The EID public holiday had now arrived, with many people looking for last minute getaways to take advantage of the extra days off work. I’d booked my trip a couple of months ago taking advantage of a flash sale by Emirates. Gorilla trekking in Uganda was the trip of choice. Something that has been on my radar for years, but I’d never quite got round to it. I took the Emirates flight into Entebbe to check out the city pre-tour.
Within an hour of the plane hitting the runway, I was at Lake Victoria. Aiming to fully maximise my time in the city, I was intrigued to check out the third largest lake in the world. The shores of the lake seem to be extremely popular with locals and tourists alike, as well as being a beautiful spot to enjoy the sunset.
The Wildlife Education Centre was also worth a visit. It’s basically a large nature reserve with plenty of wildlife. The chimpanzees were a favourite of mine. Their actions were human-like at times, and loving the attention from tourists.
It was great to see some of the sights in Entebbe, but obviously the gorilla trekking was the main attraction of the whole trip. I woke up at 5am the following morning, with my guide not arriving until 7am, but I was super excited. One thing I wasn’t expecting, was the length of the journey ahead. The drive time was almost 10 hours to reach Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It was a long and tiring day, but there was one highlight en route, that made it all worthwhile… The Uganda Equator. I was standing at the equator, where both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere meet. This is the imaginary line you see on maps and globes which divides the world into two halves. While at this specific point, I was able to stand with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere, and my other foot in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m sure I’m not the only person who went one geeky step further, and jumped from one hemisphere to another.
I arrived at my lodge accommodation in the forest around 8pm, with Broadbill Forest Camp being the chosen venue. Pre-trip I spent quite a bit of time researching the different lodging options for Bwindi NP guests, I wanted a lodge within easy reach of the National Park itself, but also a sensible cost, considering I was only going to be there for one night.
The day was finally here. It was time to depart the lodge and head to the gorilla trekking meet point. A short 3km journey, and I had arrived at the starting point. Gorilla permit in hand, camera in the other, and ready to go. The check in process was very straightforward, as were the basic ground rules that the gorilla experts went through with the 25 eager tourists.
The trackers has been in the National Park a couple of hours earlier to establish where the gorilla families are likely to be. Considering Bwindi is 331km square in size, I think these trackers are extremely talented people. The chances of seeing the gorillas vary throughout the year, with early September being peak season, so my chances were high. Some groups walk for 30 minutes and reach the gorillas, while others are walking for 6 hours.
I was trekking for around 1.5 hours when our guides stopped us and said “can everybody take 10 minutes to eat and drink, as this is something we can’t do in the company of the gorillas”. Instantly, I was filled with excitement, as this meant we had reached a family of gorillas. Once with the gorillas, the stopwatch starts and the hour begins.
I can honestly say the experience of spending an hour with the gorillas was phenomenal, and almost felt a little surreal. I’ve done many amazing things travelling the world, but I struggle to find anything on a par with this in terms of a unique experience. It’s like the whole forest went silent, and all I could hear was their breathing, as well as the roaring while communicating with their family members.
I was standing a mere 5 metres away from these fascinating animals. There were 4 in total, with one being the silverback leader of the group. At first, I was shocked by the size of the gorillas, especially the silverback, who weighed around 200kg according to our guide. The gorillas were aware of our presence, but carried on with their daily rituals of eating leafs and branches, as well as rolling around the jungle floor. There were times where the gorillas moved even closer, as this is something that can’t be controlled. At one point, I was a couple of metres away at most, but just stayed completely still to highlight that I wasn’t a threat.
Here’s a few photos I took during the experience…
Where to stay?
African Roots Guest House
While in Entebbe, I chose to stay at African Roots Guest House as this was recommended to me by a fellow traveller. It was a wise choice, and I wasn’t disappointed. Great location, close to Lake Victoria, clean guest rooms, WIFI, friendly staff, and offer many excursions.
As for the gorilla trekking in Bwindi, I chose Broadbill Forest Camp on the basis that it’s 3km from the park HQ. The en suite tents were extremely impressive. Fully furnished, as well as a separate dining area serving great food, electricity to charge devices, and a fire place to relax.
How much did it cost?
I spent around 4 days of solid research looking into various tour companies offering the gorilla trekking excursions, and the thing that shocked me the most was the variation in price. This ranged from $900-$2,500 for the exact same thing
I paid $990 and the price included airport pick up, a tour guide, full transportation, all meals, Bwindi lodging, and the gorilla permit (permit is $600 from the Government)
The only further cost was my night at African Roots Guest House at $55
How fit do I need to be?
I’d say average fitness
You’re trekking through a forest, so the main issue is that the ground is very uneven
The guides will accommodate trekkers in wheelchairs if advance notice given
Which Tour Guide?
I used East African Jungle Safaris for the total price of $960.
Fred is the Senior Operations Manager and can be reached on +256 752 820818 or firstname.lastname@example.org
I would go as far as labelling the gorilla trekking a lifetime experience, and would recommend it to anyone. Add this to your bucket list today!