Planning a mountain gorilla photography safari in Uganda and Rwanda is an exciting adventure, but it requires careful preparation to ensure you make the most of your limited time with these magnificent creatures. When you finally meet the gorillas, you’ll have just one hour to capture memories that will last a lifetime, so here’s how to plan your journey and maximize your photography experience.
Preparing Your Equipment
Before embarking on your mountain gorilla photography safari, make sure all your gadgets are in order. Personal cameras, binoculars, and other photography equipment should be packed and ready. Ensure that these gadgets won’t inconvenience other trekkers. It’s essential to have fully charged batteries and extra memory cards and batteries as well. Remember, gorilla photography requires patience, and you don’t want to run out of power or storage during your once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
Choosing the Right Camera
Selecting the right camera is crucial for your photography safari. While professional cameras are ideal, even a simple point-and-shoot camera can yield impressive results. Consider bringing a tripod to ensure stable shots, lens cleaning equipment, extra wide and mid-range lenses, and a bean bag for added stability.
Binoculars are indispensable for a gorilla photography safari. They allow you to zoom in and observe hidden wildlife and are particularly useful if you plan to do some bird-watching during your trip.
Carry a day backpack to transport your essentials on the trekking day. This bag should hold your camera equipment, toiletries, drinking water, insect repellent, sunscreen, first aid kit, wet wipes, toilet paper, and personal items.
Given the rugged terrain you’ll be traversing in the jungle, invest in ankle-length hiking boots. They should be sturdy, and if you can find waterproof ones, that’s even better.
The color of your clothing matters. Avoid camouflage attire, as it’s associated with the military. Blue can attract tsetse flies, and black absorbs heat. Opt for neutral-colored clothing like brown, green, or khaki. Pack long-sleeved shirts and trousers (not jeans), and consider having two pairs of each since many accommodations offer laundry services. Don’t forget garden gloves to protect your hands from scratches during the trek.
Uganda’s weather is unpredictable, and rain is common throughout the year. Pack rain jackets and shower caps to stay dry during sudden downpours. Adjustable gaiters, thick socks, insect repellent, toiletries, personal items, cash, wet wipes, a warm sweater for both wet and dry seasons, a refillable water bottle, and a flashlight are other essential items to have on hand.
When to Go
Gorilla photography safaris are available year-round in Uganda and Rwanda, with two main seasons to consider. The dry season, from June to September and December to February, is the ideal time for gorilla trekking. During this period, the trekking routes are less slippery, and the vegetation is thinner, making it easier to spot gorillas. However, be prepared for sporadic rain even in the dry season, and book your gorilla permits well in advance due to high tourist demand.
Conversely, the wet season, from March to May and October to November, is a more budget-friendly option as accommodation prices are lower. The trade-off is that the trekking routes can be muddy and slippery, and heavy rains are common. Be ready for this type of weather if you opt for a wet-season safari.
Getting to the Trekking Destinations
In Uganda, the primary gorilla trekking destinations are Bwindi and Mgahinga, located in the southwestern part of the country. You can reach these national parks by road or air. The road journey from Kampala takes about 9 to 10 hours, with the possibility of stopovers. It’s an adventurous way to travel, but be prepared for rough terrain and consider using a 4×4 safari vehicle. Alternatively, you can take a charter flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip to Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrip, where a safari vehicle will transport you to your final destination.
In Rwanda, the Volcanoes National Park is approximately a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kigali International Airstrip. You have the option to self-drive or hire a safari vehicle through a reputable safari company, a recommended choice for most travelers.