Going gorilla hiking has been on my Africa puppy list forever. There is something so scary about being so close to these beautiful animals and sharing that space in nature with them.
The Bwindi National Park in Uganda does an excellent job of preserving the natural environment and the well-being of gorillas. During my most recent stay at Gorilla Forest Retreats, I got to check it off my list and my kindness was a dream come true!
After a 2.5 hour drive to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, we met the Mubare gorilla family. I couldn't ask for a more incredible meeting. We spent an hour with them, watching the kids play and explore their surroundings.
The family is driven by the largest silver in the whole forest and, let me tell you, it was huge.
If you are interested in going for a Golgi hiking for yourself, here's everything you need to know from when to go, allow information, what to pack, and what to expect!
The best time to go
Due to its climate and location near the equator, Uganda is truly a destination all year round. However, there is a dryer season, which is ideal for hikers. Rainy seasons run from October to November and from mid-March to May. With the rain, you can still see the gorillas, but you will probably be more comfortable when the weather is dry.
This means that the best time to spend gorilla in Uganda is June through September and January or February. Because of this, Uganda can be quite busy these months, especially in December.
This means higher rates for both accommodation and hiking licenses.
If the budget is your primary concern, a visit from March to May or October and November will help you save money. And don't worry about monkeys. National parks are still fully operational and the animals are still wandering.
How to obtain permits and visas
We stayed at the Gorilla Forest Camp Sanctuary Retreat (which I would highly recommend) and made sure to organize the permits and everything we needed for the gorilla hike for us, which was amazing!
However, if you choose to stay somewhere without a license, I highly recommend booking through a tour company.
You can choose to get yourself a license – that's around $ 700. Or you can book a safari tour (which includes the license), which will average $ 1,100 to $ 6,000 (the price varies depending on kind of experience to follow), but it will include most or all of the things you will need to get / hire anyway (guide, driller, tools).
No matter how you choose to hike, you will also need a visa to enter Uganda.
You can get one here online. You will only need a valid passport that can remain valid for at least 6 months after your arrival in Uganda. You will also need a vaccination certificate proving that you have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Finally, you will need a passport-sized photo of yourself.
What to expect
This was my gorilla hiking experience in Uganda-booking through our place of stay: Sanctuary Retreat Gorilla Forest Camp.
It wasn't as early in the morning as I thought it would be. We left the property around 7:30 am, and at the river station, we had an orientation for about an hour to get us all prepped. Everyone sits in front of a scene that looks like a scene with local kids and musicians having some fun while we wait for everyone to arrive.
The special gorilla hiking center that was located in 5 gorilla families. What does this mean?
This means that the people who participated in the orientation will be divided into groups to visit one of these 5 families. From my observation, they split the teams based on physical fitness, so we put together the team that walked the furthest and ask you the night before how you would rate your physical fitness.
They are able to accommodate anyone and everyone – even if you can't walk, you can go for a gorilla hike.
Tracers and porters are really incredible people and you can literally carry them along the route if needed. It's important to note that you need to organize this ahead of time and pay extra, but I thought it was cool to have this level of accessibility available.
All gorilla families are at different distances from the starting point, so if you can't locate long distances, they will put you along with a closer family.
We were with the family that was the furthest away and we have the complete experience of being in the jungle. We were away all day and I really appreciate going on a long hike to see the family (and I have the blisters to prove it!).
It took about 2 ½ hours to get there … definitely a difficult journey!
Tracers come out hours before you do this to make sure they can spot the gorillas and then stay with them well after you have left – basically until the last bit of daylight, so they have a good idea of where they could go it's the next morning.
Gorillas sleep in the evenings so that the trackers can find them relatively easily in the morning. They always know where they are and they make it much easier to pass if you know where they are!
Basically, your chances of seeing the gorillas are really, really high.
Hire a Porter
Your team consists of 8 people and you have the option to hire doors. I highly recommend doing this!
Renting a concierge does not mean that you are weak or unable to carry your own things. It does a local job for the day – so many people in this part of Uganda depend on the income from the tourism we provide. It's only $ 15 minimum for the day, we paid our driver $ 30, and we each hired a porter, both me and my friend Meyer.
It was very helpful whether they brought things or not. They will help you get up when the mud is slippery or if there is a difficult area.
And in my opinion, hiring a concierge makes the overall experience much more enjoyable.
Each visitor can hire a porter, who can bring the group up to 16 people, and then you will have your guide and two guards (one at the front of the group and one at the back). Yes, there are armed guards, but they are there for your safety.
There are some dangerous animals in the forest – not what you consider dangerous, but elephants in particular. If they are frightened or do not see you coming, they can charge and can be a serious hazard, so guards are usually there if they need to fire a warning shot in the air. This brings the group up to 19, which is almost the maximum size.
Watching the gorillas
Once you pass the jungle and reach the gorilla family, all the porters are left behind and only your team of 8 guards and the driver will approach the gorillas. So it's a very small group of people.
Talk about an intimate experience!
Before you go to see the gorillas, you will get one last update from your guide and then run over it all. does and does not.
You have one hour with the gorillas.
Why this particular time period? The gorillas were ordinary, which basically means that they are regulated in the understanding that humans are part of their natural environment. It takes a few months to a few years to begin to understand that people are not a threat.
Because the park is so well-regulated, no one can enter the forest without a feather. there is no danger of poaching, so it is okay for these animals to get used to why humans do not pose a threat to the Bwindi National Wildlife Refuge.
They have come to recognize and wait for people to come and approach them for an hour of the day, every day. This one hour is special both for the benefit of the gorillas and for our safety. If people expect to come for one hour a day – that's normal for them, if you were to stay more than one hour, it could be scary for them. them.
That is why there is a strict one hour setting.
Believe me, it's enough time to spot gorillas and you're allowed to move, just consult your guide to ask where you want to stand or where you want to go is okay, safe and won't be scary for gorillas. We advise you to keep a distance of about 7 meters (~ 20 feet).
I recommend you take as many photos as you like when you get there and then just put your camera down and observe without your lens.
Sit down, watch.
We get mixed reviews on whether or not you should look at them, but our guide encouraged us to do so.
It's an incredibly humiliating experience when you lock your eyes with a silver-eyed gorilla.
Our special family was the first family of gorillas we got used to in Bwindi and have the biggest silver in the forest and let me tell you … this guy was huge! He was about 5 times the size of an average male.
To visit Uganda, it is recommended that you be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus, yellow fever, meningitis, cholera, rabies, polio, ant, pneumonia.
Most of these are common vaccines you've already received, but always check just to be safe!
What a photographic tool to bring
Most people have told me that you are approaching so you do not have to bring a zoom lens for your camera, however, I am really happy to have my own.
Certainly I didn't need my tripod. The only reason I could see you wanting or needing a tripod is if you're traveling solo or in night photography. It rained most nights (all night), so we didn't really see the stars. And this is normal given the extreme tropical weather.
I flew over me Camera Fujifilm X-T3. I brought my original 35mm lens (perfect for portraits and details) which I really liked walking around the community on foot in Bwindi (read more about it here!).
The other lens I managed mainly was the Fujinon XF 50-140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR telephoto zoom lens.
I would suggest bringing a prime lens for each day and a zoom kit lens if you are close enough (something like a 16-55 2.8 might work). However, we were at a distance where I kept my 50-140mm 2.8 lens almost all year long, even for video, because it has optical image stabilization.
This allowed me to get really great portraits with bokeh because of the steady 2.8 aperture. It's a very large lens, but it's worth it.
What to Pack for Gorilla Trekking
You can really pack light! If you connect from Entebbe to Kihihi, there are weight restrictions – just like any other bush flight you will experience in sub-Saharan Africa.
At Aerolink Uganda the luggage weight allowance is 15kg in a soft hunting bag. So be careful about what you bring with you!
I'll have a complete guide on what to pack soon!
Do and don't
- Consult your guide
- Lease and Porter
- Listen to your guide
- You know your physical limitations and you get on with the right team
- Take photos, but don't spend time at all (take time to observe without a lens)
- Don't complain about the 1 hour limit (it's enough time for the gorilla's well-being)
Have you ever visited a gorilla or are you going soon? I would love to know about your experience in the comments below!