The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in south-west Uganda, covers a distance of 32,000 hectares or 331 sq. km, on the Eastern Edge of the Albertine Rift Valley. It is home to Mountain Gorilla Endangered Species, spread over four regions. There are 18 family groups as of June 2018. The Park also boasts over 160 tree species, ferns and is great for Bird watching.
Buhoma Village, is positioned around the National Park Headquarters where there are several accommodation options. We stayed at Buhoma Lodge, providing cottage style accommodation with en-suite and a balcony while the lodge features all services including a post walk massage for all guests. The village is quite narrow within the forest. Also in the village is a local Orphanage, where all guests are welcome to enjoy a concert provided by the children and contribute to the local community purchasing drawings and handcrafts.
The procedure to participate in a Gorilla Trek is quite specific – the permit must be confirmed prior to arriving; securing accommodation in the region that is closest to the trek; requiring a medium to high level of fitness, and mustn’t be unwell. The location of the family that has been assigned to your trek is not known until the morning so there is no guarantee that the trek will be easy, or will involve incline or decline intense mountain walking. To lead the group are the two armed guides from the Uganda Wildlife Authority who take us through the entire trekking experience.
To also assist with the walk, each guest is provided with a porter, who is there to carry your bag, assist in the walk up and down hills, through the tough terrain as well as enjoy the conversation with each other during the trek. The porters are met closer to the trek and do not enter the Gorilla family parameter. These porters are from the local communities and rotate to ensure everyone gets to participate in the activity. A US $20 contribution is recommended for your Porter, as well as donating any clothing or other belongings after the trek.
A full briefing is undertaken at the main National Park offices in the Buhoma village and advised of the family that your group of 8 are going to find. In our case, we boarded a mini-bus and were driven 45 minutes around to the opposite side of the mountain, and then commenced a long ascent to the top of the ridge. This is what I had expected it would be like, with what seemed to be an endless climb to the top of the ridge. At this point, I looked to the immediate horizon and was greeted with a view of tree plantations and then was pointed out by my porter that the tea plantations were their main job in the community and they do the porter guiding twice a month. He also pointed out that the forest to our below left is where we were heading to. Looking down I could see the intense terrain that we were going to encounter and then understood why a porter is needed!
As we commenced our decent to the forest floor, we had to hold onto each other, keeping very focused on the terrain to ensure that we didn’t slip and fall into the bushes. We walked in single file down through the thick terrain, eventually reaching the bottom of the valley. It was at this point where we left our porters behind and then walked in single file as our two guides who then began to machete our way through the thick forest.
Then the moment that we had worked so hard and travelled all the way around the world to see – we had found the Gorillas. This family is called the Habinyanja Gorillas, comprising of a Silverback, Blackback, Adult Females, Sub Adults, Juvenile and Infants. The forest was very dense where they were scattered throughout the area, sitting in the trees, eating leaves or resting in the forest. We were allowed one hour to be with the family to observe their way of life, take photos with no flash and to keep a 7 metre distance. However if they approach us, we were instructed to stay still and the guides will monitor their actions.
After we spent the hour with the Habinyanja Family, we commenced our return trek to Buhoma. It was the same way in and out so our porters joined us and assisted the group up the extremely steep track back to the top of the ridge where all took a breather and enjoyed our lunch overlooking the tea plantations. Then as we commenced our long decline to the transfer bus, the heavens opened up and we copped a decent drenching, but none of us cared as we had trekked that hard and were full of joy and emotion for the overwhelming experience.
Upon returning to the Headquarters in Buhoma Village, we were presented with a Gorilla Tracking Certificate by our guides and then we said our farewells and returned to the Lodge. Here we were all treated to a massage, which is so needed after the intense trekking experience we had all endured over the last 7 hours.
Uganda is such an amazing country to visit and I highly recommend the Chimpanzee and Gorilla Trekking for those wishing to see these Primates in their natural habitat, as well as to enjoy so many other activities and attractions on offer.
Jules Insall is a Business Development Manager for The Africa Safari Co, with extensive travel to Africa including visiting South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi.