Tour Operator: Achieve Global Safaris
Safari Length: 3 days
Safari Highlights: Gorilla Trek
Price: $1575 USD
Here’s the low down on gorilla trekking in East Africa:
First, you usually need to book your gorilla permit in advance as there are only 80 permits sold each day and they can sell out during high season. I knew I wanted to do gorilla trekking on a weekend in June which is the start of high season so I booked my tour about 4 months in advance. It’s a bit overwhelming choosing a tour operator, especially from abroad. I was travelling solo which meant that everything is 10x more expensive. After being in Uganda for some time, I did hear about a company that does budget group gorilla tours so if that’s something you’re looking for check out Red Chilli Hideaway. Because I hadn’t heard of them, and wanted to splurge a bit on this incredible experience, I went with Achieve Global Safaris. Initially, I was hoping to trek in the Buhoma sector (mainly because of a lodge that I really wanted to stay at). However, after paying my fee to reserve a gorilla permit I was told that the Buhoma sector was all sold out and they reserved me a permit in the Rushaga sector. In Uganda, there are three sectors that you can start your gorilla trek from – and I don’t really think there’s a big difference at the end of the day you’re seeing gorillas in the same national park just entering it from a different side. You can go gorilla trekking in Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.
Gorilla permit costs:
Uganda – 600 USD
Congo – 500 USD
Rwanda – 1500 USD
The drive from Kampala to Bwindi in Uganda is VERY long. Most people I met there were doing longer tours and the gorilla trek was a part of that. I was the only one who had come straight from Kampala and would be heading right back there afterwards. Of course, I needed to do it this way because of work but if I could do it differently I would have stayed in the area longer and gone to Lake Bunyoni as well. The drive took about 9-12 hours with traffic and stopping for lunch. The last 2.5 hours close to Bwindi is beautiful.. but also very twisty and a bit scary. You’re driving on a tiny dirt road on the side of the mountain.
I stayed at Rushaga Gorilla Camp and enjoyed my stay there immensely. Despite the view from my room being non-existent, the service and food was excellent and there was a nice view from the dinning area where you could just hang out.
In the evening, they would have dance performers from the community come in to entertain and ask for donations. The kids were extra cute.
Gorilla trekking doesn’t require you to wake up exceptionally early. I had breakfast at 7 am and was driving to the entrance for 7:30. When we first arrived we were gathered in a large group with all the other trekkers where we were given a bit of a history on Bwindi and Gorillas. During this time, our guides were organizing our trekking groups and getting us signed in with our passports.
We were then all split into groups of 8 people – no more than 8 people per day can visit a gorilla family and you can only stay with them for a max of 1 hour. Each group is given a family of gorillas and are connected to trackers who have been out in the park since morning. These trackers start where the family was last seen the day before and then follow their poo and other signs of them until they find the family. When they find the family they radio over to our guide and we head more specifically to that direction.
Once we got into our smaller groups, our guide asked us who wanted porters (we all did!). The porters are from the community and are so helpful! Porters cost about 15 USD or 60,000 UGX. You might think you’re a fit and experienced hiker and won’t need a porter, but trust me a porter is more than just helpful for carrying your bag. Your porter will help you safely get up and down some steep and slippery jungle and will help you navigate and not fall (too much) when you’re knee deep in the forest. When you get to the gorillas you also need to leave your bags behind – so it’s almost essential to have a porter for this part. I’m honestly not too sure what you would do if you didn’t have one.
After getting our porters we hopped into our cars with our guides and drove to exactly where we would be entering the park. Our team then consisted of our guide, two extra security personnel, the three trackers who were already in the park, the 8 of us and our porters. I think it’s important to note that although our security have guns.. they are not there to shoot the gorillas!!! The Gorillas are habituated to seeing humans, so they very rarely get aggressive. However, if we came across an aggressive gorilla they would shoot the air to scare them away. These folks love the gorillas more than we do and have spent their entire lives with these beautiful animals. They want to see their population grow and for the gorillas to be safe where they are in their natural homes.
The start of our trek was pretty easy as we just walked along the side of the forest without entering. We had to cross a few thundering rivers over some logs which was mostly fun but they were a little slippery and you DEFINITELY didn’t want to fall in. The ants along the trail are notorious and within seconds of standing near them they will somehow be up your legs, crawling all over your body and biting you. You will not survive if your pants are not tucked into your socks!!! Even still we would pass quickly by these ants and somehow three seconds later I would find one biting my shoulder! You need long socks. Don’t forget them.
Our group went nice and slowly and took plenty of breaks. My group was at a much slower rate than I would normally go which worked out perfectly for me as I just stayed at the back and enjoyed my hike.
We were lucky to find the gorillas just hanging out with the silverback and momma lounging under a tree and a baby and teenager playing together. we were able to just sit and watch them for about 20 minutes before they started to move back down the mountain.
My photo diary from this adventure is coming soon… stay tuned!
We followed them down the mountain (very quickly) as we slid down through the jungle. We were not as fast as they were! Once down we were able to see even more of the family as they ate their lunch. Did you know gorillas are mainly herbivores?
We really enjoyed an incredible hour with them and because of where they moved we were already half way back by the time the hour was done. I was smiling ear to ear all day afterwards and can still just sit and watch the videos of them play for hours. It was such an incredible day!
Since gorilla tourism started in 1993, the gorilla population has grown from 700 to just over 1,000! We always need to question any kind of tourism that involves animals, and I’d like to say that my experience here was one that left minimal footprint and interruption into their lives and is helping them to live freely in their environment away from poachers and other harm. The guides and operators do an exceptional job of ensuring that nothing is left in the park and that we do no harm to the gorillas. <3.