Tracking gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest can be physically demanding, as it involves hiking through steep and rugged terrain at high altitude (2,000 meters). Therefore, it is important to have a reasonable level of fitness to enjoy the experience and minimize the risk of injury.
While there is no specific fitness level required, it is recommended that you have a moderate level of fitness. This means being able to hike for several hours in hilly or mountainous terrain without getting too tired or out of breath. You should also be able to climb up and down steep slopes, cross streams, and traverse rough and uneven terrain.
It's important to note that the exact difficulty of the hike can vary depending on the gorilla group you are assigned to track, as well as the weather conditions on the day of your trek. Some gorilla families are easier to reach than others, and weather conditions can make the hike more challenging.
Overall, if you have a moderate level of fitness, you should be able to enjoy the gorilla tracking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
If you wish to prepare for gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest through excercise, consider focusing on cardiovascular endurance, lower body strength and flexibility. Examples of some exercises include:
Gorilla tracking involves hiking through steep and rugged terrain possibly for several hours, so cardiovascular endurance is important. Consider doing activities like hiking, running, cycling, or using the elliptical machine.
Lower body strength
You will use your leg and core muscles to hike up and down steep hills, navigate through uneven terrain and climb over obstacles. Consider doing squats, lunges, step-ups, calf raises, and leg press. Stair climbing, whether with a stair climber or even just a staircase in your home or office building to climb up and down, is also a great way to simulate the uphill and downhill terrain you will encounter during gorilla tracking.
Stretching and yoga are excellent ways to improve flexibility, reduce the risk of injury and prepare your body for physical activity. Consider incorporating stretching exercises like hamstring stretch, hip flexor stretch, quad stretch, and back stretch into your routine.
It's important to consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.
When preparing for gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, it's important to pack the right gear and supplies to ensure a comfortable and safe trek. Here are some items to consider packing:
1. Hiking boots or sturdy shoes: The terrain in Bwindi can be steep, slippery, and rugged, so it's important to have comfortable, sturdy, waterproof footwear with proper support for your ankles. If you are purchasing new boots for tracking, buy these well in advance and wear them to avoid risks of blistered feet on the day of your trek.
2. Thick tall socks: A good pair of thick tall socks provide warmth during the cold early morning start of the trek, provide cushioning and comfort to your feet and allows you to tuck your pants into your socks. Tucking in your pants helps prevent insects from crawling up your legs while trekking and is additional protection against the stinging nettles. Merino Wool Trail/Hiking socks are a great option.
3. Long pants: To protect yourself from scratches, bites, and stings from insects, it's recommended to wear long pants, ideally water-resistant, in a neutral colour such as khaki, green or light brown to blend into the surrounding forest (however blue and black are unadvisable as these can attract insects like tsetse flies).
4. Long-sleeved shirt: To help protect you from the cold during the early colder hours of your trek and also from insects, nettles and branches and vines that would scratch you. Again selecting a neutral colour such as khaki, green or light brown (but not blue or black).
5. Good quality gardening gloves: To protect your hands from thorns a good pair of gardening gloves is considered mandatory. You often have to grab hold of branches and vines to help yourself up or down the mountainside and gardening gloves are generally designed to protect your hands against thorns and the like.
6. Rain gear: The forest receives rainfall throughout the year and often in the morning hours. Packing a light rain jacket or poncho will keep you dry in case.
7. Wide brim hat: You might not always be under the shade of the trees during your trek. A wide brim hat can protect your head, face, ears and neck from the sun, as well as keeping leaves and branches out of your hair.
8. Sunscreen: The sun's UV rays can be strong even on misty/cloudy days and especially so at elevation. Pack a minimum SPF30 sunscreen and have it with your during your trek.
9. Insect repellent: Any natural environment will be home to various insects and bugs - Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is no different, so make sure to pack insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquito bites and other insects. Be sure to have it with you during your trek for re-application.
10. Water: Bring a good quality reusable water bottle filled with water (alternately a hydration pouch with hose). You will be sweating during your trek and keeping hydrated is vital. The more water you bring the better - a minimum of 2L is suggested. Additionally consider bringing electrolyte mix/powder to add to your water.
11. Lunch and snacks: Bring snacks that you can munch on along the way to keep your blood sugar and energy high before lunch, which will usually consist of a sandwich and fruit. Depending on how long it takes your group to find the gorilla family, it can sometimes be a while before you eat lunch.
12. Camera: Most modern phones have high quality cameras which will suffice to capture the memories for a lifetime. However, if you are a photo enthusiast, bring your camera. In any case be sure your batteries are fully charged; consider an additional battery bank if needed. NEVER use the flash on either a phone or camera!
13. Binoculars: Binoculars can be useful for spotting birds, primates, and other wildlife in the forest.
14. Personal medications: If you have any personal medications, such as allergy medication/cream, insulin, make sure to bring them with you.
