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What to wear for Gorilla Tracking

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In one of my recent posts I have told about my experience trekking in Uganda to see the mountain gorillas. Now I want to share with you some advice on what to wear  for gorilla tracking and hopefully make your experience much easier.

You can really use this list at any time because Uganda’s climate it’s very similar all year round.

Going to trek in the mountains takes some preparation, especially if you are going to such dense ones like Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The best advice I can give you is to think carefully about the cloths you are going to wear as well as the materials of it. Overall choose good quality ones, remember, one hour in the forest will seem like five and there isn’t hardly any trails around. It is hard, but you can do it, with the appropriate clothing.

Then, think about the trek stages. Initially it was very hot and humid and I was wearing a t-shirt for almost the first part but once we stopped to see the gorillas I got really cold. This happened because I was at a higher altitude deep in the mountain with no sun light. At that point I put on a long-sleeved shirt. On the way back it started to rain, very heavy for about 30 minutes and I was glad I packed the rain jacket, so another item of great importance. During the trekking you will mostly experience several types of weather conditions so be prepared!

What to wear for Gorilla Tracking

Hiking boots

This item is probably the most important on the list. They should be comfortable and waterproof. The trail can be slippery and unsteady. Most of the way you are climbing paths full of vegetation and rocks. So the boots must have a good ankle support and again comfortable!

To complete it don’t forget a good pair of socks. They should be quite thick and fit just right with the boots, again remember to get some above the ankles. A trick that I have learned was to put the socks on top of the trousers to avoid been bitten by ants, apparently they are very common.

T-shirt

The weather is hot but humid. Remember the advices I gave you on how to dress for a safari? They are pretty similar, which means, the t-shirts should be of neutral colours, preferably greens, browns, khakis. Also choose lightweight cotton fabric, this will help with the humidity.

Long-sleeved shirt

For some parts of the trek I really recommend you to wear a long-sleeved shirt, to avoid scratches along the way were the path gets rougher. Also when you finally sit down to watch the gorillas it can get really cold. I remember I was freezing at one point! Put in the backpack just in case.

Waterproof Jacket

You should take this with you, even that the day is really hot and bright and there aren’t any previsions of rain. This is because the weather in Uganda is unpredictable and after all you are going to trek in the rainforest. At any moment can rain. That happened on the way back of my trek; it just started pouring rain and good that I had this jacket with me.

Trousers

Do not wear shorts by all means. You can seriously injury yourself if you opt by shorts or dresses. It’s really important that you cover your legs as much as you can to avoid scratches, bites from insects or others harms. Choose light materials and neutral colours. Leggings are a good option.

Backpack

A small backpack will be essential to carry water (at least 1,5L), the packed lunch, camera and some extra layers of clothing as mentioned above. If you can get a waterproof backpack, if not get some plastic bags to wrap around the camera in case it starts raining. Also important to take in the backpack is the sunscreen and insect repellent.

Gloves

Gloves are optional and I did my trek without it but I strongly recommend you to wear a pair. This is because most of the time you are grabbing anything along the way such as branches and rocks which can harm your hands. To be comfortable get some thick gloves, maybe like the gardening ones. This will keep your hands safe along the way and if you feel like you don’t need it you can just put it way in the backpack.

Walking sticks

If you want to bring your own walking sticks because you use them a lot in other treks please do, but, if you are going to buy them just for this activity I really wouldn’t recommend it. In the park they have walking sticks for you for free and it’s one less item you will have to pack. They are really handy and will help you on some parts of the trek but you don’t really have to have it.

Tell me if these advice’s helped you with your adventure in the mountains in the comments below!

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Staying at Lake Mutanda Resort

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A long drive of 4 hours took us from Kigali, Rwanda to Lake Mutanda in Uganda, where our accommodation was located for the next 3 days. On the following day we were going to do Gorilla tracking, as I told you on the latest post.

Lake Mutanda is a freshwater lake located in Kisoro District approximately 450 kilometres from Kampala, Uganda’s capital. At an altitude of 1,800 metres it sits between three volcanoes, Mount Muhabura, Mount Sabinyo and Mount Gahinga that can be seen from the lake. There are also several small islands in the lake.

