One of the most memorable things you can do in your life is to come up real close with wild animals. And in Central Africa that means you have to trek into the misty jungle to find the mountain gorillas.
At present only about 880 of them roam around the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and the Virunga Mountains in the Congo and Rwanda.
That really is not much. So it is just that more mesmerizing to crouch down between ferns and tropical flowers while a 200kg silverback walks by you with his whole family behind him. But that is exactly what we want. And all the sweating and gorilla flies that come with it.
Uganda is a rather long stretched country. While the capital Kampala and Lake Victoria lie in the north, the Mountain Gorillas have their habitat in the south. That is where the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda share the Gorilla Triangle. Therefore that is where you need to go.
Before I arrived I arranged everything online. Make sure you get the East African Visa so you can combine Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya if it on your agenda to see those countries anyways. It costs 100$, which is cheaper than purchasing 3 single Visas and there a many great itineraries to combine those 3 countries.
For a tour operator head over to the Ugandan Tourism Site. I recommend Insight Safari Holidays which offered a great deal. As logistics in Uganda are cheaper and more straight forward than in the Congo it makes it at the moment the cheapest place to see Mountain Gorillas. It cost us 675$ per person for the permit plus guide and hotel pick up/drop off.
Book in advance as the Ugandan Tourism Board only sells 88 Permits per day. In the Congo you have to pay 400$ for a permit while Rwanda charges a staggering 1500$.
My fiancee and I arrived a day early from Kigali, Rwanda by bus and reached the little town of Kabale after 4 hours and paying not more than 5 Euros each. Right at the bus station there are BodaBodas, the motocycle taxis, to bring you anywhere you need to go.
We asked two of them to bring us to Lake Bunyonyi. Truly a magical place. It sits at a height of almost 2000m and is 900m deep. What kind of fish must swim in those waters? I can tell, very delicious ones. This whole area is so serene with lush green hills where farmers grow corn and other vegetables. Not many people live there but we only saw smiley faces during our whole time there. Especially our hotel manager Junior who lives on one of the 29 islands on the lake where he runs a program to help young kids learn how to swim.
There was also Christopher who runs an orphanage with his older sister and who invited us to her wedding. Unfortunately we could not join since Kigali was calling us. But the kids were amazing. Dancing in the sunset. You could see a few of the special islands. Take a look her for some impressions.
Punishment island as the Akampene Island is nicknamed for example, where women were brought to if they had become pregnant before marriage. It was seen as a disgrace in the old days and unless a lover picked up that girl and married her, she was left starving to death on the little peace of land. It was a chance for poor men who could not afford the dowry for a real wedding. Christoper told us of a woman who was the last one to be rescued through marriage and still lives by the shores today.
Zoo island has a very unique hotel on it and stays true to the name. We took a boat tour around it and saw many Zebras , Antelopes and interesting birds. Not really what you would expect. Those islands were 2 of the more interesting one in Lake Bunyonyi. Half of them have settlements.
Our local guide also reported that on the other side of the lake there lies a settlement of the Pygmies. Which is definitely why I will come back one day.
At Lake Bunyonyi we stayed in the Bunyonyi View Resort which cost us 40USD per night including breakfast.
The next day it was time for what we had come.
The best way to dress for this expedition is to wear comfortable long pants and a long sleeve shirt. It is fairly warm in the jungle but could rain at anytime so bring also a light rain jacket. I was walking in sport sneakers which was good enough.
The trek itself is not difficult at all (note: it took us 30 minutes to spot the gorillas, sometimes it can take up to 4 hours as the Gorillas are always on the move). The jungle paths are clear and for the first part it only went downhill. You will hear and see all kinds of monkeys , even elephants we heard, and then finally the guides will stop everyone. ‘Quiet now, settle down here and have your cameras ready.’
The group was approaching, almost 20 of them and with a million gorilla flies as their entourage. You hear, smell and see them as they climb up and down the trees. It is truly a stunning experience to see creatures that almost behave like humans. Young ones playing and pretending to be the big boss, the older ones grooming each other and the silverback in a very pensive mood.
Very impressive how such huge and strong climbers can live only on plants. As a hobby weightlifter I was intrigued to ask them for tips and turns out you just got to transport your 100kg+ body through the jungle all day. Off and on the ground. Since we are not moving to the jungle anytime soon though I will stick to the gym.
The silverback truly has it all under control and suddenly there were two. Luckily that day two groups met who used to be one and very soon in all directions you could see gorillas playing, climbing, grooming each other and eating.
The guides told us that these were already the more domesticated groups of Mountain Gorillas. The real wild ones are left in peace. Nevertheless scientists are allowed to visit the more remote groups from time to time.
It was another easy hike back to the vans but this time going upwards. People of all ages do this trek and so if you manage through one of those big Dubai shopping malls then surely you can trek to find the real kings of the jungle in Uganda.
Since we had another free day I booked a tour to see the Chimpanzees in Kalinzu Forest. The tour costs 180$ and again you will be picked up at the hotel. 4 hours later Kalinzu Forest emerged and jungle and tea plantations dominated the landscape. As is the case in most of Central Uganda.
The two experiences are very different. Once we had found the Chimpanzees I noticed why. While Gorillas mostly travel and live on the ground, Chimpanzees like to stay in the trees. Therefore it is a much bigger distance between you and them. But you will be just as amazed. Apes as big as humans high up in the trees is a strange sight.
Uganda is a jewel in Africa. What we have seen in the few days was breathtaking and humbling. A nature worth of preserving.
If you ever get the chance or are already planning your trip, just go to Uganda. It is also cheaper than Rwanda and safer than the Congo. For a first trip that makes it an easy choice.
While it is for sure one of the more expensive trips you can undertake , it is well worth it. For a long time I had the plan to come here and to have the dream finally come true well exceeded my expectations.
I love wildlife experiences and that is why another trip will stay for always in memory. Sleeping in the jungle
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