Visiting the Silverback Gorillas in Uganda

silverback gorillas parc de volcanes rwanda uganda

I flew into Kampala, the capital of Uganda, on December 29th. Chris had arrived the day before for a work meeting. I got a taxi into the city and found him at our hotel, the lovely Kampala Serena. It felt great to have a little luxury after 10 days backpacking in Ethiopia. Kampala is a nice, fairly small and clean capital city- but big enough to have a movie theater, which we hadn’t visited in quite a while! We went to see Avatar and had dinner out in the city.

On the 31st, our driver picked us up and drove us to the southwestern edge of Uganda, right next to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (home to the Ugandan mountain gorillas). The scenery the whole way was beautiful and although the drive was long, it was totally worth taking the time. Around 6 pm we crossed the border into Rwanda, and found ourselves just outside of Volcano National Park (home to the Rwandan mountain gorillas). Essentially the same mountain range runs through Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, and the gorillas migrate between the three. Tourists can visit the mountain gorillas through either of the three countries, but costs and procedures will vary. Our permits cost us $500 for the day, as they were discounted for “low” season.

Early in the morning on Jan 1 (no staying up late for us, although we did share a bottle of wine at dinner to celebrate New Year’s Eve) we arrived at the park staging area and met the other trekkers and our guides. Only 30 people are allowed to trek each day and we were in a small group of 8. They gave us hiking poles- gaiters are also good to have along- and off we went up the mountain. The guides knew from some trekkers who spend the night near the gorillas where they were, so we only had to hike about an hour before we found them.

Once we located the gorillas, we were able to watch them for one hour, from a distance of seven meters- close enough to smell them, anyway. We stood in the dripping rain, and watched the babies play, the mothers nurse, and the silverback choose a mate and make sweet, sweet gorilla love. All too soon it was time to hike down the mountain and find some dry clothes for us.

The next day, the 2nd, Chris had to fly back to Khartoum but I decided to stay for four more days. We went into Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and visited the Genocide Memorial center, free for all visitors to the city. It is an amazing place. Rwanda, for all its bad press and the terrible things that happened fifteen years ago, is an incredibly forward looking country that is trying, probably harder than any other African country, to put the past behind them and move positively to the future.

Taking a moto-taxi, I decided to go to Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s great Rift Lakes, and the sixth largest lake in the continent. At an altitude of 1,614 meters, the weather is always cool and rainy there with occasional patches of sunshine each day. I was able to find a lovely guest house, Home Saint Jean, run by a church for only $20 a night, and stayed there for the next three days, just enjoying some solitude before heading back to work. Each night I watched the fishermen hang lanterns on the ends of their boats to entice the fish, and I read each day. A nice way to unwind before heading back to the hustle and bustle of Khartoum!