Popular Gorilla Safaris in Uganda
What Is Gorilla Trekking?
Gorilla trekking is embarking on a memorable journey through lush tropical forests with the sole purpose of observing majestic mountain gorillas in their natural dwelling. As of my most recent research in 2021 we have only 1,063 mountain gorillas left in the entire world. However. It brings me great joy to share that slightly over half of the mountain gorillas can still be found residing within the enchanting forests of Uganda. More specifically they have made their homes in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Why Go Gorilla Trekking?
The mountain gorillas in Uganda can only survive in the wild forest. You can not see the gentle giants in a zoo, this makes gorilla trekking once in a lifetime trip.
Additionally, roughly $600 of each $700 permit goes directly towards these activities, making gorilla tourism a key contributor to gorilla conservation efforts. The approximately $2 million donated annually to community projects like clinics, schools, and infrastructure thanks to Uganda’s gorilla tourism also empowers local populations. Gorilla trekking in Uganda not only gives tourists a once-in-a-lifetime experience but also helps improve the local economy and protect the region’s unique fauna.
About Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, has an area of 331 square kilometers, is among the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Africa. Bwindi is home to over half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, with a population of 459 gorillas as of 2020, spread across 50 groups.
Besides gorillas, the park supports 120 mammal species, 350 bird species, and over 1,000 flowering plant species. Bwindi, with four gorilla trekking sectors (Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo), offers a unique experience of gorilla tracking and its one of the top tourist spots in Uganda and East Africa.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park is conveniently located near Rwandas’ Volcanoes National Park? Its’ a popular choice for many people who want to visit both parks during their trips to the two countries.
Additionally Mgahinga is home to the incredible Golden Monkeys, which are not found anywhere else in Uganda. Many visitors also combine a trek to see the mountain gorillas in Mgahinga with a visit to Nkuringo in Bwindi. Interestingly Mgahinga is less crowded compared to Bwindi and offers easier treks. However obtaining permits here can sometimes be more challenging. Some gorilla families even journey from Rwanda to Uganda? Out of all the families in Mgahinga only one group is accustomed to human presence – the Nyakagazi group consisting of five silverbacks two adult females. And three juvenile gorillas. Its worth noting that Mgahinga is no longer seen as a secondary gorilla trekking destination next to Bwindi due to two main reasons.
Rwandan gorilla permits now cost $1,500 per person! Because of this cost difference more and more tourists are optin for Mgahinga instead of Rwanda. Luckily in Mgahinga. You can still experience thrilling gorilla treks at a lower price of $700. These treks though challenging are incredibly rewarding reaching altitudes over 4,000 meters and taking around 8 to9 hours to complete. Only approximately 10% of gorilla safaris in Uganda occur in Mgahinga making it a less crowded gorilla safari destination.
Gorilla Trekking Cost
Permit Costs: Uganda charges $700 USD for a gorilla trekking permit, while Rwanda’s permit costs $1,500 USD with a possible 30% discount for combined treks across two national parks.
Visa Requirements: Visa process and costs vary by country. Rwanda has a straightforward process with a $50 USD fee for most Western countries. Uganda charges different visa fees, from $50 USD (single-entry) to $200 USD (multiple-entry). There’s also an East African tourist e-Visa for $101 USD, allowing access to Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda for three months.
Tour Expenses: The overall expenses for a three-day gorilla trekking tour range between $500 USD and $950 USD per person, encompassing costs of the tour, accommodation, transport, meals, and miscellaneous expenses.
Group Size: The cost per person can be reduced with larger group sizes, particularly with tours that have a minimum requirement of four participants.
Securing A Gorilla Permit
To begin. Decide on the time and location that suits you best for your gorilla trekking experience in Uganda. You have two national parks to choose from: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi offers four sectors for gorilla tracking: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo.
On the other hand. Mgahinga is part of the extensive Virunga Massif that stretches across Uganda, Rwanda. And the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Next confirm the availability of gorilla permits for your desired date and sector. This can be done by contacting Insight Safari Holidays. Once you have confirmed availability. Proceed to make an advance reservation for your gorilla permit. You can do this directly through UWA or with a reliable tour operator. Many tour operators include gorilla permits as part of their safari packages.
However some operators may charge an additional fee of approximately $50-$100 per permit to cover costs and logistics related to obtaining the permits. To complete your booking. Make full payment for your gorilla permit. The cost is $700 per person for foreign non residents. $600 for foreign residents. And UGX 250,000 for East African citizens. Payment options include cash, credit card or bank transfer.
