180 mi/290 km southwest of Kampala, Bwindi has more mountain gorillas than any other park in Africa—about half the world's population, which is thought to be as few as 785. Gorillas live in family troops led by a dominant silverback—so called because of the band of white fur around his middle that he gets at maturity. The guides at Bwindi are experts at locating the elusive gorillas, and they start tracking from the previous night's sleeping nest. Be prepared to hike through very rugged country and—if you aren't using a digital camera—take high-speed film; the forests where the gorillas live are dark, and flash photography is not allowed. Also be aware that if you are sick, even with a common cold, you will not be allowed near the gorillas for fear of infecting them. To go gorilla-tracking, a permit is required, available from the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala (be sure to apply well in advance). Alternatively, book a package tour that includes a gorilla permit. Nine groups are now habituated for tourism purposes (one for research) and guides are strict on timelines. Once you have encountered a group in the wild, you are only allowed to be in their presence for an hour.
Besides gorillas, the park has more than 120 species of mammals, including 10 species of primates, and plenty of birds, orchids and insects (whether you like them or not). Note: In the park, do not under any circumstances travel across the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo—violent incidents involving travelers in those areas have been reported.
The local Batwa Pygmy community provides boisterous song and dance performances nearby. Their carved mobile phones are a popular souvenir. The local orphanage will also entertain you with song and dance in hopes that you'll purchase one of their colorful gorilla drawings. Other community experiences include an informative introduction to the tea plantations, banana gin sampling, and interaction with a medicine man and local farming initiatives.
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