Tracking Gorillas Down the Mountain in Uganda

by | Apr 21, 2024 | Africa & Indian Ocean, Feature, Travel | 0 comments

The light filters through the mosquito nets draping over my bed at Bwindi Lodge.  As I begin to wake, my mind goes to the day’s itinerary.  Nerves kick in–it’s really today!!  We are going to experience Gorillas in the wild today–visit their home and wander down the mountain with them for one glorious hour.  Although I’ve read about the experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Every visit is different—and we aren’t even guaranteed to see them.  Our experience of Gorilla Trekking in Uganda has been on my calendar for months.  And today is the day!

I skip breakfast as I am too excited to sit down for a proper morning meal.  My pot of hot tea arrives to my door with a wake up song by my butler.  I tell you, that is the best way to wake up–with a song!  I pull my tall socks up over my pants leg (required to avoid the biting of the ants on the mountain–they really do hurt) and put a scarf around my neck to avoid the same.  I step out of my room and gaze at the Gorilla Mountain in front of me and head to the lobby.

Our gorilla trekking crew is in the lobby putting gaiters on our shins (to avoid ants getting in our pants) and getting dressed for the experience.  We divide ourselves up into two groups:  one heading to the top of the mountain with one family and one headed more in the middle of the mountain for another family.  Our guides take us to the Bwindi gorilla center where we enjoyed singing by the local women’s charity and a briefing of the day.  I feel like I already have ants in my pants because it’s hard to sit still.  Adventure awaits.

We meet our guide who shows us a Brady-Bunch-Style rundown of the members of the family.  We had two silverbacks in the Habinyanja family: Makara (the elder) Kavuyo, and another adult male named Kentusi.  The young males (blackbacks) were Ruyombo, Nyampaka, Mihanda, and Nyanhura. I was really surprised at how many males were in the family as I had assumed they would be more territorial.

The adult females in the Habinyanha family were named Rukundo, Bisamunyu, Nyabukye, Kajura….with a tiny bay-bae, Mashuri….omg I am SO excited!

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda  Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Our guide shares the characteristics and personality traits/quirks of each family member as well as the meaning of their names.  Meanings such as:  loves people, noise maker, born while raining, troublemaker, born while mother was feeding on black ants (???), argumentative–the meanings all made me giggle. I started wondering what kind of noises the young noisy one would make.  Makara was known to be a bit vigilant and aggressive—just to be prepared.  The guide has the experience to keep us all safe….but it’s starting to get real in my mind and I have ju-ju bees all inside.  Here I am in Uganda about to come face-to-face with a live Silverback Gorilla named Makara who was the protector of his family.  Yikes and Yay all around…

Our guide introduces us to our trackers who will accompany us at all times and we climb into our jeep and head to the top of the mountain.  We all agree to use the services of the local porters–a good way to support the local community and have local buy-in for their conservation efforts.

On the way up the mountain, we pass tea and coffee bushes, banana trees, beautifully colored homes, and moms walking down the road to town.  The landscape was green and lush and smelled fresh from last night’s rain.  Our jeep makes a stop on what seems like the side of the road, and we see additional trackers waiting for us to start our off-trail hike.  They used their machetes ahead of us to clear a good path and we descended the mountain in search of our family.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Magical Morning–that’s what it was.  Even our guides reflected on our trekking fortune.  We approached our Gorilla family within 10 minutes of hiking down the mountain.  When gorilla trekking in Uganda, one can walk for minutes or hike for hours to find your assigned family.  There’s no set schedule–the Gorillas run the show.  And when you find your family, the clock starts ticking–minute by minute.  60 of them and then we’re done.

