Where the Wild Things Really Are: The Top Wildlife Tours
The dramatic story of Gorillas of the Mist captured the world's imagination in the mid-Eighties, first in print, than as a major movie, topped with a tragic ending. But though it may have been one researcher's amazing journey, talk to anyone who has sat quietly in the forest within feet of a mountain gorilla, and you will find an equal measure of drama in real life. It has always been difficult to locate these shy family groups; recent political upheaval in Rwanda and Zaire has made it even more difficult to visit the site of Dian Fossey's work. Be sure to check travel advisories before making plans to go.
Uganda is home to half of the world's gorilla population, and welcomes the relatively new ecotourist boom. The poetically named (and no less striking in person) Bwindi Impenetrable Forest lies in the volcanic Virunga Mountain chain (Virunga National Park, right across the border in Zaire, is the oldest wildlife park in Africa). This is a remote area; it takes hours to get into the forest to track the gorillas. Two groups of habituated gorillas live in the region, which are visited by no more than ten trackers each day. Tracking is strictly controlled to ensure the sustainability of the program. You're fairly assured of sitting near these gentle giants in the cool quiet of Bwindi's forest.
Nearby, retrace the steps of explorer Henry M. Stanley in Ruwenzori, also known as Mountains of the Moon. In this, the largest mountain range in Africa, shrouded in mist, find bizarrely oversized vegetationthe "big game" of the plant world. This is remote and difficult trekking in a truly exotic place.
You're not looking for bargains with a gorilla safari. When it comes to tracking the animals, the price is high. Tracking permits for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park range from $150 dollars (the price for locals range from $15 to $40), plus additional park permits that add on even more. You'll probably spend just a couple days tracking the gorillas; this leg of a longer journey will run you roughly $300/day. Some operators may package this with other destinations, including some of the same flexibilities: hotels or tents, with city stops or no, various levels of luxury, all which will vary the price of your entire journey.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication