Hiking in Surprising Africa: Free Your Mind

Shephard in the Gorilla Highlands; photo by Jiro Ose
Shephard in the Gorilla Highlands; photo by Jiro Ose

When you consider trekking in the Gorilla Highlands of Uganda and Rwanda—towards our extraordinary mountain gorillas or through the dramatic cultural landscapes—you should free your mind first. There are many preconceptions that have to do with Africa and simply do not apply.

How safe is Uganda? How safe is Rwanda?

In one word: very. The authorities in both countries are passionate about safety and security. On the streets of Rwanda you will see the military in plain sight, in Uganda not so much, but the countries’ main strength are actually the local networks. Villages have people responsible for keeping an eye on everything that happens in their area, so it is very unlikely that outsiders with ill intentions could do anything unnoticed.

Children of Lake Bunyonyi; photo by Jiro Ose
Children of Lake Bunyonyi; photo by Jiro Ose

Tightly-knit rural communities are in fact the safest environment one can wish for. Everybody knows everybody; if you wonder what some men sitting close to your tent are doing, your host surely does not. Your valuables will be just fine. This connectedness of course weakens the more urban/touristy the place is, so do not get too comfortable after experiencing the village. The city can be something else entirely. (Well, doesn’t that apply throughout the world?)

What about wildlife in Uganda/Rwanda? How dangerous are snakes?

Outside of national parks (where you will have armed escort) the land is super-heavily cultivated. You know the stereotype of the lazy African? It’s laughable; people of these mountains work very hard to convert even the steepest slopes into agricultural assets. Where a leopard could hide in a bush a century ago, a field of potatoes or a plantation of eucalyptus trees dominates nowadays.

Unless you specifically look for them and dig into the soil, you will not easily run into a snake. They know they should better avoid humans…

But the mosquitoes must be terrible! Do your tents have mosquito nets?

Mosquitoes are definitely there, and some females among them may distribute malaria parasites. But if you are expecting the air buzzing with them, you will be amazed; a mosquito is more of an exception than a rule.

Tents in use on the Gorilla Highlands Trails have a net layer on the entrance and you should keep it zipped. If you wish to apply a repellant before you join the campfire, focus on your ankles because mosquitoes are more likely to attack closer to the ground. Spraying yourself with chemicals during the day makes little sense.

Cool night under the stars next to Echuya Forest; photo by Marcus Westberg
Cool night under the stars next to Echuya Forest; photo by Marcus Westberg

You must be talking about the dry periods! What if I come during the rainy season?

The number of mosquitoes will indeed be higher when residue water creates the kind of environment they thrive in. That is when you will hear some of their trademark sound. When it is dry, hardly any.

By the way, do you know that the rainy season issue is quite overrated? In the whole year there are 2-3 weeks when it seriously, continuously rains here, and that period is impossible to predict. That does not mean that the rest of the year is dry though… Almost every day is a mixture of sun and rain. Yet in over a decade of organising treks, our itineraries have been severely affected by rain merely a couple of times.

How hot is it over there?

Not hot at all. Our altitudes of over 2,000m (6,500ft) mean a very temperate climate. Something like permanent European autumn. And it can get chilly too! Average temperatures of around 20˚C (68˚F), can drop to 10˚C (50˚F) by night. Travellers often regret not bringing enough warm clothes because in their mind Africa really cannot be that cold… On the Gorilla Highlands team we have a lady from central Uganda who occasionally turns on an electric heater because it is too freezing for her.

Mind. Blown.

Read more about: What to Pack