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Tracking Gentle Giants: Gorillas in the Highlands of Uganda

June 17, 2016
Gorillas in Uganda

Having hiked through 20 minutes of the most challenging terrain we’d ever experienced, we stopped dead in our tracks.  The hushed whispers of the trackers left us puzzled… these walks can take upwards of 4 hours, what had caused us to stop so soon?  Before long, the answer became abundantly clear.

A scruff of dark fur came into view just around the bend – after months of planning, preparation and training, we laid eyes upon our first silverback mountain gorilla in what appeared to be record time.

Gorilla tracking Uganda bucket list

Coming from New Zealand, Africa really did feel like a world away – exotic but a long way from us, we never really considered it a likely destination.  That all changed when we relocated to Abu Dhabi and the continent suddenly become accessible in only a five hour flight.

After tossing some ideas around and talking with a couple of teachers that had also tracked the gorillas, visiting them shot to the top of our travel wish list and our trip to Eastern/Central Africa was born.

When we found out just how much this experience would set us back, we did briefly reconsider but we soon decided that it really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences and one we couldn’t just walk away from.

Gorilla tracking Uganda

Sadly, the mountain gorilla population has been decimated over the years, with less than 900 gorillas left in the wild.  These gentle giants are only found in the triangle of forests between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; due to the physical restrictions of their habitat, it is likely that these amazing animals will remain endangered, even with a concerted effort to stop poaching and deforestation.  In the 60s and 70s conservationists attempted to raise juvenile mountain gorillas in captivity but none of them made it – they’re still unsure as to the reason for this, but it does mean that they can only be found in the forests of this area, making their plight all the more important.

We had initially planned on visiting both Rwanda and Uganda but due to time constraints and cheaper permits, we decided to leave Rwanda on this trip.  A permit to track gorillas will set you back USD700 per person in Rwanda, but is USD600 in Uganda (and only USD450 in the off season of April, May and November).  We managed to reverse the order of our journey to finish in Uganda and track gorillas at the beginning of April and by doing so, saved USD500 between the two of us.

Have you been to Uganda already and are now looking for a different experience instead?  Check out the Safari Junkies’ guide to gorilla trekking in Rwanda!

Within Uganda there are a number of entry points to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest; Buhoma in the Northern part of the park, Ruhija in the East, and Rushaga and Nkuringo to the South.  When purchasing a permit to track the gorillas, you will choose your location (or in our case, our guide did) and will then be allocated a particular family on the day of your visit.  If you plan to travel independently, pay particular attention to where your briefing centre is, as you’ll need to ensure you organise accommodation nearby your departure point.

If you decide to track these mountain gorillas, you’ll come across the term ‘habituated.  There are a number of these habituated families living in Bwindi (and many more that are not accustomed to people).  According to the Ugandan Wildlife Authority

Habituation of mountain gorillas for tourism is a lengthy and difficult process. The exercise to habituate wild gorillas essentially requires that the gorillas lose their natural fear of humans and develop a trustful relationship with observers. In order to fully habituate a group, it must be tracked and monitored on a daily basis, and slowly over time the gorillas stop fleeing from observers and eventually they become accustomed to the presence of people.

Poaching used to be a serious problem in the area but thankfully is not and longer, thanks to the positive effect of eco-tourism.  A significant percentage of your permit goes back into the local communities, alleviating the need for illegal poaching.  Whilst many of the people that once would have turned to poaching now work as porters, helping travellers traverse the challenging terrain of the area.  For a suggested fee of USH50,000 (USD15), you’ll be given the opportunity to have a porter join you on the hike and it’s something we’d both strongly recommend doing.  They’ll carry your bag, help you find your footing, occasionally give you a little pull up a steep bank and, most importantly, you will be supporting the locals at a grass-roots level in their bid to get ahead without poaching these amazing creatures.

