Gorilla Trekking in Uganda: Post-Lockdown

Meeting gorillas in Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am very grateful that I was able to take this opportunity even during the pandemic to travel to Uganda, which just opened its borders to tourists from the US last October.
Gorillas
Mother and baby gorilla in Bwindi
batwa
The Batwa tribe

COVID-19 has totally changed international travel, so now is the time for travel agents to really step up and provide a smoother experience for visitors, especially for long-haul travel. After many considerations, we chose Twist Africa as our travel agency for their knowledge not only about the tours but also due to their responsiveness in answering our questions about the country's COVID-19 restrictions during this difficult time. 

Here are my top 10 tips when traveling to Uganda for your gorilla trek and safari:
1. Apart from wearing the right hiking shoes, wear long pants and long sleeves. We went off the hiking trail in order to see the gorillas up-close, and there we were met with many forest mosquitoes. While walking on cut out leaves, there were also some leaves/plants that somehow poked through my pants. It would be best to ensure that you wear sleeves with ribbing on the wrist so mosquitoes will not get in the skin of your arms.

2. We were lucky that during our trek it didn't rain, but it does rain regularly in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, so bring a raincoat. You can also hire a porter for $15 to carry your things and snacks. We didn't need to snack along the way since it only took us a relatively easy 1-hour hike and find the gorilla family. 

3. You have 1 hour to view the gorilla family. When viewing, always be mindful and listen to the guide's instructions. If the gorillas are about to walk your way, you should carefully back away to let them pass. 

gorilla
Baby gorilla in Bwindi
 
4. The 9-hr road trip back to the capital city of Kampala from Elizabeth National Park can be rough and bumpy for the first few hours. If you are prone to car sickness, bring medication with you. Our driver and guide, Kyeyune Ben, made the long drive more bearable with his exciting stories about his country. Alternatively, you can fly into Kigali, Rwanda, and then cross to Bwindi, Uganda by car. This route will cut the drive to 3-4 hours.
 
Hanging Lions at Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ishasha Sector
5. We opted not to arrive in Kigali, Rwanda even though our flight transited there due to Rwanda's 24-hour quarantine on arrival, including another COVID-19 test. Uganda currently doesn't require a quarantine upon arrival.

6. Many lodges, especially in the national parks, are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, so expect limited services. For example, swimming pools and massage centers are unavailable. I really appreciate the lodges that we stayed at, such as Birds Nest in Lake Bunyonyi, and Rushaga Gorilla Camp at Bwindi, both of which ensured that our stay was comfortable.
Lake Bunyonyi
Birdnest Resort at Lake Bunyonyi
breakfast
Breakfast with Al Pacino, Birdnest's resident dog
Rushaga
Resting at Rushaga Gorilla Camp
7. If you stay in Uganda for more than 72 hours, you will need a negative PCR test result to present to the airport when leaving the country. At the time of this writing, City Medicals in Kampala charged us $108 for the COVID test with a 24-hour turnaround. Results were emailed the next day.

8. A typical Uganda tour excursion is Congo, where you can view another gorilla family and hike the Mount Nyiragongo volcano. However, our agent advised against traveling to Congo at the moment.

9. Other nearby alternatives that are open for tourists are Kenya and Tanzania. These countries have different COVID-19 requirements, so please check with your travel agent.

10. If you don't hold an EU passport, the best way to fly to Africa during this time is via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Note that international flights on Turkish Airlines no longer offer beverage service and hot food. On my 20+ hour flight, I was only provided with 4 packed sandwiches and sugary fruit juice with no other options. If you're a picky eater or have a strict diet, it would be best to bring your own food on the plane. They also require all passengers to wear a medical mask, which is provided to everyone in their sanitation kit before entering the plane.

I was provided a media rate in exchange for an honest review. If you're interested in a vacation in East Africa, I highly recommend Dorothy Nakanja of Twist Africa and tell her I sent you!

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