Trekking for Gorillas in Uganda

November, 2022

There are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas in the world and they can only be seen across Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Virunga National Park in the DR of Congo. Bwindi, Uganda is home to more than ½ of the world’s population of mountain gorillas. Because they live high in the mountains, these animals are not kept in any zoos. So, if you want to see them, you must go trekking in their forest.

Our guide made all of the logistical arrangements for our group to do the trek. The cost per person is $700 US dollars and the trek goes rain or shine, in sickness or in health. Only 8 trekkers, one guide and 2 rangers per family of gorillas is allowed. The groups are then split into “easy” hiking and “difficult” hiking groups. In case you are wondering, we were placed in the “difficult” group.

The birders are ready to search for mountain gorillas!

First – Finding the Gorillas

The Trackers.

At 6:00 am, the trackers head into the forest to track the families of gorillas. These guys are great at tracking because at one time, they were all poachers. The large fee now provides stable jobs for these men and they no longer need to poach to support their families.

They go to the location where the family of mountain gorillas were feeding the day before and then start following their trails. They know that they are close when they start seeing the large swarms of flies that follow the gorilla families. Then, they radio the guides and it’s time for our trekking into the forest.

Let The Climb Begin!

We were assigned to the Mubare family of gorillas the oldest family in the Bwindi forest.

Before we head into the forest, our group is given instructions of what is expected of us on the trail and when we met the gorillas. Then, we were introduced to the family we would be seeing – The Mubare family. This is the oldest tracked family of gorillas in Bwindi and it has 10 family members. The silverback we would see is the third generation of this family.

Then, we began the hike. We climbed for about 2 hours, had an elevational gain of 1420’ and covered a little over 1 ½ miles. The trail changed from wide to narrow to rocky and muddy. Once we got close to the gorillas, then the machetes came out and we were hiking through the impenetrable forest.

We hiked to this point via trails and then we really headed into the forest. It might not look that far but at an elevation of almost 6000′, your heart and lungs are really working.
The easy part of the trail.
Jeff hiking up the trail.

I’ll readily admit that I was the last of the hikers. After spending the night with lower GI issues, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to do the trek. But, my determination, one Cipro and four Imodium tablets were the key to my successful adventure. I almost quit 15 minutes before we started cutting through the jungle but my porter and my husband kept me going (plus it would have meant that they would lose a guide w/ gun for the group – Gorillas and Guerrillas in this forest).

It’s Showtime

We are now a few minutes away from the gorillas and our guide hands the group off to the trackers. We are given one hour with the gorillas and the clock just started ticking. A path has been made for us and we come upon the silverback, mother and two babies. Now, we watch, we take pictures, we stand in awe. We are only about 12’ away from them and sometimes, they come closer to us.

Did I mention how thick the forest is?

I think our pictures will show you a glimpse into this “once in a lifetime” amazing adventure. No need to bring your big cameras and lenses since we were between 5-10’ away from these animals. We used our iphone13’s and my pocket LUMIX ZX80.

Our first glimpse was of this 2 year old baby. He was happily eating without a care in the world.
Just around the corner from the baby was the silverback. This male is the grandson of the researcher’s oldest family of gorillas in Bwindi. While he wasn’t a giant, he was still formidable in size.
Mr. & Mrs. Gorilla
Momma cleaning her baby. Check out all of the flies around the animals.
A mother’s love.

Mission Accomplished

Of course, Jeff waltzed through this adventure like a champ. He is a great hiker and the altitude didn’t seem to bother him during the climb. Even though I considered throwing in the towel, I am so glad my sweaty and exhausted body kept going. Thankfully, I had an amazing porter who carried my bag, lifted me when we were going up and stabilized me coming back down the mountain.

The mud and rocks can be a hazardous combination on the trek down the steep slopes and I was truly more worried about the downhill journey than the uphill battle! But, we made it – one very exciting mission completed.

At the end of the journey with our amazing porter.

Important Mountain Gorilla Info

The gorillas in Bwindi are growing at a rate of 2% a year because of the conservation measures that are put into place due to the trekking tourism industry.

Tourism to see the gorillas is not only helping the animals, it helps the community. The trekking of gorillas has brought a good hospital to this region, created jobs in the hospital, lodges, stores, has removed poachers from this trade and has given them jobs of protecting instead of destroying. While the $700 pp fee sounds high, that money is going a long way to protect the forest, employ the local population and provide education. In my book, that’s a win for our world.

We stayed at a wonderful lodge, Ride 4 A Woman that provides a safe shelter for women, provides them with jobs, micro businesses and helps them to manage their future. The Bwindi community is an incredible leader in eco-tourism!

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