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What are the Best Parks for Gorilla Trekking in Africa?

There are only two populations of mountain gorillas left in the world. Mountain gorillas are found on two separate locations, the first one lives in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, with groups scattered between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The second population lives deep in the thick Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. As of September 2016, the estimated number of mountain gorillas remaining is about 880.

The distribution of mountain gorillas is entirely within national parks, but despite their protected status, all three countries inhabit similar rugged terrain and have similar habits. Individual mountain gorilla groups vary in their accessibility. The regulations and quality of local gorilla guides and trackers is similar in Rwanda and Uganda.

It’s important to know what you’re getting into before setting out for budget gorilla trek in Africa. The hike through the forest is challenging and tough-going (your guides will often have to machete a path through the ferns that clog the undergrowth), but it’s within reach for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. You will get muddy though and sweaty. Beneath the forest canopy the humidity is very high, and it’s a good idea to bring a canteen of fresh water to hydrate as you go.

Uganda has two places where these Mountain Gorillas may be seen, one is Mgahinga Gorilla Park; a stunning park and a component of the Virunga chain of towering volcanoes that extend into the DRC and Rwanda, and then in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Bwindi forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has more than half of the rare estimated population of 480 mountain gorillas. The park is situated in the south western park of Uganda on the edge of the Albertine Rift montane forests. Trekking mountain gorillas in Uganda is a truly unforgettable experience that offers a great privilege for the rest of your life time. No safari to Uganda would be complete without experiencing this particular wonder at least once.

The must see life experience is the first single hour you can spend in the wild with our so close related gorillas. As the venture is starting with a good hike to the last know where about of the family, it takes you through beautiful scenery. The clear cutting line of trees and farmland shows so clearly the pressure of humans on the wildlife.

Back in the nature, in Bwindi you will have looked like over a century ago. Marvelous and impressive you have to find the gorillas here deep in the jungle with some less restraining hike, they are just across the farmland and showing their gentle nature close by. You can take videos and pictures of them playing, sleeping, swinging from trees, and many others, the guides visit the gorillas every day, for over many years before they may host the guest from all over the world. The relatively high price to pay for the 1 hour visit is worthy every drive and some is used to protect the species and land for future generations.

In Rwanda, gorilla trekking takes places in Volcanoes National Park lying north western Rwanda bordering Virunga national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park. Virunga National Park is known for its haven for the rare and endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest. The park is home to five of eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains including Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo and span 160km covered in rain forest and bamboo.

The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey.  Of all attractions in Rwanda, the one that really draws people to visit Volcanoes National Park, are the rare mountain gorillas. A thrilling trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virunga’s offers stirring views in all directions entering the national park with armed guides and trekkers leading you in the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest jungle alive with the calls of colourful birds and hooting of the rare golden monkeys.

In Democratic Republic of Congo, gorilla trekking takes place in Virunga National Park. Trekking mountain gorillas on foot starts early in the morning and after border formalities you are transferred to a ranger’s station where the trek commences. Your rangers will lead you through the cultivated lands and then into the dense rain forest and as close as is allowed to a gorilla family. The rangers monitor the gorillas on a daily basis and have a fairly good idea of where they are. However, they are free roaming animals, and their sighting cannot be guaranteed. Trekking can take anywhere from 1 hour to 8 hours and it can be quite tiresome, so a reasonable level of fitness is required. No camera flashes and you avoid sustained eye contact or finger pointing. If a gorilla moves toward you, step calmly out of the way. If one charges, follow the guide’s instruction to drop to the ground in submission.

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5 Top Birding Sites in Uganda

Some of the travelers who annually visit Uganda are more interested in doing the birding activity. For every traveler wishing to go on a birding safari, this article unveils the best birding sites in Uganda that you should consider most:

Semuliki National Park & Reserve

Semuliki, in western Uganda, is arguably the best birding site in Uganda, and it the main reason as to why the Park is referred to as a ‘’True Birders’ Haven’’ – as the Park comprises of almost every unique African bird species. Though the Park’s main attraction is the pair of hot springs – male and female, found near the Park office at Sempaya, it is a unique destination for all birders and the birding highlights include Albertine Rift Endemics such as; the dwarf honey guide and purple-breasted sunbirds; 35 Congo-Guinea biome species found nowhere else in East Africa, including black dwarf hornbill, Congo serpent eagle, Nkulengu rail, Gabon woodpecker; and other species with very limited ranges such as; white-tailed hornbill, capuchin babbler, blue-headed crested flycatcher and the orange weaver.

