Gorilla trekking is defined as a hike to tropical forests to see the gorillas in their natural habitants since the mountain gorillas are the star tourist attraction in Bwindi impenetrable National park this makes gorilla trekking the most popular tourist activity in the park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National park is found in Kanungu District in the South Western part of Uganda and It is situated on 321square kilometers. This park contains both Afromontane and lowland forests. Bwindi has a tropical type of climate meaning that it can receive rainfall anytime of the day in the year. Bwindi Impenetrable is famous for the mountain gorillas thus making it a popular destination for gorilla trekking. There are over 400 mountain gorillas that are harbored in the forests of Bwindi. This therefore means that the park harbors more than half of the world’s remaining gorilla population in the world. Bwindi Impenetrable National park is further subdivided into four regions for easy accessibility an these are Buhoma region, Rushaga region, Nkuringo region and Ruhija region each of these regions has different gorilla families to be trekked.
Gorilla trekking regions in Bwindi Impenetrable National park.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi happens in the four trekking regions of Bwindi where different habituated gorillas are being trekked. But before one goes on trekking the gorillas must have purchased a gorilla trekking permit which can be acquired from the UWA main offices and each permit costs 700dollars for the foreign non residents, 600dollars for the foreign residents and 250000shs for the East African residents. Not forgetting the minimum age allowed to trek the mountain gorillas in Bwindi is 15years and above. Some groups might start tracking the gorillas near the park offices while others will need to be driven to starting points in the other sectors. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi takes about two to eight hours depending on the gorilla family your trekking and once a particular gorilla family has been tracked a period of just an hour is given to the tourists with the gorillas. This is so because the gorillas might feel uncomfortable due to the visitor’s long stay and may get agitated by their presence. With this one hour tourists get to Learn more about the gorillas feeding habits, how they play and communicate thus knowing about their lifestyles and behaviors. Very early in the morning tourists wake up to shower up and get breakfast then head to the briefing at the park headquarters after the briefing they are being grouped into groups of eight since its by the rule of trekking that only a group of eight people are allowed to trek a particular gorilla group in the trekking sectors of Bwindi. Here are the trekking regions of Bwindi;
Buhoma sector. This region is located in the Northern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National park, It’s the oldest sector in the park and It is the first sector to be opened up for gorilla trekking having the oldest habituated gorilla family in Bwindi. Buhoma region has five fully habituated mountain gorilla families and these are Mubare gorilla family being the oldest and first gorilla family to be trekked has nine individuals, Habinyanja gorilla family was habituated in 1997 and has 17 members, Rushegura gorilla family which was habituated in 2000 and opened up for trekking in 2002 has 17 members, Katwe gorilla family was opened up for gorilla trekking in 2018 and has 7 individuals and lastly Muyambi gorilla group on Buhoma region has 7 members and was launched for gorilla trekking in 2019 and there are 40 trekking permits available per day.
Ruhija sector. This region has four fully habituated gorillas and trekking starts very early in the morning after briefing of the do’s and don’ts. Ruhija sector is found in the Eastern part of the park. The following are the gorilla families found in this region; Bitukura gorilla family has a family size of 13 members headed by silverback Ndahura, Oruzogo gorilla family headed by silverback Bakwate has a family size of 17 individuals, Kyaguliro family group which is mainly used for Research has 10 members and lastly Mukiza gorilla group headed by silverback Mukiza has 10 members. Ruhija region has about 32 trekking permits available per day.
Rushaga sector. This region has the largest number of fully habituated gorilla families and It is found in the southern part of Bwindi. There are eight fully habituated families in this region for trekking and still here trekking starts very early in the morning after the briefing at the park headquarters and the following are the families found in Rushaga trekking region: Nshongi gorilla family has 10 members and It is headed by silverback Bweza, Bikingi gorilla family having 15 members, Mishaya gorilla family having 12 members, Kahungye gorilla family with 17 individuals and is headed by Rumanzi, Busingye gorilla group has 9 members headed by Busingye, Bweza gorilla family headed by Bweza and has 12 individuals, Mucunguzi gorilla family with eight gorillas led by Mucunguzi and Rwigi gorilla family with 10 members and led by Rwigi. In Rushaga region there are 64 trekking permit per day. Rushaga region has the Kutu family which is still under the habituation process.
