We love Gorillas at Buutu Safaris! It is the top most safari encounter on our personal adventure lists. That’s why between Lincoln and I, we have trekked 12 of the Uganda gorilla families and 3 of the 11 Rwanda family in the last 15 years! We have also taken 1,060 people trekking over the last 25 years.
During this time this is what people asked before and after trekking.
1. Is it safe to track mountain gorillas?
Gorillas are not aggressive and rarely react to visitors/ trekkers let alone behave in a threatening manner. Before a gorilla family is accessed for tracking, rangers spend days on end for two years with a gorilla family until gorillas neutral to human presence. A twisted ankle, sustained during a heavy fall on the steep trails, is a far more likely occurrence than an injury resulting from a gorilla encounter.
2. Where do gorillas live?
Mountain gorillas live in the Virunga volcanoes forest in Rwanda and Congo and in Bwindi in Uganda. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity as efforts to keep them in zoos failed. There are now over 1,050 (as of Dec.2019) gorillas with more than a half living in Uganda whereas the rest are to be found in Rwanda and Congo.
3. What is the cost of gorilla permits?
Gorilla permits cost $600(2019) and $700 (from July 2020) per person in Uganda and $1,500 per person in Rwanda. These are prices for foreign non-residents. Ugandans and residents of Uganda get discounts
We do not advise guests to go trekking in DR Congo for security reasons. It is cheaper to trek in Congo but could cost you an arm and a leg, literally.
4. What do I need to wear?
You will need to wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants and a pair of ankle high hiking boots. I have gone trekking in trainers/sneakers but I slipped and fell many times in the wet and slippery rain forest.
So good hiking boots are a must but they need to be light as well. It is also advisable to wear long socks and have your pants tucked in to avoid doing the crazy dance when ants creep into your pants and start biting at sensitive parts.
Some trackers will wear gloves to avoid getting scratched by the thorny vines but I am a minimalist so less is more for me so I don’t wear gloves.
5. What physical condition should I be in for trekking?
It is advisable for trackers to be in moderately good physical condition for gorilla trekking as the terrain is mountainous.
If you are a hiker then you might find the Nkuringo and Rushaga sectors most appealing.
6. Are gorillas wheel chair accessible?
Yes, gorillas can be seen by travellers with mobility issues. Travellers with mobility challenges can be carried in a throne chair by the community porters. The wheel chair is also carried separately. It is a win-win as it enables one see gorillas while providing much needed income for locals who have now become involved in protecting gorillas because such opportunities provide them with much needed income.
7. How long does trekking last?
Tracking the gorillas can last from a few hours to a whole day, depending on how far the group has moved since it was observed nesting up the previous evening.
8. What is the best time to go gorilla trekking?
Gorillas can be trekked on any day of the year. A gorilla permit can be obtained for any day if it is booked in advance. However, trekking during the rainy season can be quite a challenge as the rains do not relent in Bwindi hence the name tropical rain forest.
The best time is Jan – March and July – August when it is drier. Having said that, the increasingly unpredictable rain patterns have made it difficult to determine the rain and the dry seasons.
Furthermore, the quiet months of Nov, May and April are good times to trekk because there are no crowds so you have the gorillas all to yourself.
I could go trekking in a snow storm because I personally do not care what time I go trekking as long as I can get a permit.
9. How can I visit the gorillas?
There are numerous tour operators offering gorilla trekking safaris. Good operators will organise all inclusive safaris where permits, accommodation and extra activities all taken care of for a fee.
One can also walk into the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala to book a permit though permits need to be booked well in advance. Only a small number of people can visit the gorillas each day, so it is important to book gorilla permits well in advance.
10. What is the terrain like?
Gorillas are found in mountainous habitat so trekking will thus take you through valleys, steep slopes, across rivers and streams and in swamps. The particular terrain will depend on which sector of the forest you trek.
11. Can I take photos?
Yes you can take photos once you are with the gorillas as long as you make sure to put your camera flash off. A good camera with a short lens of 50mm will do the trick though some people use their phone cameras. The minimal light and the black coat of the gorillas make photography quite difficult especially when the gorillas are found under the forest cover on a rainy cloudy day.
But above all remember to put the camera away so you can enjoy the gorillas.
12. Can my gorilla safari be combined with another safari?
Yes, there is a various range of activities that one can do after the gorilla trekking. There are national parks one can easily access after gorilla trekking. Some of the parks you can visit are Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo and Murchison Falls in Uganda and Akagera Park in Rwanda. If one wishes they can go further afield to Kenya for the Masai Mara great migration or in Serengeti Tanzania.
You could also opt to head to Masai Mara or Serengeti in Tanzania after your safari as flights are available.
13. Can I do a Botswana gorilla safari?
There is no gorilla trekking in Botswana. Mountain gorilla trekking can only be done in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
14. Can I do a Kenya gorilla safari?
There is no gorilla trekking in Kenya neither. Mountain gorilla trekking can only be done in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
I hope this is helpful but please do not hesitate to pick up a phone and give us a shout for more gorilla trekking insights or if you wish to do that once in a life time experience.
Mutalye Daudi the Mwise Mukose!