Uganda is one of the two finest places in the whole world for mountain gorilla trekking, reason why thousands of tourists fly in year in – year out for encounters with mountain gorillas. I must say gorilla trekking is the most selling tourism activity in Uganda and definitely brings in the most revenue to Uganda Wildlife Authority among st all tourism activities. Before we proceed any further, what is gorilla trekking? I would define gorilla trekking as a tourism activity that involves going on a long arduous journey on foot as you search for gorillas in their respective habitats. This journey usually takes a maximum of 8 hours plus a 1 hour close encounter with the mountain gorillas.
This Uganda gorilla trekking review / guide is intended to guide and inform future travelers on how best they can organize an exceptional gorilla trekking safari in Uganda. This guide highlights the whole procedure right from the time of booking your gorilla safari to your departure! I have tried to bring forth all the vital points, tips, advice and information in this Uganda gorilla trekking guide and i hope it sure helps you out.
You can book gorilla trekking safaris from Kampala or gorilla trekking safaris from Kigali.
Why Uganda for Gorilla Trekking?
So why is Uganda so famous for gorilla tracking? The perfect answer to this is the number of mountain gorillas that are sheltered by this beautiful country. The mountain gorillas in Uganda are more than 400 in numbers and could reach close to 500 depending on the season and population in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Uganda harbors over half the total population of the remaining endangered mountain gorillas in the whole world in it’s forests of bwindi, reason why Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park remains among the most visited national parks in Uganda.
If you are looking to see Uganda mountain gorillas in plenty then Bwindi Forest should definitely be the perfect destination for your gorilla trekking safari. This forest has over 10 gorilla families (habituation groups) dispersed across it’s areas of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. You could also opt to carry out other activities like the Batwa Trail / Experience or rather visit magical places like Lake Bunyonyi, Lake Mutanda and other beautiful places in the country while on your gorilla trekking tour. Uganda was truly gifted by nature, reason why it’s called the Pearl of Africa and i am sure you will enjoy each second of your gorilla safari when you travel.
Choosing an Operator
Previously in my Uganda safaris review, i recommended two types of operators! The first was a general list of Uganda safari companies and the second was a specific list of gorilla trekking companies. There are reasons why i made two separate lists and the most important of all is not all companies will organize for you exceptional gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda. Some companies sell more of gorilla trips and specialize in it! Others specialize more in birding, others in wildlife and the list goes on. My article about gorilla trekking companies will give you clear reasons why you should always put gorilla trekking specialists top on your list plus more general considerations that you should always put forward when dealing with any kind of operator.
Check out my Recommended list of gorilla trekking companies
The kind of operator you settle with for your gorilla trekking tour will determine the success of your whole trip. Dealing with inexperienced companies might not guarantee you the best experience hence, i recommend you check out the list of gorilla trekking specialists i hyperlinked in the previous paragraph for better decision making before you remit your deposit fee. Those companies have been in operation for long, have experience and will organize for you a memorable gorilla tour in Uganda. If you doubt this, you can go ahead and check for what their past clients had to say about their services (reviews) on TripAdvisor or Safari Bookings.
Buying a Gorilla Permit
You need gorilla permits to see gorillas in Uganda. These permits can be purchased from Uganda Wildlife Authority either through Uganda Tour and travel Operators or rather personally if you have the time. However, it’s better to make purchases through an operator because they are more knowledgeable about it or perhaps, it’s much simpler and easier. Permits cost $450 and $600 in the low and high seasons respectively and are sold on a first come basis hence, you have to purchase yours months prior to your travel if you are to slot yourself for trekking in areas with the best accommodation facilities (Buhoma & Nkuringo). Most operators ask for a full amount of the permits fee plus small deposits for each accommodation facility at the time of booking your safari hence, you should always endeavor to deposit the percentage asked for so as to enable them purchase your permit and also make tentative reservations for your accommodation.
Always try and book permits for Buhoma and Nkuringo if you are booking several months away. If your booking is close to your safari then you can as well go ahead and ask for those places if they are still available and if not, you can’t fail to get permits for Ruhija and Rushaga. I suggest you inquire with Uganda Wildlife Authority about availability of permits before contacting your operator because some of these companies will not purchase your permits right away but will wait to do so towards your safari which might cause them to get permits for non-desirable trekking areas.
When you confirm availability of the permits, go ahead and let the operator know, make your deposit then ask for receipts of the purchased permits after a week. These permits are yours and so is the deposit hence, they should follow whatever you ask them to do.
