I recently went backpacking in Uganda and many people asked me if we were going gorilla trekking. Well, we were and we planned to do it in DR Congo, but ended up bailing as the company lied to us. However in Rwanda or Uganda, you can see gorillas in Bwindi Forest. It’s a very popular activity these days. Trekking to see gorillas in Uganda is in fact the sole reason why many people visit the country. However, we spent a bit of time in Tororu, Entebbe, Kampala and also overlanded it. We spent time at the source of the River Nile in Jinja, and also relaxed by the beautiful Lake Victoria. However if you are here for gorilla trekking, here are 15 things to know.
1.Time of Year to Go
People talk about the best time of year to go. There are peak seasons and weak seasons and many people think that the rainy season is a bad time to go. March to May is the rainy season but you will still see the gorillas and in the beauty of having less tourists. Peak season tends to be July and August but parks will be overcrowded so make up your own mind.
It’s not going to be cheap of course, but it’s worth it! You will need to pay for the permits, the sleeping, the guide etc. so the costs all add up and usually, you are talking somewhere in the region of $1000 US. So save up for this once in a lifetime experience.
3.What to Wear
Again the company you book with, will guide you on this, but wearing a hat is sensible as well as good shoes for walking/hiking, long trousers and long tops. Depending on the season of course, raincoats or ponchos could also come in handy. Exposing too much skin can also attract insect and animal bites.
4.Anti Malaria Tablets
For me, I usually take anti malaria tablets. Lots of people refuse to take them and state that they can use other protection like cream, nets, long shirts etc. I normally take doxycycline.
5.What to Eat
Food will be provided on the hikes but it is not always to everyone’s taste so definitely bring some of your own snacks – chocolate bars, biscuits etc. However when you are doing the actual hike, water will suffice as animals can get hungry and a gorilla isn’t going to say no to a banana that’s in your hand, so be careful!
6.Where to Sleep
When you book a tour, the company normally gives you a choice of camping, or 3 star or even a 4 / 5 star luxury option. You can choose this depending on your budget. Personally I like the idea of one night camping and 1 night of luxury too.
7.Visas in Advance
Now for the complicated stuff – visas. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I was lucky because I have an Irish passport. Irish get FREE entry for 30 days on arrival into Uganda and I tried this at both a land border and the airport and it worked easily for me. There are 2 other tourist visa options – one is to get a Uganda only visa (available at airport and from embassies). The other is to get an East Africa single entry visa (which means you cannot leave Kenya, Rwanda or Uganda but can move around the hat-trick).
8.Flights into Uganda
Uganda’s main international airport, Entebbe is excellent. I used it three times on this trip, twice from Belgium and once to Nairobi. It has daily flights to many European, Asian, Middle East and African cities. We also arrived from Malaba (Kenya) into Tororo (Uganda) by land.
9.Nights Before the Trek
My advice is not to rush into the gorilla trekking as soon as you arrive in Uganda. Take time to chill and relax and see some of the country first. Visit Lake Victoria, stay in Entebbe and do some light walking just to be ready for the hike, that’s all.
10.Nights After the Trek
Also after the trek, I advise to also chill out. Maybe head to Lake Victoria to relax, or given the proximity to Rwanda, you could also cross into Rwanda and find some peace in Kigali.
11.Bring Lots of Water
This might sound obvious too, and many companies will provide you with water of course, but you should drink as much safe bottled water as you can. And yes I know plastic and recycling are becoming a big issue so do try and buy the big bottles and use filters.
12.Don’t be Scared
Animals are just like you and me. They are fun loving and need to survive. s long as these animals are happy and have their food and family, there is no reason to be scared. On my travels before I fed hyenas mouth to mouth (in Ethiopia) and stroked crocodiles (in The Gambia), again just God’s creatures like you and I.
13.Payment in Advance
Be wary about paying for everything in advance. Scams are known to happen. Just double check that every company you book with is legitimate and make your deposit. Never pay the full fee until you arrive, and make sure you carry US Dollars with you (and the newest ones) as most companies prefer payment in US Dollars. In DR Congo we were refused entry on our Dollars, Euros and Pounds.
14.Last Minute Changes
As I mentioned, don’t step off the plane and go directly to the gorilla hike. This is risky, as if you have a late plane change, a delay, a cancellation or the gorilla park gets closed etc., it can affect your holiday. Allow time for last minute changes and be flexible on dates.
15.Charge Your Batteries!
I know not all of you love phones and cameras, but make sure you charge your batteries in advance, even bring a spare battery and clear your memory cards so you have enough space for your photos and videos, which will last a lifetime. Stay safe and have fun!!