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Before we dive into what to pack for a gorilla tour in Uganda, let’s first chat about why you would be in the African Jungle but is a bullet list first.
- The gorilla trekking permit
- Pack a decent rain jacket
- Long pants, long sleeved shirt and longer socks
- You’ll need gardening gloves
- Trekking boots are your best friend
- Pack a tin of Insect repellent
- Biodegradable tissue or toilet paper
- Waterproof backpack and extra batteries
“A life changing experience!” This is what most tourists say after they visit the mountain gorillas in Uganda, and our staff here at Destination Uganda totally agree, since they spend many days in a year taking tourists to see gorillas — each day is exciting and new discoveries happen all the time.
But doing so involves an Indiana Jones-style journey into the depths of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
The jungle is a seemingly everlasting thicket of tangled emerald green with no street signs, walking trails or Google Maps voice directions. To find the gorillas’ nest you must get up early and with the protection of park rangers, religiously follow the footsteps of a local tracker who uses a machete to clear a path through the jungle, detecting and following gorilla traces from the last spot where the designated gorilla group was seen. These traces can include hand and foot prints, bent vegetation, remains of plants the gorillas have eaten and other signs. Every small detail is investigated, as the trackers determine the gorillas’ direction.
The hike up or down the mountain slopes that tourists take to get to the mountain gorillas is an exciting experience in itself because it brings you to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the few remaining tropical mountain forests, located on the edge of the Albertine Rift.
The park is inhabited by about 600 mountain gorillas, known as the Bwindi population, which makes up more than half of all the mountain gorillas in the world. The rest of the worldwide mountain gorilla population is in the nearby Virunga Mountains.
With four trail-heads spread over the edges of Bwindi Impenetrable NP (Buhoma, Rushaga, Nkuringo & Ruhija), make sure you pick the right one that will be gentle on your physical fitness and great for forest lodging. The walk to reach a gorilla group can take from one to several hours, but no matter how long it is, the end result is always amazing.
It’s not possible to predict how far the gorillas have moved from the previous day, or what direction they’ve taken, so patience is definitely a good state of mind while following trackers at this time. But sooner or later, they will find the group they are seeking.
The first sight of gorillas is unforgettable! Inside the intense green of the dense vegetation, you’ll see dark shapes as you go closer. It takes a few seconds to realize that these shapes are wild gorillas, right there in front of you. Amazingly, they are perfectly calm. The gorillas may glance at you at first, but will quickly resume their normal activities.
“If you happen to look into the eyes of a gorilla, take a quick moment to fully enjoy the experience, but then immediately take your gaze off the gorilla’s eyes and look down. This signals to the gorilla that you are not a threat and that everyone can relax.”Yūgen
It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating and it’s best to come prepared. So, to keep you comfy throughout your ‘African gorilla jungle’ experience, don’t leave home without packing the following:
What Should you pack for a gorilla tour?
The gorilla trekking permit
Because Bwindi and Volcanoes are protected environments, the local governments introduced trekking permits to limit tourism. This serves to maintain the natural habitat and avoid the gorillas becoming overexposed to humans and also continue funding the gorilla population.
This has made the demand for gorilla permits higher than the supply. Tourists are flooding to this part of the continent to get a piece of the action, don’t be the last one.
With just about 17 habituated gorilla groups in Bwindi, 8 permits are issued for each gorilla group per day, which makes it just about 136 permits issued out for Bwindi gorilla trekking per day. Will you get yours when you need it? Luckily enough, Destination Uganda deals with the permits so you don’t have to.
So now you have your permit, plane ticket, itinerary sorted and the jungle excitement building up. What else should you pack for your gorilla tour?
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Pack a decent rain jacket
Toto must have been to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest before they sang “I bless the rains down in Africa”. Cold showers in Bwindi are impromptu and rather unforgiving, so squeeze a lightweight rain jacket in your backpack and avoid the damp. There’s nothing worse than hiking the jungle in wet underwear.
Long pants, long sleeved shirt and longer socks
You want to stay protected, cover as much skin as possible. Yes folks, the jungle can be so unkind to your body. Get ready to look like a mogol soldier because your guide will insist you tuck your trousers into your socks to avoid red ant climbing up your thighs (we all know how no cool dance a red ant bite can make you do). Long sleeve shirt will also keep the bugs and thorny branches away from your skin. Make sure they are light and won’t collect heat inside.
You’ll need gardening gloves
The guides will do as much as they can to clear a path but you’re inevitably going to get your hands dirty and in doing so will want to avoid the prickles on your hands. Gardening gloves will come in handy during those times when you have to clear your path, packa pair.
Trekking boots are your best friend
You’re not going to trek gorillas in your long tucked trousers and socks, right?. The jungle dump and there are no designated hiking trails so you’ll have to put your best foot forward. And your best foot will be thick-soled, waterproof and with a decent ankle support pair of jungle boots. You know, like Indiana Jones. Check out a travel store near you and pack a pair for your gorilla tour.
Pack a tin of Insect repellent
Now that we have you all dressed up, how about keeping the nasty bugs at bay. This art i have to remind you that you’ll be trekking the African Jungle. And not just any African jungle, it is the tropical rainforest jungle with the highest species of animals, bugs and all kinds of creepy crawlies on the continent. You’ll want to avoid said creepy crawlies, especially if they cause unnecessary itching. Douse yourself in insect repellent and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience scratch-free.
Food is your source of energy to keep hiking the jungle. No one is sure how long you’ll spend in the jungle before the trackers spot the gorillas, you might want to carry something to snack on when you feel your energy getting depleted. The lodge you stayed in the previous night usually packs something for your backpack but you can carry something familiar like an energy bar and at least a litter of drinking water in your backpack.
Check out: 7 Ugandan Snacks You’ve Just Got to Try
The guides usually allow short snack breaks. Remember that it’s illegal to litter the pack, so carry something to keep you garbage when you’re done snacking.
Biodegradable tissue or toilet paper
When you gotta go, you gotta go! There are no bathrooms in the jungle and nature may call anytime. Pack biodegradable tissue to save you from the embarrassment of having to use leaves and also keep the forest natural.
Waterproof backpack and extra batteries
We know you’ll be carrying your camera equipment with you to record these once-in-a-lifetime memories for your people back home, right. Then you won’t want them getting wet. Pack a ziplock waterproof bag or a waterproof backpack to keep your equipment away from rain water or forest mist. Also pack extra batteries for your camera and extra flash drive or memory card. This place is full of too many wonderful memories to store, you’ll be carried away to fill your camera memory.
Alright folks, that’s just about what you need to pack for your gorilla tour in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest jungles. Just pack light so you don’t have to worry about keeping your luggage safe and avoid all the consequences of carrying heavy bags. You’ll enjoy being with the gorillas for that one hour with no mind wandering interruptions. Happy trekking!