Gorilla tracking UgandaWe met our tracking guide, Albert, and support team at the Ruhija Centre (which in truth, was a hut providing much needed shelter from the rain) and were briefed on what was to come.  We’d been assigned the Oruzogo family, one of the newest habituated groups, favoured because of their playful natures and the adventurous terrain in which they live.

After we were briefed, we excitedly climbed back into our respective vans (along with some of our friendly guards, carrying alarmingly big guns!) and drove for 20 or so minutes to a spot on the road where our porters were waiting.

Exiting the van, we peered over the edge of the road into the forest thinking we were off to find an easier access point into the foliage… how wrong we were.  With the help of our porters we ventured down the steep slope, directly into the belly of the forest, learning firsthand where the name Impenetrable came from.

After walking downhill for approximately 15 minutes on a makeshift trail, we turned to the right and followed the lay of the land, moving slightly higher back up the hill.  To our absolute disbelief he were suddenly stopped and after hushed whispers were told the gorillas were just around the bend.

Climbing a little further up and across we were met by the gaze of our first wild mountain gorilla.  Munching quietly, the large silverback sat quietly, undeterred by our arrival.  As per regulations, we remained at a distance of 8m and started the clock on the hour that we had with these beauties (understandably, human interaction is closely limited and monitored to prevent the families becoming desensitised to people).

After 10 minutes or so, the silverback turned and moved away – quietly we continued on in the direction it was headed where we were delighted to find many of the other family members.

The gorillas went about their business without any recognition of our presence and although it would have been amazing to have one wander over to check us out (seriously, take a look at the close encounters on youtube, they’re incredible!) it was mind-blowing to just be in their habitat with them.

Standing amongst these gentle giants was an incredibly humbling experience.  They had beautifully expressive eyes and recognisable body language; we were struck by just how human they seemed.  The babies swung and played amongst the vines and trees whilst the adults watched on carefully.  For that hour we were guests in their home and it was not lost on us just how fortunate we were to be welcomed in.

Nathan and I were joined by only one other traveller which made the experience all the more special (travelling in the off season can have its benefits).  The three of us were all able to get incredible views of the family and though they limit each group to a maximum of eight, I can’t help but feel like we had a much more personal experience being in such a small group.

It turns out gorillas are really farty!! ?❤️? @thisisuganda

A video posted by Sarah & Nathan Chant ✈️? (@exploringkiwis) on

Was the hike hard?  It sure was – I can’t imagine how I would have managed at that incline over a period of three or four hours each way, which is what some people experience.  There’s no doubt, we were lucky!

Was it expensive?  Absolutely – this was, without doubt, the most money we’ve ever spent on a stand-alone travel experience.

Was it worth it?  Without doubt!

If you have the opportunity to visit the Ugandan mountain gorillas, we would recommend you grab it.  This experience connected us to these beautiful animals, gave us a first-hand view of their conservation efforts and in the process, left us with memories to last a lifetime.

If you’re interested in seeing the gorillas for yourself, we highly recommend Wild Whispers Africa.  Nasser was the most attentive guide we could have asked for and their pricing was competitive.  They took care of all of the details for us and helped make the experience what it was.

Stay tuned for information regarding what gear you’ll want to have with you on your gorilla trek,  for our take on the differences between tracking gorillas and chimpanzees in Uganda and for more information on what our tour included.

PS:  If you’re looking for another travel blogger to follow, check out Clint from TripHackr – he goes on the most amazing adventures.  It was fantastic meeting him whilst on our trek and exchanging travel stories!

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   Gorilla Tracking in Uganda was a bucket list moment for us. Get the answers to all of your questions here!

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Activities Africa Eco Tourism Kenya Masai Mara Murchison Falls Tours Uganda

Hunting out the Best East African Safari – Kenya vs. Uganda

June 5, 2016

As you would expect, our safaris in Kenya and Uganda were amongst the main highlights of our trip to Africa; what surprised us though was just how different they were to one another.  Though the animals were relatively similar, there were some fairly significant differences between our two experiences.  How might you decide on the best safari for you?  Read on to learn more about the differences as we saw them…


In Kenya we booked with Safe Ride Tours and Safaris on their ‘3 day Masai Mara Camping Safari’ at a total cost of USD360 per person.  By comparison, in Uganda we signed up for the ‘3 day Murchison Big 5 Safari’ through Red Chilli Hideaway at a cost of USD380 each.

The Kenyan tour was slightly cheaper and included food so beat Uganda out by a nose in that regard.


In Kenya, we travelled in a converted Toyota Land Cruiser (which had pretty comfortable seats) whereas in Uganda we were in a converted van (with noticeably less comfortable seats).  Each had a roof that raised up and windows that slid open to allow safari-goers to get their perfect photographs; whilst the Kenyan 4WD was more comfortable to sit down in, the van in Uganda was at a slightly better height for standing up in.  Regardless, try to get a seat in the middle or towards the back if possible to position yourself well to stand up – we were in the front of the main cab and found ourselves leaning back quite a lot to stand in the opening.   

If we had to pick the better transport option, the Land Cruiser in Kenya would by our preference, simply because you’ll spend so much time sitting down so comfort is fairly important.


Kenya – 2 nights accommodation in a permanent double tent with ensuite and power (between certain hours under generator).

Uganda – 2 nights in a permanent twin tent (unpowered, bathroom blocks within close walking distance) + 1 free night each in a 4 bed dorm.

Let’s call this a tie as Uganda offer an extra night but Kenya had an ensuite and power in the tent. 


Included in Kenya (breakfast and packed lunch was great, normal lunch and dinner pretty average). It was an additional cost in Uganda but tasty.

Winner = Kenya for value for money, Uganda for quality/choice. 

Included Activities/Itinerary

Kenya – Sundowner game drive, full day game drive and sunrise game drive (+ optional Masai village tour for USD20 per person). Uganda – Walk to Murchison Falls, morning game drive, afternoon Nile river cruise, rhino sanctuary visit.  We paid more to join the tour that went to the rhino sanctuary but knowing what we know now (and having talked to other people), we would recommend going on the cheaper tour that includes a final morning game drive instead.

If your main aim is to see as many animals as possible then Kenya would win because of the extra time spent on game drives.  If you’re after variety, then Uganda offers more – both the game drive and river safari in Uganda were awesome, though the walk to the falls and rhino sanctuary didn’t compare as well in our opinion.

Quality of Game Viewing/Drive

The most important part of any safari comparison, because, after all, you’re on safari to see animals!  We were most surprised to find such a variation between the two game drives and although both experiences were amazing, it is worth understanding how they vary.

Masai Mara stretches out as far as the eye can see (and beyond).  On our full day game drive, we covered a significant area of the park but it still felt like we barely made a dent.  At one point, in the heat of the day, we drove for a good half hour through the long grass without seeing any animals, whilst at other times, we saw relatively well-sized herds.

By comparison, we didn’t go the long periods without seeing animals at Murchison Falls, but nor did we do a game drive in the midday sun.  Generally the best time to spot animals is around sunrise and sunset, when the temperatures are more comfortable, so it may not be surprising that our hit-rate was better when we only managed to fit in a sunrise drive.

The tracks varied greatly between the two parks – Kenya had countless smaller tracks which allowed our driver to get off the main ones and really go exploring.  Uganda didn’t appear to have many smaller tracks at all, instead favouring key tracks through the park.  We were lucky in Uganda and managed to spot a number of animals near the tracks, but when they decide to hang back (like a jaguar did, in a distant tree) there’s really not much that can be done.  Kenya was better in this regard as the additional tracks increase your chances of getting in on the action.

Comparing these two is too close to call. The roads in Uganda were more comfortable but Masai Mara felt like more of an adventure. We were fortunate to see plenty of game at Murchison Falls but can imagine this would not always be the case of the animals decide to stay away from the main tracks.  We saw far more lions at Masai Mara (and think you’d have a better chance of spotting the Big Five there) but there were generally bigger herds of animals at Murchison Falls. If you can get to both parks to see the difference for yourself, we’d highly recommend it. 

What time of year should I go?

We visited at the start of the long rainy season and it was spot on! Prior to arriving, we’d read warnings of the rain causing grass growth to the point that game couldn’t be seen, and animals hiding away, without any need to come out to watering holes.  It barely rained the entire time we were in these two beautiful countries and when it did, it was almost exclusively when we were in bed at night tucked up in our (thankfully waterproof) tents.  The up-shot of visiting during the offseason was that we practically had parks to ourselves.  During peak season, our Kenyan driver explained that the reserve can easily be mistaken for Disneyland, with waits of 45 mins-1 hour for the vans and trucks in front to move aside, finally allowing you to get a good look at that lion (and to quickly snap your prized shot before moving on again).  Instead, we often stumbled across animals without anyone else around us and got to enjoy them in relative seclusion.  Our accommodation was quiet and everything felt very relaxed due to the small group numbers; both of our safari’s only have two other people respectively.

So who wins?  Masai Mara, Kenya or Murchison Falls, Uganda?

The million dollar question and one that we really couldn’t answer!  We enjoyed both of our safaris for different reasons.  Kenya and Masai Mara will stay in our mind as the first place we saw such amazing animals in the wild and for the sense of adventure as we 4-wheel-drove our way through the savannah.  Uganda and Murchison Falls on the other hand will always stand out for it’s variety (the river safari was fantastic!) and the amount of game that we saw within a relatively small area.

Regardless on whether you choose to go on safari in Kenya or Uganda, there is no doubt you’ll have a memorable experience – if your time and budget allows, we’d certainly recommend doing both!

Have more time up your sleeve?  Check out these awesome Kenyan itinerary additions!

PS: If you’re wondering what to wear on safari, don’t worry.  We were told that (as long as you’re in a van), colours don’t really matter – if you’re on a walking safari though, be sure to blend in with examples like you’ll find over on The World Pursuit.

Have you been on safari somewhere else in Africa?  If so, we’d love to hear of your experiences!

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 Safaris can be expensive. Having been on safari in Kenya and Uganda, we break down which African country offers the best value. Hunting out the Best East African Safari - Uganda or Kenya? Safaris can be expensive. Having been on safari in Kenya and Uganda, we break down which African country offers the best value.


  • Reply Where has the time gone? Another 'Monthly' Round-Up - Exploring Kiwis June 15, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    […] Our first trip away took us to Eastern Africa – Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.  It was a mind-blowing trip that left us feeling incredibly humbled.  If you’re interested in checking out our itinerary, you can see the key places we visited in this post.  The highlights of the trip were based around the amazing animals we saw – all of the ‘big five’, not to mention tracking highland mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild (the stuff of dreams!), swimming with wild bottlenose dolphins, diving to spot seahorses and trying to avoid the killer croc that almost landed in our boat whilst cruising the Nile!  You can read about the differences between our Masai Mara and Murchison Falls safaris here too. […]

  • Reply Our East African Itinerary - Two Weeks in the Motherland - Exploring Kiwis June 15, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    […] If you’d like to read more about our thoughts comparing the Masai Mara and Murchison Falls safaris, you can read on here. […]

  • Reply Mungai August 8, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    What an adventure, however what you saw wasn’t a jaguar 🙂 It was a leopard, pretty elusive, but very awesome.

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    Accommodation Africa Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Eco Tourism Itineraries Kabale Forest Kampala Kenya Masai Mara Murchison Falls Nairobi Tanzania Tours Uganda Zanzibar

    Our East African Itinerary – Two Weeks in the Motherland

    May 28, 2016

    East Africa – I don’t think it would be over-reaching to suggest this could just be the dream destination for every animal lover!

