Are planning your visit to the African continent and still stuck on where to go? The Pearl of Africa – Uganda has got you covered with its two-amazing destinations – Mgahinga National Park and Rwenzori mountains national park that favor a combined safari in a few days of about 7 to 10 days. The destinations are located in the western part of Uganda and are known for protecting the best attractions on the continent that are the endangered mountain gorillas and the mighty snowcapped mountains commonly known as Rwenzori mountains.
Mgahinga National Park is one of the only four tropical rain forests in Africa that protect the mountain gorillas in the four sectors. Other destinations are the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo. Stretching on a total area of approximately 331 square kilometers, the park hosts almost half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorillas that can be seen during a gorilla trek.
Also known as the Mountains of the Moon, Rwenzori mountains are a range of mountains in the eastern equatorial Africa straddling on the border between Uganda and DR Congo. The mountains are protected by Rwenzori Mountains National Park which stretches on an area of approximately 998 square kilometers in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kabarole, and Kasese. Though commonly visited to mountaineering safaris, the park is also a home to other species like reptiles, insects, small mammals and many others.
When embarking on a combined gorilla and Rwenzori hike, it’s essential to be aware of and abide by the rules and regulations in place to protect the environment, wildlife, and ensure the safety of visitors. Here are some general guidelines that apply to both activities:
Gorilla Trekking experience
- Permit Requirement: Gorilla trekking requires a permit, which must be obtained in advance and allows one visitor per day. It’s important to secure your permit through the appropriate authorities or a reputable tour operator. Gorilla trekking permits cost US$700 per person per day and these can be got from Uganda Wildlife Authority or a registered tour company.
- Health Requirements: Prior to gorilla trekking, you’ll be required to undergo a health screening to ensure you are free from any contagious diseases that could be transmitted to the gorillas. If you are feeling unwell, it’s best to reschedule your trek. Since mountain gorillas share a DNA with humans, they can easily get infected with different disease like flue, cough and others and thus every trekker should go under a health checkup before going encountering the species.
- Group Size and Time with Gorillas: Gorilla groups are visited by a limited number of people each day to minimize stress on the animals. Typically, a trekkers group consists a maximum of 8 visitors who trail through the park rain forests and once you locate assigned gorilla group, you will spend a maximum of one hour observing and photographing them.
- Safety and Respect: Maintain a minimum distance of 7 meters (21 feet) from the gorillas to minimize the risk of disease transmission and to respect their personal space. Follow the instructions of your guide, speak softly, and avoid sudden movements or direct eye contact with the endangered mountain gorillas. Also, you are not allowed to eat or drink during the experience since the species may cause injury to you.
- No Flash Photography: Flash photography is prohibited during gorilla trekking as it may startle or distress the gorillas. Use only natural light or available light for photography.
Rwenzori Hiking experience
- Permits and Guides: Hiking in the Rwenzori Mountains requires permits, and it’s mandatory to be accompanied by an experienced guide. Obtain the necessary permits in advance and arrange for a guide through the national park authorities or a reputable tour operator. The cost of the hiking permit depends on the package of your choice and the route you are willing to use.
- Respect the Environment: The Rwenzori Mountains are a fragile ecosystem. Follow the principle of “Leave No Trace” and ensure that you do not disturb or damage the flora and fauna. Stay on designated trails and avoid littering since there are some animal species in the forests that may end up getting damages.
- Group Size: Hiking groups in the Rwenzori Mountains are usually limited to a certain number of participants. This helps in minimizing the impact on the environment and ensures a better experience for all. Respect the group size limits set by the authorities.
- Altitude and Physical Fitness: The Rwenzori Mountains are known for their high altitude and challenging terrain especially those going for the summit challenge (5,109m). Ensure you are physically fit and acclimatize properly to prevent altitude sickness. Follow the guidance of your guide and communicate any health concerns promptly.
- Equipment and Safety: Carry appropriate gear and equipment suitable for the hike, including sturdy hiking boots, warm clothing, rain gear, and other essentials. It’s important to prioritize safety and be prepared for changing weather conditions.
For the perfect combined gorilla and mountain hike, endeavor to follow the rules and regulations for your safety and memorable safari. Also, try to consult a local tour operator for the current and accurate information regarding the experiences.