Nkuringo sector. This region of Bwindi has gorillas that are available for trekking and it has the least number of habituated gorillas in Bwindi. Nkuringo sector is found in the Southern part of Bwindi an has only three gorilla families available for gorilla trekking and these are; Nkuringo gorilla family headed by Rwamutwe and has 11 members, Bushaho gorilla family having only 12 member headed by silverback Bahati, Christmas gorilla family has nine members. Therefore Nkuringo region has a total of 24 gorilla trekking permits sold out per days. Nkuringo region has one group that is still under habituation process and this is the Posho gorilla family. These are the regions of Bwindi where tourists go for gorilla trekking.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi has rules and regulations governing it. These are normally read out to the trekkers before they embark on the hiking in the forest very early in the morning. During trekking the tourists together with the experienced tour guide who will be sharing information about each of the group members and the forest itself will be accompanied by two well trained armed rangers for security purposes in case. A team tracker goes ahead of the group to identify the location of the gorillas and then informs the guide on a radio call. Here is the list of the rules and regulations of gorilla trekking;
- A period of an hour is enough and allowed for the tourists to stay with the mountain gorillas in their natural habitants.
- One must be of 15years and above to trek the gorillas
- A group of only eight people are allowed to trek a particular mountain gorilla family per day.
- One must have attained a gorilla trekking permit in order to carry out trekking.
- You must stay tight in a group when your near the mountain gorillas.
- If your not feeling well or have a contagious disease please endeavor to stay behind your money will be refunded or another trek will be organised for you.
- Maintain a distance of 15feet from the mountain gorillas, don’t touch the gorillas coz they are wild and don’t directly stare at them.
- Don’t litter rubbish in the park keep everything with you
- In cases where a mountain gorilla charges please crouch down slowly, don’t run let the gorilla leave on its own
- Don’t drink or smoke
- Keep your voices low so that you don’t scare off the gorillas and other attractions that you might observe like the birds, animals in the forests.
- When taking photos please keep your flashlights off.
The best and perfect time for gorilla trekking in Bwindi National park.
Bwindi can be visited any time for gorilla trekking that one feels like. But since we all know it that this park has a tropical type of climates there are times which wont be with favorable conditions for gorilla trekking therefore we need to know when its best to visit for an easy gorilla trekking. During the months in between December to February and June to September this is regarded as the dry season in the park however its not guaranteed that it wont rain due to the nature of the climate Bwindi experiences. Though when it rains during the dry season it will not be heavy rains and will definitely have to shine. Therefore the pathways will still be accessible. And in between the months of March to May and October to November are taken to be the wet season in the park implying rainfall is being received this will be inconveniencing the trekking since the pathways will be slippery making it difficult to be accessed. Since it rains anytime the weather won’t be good this will therefore be affecting the photography. It will be very cold in the park. But the wet season in the park comes with advantages of the discounts on the permits, accommodation facilities, less crowds in the park. The dry season is also taken to b the peak season and wet season is the low season. After knowing the two different season I’ll say that the best and perfect time for one to go for gorilla trekking in Bwindi is during the dry season which takes up months of December, January, February, June, July, August and early September because the roads, trekking trails and the forest itself will be dry and easily accessed. The forest will be clear since the vegetation and shrubs wont be over grown thus clearly seeing the gorillas and getting clear photos. But this doesn’t not mean that travelling to Bwindi for gorilla trekking is subjected to only the dry season one can visit any time all year around.
Habituated gorilla families available for gorilla trekking.
Bwindi impenetrable has over 360 mountain gorillas in the habitants and these gorillas are under different gorilla families and found in different sectors of the park. Bwindi has 22 gorilla families and 20 of them are fully habituated and available for trekking and these include;
- Nshongi gorilla family has 10 members headed by Bweza. When It was first opened for trekking this group had 32 members and this group got Its name after River Nshongi where It was first seen and was led by Nshongi. It had 7 black backs and 4 silverbacks but in 2010 the group split up remaining with only 26 individuals and in 2013 It further split up reducing to 18members.
- Bikingi gorilla family with 15 members including the silverback, 5 adult females, 2 sub adults, 2 juveniles an 5 infants.
- Mishaya gorilla family has 12 members with one dominant silverback Mishaya who died in 2014. In 2010 Mishaya decided to split from the Nshongi group walking away with some females to create his own family
- Kahungye gorilla group has 17 members inclusive of 3 silverbacks, 3 black backs, 3 adult females, 3 juveniles, 3 sub adults and 2 infants. This group got Its name from the hill of Kahungye where It was first seen. In 2011 this group was opened for trekking and had 29 members but later on the group split up due to the intra male rivalry the creating the Busingye group.
- Busingye family headed by Busingye and It split from the Kahungye group. The group is known for foraging with in the forest and rarely comes towards the edge of the park. It has nine members.
- Bweza gorilla family has 12 individuals including 2 silverbacks, 4 black backs, 3 adult females, 1 sub adult an 2 infants. This is as a result of Nshongi splitting up when Mishaya silverback decided to walk away he left with a number of gorillas including Bweza who later chose to walk away from the Mishaya group with 6 members in 2012 to form his own family.
- Mucunguzi gorilla group has 8 gorillas and it split from the Bweza group
- Rwigi gorilla group has 10 members and this group broke from the Kahungye gorilla family. Rwigi silverback was on of the 3 silverbacks in Kahungye family after a misunderstanding he decided to walk away with some adult females and juveniles to create his own family.
- Mubare gorilla group has 9 members and is one of the oldest an first groups to b visited in Bwindi. This group started with 12 members under leadership of silverback Ruhondeza who died due to fights with other wild gorillas.
- Habinyanja gorilla family having 17 members. At first the group had 25 members but due to struggle for power between Rwansigazi and Mwirima after the death of the leader Mugurusi ended up splitting. Mwirima later separated to form Rushegura This group got Its name from the river where It was first sighted.
- Rushegura gorilla family has 17 members including the silverback, 4 black backs, 4 adult females, 4 juveniles and 4 infants. This group started with 12 members after splitting from the Habinyanja group and got Its name from the tree specie that is abandant in its home area. This group tends to live near the park headquarters and tracking this gorilla family is easy since it takes a short time.
- Katwe gorilla family has 7 members and was opened for trekking in 2018
- Muyambi gorilla family has 7 members and was opened for trekking in early 2019. It’s the newest gorilla family with the leader as Muyambi who was a member of the Mubare family in Buhoma sector.
- Bitukura gorilla group has 13 members inclusive of 4 silverbacks, 4 adult females, 2 juveniles, 3 infants and is headed b Ndahura silverback. Got Its name from the river where it was first found in July 2007. Initially the group had24 individuals. Bitukura family likes foraging around Ruhija tourism station and some times the forest edges.
- Oruzogo family has 17 members including 2 silverbacks, 2 black backs, 5 adult females, 2 sub adults, 1 juvenile, 5 infants and headed by Bakwate. This group likes feeding on a vegetation dominated by Alchornea hitela plant(Oruzogo) and its from this that It got Its name.
- Kyaguliro gorilla family has a size of 10 individuals including 2 black backs, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants and headed by Rukara. Following the death of the head Rukina who was succeeded by a young silverback Mukiza who was later ambushed by adult immigrating silverback Rukara from Bitukura family the group split into two group in 2016 that is Kyaguliro A under Rukara and Kyaguliro B under Mukiza. Kyaguliro group is mainly used for research.
- Mukiza gorilla family has 10 members including 1 sub adult, 4 infants, 4 female adults and the 1 silverback Mukiza
- Nkuringo gorilla family has 11 members including 2 black backs, 2 adult females, 2 sub adults, 3 juveniles, 2 infants. This group got Its name from the hill where it was first seen. This group was opened up in 2004 led by silverback Nkuringo who died in 2008 leaving Rafiki and Safari silverbacks. Then Safari took power later after Rafiki took over unfortunately was killed in 2020.
- Bushaho gorilla family has 12 members including 1 silverback Bahati, 1 black back, 5 adult females, 1 sub adult, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. This group is as a result of splitting of Nkuringo family in 2012.
- Christmas gorilla group has nine members but 6 of them are seen during trekking including 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 1 infant and 1 black back. This group go Its name after a young silverback that was born on Christmas.
Places to stay in while on gorilla trekking in Bwindi impenetrable National park.