Where to go for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
There are only two places where gorilla tracking can be carried out in Uganda which include; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (Most popular destination) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi is not only the most popular destination but also the best places to see mountain gorillas in the whole world. This national park harbors over half the total population (400 – 500) of the remaining endangered mountain gorillas in the whole world and slots among the most visited parks that generate the most revenue to UWA annually.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the unpopular destination for gorilla tracking in Uganda but remains very promising, reason why it has still been maintained despite the fact that it doesn’t generate a lot of revenue annually and is not so visited like the rest. Why is Mgahinga promising? This park lies within the Virunga Conservation Area (where Virunga mountains are found) and share the same mountain gorillas with Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park implicating these gorillas in neighboring countries could migrate to Mgahinga anytime because no boundaries or demarcations are in place to prevent them from crossing countries. This is the main reason why the population of gorillas in Mgahinga is quite low! These gorillas keep crossing in and out of the country due to variety of factors like weather.
Of the two places, i recommend you book your gorilla safari for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and stay guaranteed that you will see mountain gorillas in huge numbers.
When to go for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
The best time to see mountain gorillas in Uganda is definitely during the dry months of the year. Just like humans, these gorillas tend to take shelter from the rain and seek warmth when it’s cold hence, gorilla trekking during rainy seasons might not guarantee you a good sight and might reward you a less sight. So which months are the best? The best months are June – September and December to February. The worst months are March, April and May (Usually have the heaviest rainfall in a year).
So why is it relevant to book your gorilla safari for the dry months? Truth is, you can never understand this until you get there! I once encountered a client (In March 2017) who talked about how fatigued she was from a long journey and at the same time excited that she was finally going to get a good rest at the magical views of Lake Bunyonyi for quite a number of days. Unfortunately, her expectations turned into a night mare and she had to cut her trip short by a number of days so that she could return to the comfort of her home. The roads were all muddy and she couldn’t move around to carry some of her activities despite paying for car hire! Her days turned out to be so cold that she always found herself locked up in her accommodation facility (Buhoma Community Haven Lodge) for more time than she expected. You don’t want this to happen to you and i assume you want to go with your itinerary as planned, reason why i recommend you carry out gorilla tracking during the dry months of the year.
What’s the Price / Cost of Gorilla Trekking?
The cost of gorilla trekking in Uganda is determined by a number of factors. The first is the accommodation facility, second is the kind of car you are booking (Van or Land cruiser), Third is how many gorilla trekking activities / tourism activities you intend to carry out and lastly, the number of days you wish to spend on your gorilla tour. Accommodation and means of transport (vehicle type / chartered flights) strongly determines the class of your gorilla expedition (budget, mid-range or luxury) so the choice is all yours. Usually, the price of your gorilla safari will be low if you opt for budget accommodation and ground transport in safari vans then high if you opt for high-end accommodation facilities (slumber), land cruisers for ground transport or chartered flights for air transport.
The other important factor is gorilla trekking permits. Each gorilla trekking activity requires a permit and like said previously, each permit costs $400 and $600 in low and high seasons respectively which already puts your gorilla tour high by that amount. If you are trekking in the low season, your safari is already $400 high and $600 high in the peak season. If you add on the prices of the other factors i mentioned above you should be able to determine the price range that your gorilla safari is likely to fall in. Please watch video of gorilla tracking below.
Budget or Luxury Gorilla Trekking? Which is better?
What’s the best option between budget gorilla trekking and luxury gorilla trekking in Uganda? As a matter of fact, an upmarket travel style will always be preferred to a budget style and you should not hesitate to opt for it if you have the money. Imagine flying in from Entebbe to an Airstrip that is nearby Bwindi for 2 hours compared to the 8 hours road journey? How about staying in luxurious accommodation facilities with high-end services? Only opt for budget gorilla trekking if you are totally out of budget! If you have hopes of topping up more money then i recommend you wait for a few months as you save more money for your gorilla safari. This is an experience you might have once in a lifetime hence, you should always endeavor to make it perfect.
Lodging / Accommodation
Accommodation strongly determines the kind of fun you are going to have whilst on your safari hence, you should make it priority. There is nothing discomforting like having the best experience and then returning to a discomforting accommodation facility. If you realize, all the fun can be ruined by a snap of a finger hence, you should always endeavor to reserve the best accommodation facilities for your gorilla trip. A number of travelers get limited by their budget and end up opting for budget accommodation which may go as low $30 a night but i strongly discourage this, especially for a foreign traveler. Some of these extremely budget lodging facilities have bed bugs, broken sinks and toilets, some have no warm water, some have leakages in case of any rainfall and the list continues. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to encounter such uncertainties on your tour and you should know the benefits that come with excellent lodging facilities.