The other amazing thing in this Park, besides unique bird watching, is the pair of hot springs of which the female hot spring called ‘’Nyansimbi’’, which means; the female ancestors, is a boiling geyser that spurts bubbling water and steam up to two meters high. Visitors can therefore cook eggs and plantains in the boiling pools that surround the central spout.

Kidepo Valley National Park

Nestled in Uganda’s distant north-eastern corner, Kidepo is also referred to as the ‘’True African Wilderness’’ due to its scenic landscape and varied wildlife, and arguably the Park is one of Uganda’s best and mostly explored protected areas. The Park is best known for its natural unrivalled beauty and protecting a varied wildlife, but more fascinating is that the Park is a home to almost 500 bird species, thus making it the second place to hold the largest number of bird species in Uganda, only next to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The experienced and professional ranger guides are available at Apoka to assist you to locate and identify birdlife in the Park’s various habitats. On addition to bird watching, you will also be in a perfect place to enjoy the game viewing activity as the Park inhabits almost every African wildlife species, such as; African lions, Cape buffaloes, African leopards, African elephants, Rothschild’s giraffes, Zebras, Elands, Cheetahs, wild dogs, Jackson’s hartebeest, spotted and stripped hyenas, bat-eared foxes, Oribi, Okapis, Topis, Gazelles, and many others.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Perched in the western parts of Uganda spanning the districts of; Kasese, Kamwenge, Rubirizi, and Rukungiri, the Park is definitely among the heavily visited ones in Uganda, of which; it is mostly renowned for its amazing tree climbing lions and the spectacular Kazinga channel – home to an abundance of wildlife. The birding activities overlap with the wildlife viewing locations in the Park and the highlights include; easy sightings of resident and migratory water birds on the Kazinga channel; spectacular seasonal congregations of flamingoes on the Kyambura and Katwe soda lakes; careful searches for rare and restricted range forest species in Maramagambo forest; plus the memorable shoebill sightings on the remote Lake Edward flats in Ishasha sector – residence to the tree climbing lions. The Park inhabits the largest population of bird species in Uganda, with over 600 bird species.

Murchison Falls National Park

Residing at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment merges into a vast, palm-dotted savanna, Murchison Falls National Park is the largest national park in Uganda and its existence is basically determined by the majestic Murchison Falls. The Park conducts a variety of activities such as; game viewing, boat cruises, sport fishing, cultural encounters, hot air balloon safaris, chimpanzee tracking, and bird watching. It is an ideal destination for birders – protecting over 451 bird species, hence making it one of the destinations in Uganda with the largest number of bird species, including the water birds such as; the rare shoe-billed stork, dwarf kingfisher, Goliath heron, white-thighed hornbill and great blue turaco. A journey to or from the MFNP is very scenic and there is an optional visit to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – the only home to the wild rhinos in Uganda, thus being able to view all the Arica’s big five (Lions, Elephants, Leopards, Rhinos, and Buffaloes), whereby the others will all be spotted from Murchison Falls National Park. For birders to view the many bird species should involve in game drives, launch trips/boat cruises and forest walks to encounter various bird species in abundance – as everything in the Park is there in abundance, especially wildlife species and bird species.

Mabamba Bay Wetland

The wetland is nestled on the edge of Lake Victoria – northwest of the Entebbe peninsular, and it is one of Uganda’s most important birding areas. The major bird species here include; shoebills, the blue swallow and the papyrus gonoleks. More special with bird watching activities at Mabamba is that; a birder can spot 60% of the total population of the bird species there, just within a single day thus being one of the most ideal destinations for bird watching activities in Africa. It is also the only destination in Africa where at any time of the day; a birder can spot the elusive shoebills.

The wetland comprises of a total of 260 bird species and a birder can be able to spot almost 157 bird species within just a single day. Mabamba is definitely one of the strong holds for the migrant Blue Swallow – with over 100 individuals recorded every year. The amazing birding experience in Mabamba in not only at the swamp, but along the way, there are other birding spots with a variety of habitats, and after birding, one can opt to follow a woodland and savanna trail up to the sand mining quarry to increase on chances of other species apart from the wetland birds. The birding excursions in Mabamba are basically done on canoes through the small channels of marsh-filled water and lagoons – birds are best spotted in the morning hours though; they can be spotted throughout the entire day at any hours convenient for you.

Other most recommendable important birding sites;

The other popular birding sites in Uganda include; Budongo forest, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Mgahinga National Park, Kibale Forest National Park, Entebbe Botanical Gardens, and Mabira forest, among others.