I recently took a road trip to South Western Uganda. Finally, we were off to see the Mountain gorillas! Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is part of Bwindi National Forest and is situated along the Democratic Republic of Congo border on the edge of the Albertine Rift along the rift valley.
It is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. Home to roughly 400 mountain gorillas; half of the total number of this species in the world. 350 bird species and 120 mammals. Activities here range from Gorilla tracking, birding, cycling or mountain biking, cultural visits and hiking or nature walks.
When approaching Bwindi, a bumpy muddy drive up the mountain, fear sets in because of the high altitude. You are basically driving on the edge. After a long drive from Kampala through Lake Bunyonyi, we finally arrived at our destination – Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge.
The lodge contains well designed cottages with excellent views to match. The attention to detail adds a much needed homely feel. The staff all have personable characters which helps put you at ease. They were well informed about the park providing answers to the questions had about trek times, best routes , what to wear and so forth. From the moment we arrived, they were doing absolutely everything to ensure our stay was memorable. A few thoughtful gestures like lighting the fireplace in the cottage in the evenings so we came back to a warm room and hot water bottles placed in the beds were greatly appreciated. The dining area is very comfortable and idyllic with a fireplace to add to that cozy feeling.
The park offers a variety of different tracking points like Buhoma, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Rushaga. Nkuringo is located in the south of the national park in the highlands of Kisoro district. It brings with it amazing views of the three Virunga Mountain volcanoes; Mountain Muhavura, Mountain Mgahinga and Mountain Sabinyo. Lake Mutanda is another area of interest , close to Nkuringo.
The next morning at 9 am, we walked to our tracking point which was about a 5 minute walk from the cottages. Here we were briefed on all the necessary precautions to take while in the presence of the gorillas. We were also told we might run into a forest elephant. Luckily we didn’t encounter one. After making sure we had all the required necessities; a tracking permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, bug spray, a walking stick (for the slippery slopes), a rain coat, a sturdy pair of boots, lunch and a lot of water, we were off!
We were a group of eight tracking the Nkuringo route. The expedition was well planned, allowing us to see these extraordinary animals in their natural habitat. There is a group of trackers who set out very early in the morning to locate the gorillas making it easier and ensuring that tourists get to see the gorillas. The trek started with a two hour slope downhill before we reached the trailhead of the forest. Passing homesteads and farms on our path. In the valley, we had to cross streams and it was quite a sight. On this particular trekking day, it rained which made the experience more strenous. The gorillas can be anywhere in the forest and once located, they could keep moving. When you locate the gorillas, you will need to go off trail. The guide had to clear the bushes and create a path at this point. About half an hour later, we spotted our first mountain gorilla of the Nkuringo family; a female in the bushes. In this moment, excitement dawned on us all. A few metres forward and we were able to see the rest of the family playing in the trees and eating foliage. Then we saw the dominant male Silver back ; a gentle giant. This particular gorilla family was habituated meaning they have become accustomed to human beings. We were able to spend an hour with the group. A distance of seven metres between human beings and gorillas is advisable. The gorillas were very relaxed and went about their business.
Later on, we had our packed lunch a distance away from the gorillas and then started the trek back uphill. We had a great team of guides, armed rangers and porters who were enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the gorillas and the area. They were able to tell us interesting stories along the way of their experiences. At the end of the trek, we received a certificate from The Uganda Wildlife Authority which validates your effort. Kudos to the The Uganda Wildlife Authority team and the locals on ground who work day and night to make this experience worthwhile.
A few tips before your trip;
- Book a permit with The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at least six months in advance .
- Do your research. Know more about the different trekking points.
- Have a decent level of physical fitness before you attempt this . Be prepared to trek one to four hours both ways. There are a variety of trekking points some easier than others but you’ll still need to be physically ready.
- Wear hiking boots because of the steep and slippery terrain.
- Carry a raincoat as well.
- Book your trip for the dry season. Try to book permits early on (months in advance).
- Have a positive attitude and get ready for a once in a lifetime experience.