Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park - a large primaeval forest and home of the Mountain Gorillas

November 2019 • Laura Kelly, Head of Commercial

Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi town has one main street that everything gravitates around; colourful shop fronts of curio, souvenir shops, community projects, a few bars and restaurants, as well as the main visitor centre.  It is a fun place to explore - walking around the street, relaxing and exploring, discovering local community projects, and, of course, not forgetting the Gorilla trekking. It is here on the mountainous slopes and jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that we spent time searching out the majestic gentle giants,and  it is here we hoped to make contact with the great loping silverback gorillas.

Gorilla trekking registration took place at the Uganda Wildlife Authority park offices - trekking usually starts at 8.30 am. Here we were given the name of the specific gorilla family we were tracking. Some gorilla families are easier to track than others; it all depends at what altitude they range, or what distance they cover during the day. It normally takes 1 to 3 hours of trekking time (each way) to find your gorilla family. You’ll be one of just eight trekkers, accompanied by a Uganda Wildlife Ranger and two armed rangers (to fend off any rogue forest elephants). Every trek is different depending on the location of the gorillas. The terrain is varied and may involve climbing up and down the mountains, or a more leisurely loping ramble. The aim is to find out where the gorillas spent the night, as they tend to only travel up to 1km per day and are likely to still be nearby the nest. Once you have located your chosen gorilla family, you will have an hour to observe them in their natural habitat. The rangers are extremely knowledgeable and are on hand to answer all your questions and explain the gorillas’ behaviour.

Of the estimated 900 mountain gorillas in existence, half live in troops in the UNESCO protected Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mghinga National Park, and can be observed and tracked by a select number of visitors. We drove an hour to the far side of the forest, met with our porters and trackers and prepared for our trek into the unknown.

The excitement was palpable and the nerves were rising, we each had a staff to help navigate the terrain and a porter to carry our bags and water. We started our walk in single file through the forest and out onto the ridge above farmland and plantations with the sun shining brightly down as the skyline opened to reveal the velveteen forest and mountain slopes before us.

Bwindi has many equatorial forest trees that create the thick canopy; African brown mahogany and ebony trees as well as Ceiba and Cecropia. The terrain was not particularly gruelling, but in parts we had to use our hands to hoist us over slippery slopes. We also had the occasional gentle shove from behind, which assisted with our upward trajectory.  The guides would stop and murmur, and examine the surrounding forest for clues, scouring the foliage for droppings, leftover food and knuckle fingerprints. Then, we heard a flurry off to our right as a black mass rushed through the undergrowth. Our trekkers quietened us and told us to listen for movements and silently directed us off the path through the forest, with our cameras at the ready.  There was movement around us a young male in the group foraged. A few steps further and just above us, in the branches of a Cecropia, a gorilla was lounging and picking at the fruit. After a few moments, we spotted the silverback, in slumber beneath the trees.

We spent and hour with these wonderful creatures. This was an intimate encounter. Coming face-to-face with a majestic mountain gorilla in its natural habitat is an unparalleled, magical wildlife experience. Ensure that for at least half of this time you put down your camera and you really experience their presence. Behind the camera, I would have missed the infant tumbling head over heels in the long grass and the junior orphan taking shelter behind the silverback. We watched as the youngster played, the young adult chewed on bamboo shoots and stood deadly still as an adult sauntered through the grass and brushed beside us. We held our breath but grinned inanely at the contact made. What a fantastic experience! Once we were out of the forest and back on the ridge we stopped and re-lived that precious hour; their proximity, their silent power and grace, their majesty in the forest, a truly the spine-tingling encounter -  the Gorilla experience is just pure magic!

Essentials for the trek:

  • Copy of passport
  • Camera: extra memory cards
  • Poncho or rain jacket - it can rain heavily, even in the dry season
  • Bum bag – or sealed pockets
  • Walking stick - provided by the camp
  • Gloves – these are useful for grabbing bushes, or sliding downhill on the seat of your pants (you never know where your trek might take you!)
  • Bug repellent
  • A good, solid pair of hiking boots
  • Cool, comfortable clothing in muted colours
  • Long sleeves, trousers, long socks and gaiters to keep bugs out and prevent scratches
  • Tips for Porters $15 for porter $10 for ranger
  • 2lts of water
  • Wet wipes
  • Tissues
  • Plasters
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Patience
  • A sense of humour

You will be rewarded with an awesome experience!