Once you have successfully made payment you will receive a receipt or confirmation email with your permit details. Finally. Collect your gorilla permit from either your tour operator or UWA before your trek. When picking up your permit remember to bring along your passport or ID card as well as a copy of your receipt or confirmation email. On the day of your trek make sure to carry your permit with you to the park headquarters.
Gorilla Trekking As A Solo Traveler
Uganda is a great destination for those travelling as solo tourists to Africa, but when choosing a gorilla safari, its important to remember that you won’t track the gorillas alone as you will be in company of other 7 tourists. This is because gorilla trekking is done by 8 tourists per group. Never the less, you will spend 1 hour with the gorillas and be able to travel back to your lodge where you will enjoy solo activities.
Gorilla Trekking For Couples
80% of the tourists to Uganda come as a couple. When on a gorilla tour, you can choose lodges that cater for romantic safari tourists. Among these include, Clouds Mountain Gorilla lodge, Mahogany Springs, Gorilla Forest Camp an so much more that offer intimate accommodations, candle lit dinners, fireplaces, nature walks and on site spa.
The combined experience of viewing the beauties of nature on a gorilla safari can bring couples closer together, inspire awe in the presence of these majestic creatures, and forge a bond that will last a lifetime.
The Trails Of Bwindi Forest National Park
Bwindi has 4 main trails where one is chosen for you to trek. These four trail heads include, Ruhija, Buhoma, Nkuringo and Rushaga. There are different features, families, and degrees of difficulty at each trailhead.From these trailheads, visitors can go out on journeys to visit 12 different habituated gorilla families (and 3 partially habituated ones). The typical hikes leave first thing in the morning and allow you up to an hour of gorilla viewing from a distance of roughly seven metres.
The hikes can be strenuous, and you should be ready to walk for as long as six hours, though most sightings occur within two to three hours.
The Gorilla Tracking Experience in Uganda
In order to observe the magnificent gorillas you will need to visit one of the four park offices bright and early at 7 a.m for a safety and policy briefing before the gorilla trek to the impenetrable Bwindi forest. During the hike your knowledgeable guide or ranger will accompany you every step of the way, together with other 7 tourists allocated to your gorilla group. The duration of the hike itself can vary greatly ranging from a brisk 30 minutes to an extended six hours or more. This variance depends on the terrain and the location of the gorillas.
It is crucial to ensure that you are physically prepared for high altitudes as elevations can range from 1,160 meters to 2,607 meters. Once you encounter these incredible creatures. You will have an entire hour to quietly observe them
from a safe distance of 7 meters. Take photos and videos during this once hour before you hike back to your lodge or accommodation.
Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda
The Gorilla Habituation Experience is a unique opportunity that is exclusively available in Ugandas Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This experience takes place in the Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors of the park and currently involves two gorilla families, namely the Bushaho and Bikingi groups.
The cost for this experience is $1,500 per person for each trek, which includes the park entry fee the services of a ranger guide and a four hour interactive session with the gorillas. To secure your spot. It is important to book your permit in advance through a reputable tour operator or directly through the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Unlike gorilla trekking, which allows for up to eight people per group the Gorilla Habituation Experience has a limit of only four people per gorilla family per day. As a result there are only eight permits available daily for this exclusive encounter.
The best time to engage in this experience is generally during December, March, June. And October when there are fewer tourists and more permits available.
However it can be pursued throughout the year depending on weather conditions and permit availability.
Participating in the Gorilla Habituation Experience requires physical fitness as well as patience and respect for the gorillas. You will be guided by an experienced ranger through dense forest in search of these magnificent creatures. The duration of this journey can vary between 30 minutes to 8 hours so its important to come prepared. Adhering to the rules and guidelines provided by your ranger guide is crucial to ensure both your safety and the well being of the gorillas themselves.
Are You Guaranteed To See The Gorillas?
Its important to keep in mind that sighting mountain gorillas in Uganda is not guaranteed. As they are wild animals living in vast and dense forests.
However. The chances of encountering them are quite high.
Trackers and rangers closely monitor the movements of the gorillas and provide this information to guides. Resulting in a success rate of between 95% and 99% on most gorilla treks. Lets’ now explore some key facts, data, and statistics about Ugandas’ mountain gorillas.
Uganda is home to more than half of the global mountain gorilla population making it a crucial habitat for these animals. As of 2018. The estimated population was approximately 1,063 individuals. Safari travelers can witness the mountain gorillas in two national parks within Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mount Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi is divided into four sectors for gorilla tracking: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo.
On the other hand Mgahinga is part of the Virunga Massif which spans across Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In total. There are 21 habituated gorilla families available for visits in Uganda – 19 located in Bwindi and 2 in Mgahinga. Each family has its own unique name, history, and structure. Some of the most well known families include Mubare,
Rushegura, Nkuringo, Nshongi and Nyakagezi.
