Bwindi National Park
Bwindi is situated on Uganda's extreme western border, very close to the geographical heart of Africa where the confluence of the Rift Valley and the Great Lakes have created an eco-system that perhaps defines the very essence of the continent. Fittingly, Bwindi is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is an enduring pocket of a huge primeval forest that once stretched from the Virunga Volcanoes in the South to the Rwenzori Mountains in the North. The fertile 331 square kilometers of the park contain 113 species of mammals (including a herd of the rare forest elephant), 200 species of butterfly, over 360 species of birds and a prodigious 324 tree varieties (10 of which are endemic to the park).
In addition to this incredible diversity, Bwindi is home to seven species of primates, attracting the attention of international conservation efforts, of which the most endangered is that elusive giant of Africa - the Mountain Gorilla. Only 600 of these magnificent animals remain worldwide, and Bwindi is home to just over half of them.
The gorillas you will track will belong to one of the three ‘habituated' family groups in Northern Bwindi. The Mubare Group, the Habinyanja Group and the Rushegura Group. For up to five years each, these groups have undergone an extremely delicate process that has gradually made them used to the presence of humans, and allowed a few privileged visitors to interact with them briefly in the wild.
The gorillas are by no means tame. They are completely wild animals, which even now tolerate human presence for an hour a day at most. Experienced guides, many of who have been involved in the habituation process themselves, will accompany you on your tracking,. These guides will brief you in detail on your arrival on the various aspects of ‘gorilla etiquette', but the information contained in this set of guidelines is to help you arrive for your track well prepared and ready to enjoy this unique opportunity to the full.
Gorilla tracking is a year-round activity, with no season as such. The rain forest is moist, and it rains very often in Bwindi, even in the dry season. Tracking commences every morning from the park headquarters at 0830 hours. There is a daily maximum of 8 visitors per group, and each group is accompanied by a guide and porters. The gorillas cover large distances overnight, and they are never constantly in one area. The guides will use their knowledge of the gorillas' habits and information from the previous day to locate the group's whereabouts. Because of this, the time taken to track the gorillas varies enormously, from as little as half an hour to as much as 9 hours before one returns to camp.
The terrain is extremely difficult, with steep slopes (often steeper than a flight of stairs) covered in the dense vegetation that gives the park its name. In addition, the altitude of 5,200 feet and more means participants do need to be physically fit to enjoy the track. Once the gorillas are located, your group will be allowed a maximum of one hour with them. After this, you will return to the park headquarters and your camp.
Only persons over the age of 15 are allowed to track the gorillas.