There’s a weird mix of emotions when you go gorilla trekking. There’s the excitement of seeing one of these magnificent creatures in the wild, then there’s the nervousness of actually coming close to one of these magnificent creatures in the wild.
If I had to be honest, gorilla trekking was never on my bucket list. In truth, gorillas scared me a little and I never had any real desire to see them… but I was heading to Uganda, one of the only places in the world where you can see gorillas in their natural habitat. And if I was going here, I was not going to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Below I share my experience of gorilla trekking in Uganda and if I inspire you to do it, I share how you can do it too!
My Experience of Gorilla Trekking
Excited, I followed the others through the forest. My feet were wet from wading through the stream but we were now on dry land, venturing further into the jungle. The sun was shining down and everyone was optimistic talking amongst each other and getting to know one another.
Then we heard a noise. The ranger stopped and put his finger up to his lips to indicate for us to be quiet. Then I saw it. A flash of black hair in the bushes. A silverback was right in front of us. Sitting there completely unperturbed.
As I edged closer to see the gorilla, the ranger who was at the back motioned for me to stand back. I heard a thud and felt the vibrations through the Earth as a female gorilla ran past me, a baby clinging to her back. She had been so close that I had felt the wind from her speed. The ground had shook and I stood there feeling both exhilarated and shocked. This was my first encounter with a gorilla and throughout the next two or so hours, there were to be many more.
We watched the mum, the dad and the baby gorilla as they went about their normal gorilla lives, (which seems to be just hanging around a forest). Watching their every move, mesmerised by these gentle yet strong creatures. Then, they ran off, through the forest, and we followed close behind, with trackers ahead to track their movements.
We followed the ranger to a thick area of the forest where the family of gorillas had hauled themselves into the trees. These gorillas can weigh up to 260 kg yet they were sitting in the tree tops happily pulling the leaves and eating them whilst we stood underneath desperately trying to catch a glimpse.
We waited. And we waited. Not showing any signs of coming down soon, the ranger started producing gorilla sounds to coax them out of the trees. Eventually, it worked. And we witnessed one giant silverback climbing effortlessly down the trunk as the others followed. But as soon as they were down, they were off again. (These apes can move fast!)
When we caught up, it was the most amazing experience. The silverback was sitting by a tree, his back supported by the trunk. His demeanour was so calm and he seemed completely unfazed by the humans just feet away. I watched in awe as his human-like hands picked the leaves and put them into his mouth, lazily chewing as he looked around.
Someone once said to me, “It’s as though you can see into their soul.” And they were right.
When he did look at us, his brown eyes seemed almost human.
Gorilla trekking isn’t just following animals in the wild. It’s connecting with nature and the humbling privilege to get so close to these gentle creatures. You lose all sense of time as you enter their gorilla zone, amazed by their every move and sound.
After what felt like an age, the ranger beckoned us to move around them to get even closer.
“Are you sure I can go?” I call as quietly as I can to the ranger, who stood just a few feet ahead of me. To my right was the young male gorilla of the family, happily chewing on some leaves he had just picked. The other arm swung from a branch, just an arm’s length away from where I was standing.
“Yes, come.” The ranger said, encouraging me to move.
I’m still not sure but being at the front of the group I have to go for it, walking quickly to where the ranger is, just as the gorilla reaches out his arm to try and touch this blonde tourist who has been staring at him for the last thirty minutes. Panicking, I move out of his way but I slip and fall into the arms of the ranger who catches me. It’s like a comedy sketch from a movie and it’s all caught on camera.
Later on, I find out that wasn’t his first interaction with me. He had playfully thrown leaves at me when I first encountered him but I hadn’t realised. He was obviously needing a playmate and that day he seemed to have chosen me.
After a rewarding few hours, we leave the gorillas behind. Exhilarated and happy, we begin our descent down from the top of the forest. A clap of thunder vibrates across the skies and then the heavens open and the downpour descends upon us. My feet slip on the once dry ground and I hold tightly onto Eric, my porter’s hand, as he guides me safely back.
But the rain doesn’t bother me. The exhilaration and euphoria of the interaction with the gorillas is pulsing through my veins. I’m still high from the experience and so it seems is everyone else. Everyone is smiling and chatting through the rain as we trek the long way back to camp.
The noise of chimpanzees screaming through the rain echoes around us. Throughout the storm, the forest feels even more magical, and we cross the river, past goats and sheep and miners on our way back.
When we reach the ground, I finally let go of Eric’s hand and glance back up to the top of the misty forest.
I smile with the knowledge that the mountain gorillas are in there somewhere. And that tomorrow morning, they will encounter brand new humans, eagerly as excited as we were to witness these gentle, humble creatures in their natural home. And I wonder… which one will be the chosen playmate tomorrow?
Gorilla trekking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am so glad that I did it, especially in such a beautiful park and with amazing company. It’s one that will leave a lifetime of memories and a lasting imprint on me.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is amazing and although it is expensive, it is half the cost of neighbouring Rwanda. There are only three places in the world where you can see gorillas in the wild. The Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. A permit for Uganda gorilla trekking cost $700, a gorilla permit in Rwanda will set you back $1500, and in the Congo $450. But the Congo isn’t one of the safest places so I recommend Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda if you’re unsure which destination to choose.
My Tips For Gorilla Trekking
- Make sure to get your gorilla permit weeks in advance. You need a permit otherwise you’re not permitted to do it. The agency you book through can help arrange this for you.
- Be patient. We had to wait for ages for the gorillas to come down from the trees but when we did, we were able to get really close and observe them. The permits allow you an hour of gorilla viewing when you locate the gorillas but you may be lucky and stay longer.
- Make sure you’re fit. Some of the hikes are steep so you need to be relatively active to be able to do it. Although you can hire a stretcher and people to carry you to see them for a few hundred dollars.
- Be as quiet as you can. Even though they seem used to humans, we still needed to respect their space and that included keeping quiet.
- Wear good shoes with a grip so that you don’t slip. Some of the terrain is steep and you could find yourself walking across logs or wading through streams.
- Get a porter. Not only do you have someone readily available to hold your hand as you are hiking, but it also helps contribute to the local community and supports the porters and their families.
- Take a rain jacket (you are in a rainforest after all).
- Do it at the end of your trip. It’s such an exhilarating experience that you will want to end your holiday seeing them.
- Be prepared for a long drive from Kampala or Entebbe. Bwindi is approx 540 km from the capital so you can be travelling for 8/9 hours in a car. But there are plenty of things to see on the way including the Equator where you can purchase arts and crafts from the local shops, game parks and lakes!
Women Tour Uganda
My one-day gorilla trekking Uganda experience was part of a 4 day Bwindi gorilla trekking women safari with Women Tour Uganda. My experience was one of the luxury Uganda safaris as I stayed at Ichumbi Safari Lodge with all my meals included. I even saw a monkey from my room’s balcony! In addition to my amazing one-day gorilla trekking, I visited a Batwa village and learned more about their culture and traditions (I danced with them too!)
Before having a complimentary lesson on how to wear the traditional dress called a Gomesi. The tour is over 4 days as Bwindi is approx 540 km from Kampala, the capital. Along the way, I stopped at the Ugandan Equator and tried some traditional food.
If you’re unsure who to book your Uganda gorilla trek with, I definitely recommend Irene from Women Tour Uganda. I honestly felt as though we were on holiday together as we had so much fun.
Women Tour Uganda employs 90% women and because Irene is also a solo traveller, she understands the need for empowering women through travel and the challenges of travelling alone as a woman to a foreign country.
All tours are specifically created for women, with the aim to encourage women to travel and meet others in a group environment. They have both group solo travellers safaris and also offer private safaris if you prefer to go alone.
Gorilla Safaris Uganda
Gorilla trekking starts from 4 days in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to a 14-day gorilla and chimpanzee trekking tour. A typical week tour includes gorilla trekking, boat cruises, game drives, a nature walk, and a visit to the top of Murchison Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.
The 14-day Gorilla Trekking in Uganda tour includes mountain gorilla trekking, game drives, a boat cruise, rhino trekking, chimpanzee trekking, and the Batwa Cultural Trail. Also included is a yoga session and nature walk, complimentary cooking and being fitted for Gomesi, their traditional clothes which you can take back home as a gift from Women Tour Uganda (mine is pink!)
By the end of two weeks, you’ll have experienced so much culture and know more about the country, its wildlife and its customs.
Their trips aren’t just limited to seeing gorillas in Uganda. Join a wildlife Uganda safari for 3 to 8 days and spot zebras, elephants, giraffes, and buffalos with the National Parks. You’ll also be able to see wildlife on morning game drives, morning walks and boat cruises along the lake to see the native birdlife.
You can take a hiking and rafting safari for 2 or 3 weeks and experience rafting along the famous River Nile. You can even try quad biking too! If you want to try your hand at golfing you can even combine your trip with golfing and tee off on one of the most beautiful courses in Uganda. From Uganda gorilla tours to golf, you can book a tour knowing that you are helping social empowerment within the country. Women Tour Uganda gives 10% of the profits on each safari to their donation of Ultra Always pads to girls in orphanage schools and homes.
Women Tour Uganda Reviews
“Had a wonderful trip with Women Tour Uganda last year and am planning my second trip with them for later in the year. Lots of wildlife and birds (sadly no illusive Shoebills) and of course the highlight was the gorillas!
I'm a regular traveller to Uganda although joined the group on my own and felt really looked after. The trip involved several national parks and the driver guide Paul pointed out birds and animals on our journeys between the parks too. The gorilla trekking was the best experience ever – they came so close and are such beautiful creatures. (The one thing I would recommend taking is a ‘shewee' for if you get caught short anywhere!).
All in all I had an amazing trip and can't wait for my next one. See you soon Women Tour Uganda.” KLSEBB, United Kingdom