Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a unique and unforgettable adventure that offers the opportunity to witness the amazing mountain gorillas living in the central African rainforests on the Virunga Mountains slopes and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Those who have been fortunate enough to experience this safari in Uganda rave about it, claiming that no other wildlife encounter in Africa compares to the awe-inspiring experience of encountering these magnificent creatures up close in their natural habitat.
It’s important to note that mountain gorillas cannot survive outside of their natural environment, and certainly not in a zoo. These incredible animals are found only in two remote rainforest jungles in East and Central Africa, specifically Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC. The governments of these nations fiercely protect the remaining population of these great apes, treating them like medieval kings’ castles. The only way to witness the mountain gorillas in person is by visiting one of these three sovereign nations.
While the internet is abuzz with debates on which country offers the best gorilla trekking adventure, the power to decide which destination suits your preferences solely rests with you. Your choice can be based on factors such as your budget, likes, and dislikes regarding the offers of any of the three countries.
For the nature lover seeking an unfiltered and untamed jungle experience, Uganda is arguably the best destination. Opting for gorilla trekking in Uganda instead of Rwanda suggests your readiness to embrace a rugged and adventurous experience.
As you embark on your gorilla trekking adventure in western Uganda’s rainforest, you’ll navigate through tall and intertwined vines and ancient trees while following an expert tracker who clears the way using a fine-edged machete. Make sure to wear light waterproof boots, long jungle pants, and a silly hat as you take your best foot forward. It’s also advisable to pack a bag of patience and a good sense of humor to ease the anticipation.
For travelers who prefer a bucket-list experience without the need to get down and dirty, Rwanda is the perfect destination. These individuals usually have the budget to indulge in luxurious amenities and high-speed wi-fi while spending their evenings in comfortable surroundings.
Despite the ongoing civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some intrepid adventurers have braved the uncertain eventualities and traveled to the country. These individuals highly praise the authentic experience that DRC has to offer.
Gorilla tourism, which was introduced in 1973, has played a crucial role in making mountain gorillas the world’s most successful conservation story. Additionally, the undying efforts of Louis Leakey and Dian Fossey’s research in the ’80s brought these magnificent creatures to the attention of the natural world.
In the 1980s, mountain gorillas were on the brink of extinction, with only 240 individuals remaining due to habitat loss, poaching, disease, and other threats. However, thanks to the concerted efforts of governments to protect them, intense research, and funding from gorilla tourism, the population of mountain gorillas has grown to over 1,060 individuals in just two decades. This incredible success story has led to the IUCN downlisting them from critically endangered to endangered, which is celebrated by environmentalists worldwide.
You now have the opportunity to be a part of this inspiring conservation story and spend time with the world’s most revered primates in their beautiful natural habitat. In the following paragraphs, we will provide first-hand knowledge to help plan your jungle experience by answering some of your questions about gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Are you wondering where you can see mountain gorillas in Uganda? There are two main destinations for gorilla trekking in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. These parks offer trekking excursions at five different trailheads managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. In Bwindi, the trailheads are Nkuringo, Rushaga, Buhoma, and Ruhija, while Ntebeko is the trailhead in Mgahinga.
Both parks offer unique experiences for visitors. Bwindi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to roughly half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. The park’s rugged terrain and dense vegetation make for a challenging but rewarding trekking experience. Mgahinga, on the other hand, offers a more relaxed trekking experience, with stunning views of the Virunga Mountains and the opportunity to spot other wildlife like golden monkeys.
No matter which park you choose, seeing these majestic animals in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience that will leave you with a greater appreciation for the importance of conservation efforts.
There are a total of 20 habituated mountain gorilla families across all sectors, and each day, 160 gorilla trekking permits are available in Uganda.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the top destination in Uganda for seeing mountain gorillas, as it’s home to half of the world’s population. The park covers 131 sq km (128 sq mi) and features a prehistoric montane and lowland forest. Due to its remarkable biodiversity and protection of numerous endangered species, Bwindi is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The second gorilla park in Uganda is Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, covering a 13 sq mi area of the larger Virunga habitat that spans 168 square miles across Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This park is home to three of the eight major Virunga peaks: Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Sabyinyo, making it a unique and picturesque destination.
However, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park remains the top gorilla trekking destination in Uganda due to the abundance of habituated gorilla families available for tourism. The park, which spans 131 sq km (128 sq mi) of prehistoric montane and lowland forest, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Besides gorilla trekking, Bwindi offers various activities, such as birding, nature walking safaris, community programs, and habituation experiences, making it an ideal destination for eco-tourism enthusiasts.
Your choice of gorilla trekking section will depend on where permits are available when you book your adventure excursion. During peak season (June-August and December-February), it can be challenging to get the trailhead you want due to permit scarcity. However, the low season offers more availability and flexibility for choosing your trailhead.
