Why is Uganda Still the best Gorilla Trekking Destination
When it comes to mountain gorilla trekking, Uganda is undoubtedly one of the most exceptional destinations in Africa that you must visit before you die. Mountain gorillas are listed as the most critically endangered species in the world by IUCN and they are only found within three countries, mostly in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are fewer than 900 individuals left in the entire world 480 of them can be found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park. The two conservation areas are found in southwestern Uganda and they are the only best spots for visitors to strike their imaginations with these impressive wild creatures while in their natural habitat. These Great Apes share about 95% of their DNA with humans and a face to face encounter with them in the wild is incomparably the most thrilling experience of lifetime that also allows you to make comparisons between these unique creatures and humans. However, they are very susceptible to human distance and because of this; visitors are always advised to keep a distance of about 7 meters away from them while on face to face encounter.
Mountain gorilla safaris in Uganda have become one of the most sought after adventures in the world today. Only one hour is allowed for you to strike your imaginations with these Great Apes in their natural environment. About 36 gorilla groups are in Bwindi National Park but only 11 have been habituated for this lifetime experience and one is available for you to catch a glimpse of these dramatic creatures in Mgahinga National Park making Uganda one of a must to visit destination for you. Uganda features as the only spot in the entire world where Gorilla Habituation Experience is conducted where visitors enjoy all the 4 hours with the Great Apes. This experience is only done in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and only two groups (Bushaho and Bikingi gorilla family) have been set for this extraordinary adventure. Recently, over 40000 trekkers visited Uganda which offers refuge to over half of the rare mountain gorillas that thrive in the world. Since 2007, the total population of tourists in Uganda has nearly doubled to 1.3 million with a boost from over 18 international airlines that are currently flying into Entebbe International Airport including among others Qatar, Emirates, Brussels and KLM. Besides, the prevailing peace and security in Uganda compared to rest of other war zone countries in Africa has enabled this country one of the best destinations for tourists to track the mountain gorillas as well as catch a glimpse of the breathtaking landscapes, the most welcoming people, comfortable lodges and mouthwatering food including local (traditional) dishes.
Gorilla trekking safaris started in late 1990s mainly to give an alternative employment to illegal hunting. In Uganda therefore, 20% of the trekking fees in the national parks or wildlife safari destinations are given back to the local communities which represents about $180 per tourist. This revenue is aimed at supporting local community projects which in turn enhances their livelihoods. As well, the local residents have also been employed in various lodges and other accommodation facilities in and around the parks, while others have got jobs as drivers, park rangers, guides and porters. With this practice, besides the continued poaching and habitat loss, there has been a gradual change in the Great Ape population compared to the past. Looking at 1989 and 2011, the number of these endangered creatures increased from around 620 to currently about 900 of them only thriving in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Northwestern Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the DRC.
However, respective gorilla destinations have different costs for tourists to realize their dreams with these amazing primates in the wild. In Uganda, gorilla trekking permits are obtainable at $600 for foreign non residents, $500 for foreign residents and shs250000 for East African residents. In Rwanda, permits are sold at $1500 per person and in the DR Congo they can be purchased at $450 but it is the least visited area amongst all the three destinations since it is still recovering from insecurity. Gorilla trekking starts with early morning briefing at 7:00am and the actual trek begins at 8:00am in your respective sectors. There are four main sectors in Bwindi National Park and they include Buhoma, Rushaga, Nkuringo and Ruhija sector. During the briefing, visitors are only assigned to one habituated group in groups of eight people per day. Trekking mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park has been eased with the modern technology as well as the park trackers who are always sent to the forest to ascertain the location of gorillas before the next group of visitors is sent to the field to track them.
If you are planning your gorilla trek in Uganda, note that Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are 9 to 10 hours’ drive from Kampala city center on road. But the amazing bit of it is that, you will have the most memorable safari due to stopovers especially as you catch a glimpse of the rare tree climbing lions at Ishasha sector-Queen Elizabeth National Park or visit Kibale Forest National Park which offers refuge to over 13 distinct primates including over 1500 chimpanzees out of over 5000 individuals that are believed to be living in Uganda’s most stunning forests. For visitors who may not wish to spend longer hours on road, the best alternative and currently effective in Uganda is direct flights where you fly from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi airfield to Kisoro airstrip where you will then drive for about 1 hour to the park. For overnight stays in the parks, the notable lodges include the Silverback Safari Lodge, Mahogany Springs, and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge for luxury, Gorilla Safari Camp, Wagtail Eco Safari Camp, Chameleon Hill, Mount Gahinga Lodge, and Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp and many others.
More than mountain gorillas
Whereas most trekkers come mainly to view a group of mountain gorillas, for those who make it up to Bwindi or Mgahinga National Park will be thrilled with spectacular views of the surrounding, primates, mammals and not to forget bird species that make up over 360 in Bwindi including the rare African broadbill, Bright crimson wing, Yellow chests, blue headed sunbird, Short tailed warbler, African emerald cuckoo, Dark caped bulbul, White tailed blue flycatchers, Red headed bluebill, Kivu ground thrush and many more. For cultural enthusiasts, they are never left out while on their gorilla safaris in any of Uganda’s gorilla zone. Batwa encounter is something not to be missed out in life as it allows you to meet, interact and explore more about these unique creatures that lived in the forest for over 500000 years making them the forest dwellers. The Batwa pygmies co-existed with the forest for centuries while hunting and gathering but left with no negative environmental effects. While in Batwa community, explore their hunting and gathering technique and above all do not miss the most thrilling Batwa traditional dances and musical performances.
In conclusion, with over half of mountain gorilla population confined in Uganda’s two protected areas, you certainly have a reason to visit this stunning country that Sir Churchill described as the “Pearl of Africa.” A face to face encounter with these rare apes in the wild is incomparably the most thrilling experience that comes once in a lifetime. To get the best out of this lifetime experience it is advisable that you take note of the wet and dry season. The dry season starts from June to September and December to February and it is also regarded as the peak season. The wet season for this adventure starts from March to May and October and November.