Habituating the mountain gorillas
The mountain gorillas possess immense physical strength (they are the largest gorilla species), but are relatively non-aggressive and calm, and live according to complex social rules and hierarchies that are fascinating to observe.
The gorillas have to be carefully and slowly introduced to humans by teams of guides, researchers and trackers. Once the gorillas are comfortable in the presence of humans, it is safe for you to head into the park to observe them in their natural habitat, from a distance of up to 7 metres.
Gorilla trekking vs gorilla habituation experience
A standard gorilla trek involves hiking to find a group of gorillas in the forest, and then spending up to an hour observing the group.
By contrast, the gorilla habituation experience involves spending four hours with a group of gorillas and is only available in Rushaga, in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Mountain Park. Gorilla trekking in Uganda costs around $600, while the gorilla habituation experience costs $1,500.
The gorillas observed in the habituation experience are also generally wilder and less used to humans than those seen on the standard gorilla treks(they are still being ‘habituated’), making the experience more interesting and adventurous, albeit still entirely safe.
What the day looks like
The first part of any gorilla trek in Uganda is a (sometimes lengthy) trek into the forest with an expert team of guides and scouts, looking for tracks of the gorillas to locate them in the thick forest.
The strongest clue that you're near a group is finding the gorilla's nest from the previous night. At this point, the guides will use their knowledge of, and familiarity with, the gorillas to put them at ease. While maintaining non-threatening body language, you will be able to watch the lives of the gorillas unfold as they go about grooming each other, playing and constantly munching their way through the dense foliage.
When observing the animals up close, interacting with each other in their small familial groups, you'll start to draw parallels between the gorillas and us - the similarities are often striking, and humbling.
Once contact has been made, you will spend the next four hours in the presence of the gorillas, before heading back out of the thickets towards the lodge. It's a fully day affair, and returning to the lodge for dinner and a warm shower/bath will be much needed and well deserved!
Best time to go
The gorilla habituation experience can be done year-round. Temperatures in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park hover between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The dry seasons, from June to August and again from December to February, are the best time to visit - but you should still be prepared for showers at any time of year.
The months of March to May typically see the most rains in Bwindi, so where possible you should avoid these months,
Conversely, seeing the gorillas during the wet season offers some clear advantages to those interested in photography. The rain clears the air of dust, allowing clearer photos to be taken than would otherwise be the case - the rain and mists also create a certain moody, wilderness look and feel of the national park - particularly compelling from your lodge veranda!
How to get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi national park is in southwest Uganda, and is fairly accessible by road or by air. After arriving in Entebbe International Airport in central Uganda, you can take a second flight to either Kisoro or Kihihi airstrips, both of which are located close to Bwindi. The flights run daily and take about 1.5 hours.
Alternatively, the national park can be reached by car from Entebbe in around 9 hours. Although this is a longer option, it is possible to visit some other wonderful attractions along the way, such as Queen Elizabeth National Park, an excellent safari spot, and Murchison Falls National Park that is cut by the Nile river.
Where to stay
There are some fantastic accommodation options close to Bwindi national park, where you can enjoy fabulous views of the mountains and the authentic experience of staying in locally-run lodges with traditional architecture.
On the more luxurious end of the spectrum, you have Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, which blends high-end modern amenities with elegant yet unshowy wood and stone architecture, and Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, which is a ‘glamping’ resort. Some less luxurious, but cheaper and still very good options, are Buhoma Lodge, and Mahogany Springs Safari Lodge.
Ready to explore Bwindi?
Combine chimp trekking in Kibale Forest with mountain gorilla treks in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. A well-paced highlights tour unlocking some of Uganda's most impressive experiences. Consider breaking up the journey from Kibale to Bwindi with a classic safari at…