Is Gorilla Habituation Experience Worth The Money
The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda is worth the money spent because it’s the only experience that offers you more time (about 4 hours) with the wild mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. And it’s only offered in Uganda and nowhere else. The regular gorilla trekking experience offers you only one hour with a habituated gorilla family.
Nevertheless, one of travel’s greatest privileges is walking a few meters silently from a wild silverback and his entire family in a cold misty thick forest. Nothing can beat the feeling of the adrenaline jolt that hits you when a giant looks straight into your eyes.
The gorilla habituation experience in Uganda’s mountain forests brings you the closest you can get to living the life of a wild mountain gorilla that’s not entirely used to accommodating human presence.
But the question is: is the experience worth the $1500 price tag on the permit? Let’s find out.
What is gorilla habituation experience?
Gorillas are innately wild animals and have evolved to hide far from predators (especially humans) when approached or become aggressive when threatened. That’s why they live high up the inhabitable mountain forest to avoid regular contact with humans that have hunted them and repossessed their habitats for ages.
Experts take a group through a slow habituation process within their natural habitat that lasts about 2 to 5 years to make the gorillas trust that humans will not harm them. During this process, there’s minimal interference with how the gorillas live. Researchers don’t feed or force them into submission but mimic their lifestyle and make their friendly presence known.
When the gorillas are no longer aggressive or not shying away from the primatologists, then tourists are allowed to come to visit for a restricted minimal and supervised time per day, usually one hour: what is commonly known as gorilla trekking. Many gorilla groups live far away from human contact, but experts have habituated a few of them to allow tourists to visit them close.
Therefore, the gorilla habituation experience is an adventure in the gorilla forest accompanied by researchers and rangers on their daily excursions of habituating a wild gorilla family. The activity lasts about four hours, following and keeping up with the gorilla group’s daily chores. Four hours is quite a lot to spend with a wild creature in the open forest area. The experience is worth more than the regular gorilla trekking.
The Gorilla Habituation Experience
Waking through vines and scrambling across challenging terrain, suddenly you are amidst a group of quietly rested gorillas munching away at a vegetarian meal. Resting on the forest floor, you observe their daily interactions as they eat, grunt, fart, and groom each other with astonishingly humane movements.
If the chillout has lasted a little longer, they may be already on the move for another foraging expedition, waking through the dense jungle with impeccable ease. You follow like a dreamer under a spell, keeping up with their movement and amazement at how primitively similar we all are. The short, still moments make you forget you’re holding a camera—the brisk challenging activities to keep up pass by like a summer wind. You’re lost in time only to find that four hours have passed and you have to leave your cousins be. Your ranger taps you on the shoulder, “It’s time to leave!”
The gorilla habituation adventure starts with an early morning briefing, during which you’ll learn a little about the wild gorillas you’re about to see and essential instructions on how to behave when around them. The top of the list is to avoid contact and stay far back, at least 10 meters. Not only for your own safety but also gorillas as our respiratory diseases can easily spread to them due to closely shared DNA.
It’s also not wise to imitate their calls. While it might seem fun to mimic them, if you’re not careful, you might accidentally end up recreating a battle cry and jark a 180-kg angry silverback down upon you. Once you’ve been briefed, your small group of about four tourists, an expert tracker guide, two armed rangers, and maybe some researchers head into the forest to find the gorilla family.
Pushing through the tangled undergrowth, ducking under low branches, and watching your step for twisted roots, you’ll hike following instructions on a walkie-talkie from a team of rangers that stay with the gorillas. When you find them, the gorilla habituation experience clock will start ticking, and for the next four hours, you’ll sit with them or follow their movements as they forage through the first half of the day. During this time, your local tracker guide will help guide your positions and educate you about the gorilla family members, their social characters, and the habitat in which they live. Pay close attention because that information is worth the money you paid.
The raw uncurated adventure in an untamed environment is what makes the gorilla habituation experience priceless. You can’t put a price on what those dedicated individuals go through to protect the gorillas and stay with them throughout the entire habituation process. This process has allowed gorillas to survive the extinction curse and flourish in small jungle pockets coexisting with dense human populations. The price for the permit is just a little thank you to these dedicated souls.
Habituation experience compared to gorilla trekking
Firstly, the gorilla habituation experience is worth the money more than the gorilla trekking experience, priced the same in Rwanda ($1500). If you have the chance to spend four hours with a giant primate in a rainforest, rather than one for the same price, you’ll definitely take the former.
Secondly, the extended time gives you a better chance to get familiar with the gorillas’ behavior and social lives, making you more appreciative of their existence. The one hour with gorilla trekking may not extend that experience but help you tick off an activity on your travel calendar.
Thirdly, the photography opportunities with the habituation experience are countless and worth the money for the permit. Four hours are enough to settle in, find great settings for your camera, and shoot the best angles you can barely pull off on the gorilla trekking excursion.
Gorilla trekking excursions accept eight tourists to join the trek. The habituation experience brings along only four people, making for a more intimate experience than the trekking experience.
Most of all, the price tag may be expensive, but it’s a great way to support hugely to gorilla conservation. It’s worth giving back to support a cause while getting back something priceless. And it’s not just the gorillas that benefit from your experience; the communities around the gorilla parks hugely depend on the activity, especially the local lodges, guides, and rangers who employ from the villages.
Places for gorilla habituation experience
Gorilla habituation experience is offered only in Uganda, in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Bwindi is worth the gorilla experience because it protects close to half of the global mountain gorilla population and offers more trekking centers than any other gorilla destination.
In Bwindi, the gorilla habituation experience occurs in the Rushaga Sector in the park’s southern region. Rushaga has two gorilla families available for the habituation experience.
How to get there
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in Uganda’s extreme southwestern corner, about 490 kilometers from Entebbe International Airport, the primary entry point into Uganda.
Gorilla safaris usually drive 10 hours from Entebbe and join the gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi, spending at least two nights in the Rushaga/Nkuringo area. The drive is worth the money for adventure seekers that want to watch the beauty of the southwestern Uganda region that has been compared to Switzerland.
If you can’t stand the 10-hour long drive, you can take a small scheduled flight to Kisoro Airstrip, about 2 hours drive from Rushaga/Nkuringo, where you’ll find recommended lodging.
If you’re traveling south from game viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park and chimpanzee trekking in Kibale, you’ll drive around Bwindi through Kihihi-Ruhija and down to Rushaga. It’s a more tedious journey, especially during the rainy seasons because the road is unpaved.