Uganda, Rwanda and Congo’s central attraction is the opportunity to track one of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas on the misty green slopes of the superb tropical rainforests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park. This is arguably the ultimate African wildlife encounter refered to as gorilla trekking. The experience of watching the gorillas in the wild in unexplainable and the simple exhilaration attached to first setting eyes on one of these gentle giants is difficult to describe.
Mountain gorillas are enormous animals – a male silverback weighs three times as much as the average man, its bulk is exaggerated by a shaggily luxuriant coat – but also astonishingly peaceable, with the initially disconcerting but ultimately winning habit of staring deep into the eyes of human visitors, with soft brown eyes that appear to be seeking out some sort of connection. True, that magical hour with Uganda’s gorillas is relatively expensive and the trek up can sometimes be hard work, but in almost 230 years writing about Uganda, I have yet to meet anybody who has gone gorilla-tracking and regretted the financial or physical expense.
Places to Go Gorilla Trekking
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Like the more famous Bwindi, Uganda’s smallest national park (just 34 sq km) hosts habituated mountain gorillas. But here they sometimes cross the border out of Uganda, and since tour companies can’t guarantee the opportunity to track gorillas, Mgahinga is rarely part of a safari itinerary. On the other hand, if you’re planning things last minute, permits are sometimes available here when they are impossible to come by at Bwindi. The tracking is usually easier here too, but there are still long hills to climb. When I met the habituated group it was far up the mountain, but hanging out in a small clearing the whole time rather than in thick forest, so I got great photos. When the gorillas are gone, tracking beautiful and playful golden monkeys becomes the main activity. Though it’s hardly an equal substitute for gorillas, it is quite fun. There are elephants, buffaloes, leopards, and black-and-white colobus here too, but don’t expect to see them or much other wildlife except for birds. Many call Mgahinga Uganda’s most beautiful park. I assume these people haven’t seen Kidepo Valley, but the three extinct volcanoes certainly do make a stunning sight. They’re also are great trekking destinations with difficult but fun climbs through the strange afro-alpine moorland at the high elevations.
Mgahinga – Volcanoes in the mist
This name of this small park – which lies on the border with Rwanda and Congo and protects the Uganda portion of the Virunga Mountains – is a little misleading, as the presence of mountain gorillas is unreliable, though tracking is offered daily when the habituated group is in Uganda rather than across the border in Rwanda. A better reason to visit Mgahinga, in my view, is the stirring setting provided by the Virunga Mountains, a chain of six massive volcanoes, some still active, that rise to elevations of up to 4,507m. Activities on offer include (demanding) hikes to those peaks that fall within Uganda, and tracking expeditions in search of the golden monkey, a delightful Virunga endemic that feeds mainly on bamboo. Other wildlife includes elephant, leopard, buffalo, black-and-white colobus monkey and at least 12 bird species endemic to the Albertine Rift.