A Guide To Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Uganda is undoubtedly the best destination for primate adventures, and gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park pops up first when one thinks of visiting Uganda. Trekking deep into the mystical impenetrable jungles to find a family of mountain gorillas and spending quiet, uninterrupted moments makes the top bucket list adventure in Africa. Thousands of travelers who’ve visited these gentle giants will testify to that.
Our attraction to these unique gentle beasts may come from the fact that they share 98% of our DNA, our humanoid nature, and are endangered to extinction. Historically, mountain gorillas ranged much of East and Central African forests, freely roaming the rift valley and volcanic slopes. Their range slowly dissipated with human development, repelling them into higher grounds and reducing their number nearly to extinction.
Although gorilla tourism has tremendously increased their chances of survival, a little above 1000 mountain gorillas still survive in the east-central African mountain forest. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda protects close to half of the total population and holds the first position as the top place for gorilla trekking adventures in Africa.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park sits in Uganda’s southwestern rift valley rugged region, in the shadow of the Virunga Mountains chain. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it harbors some of the continent’s most prosperous plant and animal species diversity. Although more than 120 animal species roam Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, its celebrity inhabitants are the close-to-half of the world’s gorilla population.
About nineteen (19) gorilla groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park have been habituated to human visits and are available for gorilla tourism. A few others are reserved for research and the gorilla habituation experience, which allow visitors to spend more time with the gorillas (about 4 hours) than the typical gorilla trekking experience (1 hour).
Uganda is a top choice for gorilla trekking in Bwindi: that’s why we’ve written this travel guide to help you plan your gorilla safari with knowledgeable information.
What to Expect On Gorilla Trekking Experience in Bwindi
Bwindi is found in the remotest part of the country, about 500 km from the capital city. Expect to drive close to 10 hours from Entebbe International Airport to a lodge near the entrance of the Park. However tiring the drive may seem, many travelers cherish the tapestry of gorgeous landscape views revealed through the countryside, especially the endless terraced slopes and misty mountain peaks of southwestern Uganda.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is subdivided into four smaller sectors (Nkuringo and Rushaga in the south, Buhoma in the north, and Ruhija in the west) with various trailheads to ease access to different habituated gorilla groups. You should expect to book accommodation at one of the trailheads that match the location of your gorilla permit. Many lodging options straddle the entrances of the four sectors. Staying close to the gorillas ensures that you’re there on time for the start of the excursion at 07:00.
All trekkers must be at the briefing point (park entrance hall) by 07:00 for the pre-gorilla trekking in Bwindi briefing. During the briefing, expect to be clustered in small restricted groups (of about eight people per gorilla family) assigned a gorillas group, an expert local tracker guide, and two armed rangers for your security.
Your expert tracker guide will lead your group into the jungle after the briefing, at exactly 08:00, keeping the pace of the slowest person in the group. Don’t expect to find well-manicured trails. However, your tracker and rangers will be cutting your path with a machete, leading you through uneven damp terrain to where they expect the gorillas to be. Hiking is strenuous and requires moderate physical fitness; make sure you prepare your body for physical exertion.
On the brighter side, local porters have made it possible for anyone to reach the gorillas. Porters come from the populated villages surrounding the park and look to gorilla tourism for sustainability. So hiring one would be helping these communities directly: go for it! Expect to find these strong women and men at the trailhead in purple uniforms ready to assist anyone willing to part with $20 to navigate the treacherous terrain and reach their dream of watching the mountain giants.
The trek through the impenetrable jungle could take about 30 minutes to 4 hours before you find the gorilla family. You see, gorillas freely roam the forest doors and could get up and go anywhere within the 331 sq km park. Fortunately, a team of rangers reaches them before they leave the nests and stays with them during the day. They would be communicating with your tracker via walkie-talkie and giving them bearings of their location. So, the chance of trekking seeing the gorillas in Bwindi is pretty high at 98%. However, the duration of the trek is unspecified.
When you find the gorillas, expect to quietly watch them at a restricted distance of 10 meters, avoiding physical contact by all means. You’ll be required to wear a facemask, avoid flash photography and snacking. Your guide will be nearby to guide and furnish you with exciting stories, facts, and information about the gorilla group and their habitat. Your consciousness at the time will highly determine the quality of your experience during the one hour with the gorillas; try and not to busy yourself with photography.
At the end of the hour, your guide will quietly retrieve your party and lead you to a far-off place to have your lunch snack before you head back to your lodge to reminisce about the experience.
Cost of Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
The cost of gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable is determined by the price of the gorilla permit, which is much affordable to most travelers. A gorilla permit in Bwindi costs $700 per person per trek (2021/22).
However, the cost of the gorilla safari is determined by many variables, including the permit, accommodation, meals, transport, and logistical fees. Of all, the gorilla permit has the most challenging logistics.
There are less than 160 permits available in Bwindi per day, meaning less than 160 people can see gorillas on a particular day, making the permits scarce and in high demand. During the high seasons of July to September, you would be lucky to book a permit three months before the trekking date. Therefore, start planning now. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll secure the permit on your behalf immediately!