The first family member I spied was a youngster up on a tree.  So unexpected.  We hiked beyond the sentry to find the oldest silverback, Makara, munching on tree leaves casually as if he was just chillin and waiting for us to arrive to the party.  We squatted down to settle in for a bit and watch (and take pictures).  Our guides showed us where to get the best vantage point for a photo and they cut down small limbs with their machetes to give us a better look.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

A mamma sat to the side cradling her tiny baby who stretched his arms up high and opened his little eyes to see the world.  I wonder what he thought when he spied us?  The youngsters, ever curious, watched us as intensely as we watched them.  One sauntered over to us and touched my friend’s pants and ran away quickly like an elementary school boy on a dare.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda - Mom and baby Gorilla Trekking in Uganda - Mom and Baby

Our guides grunted back at the elders to sooth them–we are chilling just like they are.  And then one of the young males came charging down the mountain passing our group—apparently looking for a new place to chill.  The silverbacks and the ladies followed in line and we were off to a new position down the mountain.

Despite my best efforts, the ants found fresh skin around my neck and on my waist and took some bites out of my exposed flesh.  Apparently, I must be sweet, because they loved me.  I noticed the guides all had their shirts tucked into their pants and I proceeded to quickly do the same to avoid bites along my belt line….but the ants still found my neck and I resolved to just ignore them the best I could.

We trekked again down the mountain and found a new place to watch the family interact with each other.  Seriously, y’all, we were SO close to them.  They are majestic and quiet—I wasn’t expecting how quietly they munched on tree leaves.  That’s the epitome of zen—sharing a quiet breakfast moment with Gorillas on a mountain in Uganda.  Wow–we are really doing this.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda Silverback Gorilla Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

The old man silverback sat to the side on a fallen tree trunk.  A female sauntered over and sat in his lap and he put his giant arms around her in a tender embrace and they leaned in for a long hug.  Our guide whispered, “I’ve been a guide for 12 years and have never seen a silverback hug.  What a special moment.”  Even he took pictures of the embrace.  You could feel the tenderness of the moment.  The genuine affection.  Even the biting ants seemed to stop and reflect–or maybe I was beyond caring about them.

Our time was up—it felt as if it just started.  We had to leave our Gorilla family to their day–the remainder of their day without human tourists gawking at them and clicks of shutters and gasps of Oh My Gosh!  We climbed back up the mountain–rejoining our local porters who held our backpacks–and stopped to sing our guides a song of Thank You we made up on the trip—Webele Webele Webele.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda Porter  Gorilla Trekking in Uganda Guide

Our guides presented us with certificates proving we had indeed gone Gorilla Trekking, but the memories of sitting mere steps from our silverback elder and his family in their own habitat on a mountain in Uganda–those memories are forever.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a cold beverage and toasted the morning’s success.

Becky Lukovic is an adventure travel specialist in Atlanta.  Her partners are closely vetted for quality experiences, safety, and accountability to the communities they serve.  If you’d like to have a similar Gorilla Trekking or Safari experience, please schedule a consultation here

Ciao Bellas Cruise the Canals of Burgundy

Ciao Bellas Cruise the Canals of Burgundy

In March, our intrepid Ciao Bella travelers embarked on an adventure to the vineyard-covered hills of Burgundy, France.  We chartered a small canal boat to float along the still waters of the canals winding through this gorgeous part of France.  It’s slow travel at...

Bella Travel’s Favorite Reads for Summer 2023

Bella Travel’s Favorite Reads for Summer 2023

Here at Bella, we take your adventures seriously, including the kind that whisk your imagination away. Whether it's a romance-and-rose-all-day or a tuck-me-in thriller, you'll love this curated Summer Reading list to keep you entertained until your next getaway! Also,...

Ciao Bella–Your Travel Girl Gang

Ciao Bella–Your Travel Girl Gang

Last year, Susan and I (Becky) launched Ciao Bella, a Travel Club for Women.  Over the years, she and I had ongoing conversations about women we knew who had these amazing Wander Lists, but no one with whom to share the experiences.   We spoke to single women,...

Mayakoba, Playa Mujeres, Maroma, and Cancun

Mayakoba, Playa Mujeres, Maroma, and Cancun

Early in January, I (Becky) conducted site inspections with a few Travel Experts colleagues from the Southeastern region.  I just love hanging with these smart, savvy ladies who are top-notch business women and some of the best travel advisors in the...