The environment is unique with beautiful landscapes and proximity with nature. A really relaxing time can be enjoyed there. For me I felt a sensation of peace surrounding the area.

During the day women and children can be seen carrying all kinds of materials to their houses. Because of the location of Lake Mutanda they have to do miles and miles to get essential things like water.

Our little friends near the lake

My experience staying at Lake Mutanda Resort

The Lodge

Staying at Lake Mutanda Resort makes it the perfect location for the nature lovers and the gorilla trackers because it’s very close to Bwindi National Park, where I went to do gorilla tracking.

There are several cottages. Each cottage is spaced from each other’s with private, individual wooden platforms, overlooking the lake. The rooms are perfectly decorated to suit the nature environment of the lake with light blues and greens. The beds were comfortable and mosquito nets were available although I didn’t see any mosquitos during my stay.

The room balcony

Food and Drink

The restaurant is very cosy and the meals were included with the three day package from Matoke Tours. At dinner time there were always several dishes a la carte to choose from and all delicious. A packed lunch was provided when we spend the day out in Bwindi National Park. Breakfast was very good with several options as well between things like scrambled eggs and pancakes. Several types of fruit were on display and they were super fresh!

The balcony outside the restaurant is perfect to enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sunset, one of the best ones in Africa.

The staff in the lodge were very nice and ready to help us with our choices of meals and enjoyed talking to us and answering the many questions we had about the gorillas and the local area. The hosts were always around making sure we were happy and comfortable and that gave us an almost homely feeling.

Activities in Lake Mutanda Resort

Depending on how long you’re staying, there is a big list of activities that the lodge can help you with, from walking tours, hiking, mountain biking to even cultural tours and water sport activities. The most interesting ones are:

  • Watching the birds by canoe
  • A cultural tour to the village of Mukozi
  • Full day tour – Lake Mulehe
  • Trip to Mutanda Island
  • Climb Mount Muhavura
  • Trekking to see the Golden Monkey (Mgahinga Forest National Park)

You can get more information about the lodge here.

I would definitely come back to Lake Mutanda Resort because it’s such a quiet and special place.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all opinions are my own.

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Gorilla Tracking in Uganda – An experience of a lifetime

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Uganda’s Mountain Gorillas are an endangered species that can’t survive in captivity so you will not see them in a zoo. There are only three countries where they can be seen: Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda making Gorilla Tracking something very special.

Gorillas and Humans share 98% of their genetic composition. Unfortunately due to poaching and other activities against the mountain gorillas there are only about 800 left.

The largest population of mountain gorillas can be found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one of the reasons I decided to go trekking there.

Before the Gorilla Tracking – The planning

I did all the research possible to choose the most reasonable priced option. There were not a lot of choices to be honest but from the ones I was looking at I end up choosing Matoke Tours. They were offering the possibility of being picked up from Kigali in Rwanda, something that seemed very interesting for me at the time.

The 3 day package consisted of:

Day 1 – Drive from Kigali, Rwanda to Lake Mutanda

Day 2 – Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi National Park

Day 3 – Drive back to Kigali at any time of preference

In this package everything was included, from accommodation, meals and the permit to visit the gorillas. The package cost 1280 USD$ per person.

The single permit given by the government to visit the mountain gorillas costs 600 USD$ and contributes to their conservation.

The best time to go is all year round, this is because of Uganda’s climate and location to the equator.

Is it safe to see them?

The Gorillas that you are going to see are habituated; this means that they have been exposed to people over time, in a process that takes up to two years. This does not mean that they will not attack if they feel that they are in danger but they will be fine if you stay at a safe distance. The young ones even like to show off to people jumping really fast up the trees. Not all families of mountain gorillas have been habituated.

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My Gorilla Tracking experience

We left our accommodation early and got to watch the sunrise on the way through the rain forest. The mist was intense and I finally understood why the movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ filmed in the same location where I was, had that name. The bright orange colour of the sun rising together with the dense forest gave it a mysterious look.

We had to be at the start point at eight sharp. They are very strict with the times as they have a 30 minutes briefing about how to behave in the forest and what kind of efforts they do on a daily basis to protect the gorillas.

