Uganda shillings 250,000 for East African citizens.
Gorilla permits are on a very high demand and only 8 tourists are allowed to track one gorilla family a day. Ensure to book your permits in advance to avoid missing out. You can book and buy permits from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices. Incase you are using a tour operator ensure to pay for the permits in advance.
If you are interested in the gorilla habituation experience, permits are limited to only 4 people. Habituation permits cost $1500 per person for international guests, $1000 per person for East African residents and shillings 750,000 for East African Citizens.