Deep in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda are tribes of some of the last remaining mountain gorillas. With only an estimated 880 individuals remaining worldwide, this animal is critically endangered and the only way to see them is in the wild.
While the park is open for all kinds of wildlife viewing, most people come for the gorillas. In Uganda, the gorilla trek is by permit only — with permits costing $600 in high season and $450 during the rainy season of April, May, and November. While it’s possible to do the trek on your own, it’s highly recommended to go with a guide if you want a chance of seeing a family of gorillas.
And you’ll want to see them. The male silverback can be up to 6 feet tall and weigh 500 lbs. But not to worry, these gentle giants are vegetarian, subsisting off roots, fruits, bark, and pulp, and the guides are experts in tracking and viewing.
There are seven distinct families in the Bwindi Park. It’s estimated there are about 340 individuals in the park. While the gorillas are making a slow comeback (there were only 240 remaining in the world in the 1970s), the biggest threat to them now is disease and loss of habitat.
Bwindi National Park is in the south-western part of Uganda. The Park is home to an almost unparalleled biodiversity for a couple reasons. One is the extreme altitude range. And the second is its age. Most of Africa’s forests were destroyed during the final ice age (12,000-18,000 years ago), but this swath of forest was not, making its vegetation over 25,000 years in the making. There are roads to get to the park, but it’s aptly named “impenetrable.” Bwindi actually translates to “impenetrable” in Runyakitara. Once inside, the forest must be traversed by foot.
With so few gorillas left and a dedicated contingent protecting them, investing in supporting and seeing them is once-in-a-lifetime worth it.
How to get there
Bwindi National Forest is 2-3 hours from Queen Elizabeth National Park, 6-9 hours from Kampala, or just 1-2 hours from Kabale. All roads converge at Butogota, which is 17km from the Buhoma entrance gate. Here are some detailed options on how to get there.
What to consider
- Here’s a list of recommended tour companies to book with. A gorilla viewing permit costs $600 per person per trek so your tour should cost somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000, the latter being the more luxury option.
- Most people prefer the mid-range tours.
- If you book in the low season, from September-December and February-June, your costs should be reduced.
- Wear layers. It gets cold, especially in the rainy season when the gorillas retreat to the mountains.
- Check out the what to expect when booking with a tour company here.