Getting in and Out Of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
To reach Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
There are different ways to consider depending on where you start your journey. If you choose to travel by road the distance from Kampala, Ugandas’ capital is approximately 550 kilometers or 342 miles. Typically. This route takes about 8 to 10 hours.
During this drive you will go southwest through towns like Masaka, Mbarara, and Kabale. While the roads are generally well maintained some parts may be rough particularly as you approach the park. For those who prefer flying. There are charter companies available that offer flights from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airfield near Kampala to Kihihi or Kisoro airstrips.
These airstrips are the closest options to Bwindi. The duration of the flight is usually around 1 to 2 hours. Once you land at either of these airstrips. It will take approximately 1 to 2 hours by car to reach the park.
Gorilla Safari Accommodation in Uganda
1. Buhoma Community Rest Camp
2. Bwindi View Bandas
3. Gorilla Valley Lodge
4. Bakiga Lodge
1. Silverback Lodge
2. Engagi Lodge
3. Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge
4. Gorilla Mist Camp
5. Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge
1. Buhoma Lodge
2. Mahogany Springs Lodge
3. Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge
4. Gorilla Safari Lodge
5. Ruhija Gorilla Lodge
Exclusive Luxury Lodges:
1. Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp
2. Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
3. Chameleon Hill Lodge
4. Mutanda Lake Resort
Gorilla Trekking Rules
Please note the following guidelines for visiting gorillas responsibly:
1. Age Restriction: To ensure the safety of both humans and gorillas, only persons of over the age of 15 are the only ones to participate in gorilla tracking in Uganda.
2. Health Condition: To protect gorillas from potential human diseases it is imperative that anyone with covid 19, cold, flu, or any other contagious infection refrains from engaging in gorilla tracking.
3. Group Size: Each day. A maximum of 8 people are allowed to visit each individual gorilla group in Bwindi and Mgahinga.This limitation helps minimize disturbance and stress on these endangered gorillas.
4. Time Limit: In order to reduce the risk of disease transmission and stress visitors are kindly requested to spend no more than one hour with the gorillas.
5. Keep Distance: 7 meters (about 23 feet) or more between you and the gorillas at all times.
6. No Touching: Sometimes during the gorilla trekking experience, a gorilla may approach you but please, do not touch it. Respect their space or evade a potential harm.
7. Quiet Observation: Please maintain silence or speak softly so as not to disturb their natural behavior or environment.
8. No Eating or Drinking: Visitors are prohibited from consuming food or beverages within the presence of the gorillas in order to prevent disease transmission through droplets or litter.
9. No Flash Photography: The use of flash photography is strictly forbidden.
10. Stay in Your Group: It is crucial for visitor safety as well as minimizing disturbance that everyone remains together in a close knit group while near the gorillas rather than surrounding them individually.
11. Proper Disposal of Waste: Please ensure that you do not leave any trash behind when visiting the park. Whatever items you bring into the forest should be carried out with you as responsible waste management is essential for preserving these precious habitats.
How Difficult Is Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?
In order to participate in gorilla trekking in Uganda individuals must possess physical fitness, patience, and respect. The trek will require hiking at high altitudes ranging from 2,500 to 3,000 meters above sea level. The air at these altitudes is thin and that is why its possible that the lungs will be strained. Additionally. The trails are steep and densely forested.
Further adding to the difficulty of the trek. Depending on the location of the gorillas. The duration of the trek can range from 45 minutes to over 6 hours.
Despite its challenges the experience is truly rewarding. The level of difficulty involved in gorilla trekking in Uganda varies depending on a few factors including weather conditions, time of year and movements of the gorillas themselves. Certain sectors such as Buhoma and Ruhija offer relatively easier treks compared to Rushaga and Nkuringo. Generally speaking, dry seasons from June to September and December to February are preferable due to less muddy and slippery trails.
The amount of time spent with the gorillas can greatly differ from just 30 minutes up to several hours with an average duration of approximately 3 hours. It is important to note that there have been treks as short as 15 minutes as well as ones lasting up to an exhausting 9 hour period.
When selecting a trekking option in Uganda there are two choices available: standard treks that provide one hour with the gorillas or habituation experiences that extend for four hours. Habituation experiences offer a more exclusive and immersive encounter with these incredible creatures while also being physically demanding compared to standard treks.
Can Children Go For Gorilla Tracking
The minimum age for gorilla tracking in Uganda is 15 years. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest can create fear, there is also an aspect of limited stamina due to the steep slopes within the forest. Some treks will take more than 6 hours before you see the mountain gorillas. While on you tour, its important to book family friendly accommodations where you will leave your kids as you hike through the forest.