Last-minute gorilla permits are rare unless you reach out to a licensed tour operator, who may have some available during low demand periods. You can inquire with Trek Africa Tours at firstname.lastname@example.org, as they may be able to provide last-minute permits for you.
Embarking on a gorilla trekking adventure involves a guided hike through the dense rainforest jungles of the Virunga-Bwindi highlands. The journey takes you through tall, tangled scrubs and ancient trees that require a machete to clear the way. Thick trousers and heavy boots are also recommended to navigate the rough terrain and protect you from the elements.
The aim of the trek is to locate and observe the majestic mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Trekking to find the gorillas can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the location of the gorilla family being tracked. Once you find them, you will have a chance to observe their behavior and interactions for an hour while maintaining a safe distance to protect both yourself and the gorillas. Gorilla trekking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers an up-close and personal encounter with these remarkable creatures.
Experience Gorilla Trekking: Explore the Natural Habitats of Endangered Apes Due to their inability to survive in captivity, the only way to catch a glimpse of these endangered apes is to embark on a trek through their natural habitats. The terrain is rugged and steep, and the jungles are misty and thick, with some elevations reaching as high as 14,763 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level.
Daily treks commence from five visitor center locations at 08:00 am, in small controlled groups of eight tourists, an expert tracker, and two armed rangers. You will be traversing untamed territory where potential dangers lurk. The armed rangers are there to ensure your safety from dangerous animals and any other potential harm. Meanwhile, the tracker will be wielding a fine-edged machete to clear your path, and a walkie-talkie to communicate with other rangers and trackers.
During gorilla trekking, a tracker guide maintains communication with a team of rangers who venture out at dawn to locate the gorillas before they leave their nests and accompany them throughout the day. These rangers then relay the coordinates to the tracker, making the trek less challenging. Once the gorillas are found, visitors are asked to wear face masks and silently observe them from a safe distance of about 32 ft (10 m) for an hour. Gorillas are often encountered during their mid-morning break, when they are less active. Despite their calm demeanor, mountain gorillas may react if visitors break the rules. Nonetheless, sitting silently in a chilly Ugandan forest for an hour can be one of life’s greatest privileges.
Encountering a 400-pound silverback in its natural habitat is an experience that is truly priceless. Despite the cost of a gorilla trekking permit, many would argue that the experience is worth every penny. Not only will you have the opportunity to witness these incredible animals up close, but you’ll also be contributing to their conservation efforts. A significant portion of the fees collected from gorilla permits is invested in programs aimed at protecting the endangered apes and their habitat.
By purchasing a gorilla permit, you are supporting the work of conservation organizations that are striving to protect these magnificent animals from the many threats they face. These organizations are responsible for monitoring the gorilla populations, educating the local community about the importance of conservation, and providing veterinary care for sick and injured animals. So, while the cost of a permit may seem high, it’s important to remember that the money is being put to good use, and your contribution is helping to ensure that these incredible animals remain a part of our planet’s natural heritage for generations to come.
In addition, opting for a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda is a cost-effective alternative to Rwanda. The expenses associated with a gorilla trekking expedition in Uganda usually cover the costs of a local flight ticket between Entebbe and Bwindi, as well as transfers or transportation to the gorilla sanctuary, which can be a 10-hour drive or a one-hour local flight. Moreover, the cost of a gorilla permit, which is priced at $700, is also included in the package, along with accommodation for a minimum of three days.
The experience of hiking through an impenetrable jungle, following a tracker through the lush tropical rainforest, is truly priceless. You wipe the sweat from your eyes and feel grateful for your hiking gaiters as you make your way deeper into the jungle. Suddenly, your tracker excitedly stops the trekking group – it’s time to meet the dark-furred giants. Your guide turns to you with a wide grin and whispers the words you’ve been longing to hear: “There they are.” With nothing but your camera and the thrill of anticipation, you slowly move forward to meet your protagonist.
As you approach, you see glossy black bodies against the luminous green of the rainforest – the very reason you saved up for this trip. Finally, you come face to face with a family of mountain gorillas, led by a watchful but benevolent silverback male. It’s a moment you will never forget.
The anticipation leading up to this moment dissipates in an instant, and as you spend an hour with the majestic forest giants, a strange sense of familiarity washes over you. You watch young gorillas playfully wrestle with one another while maternal females gather in grooming groups, occasionally scolding the little ones. Meanwhile, the patriarchal silverback keeps a watchful eye on the surroundings, ensuring everyone’s safety.
Undoubtedly, the gorilla trekking experience in Uganda is worth every penny saved.
