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  • Writer's pictureShila Desai

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

On the trail of our primate relatives

The siren call of returning to our collective roots is hard to ignore. This past summer, a small group and I trekked gorillas in Uganda.

While we share more DNA with chimps (99%), humans are closer to gorillas in key genes, for example, in our hearing. One genetic difference is a mutation that results in dementia in humans, but seems to leave gorillas completely unaffected.

I'd heard the moment of looking into the eyes of a gorilla as indescribably affecting. Here's how it unfolded.

We arrived in southern Uganda the night before the big trek. Facing our room was a wall of rainforest: Bwindi Impenetrable (no kidding) National Park. We were told we would penetrate it.

The day dawned with a send-off-to-Bwindi ceremony amidst fanfare and dancing. That should have raised a flag.

Even though we insisted we didn't need them, we were assigned porters. I soon found out why. The descent into the rainforest was at 60% grade, wet, crisscrossed with creepers, and completely virgin. The porters, patient and strong, were our saviours from a headlong slide down the steep slope. We were accompanied by a ranger with a rifle to shoot in the air if need be, never at the gorillas. Ahead of us the bushwhackers' machetes cleared a "path".

Unlike us pathetic offshoots of the primate family tree, gorillas can swing from trees and cover difficult terrain within minutes. We took 2 hours. It was the toughest trek I ever did (until I got to the Tsinghy in Madagascar, but that's another story).

All of a sudden, the bushwhackers sent up a bush call. Gorillas ahead! We crept forward and donned face masks in standard practice since Bwindi opened after the pandemic. There, in the tangle of the bush not six feet away, was a family of eight (habituated) gorillas: Papa Silverback, 3 Mamas, and 4 youngsters. Over two years, this family was gradually habituated to small groups of humans such as ourselves. Gorillas were highly endangered in Uganda before the local population realised that careful stewardship and sustainable tourism were income generating.

Ahead of me, a mama gorilla languidly turned her head. We locked eyes. A thrill that shot through my aching bones and jolted me upright . She was looking at me and I was looking at her. She seemed to say, "I see you. I know you."

Over the next hour, we watched in awe, cameras clicking, as the family peacefully fed, groomed each other, and the youngsters gambolled. The one year old posed on a bush, bared teeth, and generally hammed it up for our cameras. I couldn't get over how similar their behaviour was to humans'. I pinched myself. Being in the proximity of these magnificent animals was a dream come true. I'm not normally at a loss for words (ask my husband) but I'm having trouble describing the sense of deep connection I felt.

All too soon it was time to head up. Did I say the trek down was the tough? Try going up. I was weak from a stomach bug and gladly allowed my porter to haul me up.

That evening, we were almost dead on our feet and ached all over. But all of us felt something had shifted inside. We kept reliving each magical moment. Did celebrity chasers feel the same after a face-to-face with their most coveted denizen of People magazine? Nah. I'll take gorillas over celebrities, any day.

Uganda is lush, mountainous, and incredibly scenic. Our lodges were set in places of great natural beauty and abundant fauna.

Encounters with Ugandans rounded off an unforgettable time.


"You haven't travelled until you travel with EYHO Tours!" -- Meena Suraiya Ramsinghani

Do I recommend a close up and personal with the gorillas? Absolutely. Would I do that trek again? No. Happy to arrange it for you! We have the best, most caring guides. contact me.


Thanks for taking a look! I am Shila Desai, owner of E.Y.H.O. Tours. I personally handcraft itineraries, infusing them with curated activities, accommodations, and sightseeing. Together with my in-country teams, we deliver exceptional holidays every time. I invite you to leave me a comment or write

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