We had hiked through Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to spend an hour with the Habinyanja family — 21 adult mountain gorillas and five babies — in the highlands of Uganda.

As we watch the apes lazing around just metres from us, it becomes clear that seeing — and hearing — how alike they are to humans is the most amazing part of the experience.

A nose-pick here, a familiar facial expression there, the similarities between ourselves and the gorillas are incredible.

Their hands and feet, albeit a lot hairier, look just like ours. They lie around after a feeding frenzy just like we would after a buffet dinner. Mountain gorillas have even been spotted mating in the missionary position.

We keep a distance of at least 7m from the family, but about half way through our visit David points to two female gorillas, their infants hanging off their fur, gawking at us curiously.

“They are going to walk right over here,” says David, which prompts us all to scramble for our cameras.

The gorillas come within centimetres of us without a care in the world. They are so close we could reach out and touch them. It’s a magical moment, until we realise we’re standing in between the two mums with babes and the dominant male. David reassures us that it’s not a problem, the daddy of the group is too busy having a nap.

At a whopping 200kg, the male silverback has spent most of our visit lying in the undergrowth on his tummy with his head resting on his outstretched arms — the same position that you or I might lie in to watch TV on the lounge floor.

Meanwhile, another male gorilla has taken up residence on a tree branch, looking like he’s using it as a deck chair. He looks at us, scratches his arm, tugs on a hanging vine, then nods off for a sleep.

As we crunch around on the leaf-covered ground, taking photos and whispering: “look at that!” to each other, the family of gorillas is not the slightest bit fazed that we’re encroaching on their turf.

They look at us as if to say “oh, here they are again”, and then they get on with their day, giving us a cursory glance or two, or just watching us watching them.

When the hour is up and it’s time to say goodbye, it feels as though we have only been with them for about 10 minutes.

Hiking back down the mountain, we’re buzzing with excitement, sharing observations like: “Did you see when the baby ripped all those leaves off?” and “What about when that branch came flying down from the tree right near us?”

We might have sore legs and sweat-soaked clothes, but we’re on a gorilla-high that lasts for days.

» Amelia Bentley travelled with Oasis Overland (01963-363 400; www.oasisoverland.co.uk). A 19-day Gorillas and Gameparks trip (ex-Nairobi) costs £395, plus a local payment of £170.

Gorilla facts

1 Mountain gorillas are endangered, with only about 700 left in the wild. They are constantly under threat from poachers, loss of habitat and civil unrest in the areas where they live.

2 About 340 gorillas live in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

3 Mountain gorillas can live at altitudes of up to 4000m above sea level.

4 They are vegetarian and mostly eat roots, shoots, fruit, wild celery and tree and bark pulp.

5 A full-grown adult can eat up to 30kg of food a day.

6 In the wild, mountain gorillas have an average life expectancy of 35 years.

Visiting the mountain gorillas

Is it safe? Do gorillas attack humans?
The gorillas visited are used to seeing humans, and while they fight with each other, they will rarely charge people unless they feel threatened. Our guide assured us he had never seen a gorilla go for a tourist.

How long does the trek through the jungle take?
It could take five hours or 15 minutes. The gorilla trackers leave camp at sunrise and trek to the point where the family was found the day before. They then look for droppings and other tell-tale signs of gorilla activity.

Do I have to be fit?
Your guide will allow lots of breaks for you to catch your breath. While there are steep sections, there’s also plenty of downhill. If you’re worried about your fitness, you can hire a porter to carry your backpack for about US$10. If you’re sick, you will not be allowed to visit the gorillas, as human-borne illnesses can be transmitted to the animals with devastating consequences.

How much does it cost to see the gorillas?
You must buy a permit to visit Uganda’s mountain gorillas. A permit for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park costs US$500 and permits are often sold out months in advance. See www.uwa.or.ug.

How much exposure to humans is allowed?
Only eight people plus a guide can visit a family of gorillas each day. The maximum visit time is one hour to prevent the gorillas from having too much human contact.

Where else can I see mountain gorillas?
Rwanda and DR Congo also have gorillas tourists can visit. Permit prices differ between countries and national parks. Check the Foreign Office travel advice at www.fco.gov.uk before booking.

Seeing more wildlife

A good idea is to fly to Nairobi in Kenya and travel overland to the gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

There are a few activities you can take part in along the way where you can see some amazing animals and the mind-blowing landscape of East Africa.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
We enter Lake Nakuru National Park as the sun is coming up and the monkeys are off to an early start, already getting jiggy with it. But the primate porno isn’t enough for some.

“I wanna see a lion chasing a zebra and lots of blood and guts,” someone says. “I wanna see a lion chasing a giraffe, or a lion eating a rhino,” says another.

These dreams don’t come true — thankfully — but what we see leaves us more than satisfied. Within an hour we spot impala, herds of zebra, baboons, white rhinos and a very angry buffalo standing just metres from our van and staring rather menacingly at us. Then, our guide tells us he’s got word there’s a male lion nearby.

As we drive on, we keep our eyes peeled for orange tufts of fur hiding in the bush, though we need not have bothered because it’s the smell of a carcass that is the giveaway a lion is nearby.

We round a bend to see a huge lion gnawing on a dead buffalo, occasionally shaking his mane and flicking his tail between bites.

Our cameras go into overdrive but soon the feast is over and the lion slowly makes his way back into the bush, licking his paws and looking ready for a nap.

Crater Lake Game Sanctuary, Kenya
This national park might not have any predators, but being able to walk with giraffe, zebra and impala makes it worth the stop.

Giraffes are out in the open plains when we visit. Slowly and quietly we get within 20m of six of these majestic animals. I say majestic, but there’s a clown-like element to them too, with their crazy long necks and patterned horse-like bodies.

And yes, there is a lake in a crater here. Its emerald green water is dotted with hundreds of pink flamingos. We pull up stumps at a lodge on the shore with a cold drink and watch the indecisive flock swoop in and out of the water — the perfect way to end a day in the wild.