We made the plans for our gorilla trekking just three short days in advance. For anyone in the know, this is completely different from the pushed advice of ‘you must book at least four months in advance’. Though, I would never advise anyone to leaving plans to the last minute like us. We only do it this way because we just cannot commit to dates and time frames. Anyone who has travelled with us knows very well that when we say where we are off to next, it’s a very big tentative, and likely not to actually happen. But fortunately, it has continued to work out for us this far.
So, this is how we got it all done this time. From the quiet shores of Lake Bunyonyi, just 7km from Kabale Town in south west Uganda, we started our research. We did a Google search for all the necessities, and then sent an email to Seth at Bwindi Backpackers Lodge. Basically, he came out to the lake for a chat and we booked it all in with him and left the next day. A very quick process.
Though the two typical big unknowns kept us little on edge. Firstly, when you book in you have no idea just how much you’ll trek on the day, it could be anywhere between 30mins to 8 hours. For us we were itching for a hard slog into the middle of nowhere, where others were hoping for the opposite. Secondly, you also wait for confirmation to whether your allocated gorilla family is able to be located once the trek has commenced. It wasn’t until three hours into our trek that our guides had the radio call to say our family had finally been found. And it’s a bloody good feeling when that call does come though.
From here I’ll let Clint’s description give the insight of our experiences, and let his photos illustrate what we saw:
“I really don’t know where to start… A several hour ride on the most insane 4WD track, brought us to the national park, where we met the trackers and two Guards armed with AK47’s (bordering the Congo, this jungle isn’t the safest place on earth, and there are many wild elephants in the area also). In the morning we set off and spent three and a half hours climbing straight up this mountain, following our guide as he hacked our way through the most insanely dense jungle with machetes (quite an effort actually), getting severely screwed over by fire ants, which their bits are still continue to burn a day later. Eventually reaching the mountain peak, where we met what we were there for; a family of six Mountain Gorillas, including the Silverback that weighs up to around 250kg’s and stands up to 2 metres tall. His arms were as thick as my torso! Seeming though he was the first we encountered, it was a very daunting initiation into the experience.”
“But despite how utterly huge and powerful these amazing animals are, and the fact that they could crush you in a second, they truly are the most placid and peaceful creatures on the planet. They have absolutely no intention to hurt you and let you get within a metre or two of them. We spent over an hour with this playful family, following them around the area, just sitting with them, watching them eat and do their stuff. The entire day has now become one of my favourite travel experiences. Though a little more specifically; being within 2 metres of the silver back (no, not joking) and staring straight into his eyes, with him staring straight back at you … I can’t ever describe how that felt. You just have to make sure you get out there and experience it for yourself!”
Planning & Cost
For those who would like some extra details, we took a two night package that included: transfers to/from the lodge (this is a solid four hour drive from Lake Bunyonyi), 2 nights in a private room overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, transfers to/from the gorilla trekking starting point, all meals by the resident cook plus a packed lunch for the trek (the food was all pretty good too). The whole experience typically costs around $650 USD each (though with the lack of tourists around the place, we were able to strike a better deal). Even though this is clearly expensive, it is probably the cheapest you could do it for. Because the Government priced Gorilla Permits are a whopping $500 USD in Uganda, and $750 USD in Rwanda (at the time of writing this post). … But like Clint said “It’s the best splurge I’ve ever done”
Can you see your self getting up close and personal with these gentle giants?