If you’re planning to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, you’ll be pleased to know that the chances of spotting these majestic creatures are high, at around 99%. In rare cases, trekkers have reported not being able to see them.
One of the reasons for this high success rate is due to the close monitoring of mountain gorilla families by Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers, researchers, and guides. They work tirelessly to track the movements of the gorillas, and their trackers remain in constant communication with field workers throughout the day. As a result, guides generally have a good idea of where the different gorilla families are located, increasing the chances of a successful gorilla trekking experience.
Overall, the likelihood of spotting mountain gorillas during your trekking expedition in Uganda is incredibly high, so you can look forward to a thrilling and memorable encounter with these incredible primates.
While it’s true that wild animals are unpredictable, and there are no guarantees when it comes to gorilla trekking, unexpected events such as overnight thunderstorms or encounters with predators may cause gorilla families to move in unexpected directions during the night. However, scouts are usually able to pick up their trail the following day.
Before your gorilla trekking excursion begins, a team of scouts will be sent out to track the gorillas and monitor their movements. Once the gorillas have been located, the scouts will remain with them, and your guide will keep in touch with them via a walkie-talkie for directions. While unforeseen events can occur, the presence of these scouts increases the likelihood of having a successful gorilla trekking experience.
The thought of being in close proximity to such a majestic creature can be intimidating. However, contrary to popular belief, gorilla trekking is actually a safe activity.
Thanks to the efforts of primatologists who have habituated the gorillas available for tourism to human presence, safety procedures have been put in place to ensure the safety of travelers. Despite being habituated, mountain gorillas are still wild animals that are strong and unpredictable. If they sense any threat or harmful intent, a silverback gorilla could potentially cause harm. It’s important to follow the rules of gorilla trekking diligently in order to avoid any dangerous encounters.
To ensure your safety during gorilla trekking, armed rangers accompany you into the jungle to protect you from potential aggressive attacks or other unknown threats. As long as you stay with the trekking group, you can feel secure and protected.
It’s important to remember that you are a guest in the gorillas’ natural habitat, and they will tolerate your presence for the specified duration of the trek. To maintain safety, it’s crucial to adhere to the rules of gorilla trekking and follow your guide’s instructions throughout the entire expedition.
Another important aspect to ensure safety during gorilla trekking is to avoid touching the gorillas. Due to their vulnerability to human diseases, it is strictly prohibited by law. However, the young gorillas might sometimes approach and touch you out of curiosity. In such cases, it’s important not to engage them and respectfully avoid any contact. If the dominant male silverback charges, it’s crucial not to run or make sudden movements but instead curl down in a submissive position, which will often make the gorilla back down.
The population of gorillas is already facing severe threats from several factors such as deforestation, poaching, and encroachment of their natural habitats by humans. Additionally, these primates are highly susceptible to human diseases. Therefore, during gorilla trekking in Uganda, visitors are not allowed to interact with them in any way. They must maintain a distance of at least ten meters (32 feet) at all times and wear a face mask to protect the gorillas from any potential human-borne infections.
It is also important to note that visitors who are ill with the flu or any other contagious illness will not be allowed to participate in gorilla trekking. Thus, it is essential to maintain excellent health before traveling to Uganda and taking precautions to avoid picking up any infections during the flight over.
Despite the restrictions and safety measures, gorilla trekking offers a unique and unforgettable wildlife experience. Observing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, a few meters away, can be a life-changing experience. Seeing their social interactions and warm-brown eyes can be one of the most intimate and purifying wildlife encounters in Africa and the world.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda requires a gorilla permit, which is the primary cost at $700. However, foreign residents can obtain discounted permits for $600, while East African citizens can obtain them for UGX 250. But, getting to the gorilla sanctuary requires more than just a permit. It is recommended to book accommodation near the park entrance since treks typically begin early in the morning. Accommodation usually includes meals. Additionally, travelers should consider the costs of transfers, other activities, and tour operator fees if they are not backpacking.
If you decide to book your gorilla trekking safari with a tour operator such as Trek Africa Tours, there is a fee of $30 to process your gorilla permit if you don’t use their other services. In addition to the permit fee, you will need to consider transportation costs from the airport to your booked gorilla lodge in Bwindi, which can range from $120 to $300 depending on factors such as driver fees, fuel, and vehicle hire. If you prefer to take a scheduled return flight between Entebbe and Kisoro/Kihihi airstrip, you can expect to pay approximately $350.
Accommodation is another essential consideration when planning your gorilla trekking safari, and you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $1000 per night for all-inclusive descent accommodation around Bwindi. Keep in mind that agency fees could also add up to 5% to 30% of the quote.
With this information in mind, you can now approximate how much you will spend on your gorilla trekking safari journey in Uganda.
