My Gorilla Trek with Way More Than Gorillas


Stefano Barazzetta and Marta Pirovano from Italy were the first people to enjoy Three Upland Lakes by themselves, outside of East African Playgrounds groups it was originally made for. Always a kind man, a year later Stefano wrote the following story for our blog…

Stefano Barazzetta and Marta Pirovano; photo by Enoch Arinaitwe

Stefano Barazzetta and Marta Pirovano; photo by Enoch Arinaitwe

Strange enough,

it all started in Prague.

It was summer 2009, my wife Marta and me were in town for vacations, and decided to pay a visit to the local zoo.

That was the first time we had the chance to meet face to face with the gorillas: we spent more than an hour staring in marvel at these magnificent creatures, and it was like looking as some not-so-distant relatives… The decision was taken: sooner or later, we shall pay a visit to them in their homeland, the Gorilla Highlands!

Gorilla Highlands landscape; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Gorilla Highlands landscape; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

My wife and I are good travellers but by that time we had never had the chance to visit any Sub-Saharan African country, and we honestly had no concrete plans to start exploring the continent. Anyway, the decision was taken and the gorillas were always there, in the back of my mind.

Then in late 2012 my new job began taking me to East Africa: I started working at an impact investment fund (we invest in local companies that, along with financial returns, can deliver social and environmental positive impact). I visited Kenya, Tanzania and – drumroll! – Uganda, and I kept coming back on a regular basis.

At that point we had no excuse: I quickly fell in love with Uganda, the vibrant colours, the friendly people, the endless sky… and I started talking to my wife about the trip. She really liked idea, and in fall 2014 we decided that we would spend our 2015 summer vacations in Uganda.

Uganda's skies; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Uganda’s skies; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Honestly, we were a bit scared about the budget. We are not billionaires and looking at the rates of safaris, organised tours etc. (not to mention lodge room prices) we got quickly scared that we might end up giving up.

But during my research I quickly discovered Edirisa: they immediately seemed to tick all the right boxes, a local, independent organisation working in ecotourism and offering very reasonably priced but tailor-made treks in an area that – besides the obvious gorilla tracking – looked to see very few visitors. I also bought the great ebook that they produced; highly recommended!

Traditional dugout canoe in front of Habukomi Island; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Traditional dugout canoe in front of Habukomi Island; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

At that point I started bombing the poor Miha with all possible questions about the trek that we wanted to take, and he always replied to my emails quickly and very kindly (despite some of my questions being particularly dumb), and the deal was made: he arranged for us a 4-day trekking from Lake Bunyonyi to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, passing through forests, lakes and wonderful hills (with some canoeing too!).

In late July 2015 we found ourselves on the banks of Lake Bunyonyi, where Miha welcomed us, gave us a quick brief of the trip and introduced us to our great guide Enock.

Lake Bunyonyi in the Gorilla Highlands; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Lake Bunyonyi in the Gorilla Highlands; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Learning from Mrs Annah, a craftmaker; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Learning from Mrs Annah, a craftmaker; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

The first day was pretty quick and easy: we paddled a bit on the lake, then visited a school, met a herbalist, learned about local artisanship, and canoed again to reach Tom’s Homestay in the middle of the lake.

The second day was the toughest but also the most rewarding: we left Tom’s island early in the morning, reached the shore and approached and crossed the Echuya Forest (man, that’s steep!). We finally walked through an amazing valley were lots of children accompanied us for a long stretch, and eventually arrived, after crossing some other magnificent hills, to the banks of Lake Kayumbu, where we camped for the night: in front of us, the Mount Muhavura, a 4.127m extinct volcano!

Through Echuya Forest; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Through Echuya Forest; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Lake Kayumbu with Mt Muhavura in the background; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Lake Kayumbu with Mt Muhavura in the background; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

The third day was as long as the second, but it was far less tough, as we did not have to cross any forest or climb any hill (actually, we only climbed a small hill ;-). We left Lake Kayumbu early in the morning, and by noon or so we reached Kisoro Town (back to electricity after 3 days!), where we had a well-deserved lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch we continued to the shores of Lake Mutanda, took a boat and landed on a small island in the middle of the lake. We were welcomed by the very kind staff of Mutanda Island Lodge who prepared a great dinner for us. We camped for the night after spending some time next to a bonfire … amazing!

Women working next to the road to Kisoro; Lake Kayumbu with Mt Muhavura in the background; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Women working next to the road to Kisoro; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Lake Mutanda; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Lake Mutanda; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

The fourth and last day began with crossing Lake Mutanda by boat to get to the north bank of the lake, where we had lunch at Chameleon Hill Lodge, with great views over the lake and the volcanoes (if weather allows; we were not very lucky…). After lunch we continued our trek through hills filled with villages and tea plantations, and we finally arrived at Nshongi Camp, a special little place that we recommend.  It was our entry point into the Bwindi, where – the following day as an add-on to the trek – we finally had the chance to meet the gorillas face to face!

Climb from Lake Mutanda; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Climb from Lake Mutanda; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

It was a wonderful 4-day trekking. One year has already passed and it still looks like a dream to us; Marta and me can’t recommend it enough, as the trip was the kind of experience-of-a-lifetime thing that we will tell everybody about for years to come.

Mutanda Island Lodge; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Mutanda Island Lodge; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

If you can, just go, Uganda is an amazing place that has much more to offer than the (magnificent!) gorillas: the country is safe, and visiting the Gorilla Highlands on your own two feet will give you a perspective that you wouldn’t be able to get with any other kind of tour! Above all, it will allow you to get in touch with the most precious thing of the whole country: its amazing people.

Enoch Arinaitwe and Mr Jeremiah, a traditional healer; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Enoch Arinaitwe and Mr Jeremiah, a traditional healer; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Thanks again to Miha, Enock and everybody at Edirisa for making our trekking unforgettable!

If you like, feel free to browse all of our Uganda pics here!

Children at Edirisa Nursery School in Kyabahinga; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

Children at Edirisa Nursery School in Kyabahinga; photo by Stefano Barazzetta

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