Have you ever wondered what it’s like to track mountain gorillas? Few wildlife-spotting experiences are comparable to tracking mountain gorillas. With movement, behavior and physical characteristics that at times seem unbelievably close to our own, this endangered species is a joy to see living in the wild. Due to how few mountain gorillas are left across the entire planet, Uganda ranks as one of the very best places to see them; indeed, it houses approximately half of the world’s population.
Incredibly, this is concentrated in just one of Uganda’s two nature parks and reserves – Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park. The rarity of both the animal and the experience make mountain gorillas the best-known reason to go on a primate safari in Uganda, however, you will concur with me that there is a lot to see in Uganda than the gorillas.
Uganda is a wealth of natural attractions and its astonishing array of wildlife today and the purpose of this Account is to highlight some of the key factors that portray Uganda as the number one tourist destination in the region and such key areas include; where to go, what to see, how to have the best experience – and what tracking mountain gorillas is really like.
“There’s only best place in Africa where travelers can see the mountain gorillas up-close in the wild, and that’s Bwindi National park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated in the west of the country on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Remarkably, with its approximately 320 mountain gorillas, it is home to roughly half the species’ entire population.
The park has four main areas where travelers go for gorilla trekking in Bwindi: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. Home to the bulk of the park’s accommodation and certainly the easiest from which to track mountain gorillas, Buhoma is the focal point. This section of the reserve houses three habituated gorilla groups and they are comfortable with human proximity.
Explaining how the tracking works, you usually go out in groups of eight tourists, trekking for between one and six hours to find the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. What’s particularly exciting is that all visits are unique.
It’s very variable what kind of sighting you’re going to get. You can’t tell. Sometimes the group is moving through the forest, so you follow them as they move. And sometimes they’re just in one place. Sometimes you’re in a bit of a clearing, which is really good for photography, and sometimes you’re underneath the forest canopy, so it can be quite dark and groups will usually have one silverback male, and a number of females and babies.
You are allowed to stay with the gorillas, watching them play, eat, swing through the trees or simply sit for an hour – an unforgettable and moving experience. Of course, actually getting to them is something of an experience in itself, involving treks through dense rain forest. For the most part you will travel along paths, these tend to undulate and be quite uneven underfoot. In some instances, your scout may need to forge a fresh path through the foliage using a machete, imbuing the experience with an even more adventurous hue.
It is normally advisable that you discuss your level of fitness and mobility with the park headquarters, so they can place you on the most appropriate trek. Indeed, provided they have sufficient notice of special conditions, such as wheelchair use, they can accommodate virtually anyone, making the rare and wonderful experience of gorilla trekking tremendously accessible.
You will find a similar flexibility awaits you when it comes to accommodation. Buhoma offers everything from four and five-star lodges to tented camps, so you can select something that best suits you. Wherever you decide to stay, don’t forget that there is more to see here than mountain gorillas alone. The park’s boundaries have more than 100 species of mammal and over 300 birds species within them, including Albertine Rift endemics, which can only be found in this particular part of Uganda.
Part of what makes Uganda such a wonderful place for wildlife spotting is its incredible array of national parks and reserves, which shelter an even greater array of animals; everything from baboons and buffaloes to giraffes and antelope can be seen in this exciting country.