Gorilla trekking is possible all year round in Uganda, but the best time to see the majestic mountain gorillas is during the dry seasons of June to August and December to February. These months are considered the peak season for gorilla trekking, with less rainfall and a higher chance of good weather for photography. Moreover, during the dry season, the forest floor is less slippery, making it easier to hike.
However, during the heavy rains of April and May, the roads leading to gorilla trekking destinations may become impassable, making it difficult to access the gorilla sanctuary. It is also possible that the heavy rainfall could disrupt your Uganda safari itinerary. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid traveling to Uganda during the rainy season.
The wet seasons, which occur from March to May and from September to November, are considered the low travel season, as there are fewer visitors. During this time, prices for accommodations and tours may be lower, making it an ideal time for budget-conscious travelers.
During the low season, brave adventurers who don’t mind getting soaked take advantage of discounts and enjoy secluded destinations. It’s possible to have an entire lodge to yourself or even go trekking with only the rangers in the rainy season.
Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks are popular tourist destinations in Uganda. If you’re planning to visit these parks, here’s how you can get there:
Most tourists arrive in Uganda through Entebbe International Airport, which is about 46 km/29 mi from Kampala, the capital city. From there, you can take a local carrier to Kihihi Airstrip in the north of Bwindi or Kisoro Airport in the south of Bwindi near Mgahinga. If you prefer to drive, you can reach Bwindi or Mgahinga within two hours from these small airports.
Once you reach the airports, you can easily reach the different areas of the parks. Buhoma and Ruhija can be accessed through Kihihi Airport, while Nkuringo, Rushaga, and Mgahinga can be reached through Kisoro Airport in the south. Additionally, small plane charters and luxury private helicopter transfers are also available for those who prefer a more comfortable and convenient mode of transportation.
There are five trailheads for gorilla trekking in Bwindi and Mgahinga, each located several hours apart by road. The trailhead you choose will greatly determine the route you take to reach the gorillas. The Buhoma sector is located in the north, Ruhija in the northwest, and Rushaga and Nkuringo in the south.
If you’re on a Uganda safari from Queen Elizabeth National Park, you can reach the Buhoma gorilla trekking trailhead in 2-3 hours (from the Ishasha sector) or 5-6 hours (from the Kazinga Channel).
Driving straight from Entebbe will take you about 8-10 hours to reach the various gorilla trailheads. From Lake Mburo National Park, the drive will take about 5-6 hours.
During the rainy season, it’s necessary to travel by a 4WD vehicle to navigate the dirt roads from the highways to the trailheads, which are usually between 30-40 km away.
Trekking for gorillas in Uganda is considered challenging due to various factors, such as the demanding terrain, dense and impenetrable forests, unpredictable weather, and high altitude hiking of around 2,600m (8,500 ft). The rugged landscapes and emerald terraced hills of southwestern Uganda are not for those who are faint-hearted. The journey to the mountain gorillas’ location is arduous, with uphill and downhill navigation through dense tangles of jungle vines, roots, and thorns.
Access to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, aptly named for its thick, tangled vegetation, is only possible on foot. The park lacks paths, signs, and clearings, making the machetes carried by the rangers an essential tool for navigation. Despite the challenging terrain, the promise of the ultimate reward makes gorilla trekking in Uganda an adventure of a lifetime for many travelers.
Young uniformed men and women will be waiting at the trailhead to offer their services as porters. If you feel that you may struggle with the terrain while carrying your daypack, we strongly encourage you to hire them. For a nominal fee of approximately $20, you can help provide a livelihood for several inhabitants of a nearby village.
Porters often include former poachers or people who previously relied on the protected forest for their livelihood. Without the opportunity to work in gorilla conservation, many will be compelled to resort to finding and capturing gorillas for bushmeat or the illegal wildlife trafficking trade, as the incentives offered by poaching syndicates can be very attractive to impoverished villagers with few other ways of earning a living. It’s more prudent to accept their assistance gracefully, pay the fee, which will only amount to a couple of coffees back home, and help ensure the continued conservation of gorillas.
Planning a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda can be a daunting task, but Trek Africa Tours is here to make the process easy for you. We handle the gorilla permit application process on your behalf and can usually secure a permit on a reasonable booking date. Our safari experts will also work with you to customize a trip that fits your preferences and travel style while immersing you in the local culture and nature.
At Trek Africa Tours, we pride ourselves on offering an exceptional safari experience. We own two multi-award-winning lodges in Entebbe and Bwindi that will provide you with the exclusive treatment that travelers have come to love over the years. From luxury accommodations to personalized service, we ensure that your safari trip is memorable and enjoyable.
To book your gorilla trekking safari with us, simply reach out to our team, and we will take care of the rest. With our expertise and local knowledge, you can relax and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime in Uganda.