Gorilla Trekking vs Habituation Experience (A 5-Star Review)

Gorilla Trekking vs Habituation Experience (a 5-Star Review Experience by Chandralekha G from London, United Kingdom) – Gorilla habituation experience vs regular tracking – two incredible but different experiences

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS in Uganda! Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Bwindi is an amazing environment which certainly lives up to its name. The dense forest contrasted with the tea plantations, which serve as buffer zones between the national park and human habitation, is a breathtaking view from the air when arriving at Kisoro and during the hikes.

I spent a number of days in the area and did both a gorilla habituation experience in the Rushaga sector with the Bikyinji group and a regular tracking experience with the Habinyanja group in the Buhoma sector. These were absolutely fantastic but very different experiences and since most travel agents highlight only that the habituation experience is more expensive, with only 4 permits per day (instead of the regular 8 permits) and allows 4 hours (as opposed to the regular 1 hour), here’s some more information for those looking to make up their mind. The habituation experience had been pitched to me as more suited for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts but there are a number of other factors to bear in mind.

– For the habituated groups, the trackers set out very early in the morning to pick up the trail where the gorillas were last seen the previous day. At this time, the tourists are likely still in bed or making their way to the park centre. After the park briefing, the head guide and armed rangers take the group to the closest location to where the rangers are, having already tracked the family. This can be quite a drive away from the centre. By this time, depending on your luck, you may already be very close to the gorilla family. By contrast, for the habituation experience, you will join the trackers and track the gorillas from the point they were last seen the previous day to locate the night nests, and then on to where they are now. This means a lot more hiking. While the time spent hiking can vary for both, it took us 5 hours of hiking through considerably challenging terrain to reach the semi-habituated gorillas (our total time on the hike was 12 hours) and 30 mins for the habituated group. The regular experience can cut down on time spent on the hike. As all other reviews will attest, the hike is challenging and this difference may be significant for some.

Mountain Gorilla habituation in Uganda

– You can spend 4 hours with the semi-habituated gorillas and only one hour with the habituated groups. While this sounds great, do remember that the semi-habituated group can be far less relaxed while the habituated groups are more likely to be relaxed, giving you the true experience of interacting with the gorillas in their normal setting. During my habituation experience, the silverback was very wary and skittish, moving the family on quickly up the slopes so we only had very short intervals when we could get some photographs before we had to pant after them again. In contrast, for the last 15 mins of our time with the habituated group, the entire group was sitting on the slopes, while the gorillas nonchalantly played and groomed, as if we weren’t there at all!
– A smaller group of tourists can be a far better experience if it means less jostling for the right shot. That said, the trackers and guide accompanying you will keep an eye on everyone in the group and do go out of their way to ensure that everyone has the chance for a few clean shots. While I had better photographs of the wary silverback of the unhabituated group, I got excellent pictures of more individuals of the habituated group.
– The habituation permit is twice the cost of a regular permit. Note that an almost habituated group in the Buhoma sector had last minute availability of permits for a habituation experience for only $1500. It might be worth asking for last minute availability.
As a conservation enthusiast, I am glad I did both but the habituation experience felt more of an experience to appreciate the astounding efforts of the rangers and trackers who work so incredibly hard to protect the gorillas, and the regular tracking is if your main aim is to get great photographs of the gorillas with the least effort.
Personally, I would recommend both, albeit for different reasons. However, if someone were to do only one hike and was looking to choose between the two, I would recommend the regular gorilla tracking. Statistically, there seem to be better chances of good sightings and less challenging hikes, all for a less expensive permit.

In terms of tips for the tracking experience:

– Porters are a must. Even if you are optimistic about your ability to carry your own pack, you cannot predict what the terrain will be like on the day and the porters are a great help. Plus, it is a great way of giving back to the community.
– Walking sticks (available from the porters) and gardening gloves are essential. Gaiters are not necessary but can be useful in avoiding your bootlaces from being caught / undone by the thick undergrowth. At least 2 litres of water, packed lunch and snacks are advisable.

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