Our Uganda specialist Wies returned from an extensive trip to Uganda with some incredible footage of Bwindi’s mountain gorillas. Below he provides the ultimate guide to trekking through the famous national park in order to encounter these revered creatures:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in south-western Uganda, offers visitors various possibilities to trek the mountain gorillas. At present, 15 gorilla groups can be viewed, including one group that’s still under habituation. With all these groups in different areas, it can often be daunting to figure out where best to go. I find it easier to think of Bwindi as four distinct areas – Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rushaga, and Ruhija – all of which have multiple gorilla groups:
Buhoma: for first-time travellers
Of the four trekking areas, Buhoma is by far and away the most frequented by tourists, something that’s also reflected in the number of lodges found in the area. However, treks that depart from Buhoma reliably deliver exceptional sightings, making it a great choice for first-time travellers to Uganda. Visitors to Buhoma also have easy access to the gorilla groups located in Ruhija – this essentially brings variety into the trekking experience for those looking to do two or more treks.
Nkuringo: for getting off the beaten track
With only a handful of lodges, the Nkuringo area can be seen as the ‘hidden gem’ of Bwindi. So for those looking to get off the beaten track, this is the place to go! Lodges such as Nkuringo and Clouds, with their panoramic vistas over the extinct Sabyinyo, Gahinga, and Muhavura volcanoes, treat visitors to some of the most dramatic views that Uganda has to offer. Gorilla sightings here are also reliable, and visitors can add a bit of variety to their trekking experience by visiting Rushaga.
Rushaga: for the habituation experience
In Rushaga, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has introduced one of the most exciting opportunities available to gorilla enthusiasts: the Gorilla Habituation Experience. The area’s Bikingye gorilla group is still becoming accustomed to the presence of humans – a process that takes up to five years. For those wanting to spend more than the standard one hour with the gorillas, the habituation experience provides the perfect answer. Setting out on foot in the early morning, a group of up to four people will discover where the gorillas nested the previous night and proceed to track them from there. Once the family has been found, visitors have up to four hours to spend with the group, at a respectful distance that doesn’t invade the gorillas’ comfort zone. If or when the group moves, visitors will move with them, ensuring an unforgettable morning spent with these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
Ruhija: for the budget
Ruhija is home to four gorilla groups, and the treks here are often undertaken by guests staying in Buhoma. There are a few campsites and low-end lodges located in the area, but we would always recommend clients use Buhoma as a base for Ruhija treks.
A maximum of eight people are permitted to trek to any one given group per day, with the cost of a permit being $700 per person as of July 2020. The minimum age for gorilla trekking is 15 years old, and permits are non-transferable once purchased.
It is worth knowing that, besides the gorilla treks, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the surrounding areas have an incredible wealth of activities on offer. The area is home to the Batwa Pygmy tribe, and an afternoon experiencing the ways of the Batwa is a fantastic way to take in and learn about a culture that in the past has been suppressed.
Hikes from Buhoma to Nkuringo are also a possibility, while visitors to Lake Mutanda can go on canoe trips to truly remote places rarely seen by tourists.
If you are interested in exploring Uganda and would like more information, contact our expert Wies here. Or check out the moment Wies was touched on the foot by a mountain gorilla in Bwindi: