My Fairytale Gorilla Trekking Experience

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, a young princess (really more of a bourgeois suburbanite) used to religiously watch National Geographic specials about gorillas. She dreamed about gorilla trekking and being able to see these mythical beings but they lived in a land far away called Africa.

When she grew up (that’s still up for debate) and went to college, she decorated her dorm room with posters of these black furry soulful-eyed creatures in the rainforest while her friends hung artsy black and white posters of muscular men holding babies. Everybody thought she was a little strange. Her parents would call her and notify her every time a nature documentary about gorillas was on television (this back before DVR days folks).  

She vowed that one day she would go to this magical land called Africa. At the time she didn’t really even know in which specific countries the gorillas lived because in America, geography is not our strength.  One day she saw the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” and became obsessed with Diane Fossey and Rwanda.

Finally, She Made it to Africa

One marvelous day, this little wannabe animal activist made it to Africa. Tanzania to be exact. The year was 2009 and she literally spent every extra penny (and maxed out a credit card) to do this trip while she was getting her master’s degree (like…who does that?). There she met other travelers who were raving about Rwanda. Rwanda had recovered from its horrific 1994 genocide and is a politically stable country that has recognized the value of eco-tourism. Protecting their gorillas and offering tours was an economic tourism boom. Money from this revives villages, providing wells for water and other basic needs not previously met. Yes you can see Gorillas AND help the community! That’s winning!

The catch was that it costs about $500 for 45 minutes of gorilla time. Princess decided at that moment that one day she would have enough money to do this.

That was 2009. Let’s fast forward to 2018 when the princess finally had enough money and time to have this dreamy gorilla trekking escapade. Rwanda just increased its gorilla permit price to a whopping $1500. In 2017 it had been $750, which wasn’t exactly cheap. If only she had planned sooner.  In The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), she hears, it is only $250. But Congo still isn’t exactly safe and rangers have been killed for protecting gorillas from poachers and other criminals.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Uganda was Just Right

Uganda offers gorilla permits at a “budget” $650. Princess had never considered a trip to Uganda. After doing some research she found out that Uganda was politically stable, having chased out the Lord’s Resistance Army (remember Kony and his child soldiers?) in 2008 and now also cashing in on eco-tourism. Upon further research, she discovered that you can also see chimpanzees in Uganda. (I didn’t mention this earlier but she also had an obsession with chimps and orangutans too…all the great apes). 

Um, how soon could she sign up for seeing both gorillas and chimps?

In May of 2018, the princess did a one-week small group tour of Uganda. She never thought she’d like a group tour and never thought she’d go to Uganda, but life is funny like that. The trip was with G Adventures. She chose this tour for several reasons. They are socially conscious, they use local guides, they cater to a fun audience and they are relatively affordable. Was the tour perfect? No. Princess didn’t like all the places they chose for lodging, but whatever. The group was super cool, the guides were super cool and Uganda was super cool. That’s the takeaway.

Coming Soon: One Week Uganda Safari

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

This is where the Gorillas live. Over 1000 mountain gorillas reside in the high altitude forests of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.  These numbers are amazing because 10 years ago it was thought that these majestic close relatives of ours may go extinct within my lifetime. I remember when there were only 300. Yay conservation!

Bwindi received UNESCO status in 1994. It is the only place where you will find both Chimpanzees AND Gorillas.

Gorilla Trekking

The day before the trek we arrived to the Rushaga Gorilla Lodge. The misty beautiful views gave me chills of anticipation. This was my Gorillas in the Mist moment. Without the murder. I almost wanted to cry from excitement and gratitude. The same was true the morning we started the trek. I was a little grumpy because I had the wrong shoes and my feet were getting wet but the twenty-year build-up of dreaming about this moment trumped all that.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Our group and others met with the head park ranger who gave us a brief introduction. There are many gorilla families, but not all have been habituated for humans to be close. Three different gorilla families were going to be visited today.  A sighting is never guaranteed, but before heading into the jungle, the guides receive coordinates from trackers on the whereabouts of the gorillas, and the trackers stay with the gorillas until the group arrives. Some groups are close and some are far.

We were split into groups of those who prefer a shorter hike, medium, or long. Again, they don’t know exactly how long each one will take but the rough estimate is that the short hike may take 30 minutes to reach the family and the long one could be 6 hours. Interestingly, there were people who wanted this long hike. They paid good money and wanted a full day’s experience. I ended up in the medium group. There were 8 of us plus porters and guide.


You get the opportunity to hire a porter. There are local men and women there waiting and hoping to get hired for the day. They will carry your daypack for you and help you out with navigating wet slippery rocks over rivers and climbing up steep muddy hills. Most of us opted to do this because it only costs $20 and this money makes a huge difference in their lives. Plus I always enjoy talking to locals. Mine was Vian, pictured here. He was a doll and was really helpful. Our guide was Augustine and was excellent. Friendly and informative and made sure we had a wonderful experience.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda


The Trek

After about 1.5 hours (thankfully, right around the time I had enough) of trekking through damp dense rainforest, we were shushed and told to get our cameras ready. The trackers, Augustine, and the tourists continued on while the porters remained so that not too many people were around the gorillas. My heart was literally pounding and I could hear my heartbeat in my head. Few things have given me this level of excitement.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

I heard someone gasp and there in the tree ahead was a baby gorilla playing. As soon as I got my shit together and stopped open mouth gaping long enough to aim a camera, the baby tumbled into the leaves below. We continued down an embankment and just 10 feet or so away was the silverback. The male leader of the family.  I could barely breathe. The baby that had fallen and another were romping around while Daddy watched. He glanced at us briefly and then relaxed. Meeting his gentle gaze…this massive majestic animal that could easily end us if he chose…was spiritual. Eventually, he took a nap. I was amazed that he felt so secure and comfortable to allow us to be near his babies while he slept.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

There was an adult female hanging around too. She stared at us pretty intensely but was not aggressive. Further away was another female grooming a younger female. They barely seemed to notice us, just giving us the occasional glance.

Gorilla Trekking



Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

The simple joy of watching the babies clumsily climb and swing, often falling on their patient napping father while the mother look annoyed…unreal.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking


Overall, the vibe was relaxed. These animals gave off peaceful energy. It was like a family allowing strangers to come into their home and watch them. Like a reality show being filmed. It was bizarre…and wonderful. We regarded them in silence for one hour, whispering amongst ourselves, smiling and clearly all so thrilled to be here. What an honor. What a privilege. I don’t have enough words to describe all the feels. I am tearing up just writing this and remembering.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Is it Ethical and Responsible?

Yes, Yes, Yes.  There is a limit on the number of people that are in Bwindi each day based on permits.  Each gorilla family is only visited a few times per week to ensure they aren’t bothered by humans. The length of time a family is visited by humans is limited to one hour to limit their exposure to human diseases. Because of the closeness of our DNA (over 98%) they can get communicable illnesses from us. This is also one of the reasons we have to be 15 feet away.

The money spent on gorilla tourism is vital to the community, to the environment and to the gorillas. Rangers, guides, porters, the people who work at all the lodges…none of them would have jobs without gorilla tourism. It’s sad but many people wouldn’t go to Uganda if not to see the gorillas. I was one of these, but now that I know more about Uganda, I would recommend it as a destination with or without gorillas!

At the end you get this gorilla certificate.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

How Does the Fairytale End?

In summary, the princess wanted to see gorillas and she did, after twenty years of dreaming, and it was everything. However, she didn’t expect to get so much more. A chance to see a country many people overlook. An opportunity to once again see that the world has so many amazing corners. Uganda is delightful. The people couldn’t have been more welcoming and genuinely happy to have tourists. Our tour guides literally thanked us for coming to countries that many don’t visit. So I urge you all to do the same. Your life will be richer for it.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Princess never met a Prince Charming but she did develop a crush on the silverback gorilla who was an excellent father and husband. Sadly, he has enough wives. However, she did learn that there is an eligible unmarried king in the Tooro province of Uganda who needs a wife. King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV who rules over about 2 million people is only 18 and Uganda’s last remaining king so for all the ambitious princesses out there…you’re welcome.

Coming Soon:  Tips For Planning a Gorilla Trek in Uganda

Have you ever considered visiting Uganda? Would you like to see the mountain gorillas?

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Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


  1. Jennifer Park | 13th Dec 23

    This was such a delight to read about! This coming June (2024) I’m going to Uganda myself to go Mountain Gorilla Trekking!! Twice is the plan. And then off to Tanzania for 15 day safari. Cherene and I have a lot in common. I have longed to visit the MG’s for a long, long time. I can’t wait to have my “Gorillas in the Mist” moments.

    • Cherene Saradar | 27th Jan 24

      I’m so excited for you. You are going to have the most amazing time!!!!

  2. One Week Safari in Uganda - WanderingRedHead | 11th Mar 19

    […] Read More:  My Fairytale Gorilla Trekking Experience […]

  3. Debbie Hilburn | 5th Aug 18

    Awesome trip.

  4. thecountryjumper | 4th Aug 18

    Oh my god this is unreal! Can’t wait to experience something like this one day.

    • csaradar | 4th Aug 18

      I still have to pinch myself that it actually happened

  5. sue | 4th Aug 18

    Definitely on ly list. Along with Orangutans.

    • csaradar | 4th Aug 18

      OMG they were both dreams come true. At my age it’s gratifying to finally be doing these things!

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