15. Mole skin or tape: Depending on the sensitivity of your feet and/or newness of your footwear you may wish to pack or apply some thin “moleskin” padding or 3M™ “Micropore”™ Tape to prevent (or address) blisters.
16. Toilet paper: So we'll just say it… there are no toilet facilities on your trek; or conversely the toilet facilities are everywhere. Be aware and be prepared. On a longer trek the chances of needing to go to the toilet increase, so packing some toilet paper just in case is a good idea, as well as some hand wipes and/or sanitizer.
17. Local currency or USD: Tipping is a fact of life in Uganda, and despite the high price of the gorilla trek, tipping is still going to be expected. Carrying money on you is a good idea as the trackers you meet in the jungle might not accompany you back, and so you might want to tip them before you depart. Local Ugandan shillings are the easiest option, but U.S. dollars are also widely accepted.
18. Walking sticks: You do NOT need to pack/bring a walking stick - these will be provided to you at the start of the trek.
19. Passport: Bring your passport with you for the trek as park officials will need verify your identity against your gorilla trek permit. Consider placing your passport inside a medium sized “Ziploc”® or similar freezer bag to protect it from the elements during the trek. A damaged passport can prevent you from crossing international borders or boarding flights.
20. Backpack: Bring a backpack to carry your water, snacks, camera, and other personal items during the trek. While it does seem like a long list of items, do try to pack light and avoid carrying unnecessary items that can weigh you down during the trek.
To help you better enjoy and/or actually do your trek there are two forms of assistance available to you - porters & sedan chairs.
Bwindi porters are local men and women who are hired to carry visitors' bags and equipment during the gorilla tracking trek. They are experienced and familiar with the terrain, and can help visitors navigate the sometimes steep and slippery trails. Porters carry backpacks, cameras, water bottles, and other equipment, which can weigh up to 15 kg.
Hiring a porter not only helps support the local economy but also makes the gorilla tracking experience more comfortable and enjoyable for visitors. With a porter to help carry your equipment, you can focus on the experience and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Bwindi.
Porters are hired at the park entrance, and the fee is set by the park authority. The fee is currently set at $15 USD per porter per day, and it's recommended to hire one porter per person. Visitors can also tip the porters at the end of the trek as a token of appreciation for their help.
It's important to note that hiring a porter is optional, and visitors are free to carry their own equipment if they choose. However, hiring a porter not only supports the local community but also makes the gorilla tracking experience more enjoyable and comfortable.
Sedan chairs are a traditional mode of transportation used by some visitors who have difficulty walking or hiking long distances. A sedan chair is a type of chair that is carried by two or four porters on their shoulders, allowing visitors to sit and be transported through the park.
The sedan chairs in Bwindi have padded seats, backrests, and footrests for added comfort. Visitors are strapped into the chairs using safety belts for added security during the trek. The porters who carry the sedan chairs are strong and experienced and are familiar with the trails in the park.
The use of sedan chairs is recommended for visitors who have mobility issues or difficulty walking long distances. It's important to note that the availability of sedan chairs in Bwindi may vary, and visitors should make arrangements in advance with their travel agent, tour operator or the park authority to ensure availability.
It's also important to note that using a sedan chair is an optional service and comes at an additional cost. The cost of renting a sedan chair is set by the park authority and is separate from the cost of the gorilla tracking permit. Visitors who opt to use a sedan chair are required to pay for the services of the porters who carry the chair.
Hiring a sedan chair should be considered an option of last resort and should only be used by those who are truly unable to hike. The park authority encourages visitors to hike whenever possible to minimize the environmental impact of the trek.
Overall, sedan chairs can be a useful and comfortable option for visitors with mobility issues who want to experience gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your gorilla tracking adventure in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest:
1. Consider exercising several weeks before your trek to build stength, stamina and flexibility.
2. Pack the appropriate gear described in the list above.
3. Wear appropriate clothing described baove, dessing in layers so you can adjust as your or the surrounding tempertures change. Tuck your pants into your socks or boots to prevent various insects from biting.
4. Follow all park regulations and the directions of your guide at all times to ensure your safety and the safety of the gorillas. Stay at least 7 meters (22 feet) away from the gorillas, avoid direct eye contact, and do not eat or drink near them.
5. Be patient. Gorilla tracking can take several hours and a sighting is never guaranteed. Be patient and enjoy the hike and the forest scenery.
6. Book well in advance. Permits for gorilla tracking are tightly controlled and limited and typically require purchasing well in advance.
7. Hire a porter. A porter will carry your backpack and also assist you during the trek. This can be helpful if you're not used to hiking or if you have any physical limitations.
With proper prepartion and these tips in mind, you'll be well prepared for your gorilla tracking adventure in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Enjoy your trip!
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