Important rules to keep in mind during the contact with the mountain gorillas:

  • Maintain a safe distance from the gorillas of approximately 7m unless they approach you.
  • No eating or drinking near the gorillas.
  • Try to be silent and when talking keep the voice low.
  • Move in small movements and always stay down with your body.
  • There is one hour of contact with the gorillas. No more. Don’t think the park rangers will stretch this by any means; they are very strict with the contact time.
  • If the gorillas come to you, which is possible, put your head down and avoid eye contact. Looking into their eyes means that you want to fight them, so don’t do that.
  • For obvious reasons your camera flash is not allowed.
  • Make sure you are fit and healthy for the trek; if you arrive with symptoms of cold for example you will not be allowed to go. The gorillas have no immunity against these diseases.

Before we left they also warned us that there was no fixed time for the trekking because they move constantly in search for food so we just had to hope for a small trek.

The large group was then divided into two smaller groups of 8 dependant on age and fitness levels. Surprisingly I was deemed to be one of the fittest of my group, so, had the longest trek! This just made the whole thing more rewarding when we finally got to meet the gorillas.

The whole experience is something I will never forget and I get really proud of myself every time I think about it. I am not going to lie, it was hard as hell!

There is a reason why they call it the Impenetrable Forest because literally it is so dense that some parts of the way the rangers had to cut through the bush with their machetes to make a path. Also, most of the time, I was crawling and grabbing slippery brunches because that was the only way to go. Nothing could prepare me for that I can tell you but it was worth it!

I was really glad we had the porters with us; they sure helped me a lot of times!

The porters have the solo job of carrying our bags. We only had small bags but we had researched how important it was to hire them because they have no other source of income up in the mountains.

A minimum of 15 USD$ each but then we end up giving much more than that.

During the trekking we found out that most of them walk kilometers to be there at eight in the morning, leaving their houses in the middle of the night. Sometimes they are not picked and they just come back empty handed. I found this quite sad but at the same time I was happy I had them with us.

They also helped us throughout the way, pushing and pulling me up which I don’t think I could have done without their help. Also over the course of the trekking I got to know my porter and found it fascinating to hear about their lives and what it is like to live in Uganda.

With our Porters at the end of the trekking

The trekking is done with park rangers that will guide you to the designated gorilla’s family. These animals are always monitored to protect them from poachers and to make sure they are healthy. It was an exhausting four hours of trekking before we found them! A lot of ups and down, climbing, crawling, sweat and almost despair at some point, but we made it and it was so worth it!

At first we spotted two young males which were sat up in a couple of tall trees. It was very green and cosy in there. Suddenly all the effort was worth it! I did not felt tired anymore; I just felt peace watching them.

Then we saw the other gorillas – it was such a special moment, they were all sat gracefully in a group of about five to seven gorillas including a female and one baby! Their actions were somehow familiar to us, protecting the baby amongst them, playing and cuddling one another.

The males are bigger than the females and referred to as the silverbacks because when they mature the hair on their back turns to a silver colour. They communicate with roars, grunts and shouts and the park rangers will know how to interpret this. The silverback is in charge of the group and the one that leads their movements to appropriate places to eat and sleep.

The silverback we met was gorgeous and is name appropriate, the ‘Handsome’ that weighed 220 Kg. He was the oldest one of the group and very responsible, even separating fights or at least small disagreements amongst the young males.

Most of the time they were either sleeping or feeding. Occasionally they even threw the skin of the fruits from above trying to hit us!

There was one part were they started making some loud sounds at us but the park rangers communicated with them doing the same sounds and they calmed down. It was not scary at all but for the all hour of contact my adrenaline levels were very high.

The baby gorilla playing with the silverback

The hour went so quickly and once we left the gorillas we trekked for about 15 minutes where we had the packed lunch that we brought with us from our accommodation. We were still full of adrenaline and talking about it in the group. But then it started to rain and doing the return trekking was even harder I must say!

On the way back!

At about the halfway point on the way back I was truly soaked but we had to keep going. When was it ever going to end I kept thinking but when we finally made it back I don’t think that I have ever felt so proud in my life, almost feeling invincible.

So much back pain but still smiling!

We got our certificates of conclusion of the trek and then back to our lodge. A night of sleep never felt so good!

 Have you done Gorilla trekking? Would you love to do it? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

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