Your accommodation in Bwindi will cost you less than $150 for budget, $150-$350 for midrange, and above $400 for an exclusive luxury lodge. Depending on the provider and your initial location, transfers may cost about $50 – $300 per day, including the driver and gas/fuel.
Although the experience is the same, a gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi is way cheaper than Rwanda, considering the above. (see the guide to Rwanda gorillas) For an accurate quotation, our consultants will be happy to help you plan your Uganda safari. Send us an email.
Best Time To Go
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park at an elevation of 1,160m – 2,607m, surrounded by tropical weather and vegetation that gets awfully chilly in the nights and when it rains. It can rain anytime, and the heavier rains can disrupt your gorilla trekking experience. Avoid visiting Bwindi during the heavy rains of April, May, September to November when roads are impassable, and trails are slippery.
The best time for gorilla trekking in Bwindi is during the dry seasons, June to August and December to February. During the dry seasons, there’s less rain to disrupt the trek. Roads are navigable, and it’s easier to walk under the forest canopy; you can include other activities on your itinerary like nature hiking, birding, and those smiley community walks.
Although the dry season is the peak travel season in the country, the park doesn’t feel overcrowded because the number of trekkers is highly restricted. However, if you want to take advantage of the low season pricing in Bwindi, book your trip for the wet seasons. During the rains, most lodges offer high discounts to harvest on the low number of travelers.
What To Pack For The Gorilla Trek
It’s cold and damp out there in the Bwindi mountain forests; you have to keep warm and dry during your stay. Your packing list should include a lightweight rain jacket, a sweater for the evenings at the lodge, a pair of warm socks, and maybe a scarf.
For gorilla trekking in Bwindi, you should pack a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking shoes, gaiters, trousers, and long sleeve shirt to avoid prickly plants pocking your skin, a waterproof backpack to keep your gadgets dry, and maybe a hut to protect your head. These should all be lightweight; otherwise, you’ll be sweating while hiking the challenging hike with a heavy load.
Here’s a detailed packing list for gorilla trekking in Uganda.
How To Get To Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Entebbe International Airport is your main gateway into Uganda. Bwindi is about 500 km from Entebbe, which takes about a 10-hour drive to reach. There are chartered flights between Entebbe and two airports (Kihihi in the north and Kisoro in the south), each about 2 hours drive outside the southern and northern sectors.
Bwindi has four discrete trailheads for gorilla trekking located several odd hours apart by road—Nkuringo and Rushaga in the south, Ruhija in the east, and Buhoma in the north.
If you’re on the western Uganda safari circuit and joining Bwindi from Queen Elizabeth National Park, you’ll take about 3-5 hours to reach Buhoma and 5-6 hours to reach the southern sectors Nkuringo and Rushaga. You’ll take about 4-5 hours to reach Nkuringo and Rushaga from Lake Mburo National Park and about 6-7 hours to Buhoma.
We recommend you travel by 4×4 car during the wet seasons to reach the gorilla trekking trailheads; roads are barely navigable during the rains. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can only be navigated on foot; there are no roads within the park.
Where To Stay
Accommodation for all types of travelers straddles the park boundaries at all the four gorilla trekking trailheads in Bwindi; you wouldn’t fail to find an excellent spot to rest and have a meal before you take on the challenging trek into the impenetrable forest.
Choices range from homestays, hostels to small lodges with a little at four rooms, and from comfortable retreats to luxury resorts and camps within the park that dig deep into your pockets. Here’s a list to consider;
Buhoma Sector (north)
Budget (less $150 per night)
Buhoma Community Rest Camp
Gorilla Conservation Camp
Bwindi Guest House
Bwindi View Bandas
Eco Marvels Gorilla Resort
Gorilla Friends Lodge
Jungle View Lodge
Mid-range ($150 – $400)
Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp
Mahogany springs camp
High-end ($400 plus)
Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp
Nkuringo & Rushaga Sector (south)
High-end ($400 plus)
- Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
- Gorilla Heights Lodge
Mid-range ($200 – $350)
- Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge
- Chameleon Hill Lodge
- Lake Mutanda Resort
Budget (lower $150)
- Gorilla Safari Lodge
- Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge
- Gorilla Valley Lodge
Ruhija Sector (east)
Budget to mid-range ($50 – $250)
- Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge
- Ruhija Gorilla Mist Camp
- Trekkers Tavern cottages
- Gift of Nature Lodge
- Ruhija Gorilla Resort
- Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort & Campsite
- Ruhija Community Rest Camp
Planning You Gorilla Trekking Safari in Bwindi, Rwanda
Planning a gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi, Uganda’s premier attraction, should not be likened to planning a big city tour; neither should any Uganda safari. The challenging logistics of planning a Uganda safari like getting gorilla permits, finding suitable accommodation with meals, and booking your transfers require a knowledgeable local operator to navigate.
With help from a local operator, you plan your trip based on your preferences and budget and yet still get to enjoy your journey knowing that everything is taken care of by someone with the local experience.
Plan your Bwindi gorilla trekking safari with Encounter Africa Safaris. We’re local and have a sizable sustainable travel footprint you can trust. Send us an email at email@example.com.