    If you’re considering a getaway to Africa this post will (hopefully) help you decide how you might split your time between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

    Happy planning (and stay tuned for more detailed posts regarding the following)…

    Zanzibar, Tanzania – 3 days/3 nights.  Flying through the night from Dubai, UAE (via Muscat, Oman), we touched down in Dar es Salaam before quickly taking off again for Zanzibar in Tanzania.


    Nairobi and Masai Mara, Kenya – 5 days/4 nights.  Morning flight from Zanzibar to Nairobi

    Kampala, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest and Murchison Falls, Uganda – 7 days/8 nights.  Late afternoon flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, then pre-arranged transfer to Kampala

    • Kampala – 1 night
      • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway in a 4 person shared dorm (one night free of charge when a safari is booked through them)
    • Uganda Tour – 4 days/3 nights.  Tour:  Wild Whispers Africa. Pick up/drop off from Kampala and the following was all included in the tour:
      • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – 2 days/2 nights
        • Accommodation: Trekkers Tavern
        • Activities:  Visit to the equator, gorilla tracking, community tour
      • Kabale Forest – 2 days/1 night
        • Accommodation: Chimpanzee Forest Guest House
        • Activities:  Chimp tracking
    • Kampala – 1 night
      • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway, this time in a private double room (shared facilities)
    • Murchison Falls – 3 days/2 nights (organised through Red Chilli Hideaway)
      • Tour: Red Chilli Hideaway: Big Five Tour – the following was included in the tour:
      • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Rest Camp in a double tent
      • Activities:  Guided walk to Murchison Falls, morning game drive, afternoon river cruise/game drive on the Nile, visit to the Rino Sanctuary
    • Kampala – 1 night
      • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway, again in a private double room (shared facilities).

    Flight out that morning back to Dubai.

    There you have it!  Within two weeks we managed to get a good feel for Eastern Africa; of course it was only an introduction to these gorgeous countries but as someone who grew up dreaming of going on safari, it was a mind-blowing trip.

    If you’d like to read more about our thoughts comparing the Masai Mara and Murchison Falls safaris, you can read on here.

    Please let us know if you find some of the information included above helpful in planning your next African experience!

    2 weeks in East Africa - Explore Kenya and Uganda.  An amazing highlight itinerary including safaris, game drives, chimp and gorilla tracking and more! 2 weeks in East Africa - Explore Kenya and Uganda.  An amazing highlight itinerary including safaris, game drives, chimp and gorilla tracking and more!



  • Reply Where has the time gone? Another 'Monthly' Round-Up - Exploring Kiwis June 3, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    […] you’re interested in checking out our itinerary, you can see the key places we visited in this post.  The highlights of the trip were based around the amazing animals we saw – all of the […]

  • Reply charlottelucy1 October 20, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Hi guys, approximately how much did this itinerary cost you? We are big travel fans with a small budget!

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis October 20, 2017 at 7:40 pm

      Ohhhh you’re testing us now 😜 The safaris were approx USD300 each from memory but the Gorilla trip was mega expensive by comparison – I couldn’t remember how much now but they’d be able to tell you – it was an absolute highlight though!

    Leave a Reply

    Africa Itineraries Kenya planning Tanzania Uganda

    We’re off to Africa!

    January 23, 2016

    Since moving to the UAE, we’ve already been fortunate to travel to a new continent (Europe, we’re talking to you!) and I’m excited to say we’ll soon be venturing to another… the wild vastness of Africa!

    We’ve pencilled together an itinerary that looks something like this:

    • Tanzania – Zanzibar for some beach time (snorkelling, diving etc)
    • Kenya – leaving from Nairobi for a three day safari to Maasi Mara (and possibly Lake Nakuru?)
    • Uganda – Murchison Falls for a three day safari (inc. a rino sanctuary) and then either a 3 day trip to trek with the gorillas or 4 days with the gorillas and chimps.

    Our flights into Zanzibar and out of Entebbe have been booked and though I’ve got information on the other things we’re looking at, we are flexible there.

    Have you been to any of these spots?  What did you love?  Is there anything you’d avoid?  It’s our first time in Africa and we’d very much like any guidance you can offer!

    xx Sarah


  • Reply Derek cullen January 23, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Hey guys,

    Best of luck on your trip to Africa: it’s an incredible place.

    I see you were thinking of heading to lake Nakuru : personally I think you’re better off staying overnight in lake naivasha instead – take a little am fishing boat trip on the lake full of hippos and exotic birds. Late at night you can also watch for hippos coming up to graze …it’s pretty cool. Also you can visit the home of George and joy adamson on the lake who were the famous couple that rescued a lion cub many years ago and raised it in their home.

    Have a great time !
    Ps. I worked as a guide in Africa for two years and rode my bicycle across it in 2013/2014 😉

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis January 23, 2016 at 10:48 pm

      Hi Derek, Thanks so much for your advice, we’ll definitely look into it! Can you see the flamingos at Lake Naivasha too? Is it relatively close to Maasi Mara or Nairobi too? Those are the two spots we’ll be in Kenya at this stage. It sounds like such an amazing place and we’d be over the moon to see hippos in the wild.

      Far out, I can’t even imagine riding a bike that far! Will be sure to check out your blog. Thanks again, Sarah

      • Reply Derek cullen January 23, 2016 at 10:58 pm

        Hey yeah it’s actually a little closer than Nakuru ,…seeing the as you are already going to the Masai Mara I just think naivasha is a more genuine experience …Nakuru is a fenced park so will be noticing like the Masai Mara.

        In saying that, it’s still nice …I always did both with my tour groups.


        • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis January 24, 2016 at 6:20 pm

          Very much appreciate you sharing your expertise 🙂 I shall investigate adding it on now – thanks again!

  • Reply Carola January 24, 2016 at 1:55 am

    Sounds like your making the most of your time!
    For a first taste of Africa I think you’ve chosen well. But, of course, there is sooooo much more… 🙂

    But if it’s gonna be Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, here’s my 5 cents (stemming from traveling for about a year all around the continent…)
    – Zanzibar: make sure you check out the real, local night market in Stone Town, near the dala-dala terminal (not the touristy one…); and while you’re there: please have at least one sugar cane juice for me! ( …). If you have more time go along the coast: in the South you have Kilwa Kisiwani and its Swahili/Portuguese ruins, in the North (so on the way to Kenya…) Bagamoyo and Tanga (with the Amboni Caves that start here and run all the way to Kenya)
    – Safari: I absolutely love NgoroNgoro National Park in Tanzania, best reached from Arusha, if you can still change your plans…
    – Uganda: Not sure how you plan to go from Murchinson to Bwindi (or Mgahina?) but if you can, stop in the Rwenzori Mountains, stunning and barely touched by foreign tourists. I saw the gorillas in Bwindi and it was absolutely worth the 500 USD (video proof:

    Again: Have a wonderful time and enjoy!

    Happy travels,

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis January 24, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      Hi Carola, thanks so very much for your help! I’m going to check out your suggestions 🙂 We’ve been quoted USD1000 (approx per person) for the gorillas which is a fair bit more but including accommodation for two nights, food etc. Does that sound about right? I presume the USD500 you’re referring to is just for the permit? Thanks!

  • Reply Carmen Everywhere January 24, 2016 at 7:23 am

    Good luck on your trip. I haven’t been to any of these but I have been about 7 times to Morocco and recommend you to head there if you have the time so you can explore a completely different part of Africa.

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis January 24, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      Oh wow, you must adore Morocco! We’ve not been there before but it’s definitely on our list to see before we have to head home. So many places to see!!

  • Reply Mungai August 9, 2016 at 10:47 am

    I know that you have already done your trip, but this might help someone who is planning theirs…. Visited Zanzibar from Nairobi, Kenya and vacationed at Paje Beach…. amazing white sandy beach that we had all to ourselves…we stayed at Teddy’s Place in a beach bungalow.

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