Looking into the soulful eyes of a female mountain gorilla

By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)

In a lifetime everyone has the right to encounter something out of the world, an experience that they will wish to take home with them, and just boastfully narrate to their relatives and friends in a deeply captivating story.

Cute baby gorilla seen during our gorilla tracking
Adorable baby gorilla seen during our gorilla safari

Deciding to embark on a Uganda gorilla safari results in one of the few experiences that many people desire to have, which according to Rough Guides’ Managing Editor Keith Drew, is “The Greatest Wildlife Experience On Earth”. The few who have experienced a mountain gorilla safari still tell the same story but in different versions every day.

Yes, for many, the climax of the Gorilla Safari is standing still and gazing into the eyes of that mountain gorilla, for others it is taking a “selfie”, with the mountain gorillas in the background, and sharing it with jealous friends. At that point, all your preparations of days, weeks and months turn out to have held truth; and all the nights of anxiety become no more. A full hour with the landlords of the rain forest, the mountain gorillas.

Group selfie with a silverback mountain gorilla
Selfie with Mr. Big Guy

But what are those little things that might make the entire Uganda Gorilla trekking Safari even more gratifying? Here is my simple and short list to consider.

1. Pick the right time to travel
Make sure you travel at the right time of the year. If you are not so sure about your fitness levels, I advise travelling during the dry season when the soils aren’t too boggy. The best months of the year to track the gorillas would be between December and late February as well as from June to September during the dry season.

Although the soils may not be boggy for the other times of the year, the rain forest in which gorilla tracking takes place is generally cool all year round. Despite the usually chilly weather gorilla trekking activity happens throughout the year and you will undoubtedly break a sweat especially if your trek lasts more than one hour.

The look on my shoes after the gorilla tracking safari
The look on my shoes after the gorilla trek

2. Pay for your gorilla tracking permit early enough.
The greatest advice I would give anyone desiring a seamless gorilla tracking holiday is to book and pay for their gorilla tracking permit in good time; preferably more than 2 months before the travel date.

Due to the high demand for the gorilla safari and the fragility of the gorilla species which calls for a limited number of daily visitors (8 people per day). Over 136 people travel to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park daily for the Uganda Gorilla Safari experience. You surely don’t want to be among the miserable lot that turns up late, only to find out that all permits for day have been purchased.

A gorilla trekking permit in Uganda costs only $600 and a huge chunk of this money goes towards conserving this invaluable species will a fine percentage goes towards supporting the communities living around the gorilla kingdom.

3. Plan to do some exercises prior to your hike
All Uganda’s gorilla tracking trail-heads are traversed on foot, with some hikes lasting up-to 8 hours depending on where the gorilla families are on a particular day. As humans are playful, the gorillas might decide to play hide and seek so hikers should check that they are basically fit to climb through the jungle even for long periods.

Your safari lodge will usually send you with a packed lunch, but i advise you also ask them for an extra bottle of water. At least a litre of water is nice place to start for the hike.

4. Pack right but light
The rains are rarely predictable, so tourists should pack a pair of solid shoes, preferably jungle boots, a jacket and an umbrella. On a sunny day I would advise that you travel with a fine cap or hat, sun glasses (in case you find that you need them), smear yourself with sunscreen lotion, and also come along with a good insect repellent.

There are several safari packing lists out there but the rule of thumb is to pack what you will need, lest you are burdened with a suitcase full of stuff that you’d never use on your holiday.

Something what I do (myself) when planning for all my different adventures (whether short or long) is to plan my clothes day by day. Of course the longer the trip the more stuff I need to pack but sometimes I can plan to use an outfit for more than one day. Priority when I am packing always goes to my camera equipment and other tech haha!

Nshongi family silverback
Our giant silverback mountain gorilla during our gorilla trek in the Nshongi family of Bwindi

5. Plan your holiday through a local tour operator
The contemporary statement is that it is cheaper and easier to go by as a backpacker, but you’ll quickly loathe the feeling of a trip gone bad like I do; especially when there is no one to bail you out, no one to apportion responsibility to, no to help fix the situation especially if you are wandering off in a foreign land. For these reasons and more, I recommend booking and paying for a Uganda gorilla safari through a tour company.

The criterion for choosing the tour operator is somewhat crazy itself, but worth the sweat. A company with a good customer reputation would often be the best choice; but you shouldn’t undermine the power of a recommendation (or referral as we like to presently say) from a friend or a relative who has previously been to the gorillas.

Thanks to Trip Advisor, you can also now easily check reviews of past guests on a particular company, and back that up by contacting the local Tourism Board or the Tourism Association to confirm that your safari company is reputable.

Juvenile mountain gorilla in Uganda swinging
Juvenile mountain gorilla swinging on some vines

With the right tour operator, you usually won’t have to worry about finding the right hotel to stay (because a local tour company has hands-on information of the destination), or arriving later than 8am when the gorilla trekking exercise has commenced, or even locating the sector (region) in which you will be tracking.

These are just a few pointers that will complement your holiday and make it a whole lot more enjoyable.

Have you been on a gorilla trekking vacation before? Feel free to hit me up with some of your tips in the comment box below.

But until next time, I remain yours truly, The Ugandan Tourist.

Written by 

My old folks call me Jonathan Benaiah but I prefer to go by as “The Ugandan Tourist“. I love to travel, write, take photos (of nature mostly). Ask me my best kind of trips and I'll tell you that it's those moments which allow me enough time in the African bush.