Since Bwindi is a very big park and it attracts many tourists for gorilla trekking It was divided into four sectors. Therefore this means that while one chooses a place to stay he or she must consider the sector of Bwindi his going to visit. And it is always advisable to book an accommodation near the area your going to trek for proximity. Bwindi has a lot of accommodation facilities that offer tourists with places of stay and these are in forms of lodges, cottages, Bandas, Campsites. All of these offer good services to the tourists. One should note that the accommodation facilities in Bwindi cover all classes of peoples no to worry you with choose one depending on your budget. And these include those targeting Buhoma sector should take a look in this list Mahogany Springs camp, Bwindi volcano lodge, Silverback lodge, Engagi lodge, Buhoma community Rest Camp, Sanctuary gorilla camp, Buhoma lodge, Gorilla forest Camp, Haven lodge, Lake Kitandira gorilla forest camp, CTPH Gorilla Conservation Camp among others. Those heading to Ruhija check this list Ruhija gorilla safari, Trekkers Tavern cottages, Gift of nature lodge, Broadbill forest camp, Bakiga lodge, Ruhija safari Hotel, Ruhija community Rest camp, Ruhija gorillas friends Resort and campsite many more. Those going to Rushaga sector Lake Muhele gorilla lodge, Bwindi guest house, Gorilla hills eco lodge, Rushaga gorilla camp, Rushaga gorilla Resort, Wagtail safari lodge, Rushaga gorilla safari lodge, Ichumbi lodge, Bwindi Cultural center among others and those who are to visit Nkuringo sector include; Clouds mountain gorilla lodge, Gorilla Heights lodge, Mutanda Lake Resort, Chameleon hill lodge, Nkuringo Bwindi gorilla lodge. All the facilities in Bwindi range from up market, midrange and budget range.
Gorilla trekking is the primary activity that can be carried out in Bwindi but there are also other activities one can get involved in and these include; Gorilla habituation experience which takes place in the southern part of Bwindi only. And there are only two gorilla groups which are still under habituation therefore they are the only ones to be visited for habituation experience. This activity is fun coz it involves a four hours stay with the habituating gorillas. The Kutu family in Rushaga and the Posho family in Nkuringo are the ones available this means that only eight permits are available per day and they are grouped into two each group having four people. Nature walks which involves hiking through the forest thus exploring and discovering the different angles of the forest, butterfly species, vegetation, plant and tree species, Batwa trail experience, bird species, animals in the park. The nature walks could also take you through the village or communities of the locals thus getting a chance to interact, discover and learn new things like the culture, tradition dances and songs, skills like the hand craft making like basket weaving, mats, bags, hats, Batwa cultural encounter among others. Bird watching since the park is a home to over 360 bird species including the 23 of the 24 Albertine Rift Endemics. Different birds can be viewed during the forest nature walks, taking the birding trails, Waterfall trails among others and these birds can be seen around areas of Mubwindi, bamboo areas, waterbodies and swamps. And the following birds can be observed Striking handsome Francolin, Black bee eater, Grauers warbler, African green broadbill, Ruwenzori Turaco, African Goshawk, African pygmy kingfisher, African sooty flycatcher, African Paradise flycatcher, white tailed crested flycatcher, Brown chested Alethe, Slender billed Greenbul, Strange weaver, Great blue turaco, Red faced woodland warbler, Grey Cuckoo shrike, Ruwenzori Batis among others. Game and wildlife viewing. Since the park has 120 mammals inclusive of the primates like the chimpanzees, Galagos, De Brazza, Red tailed monkeys, white and black colobus monkeys, Vervet, blue monkeys among other will be seen during the game drives. And animals like elephants, duikers, bush bucks, Civets, jackals, golden cats among others. Other activities include boat canoeing on lake Mutanda, Mountain biking or riding, Camping.
Requirements needed during gorilla trekking.
There is a list of things one should not miss packing while going for gorilla trekking and here is a list of them.
- A water proof back pack having essentials like sun cream, insect repellent, enough energizers, enough water, snacks, sunglasses, lip bam.
- Hiking light weight boots
- Pair of long trousers, long sleeved shirt, garden gloves, stockings and a water proof hat
- A hiking stick to support you during hiking
- Binoculars, cameras and extra batteries
- Two surgical masks.