Do you plan to visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park but you are not certain of which activity to choose? Bwindi is a perfect destination for interesting and mind-boggling activities for utmost satisfaction of tourists. Come visit this magnificent park to experience what others describe as “Delectable”. Some of the fascinating tourist activities include gorilla trekking that was introduced in 1993 and the habituation experience that started in 2015. Much as these two interesting activities involve hiking through the dense jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and culminating into meeting face to face with the exceptional mountain gorillas, they are different in terms of time spent with the Giant Apes, the cost of the activities and the entire experience. Make your choice from these wonderful activities after understanding about them (difference between them).
Gorilla trekking involves hiking through the jungles to find an “already” habituated gorilla group. Although the two activities involve the same process of finding the gorilla group, the difference lies in the amount of time allowed to spend with them. With gorilla trekking, tourists are allowed to spend only “one” hour with these impressive creatures. On the other hand, Gorilla Habituation Experience dubbed as GHE is a process where tourists join researchers during habituation (making mountain gorillas get used to the presence of humans). Tourists visit a family that is “still” undergoing habituation. The process of habituation usually takes 2-3 years and during this period the mountain gorilla group is monitored/studied by researchers to determine their individual characteristics and behavior, and are given names. Tourists are allowed to spend 4 hours with the mountain gorillas. 4-6 hours of tracking plus another four hours of being with the mountain gorillas, means tourists have the whole day for the entire process. The habituation experience allows tourists to have an in-depth understanding of gorilla behaviors and participate in the process of naming individuals. Tourists therefore get to spend more time with gorillas during the habituation experience than during gorilla trekking.
Gorilla habituation experience takes place only in the Southern sectors of Bwindi that is Nkuringo and Rushaga sectors. This experience (GHE) is unique to only Bwindi National Park but gorilla trekking can take place in all the other National Parks where Mountain Gorillas are found. Besides that, currently only two gorilla groups can be visited for this life changing experience and they include Bikingi of Rushaga and Bushaho of Nkuringo. Tourists interested in participating in the GHE can only visit the two mentioned groups and spend more time to learn/understand why they are incredible and have a memorable experience. Gorilla trekking on the other hand takes place in all the four sectors of Bwindi (i.e. Rushaga, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Buhoma) and eleven (11) gorilla groups are visited by tourists for the stunning gorilla safari experience. Gorilla Habituation Experience starts at 7:30am and briefing starts earlier whereas briefing for gorilla trekking begins at 8:00am and the actual activity by 8:30am.
With gorilla trekking, a maximum of 8 people are allowed to visit a gorilla group per day whereas only 4 persons are allowed to visit a gorilla group during the gorilla habituation experience which is down from the maximum of 8 people who visit a family during gorilla trekking. These gorillas that are still undergoing habituation tend to be wilder hence fewer people are allowed to visit them. An important fact to be noted is that gorilla trekking is done for already habituated gorilla groups (those that are already used to the presence of humans).
In terms of costs, the Gorilla Habituation Experience is more costly because it is a more unique and interesting experience and tourists spend more time with the Giant Apes. A permit for the GHE goes for $1500 per person for Foreign Non Residents, $1000 per person for Foreign Residents and Shs. 750,000 for East African Citizens. This remarkable experience doesn’t have discounted rates for low seasons. Gorilla trekking permits cost $600 per person for Foreign Non Residents, $500 per person for Foreign Residents and Shs 250,000 for East African Residents during high seasons. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) also offers special (discounted) rates to tourists for low seasons (For April, May and November). Foreign Non Residents pay $450, Foreign Residents are charged $400 per person and East African Residents pay Shs 150,000 per person.
These two activities are similar in terms of tracking process, the same requirements apply for gorilla trekking and the habituation experience and the same guidelines apply for them. Just like gorilla trekking, tourists have to wear appropriately during the Gorilla Habituation Experience. This involves wearing a long sleeved shirt, long pair of trousers, a hat to protect your head from the scotching sunshine, carry a sweater and a rain jacket (poncho) regardless of it being a rainy or dry Season. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a Tropical Rainforest, therefore it can rain anytime. Wear a waterproof hiking boots to offer grip during hiking and tracking through the Jungles.
The same rules and guidelines apply for gorilla trekking and the Habituation Experience. These include; tourists being 15 years and above, avoid making noise and moving up and down after sighting the mountain gorillas, avoid flash cameras because they can scare them, maintain a distance of 7 meters away from these animals and do not visit them if you have flue or Cough because they are also susceptible to those diseases.
In conclusion, much as gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation experience are key tourism activities within Bwindi National Park, they have some differences especially based on the cost of the activities, the time spent with these unique creatures, and the number of people allowed to track a gorilla group. Whichever activity you choose, you will meet face to face with the rare mountain gorillas.