Are these lodges expensive? Some of these lodging facilities are indeed expensive and when you visit their respective websites, you are likely to see quite high rates. This shouldn’t discourage you from inquiring for such facilities from local operators because most rates you see online are rack rates. These lodging companies have special tour operator rates plus existing partnerships with several operators that can enable you get their services for almost half the actual price (Rack rates). With such partnerships, you are able to get facilities of $300 plus for just $150 or even less only that it takes a lot to identify operators that have such offers. I can link you up to a few of them but unfortunately, i won’t mention them here because the rates they have are confidential and the lodging companies don’t expect them to publicize the rates so as to avoid other operators from claiming the same.
What you should know
I just highlighted most of the relevant points above but still, there are some basics you should know for Uganda gorilla trekking and below are just some of them. I am giving you a few tips, advice and also some rules that you ought to follow while tracking gorillas in Uganda hence, you should read the section below very carefully or probably even bookmarks it or print it until you are certain that you have grasped all the points and can hardly forget them when on your gorilla safari.
1. Distance. I recommend you first view the map of Bwindi, know it’s areas and the respective distance between each of the areas before inquiring with an operator. The quickest way to this is contacting Uganda Wildlife Authority or Association of Uganda Tour Operators for accurate information regarding this else, you might land on outdated or inaccurate information on Google. This will help you cut down driving distances while tracking because some operators book accommodation facilities that are way far away from your tracking area and require a few hours’ drive to and from. When you book a permit for Nkuringo, ensure your accommodation is booked around the same area.
2. Buy permits for areas with good accommodation facilities. The areas of Bwindi with the best accommodation facilities are Buhoma and Nkuringo. These permits usually get done so quickly compared to the ones of Ruhija and Rushaga hence, you should always have them top on your priority list.
3. Listen. Always pay the most attention during the gorilla tracking pre-briefing meeting and feel free to ask any questions in case you need to know anything. A lot of vital information is aired out during this brief meeting that usually last for about 30 minutes but some tourists pay less or no attention to it. Be the listening kind of traveler and pay the most attention to this meeting.
4. Carry gears. Endeavor to carry your own gorilla trekking gears if possible and in case you forget, open up to your operator about it so that you find a way forward to purchasing or hiring some whilst on your tour. Apparently, the most important gear is hiking shoes though caps and strong clothes are recommended too. Also carry a rain coat with you as it may rain when you are out in the forests.
5. Open up about fitness and health. You ought to be extremely sincere about your level of fitness and health when communicating with your operator. This will ensure they communicate to the rangers prior so that you are assigned to a group with people of your same fitness level. In case of any health problems, they will also be able to advise if you are liable for a gorilla trek because this article is very physically challenging and requires a certain level of fitness.
6. Take photos but keep flashlights off. Flashlights scare gorillas away and might make them aggressive hence, you are advised to keep your flashlights off while taking photos. Also carry extra camera batteries to keep your photo moments alive when your main battery blacks out.
7. Don’t get too close to gorillas. Always keep a 10 meters distance from Mountain Gorillas while on your trek. These primates are greatly endangered and might easily get infected with human viral infections like influenza which is quite harmful to them. Besides, some moody gorillas can easily get aggressive when you get too close to them and can easily inflict harm on you.
8. Pack enough snacks and water. Besides having a heavy breakfast, ensure you pack enough snacks and drinks because there are no shops or stopping points in the forests where you can get these from. It’s better if you carry them from your accommodation facility.
9. Greet the gorillas. The best way to greet gorillas is by beating your chest with one hand and bending down a little bit. They often do the same to you too which helps create a good relationship between you and them as you continue with your trek.
10. Age Limit. Lastly, if you intend to carry out the trek with any of your children then ensure they are at least 15 years of age as this is requirement by Uganda Wildlife Authority. Any children below 15 years won’t be allowed to be part of the gorilla trekking encounter.
Over to you
Truth is Uganda remains the best destination for me when it comes to gorilla trekking. I have carried out treks in neighboring countries but i found the Uganda gorilla trekking experience to be the best of all and i am pretty sure you will feel the same. Previously, i put down a step by step guide for booking a memorable safari or holiday in Uganda to guide tourists who intend to visit Uganda gorillas soon or later and you might want to check it out too. I have tried so hard to bring forth all the vital information and points you ought to know with some of them being referenced in the respective hyperlinks in this article but if you feel i have left out anything, feel free to drop me a mail or comment below and i shall gladly respond to you.