Complete guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda is an all-day outdoor activity that involves a hike in the forest in search of a given habituated gorilla family in the wild. It is an early start activity with the day beginning at around 7:00 am with registration and a briefing at the relevant national park office. Normally the park authorities will know the general location of each gorilla family and their distance from headquarters. Your hiking preferences and personal fitness will determine which gorilla family they allocate you to visit and the length of your trek. In this article, we will look at gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda in terms of cost, accessibility, best time, why Uganda or Rwanda and so much more.
Gorilla trekking briefing time
After the briefing and with your ranger guide, you’ll walk or drive to the start point and will start trekking around 8:30 am, depending on the location and the gorilla family you’re visiting. You’ll usually hike for at least an hour before you reach your assigned gorilla family. Sometimes, it may take three or more hours before you find your group. The scenery is stunningly beautiful, and the hike is all part of the experience. Be sure to keep your own pace and drink plenty of water as it’s easy to get dehydrated, especially at altitude.
As you come within range of your gorilla family, the rangers will ask you to leave your bags so you can approach the group more closely. Once you make contact, you’ll spend an hour with the gorillas. They may munch on bamboo, hanging from trees, grooming each other, suckling their babies, playing, sleeping, farting or mating. Every experience is unique; Enjoy their presence.
If the mountain gorillas are on the move, you’ll be able to move with them—keeping the required minimum distance of seven meters at all times. They may show some interest and approach your group. This is normal and nothing to be concerned about. If they approach you, the rangers will ask you to remain calm and step back slowly.
The ranger guides are very knowledgeable and will take good care of you in the forest. Be sure to ask them about the gorillas, the forest and other wildlife. They know each gorilla family intimately and can tell you the names and personalities of each individual. Porters are indispensable members of the team too: for a small fee (and a tip) a porter will carry your day pack and help get you up and down the slopes.
While the purpose of a porter is to assist you by giving a push and or a pull when the going gets tough, by hiring one or two of them, you will create employment for the so many youths staying around Bwindi impenetrable National Park. By earning through tourism, they will appreciate why it is conserved.
Managing expectations of gorilla trekking
Part of the excitement of visiting the gorillas is not knowing exactly where you will find them. The altitude, the dark forest, the rain, and the mud can make it tiring, but it’s worthwhile.
You will find the gorillas in very different settings, depending on your location: in an open clearing, with unobstructed views and plenty of sunlight, or in a denser part of the forest under a thick canopy. Keep the lighting conditions in mind when planning your photos as flash photography is strictly prohibited.
Remember that sightings are not guaranteed, but there is at least a 95 percent chance you will find your gorilla family.
Gorilla family allocation in Uganda and Rwanda
To guarantee your space on the day of trekking, one must present a valid gorilla trekking permit for Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga or Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for Uganda, respectively. After briefing and with the guidance of park authorities, they will allocate each of you a gorilla family depending on your interest and physical interest. This means that they will assign you a gorilla family to trek on the very day. Request for a gorilla family and trek of your choice, and they will try as much as they can to equate your request.
Why is seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda a one-hour activity?
Gorilla trekking trips in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Bwindi impenetrable National Park in Uganda are strictly one hour. Those who have visited habituated mountain gorillas in both Uganda and Rwanda will tell you that one hour’s experience is enough. One reason put forward for one hour is that they program habituated mountain gorilla families to welcome visitors for one hour daily for conservation and beyond this, gorillas may charge to tourists since they also need privacy to feed and make their nests. Believe me, it is plenty of time to observe the gorillas and you’re allowed to move about, just consult with your guide to ask about where you’d like to stand or where you’d like to go is okay, safe, and won’t be distressing for the gorillas. You’re advised to keep a distance of about 7 meters (~20 feet).
How to book a gorilla trek to Bwindi or Volcanoes NP
Visiting the mountain gorillas is the number one international visitor attraction in Uganda and Rwanda with a wide range of local and international tour operators who can help organize your trip
A good tour operator offers in-depth local knowledge with staff or representatives on-the-ground. They will have visited the lodges personally and be familiar with the proximity of each gorilla family. This knowledge can prove invaluable when planning your trip.
Tour operators should employ reliable ground staff, including skillful drivers who know the terrain well and can negotiate the steep dirt tracks (around Bwindi, for example).
If you plan to extend your trip after you have seen the gorillas, a tour operator can provide an itinerary and organize your other activities, accommodation, and transfers. If you buy a gorilla trekking tour, make sure they include your tracking permit in the price.
Professional associations like AUTO (Association of Uganda Tour Operators) and RTTA (Rwanda Tours and Travel Association) are professional bodies that vet their members, but there are many good lodges and tour operators who are not members of these organizations.
It is also possible to book independently if you do your homework and book well in advance. Leave plenty of time for travel. If you miss a bus or you break down, you’re on your own. Gorilla permits can’t be rescheduled in such circumstances, and you could end up giving up any savings you make by traveling independently.
You should book your gorilla tour and permit at least six months before you plan to travel. There are a few permits available per day, so tours get booked up quickly.
Each gorilla permit only allows you to see gorillas for one hour, so if you want to make multiple visits, you will need multiple permits.
The gorilla trek in Rwanda’ Volcanoes National Park
While planning a gorilla trekking tour or safari trip to Rwanda, two options are available for you on how to secure your gorilla permits trekking in habituated mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The first and most secure option is to contact any registered and Licensed tour operator to handle all issues to do with booking and securing your mountain gorilla permits. Encounter Africa safaris is a fully registered and Licensed Tour operator trading in Uganda and Rwanda. Once contacted, we will check the availability of Rwanda gorilla permits. Reserve them for you with no charges as long as you book an all-inclusive gorilla trekking Safari to see habituated mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. We contact Rwanda Development Board on your behalf and handle everything as quickly as possible. Once permits are secured, we arrange all the other logistics including transport, accommodation, and all transfers involved. We usually assign you one of our most experienced safari consultants who advises you on what to do, expect and provides you with all relevant information until you get convinced to book with us.
The second option is to book everything on your own by contacting Rwanda Development Board to check the availability of gorilla permits, secure them by paying to RDB directly. Please note that a Rwanda gorilla permit only includes park entry fees, visiting a habituated gorilla family and spending one hour with these creatures, services of an armed ranger guide, and a certificate. It excludes transport and accommodation while in Volcanoes National Park. Once booking your gorilla permit is done, you can go on and organize all the other associated logistics such as accommodation and transport to and from Volcanoes National Park.
It is only in Volcanoes National Park where one can organize a one-day gorilla trek from the Capital City Kigali. It is possible to wake up early, drive to volcanoes National Park, trek gorillas and drive back, arriving later evening or night. While this is possible, we don’t recommend it since anything can happen, causing delay and missing your trek after paying a hefty fee of SUD$1500 for your gorilla permit plus transport. We highly recommend you to at least plan to stay two nights near Volcanoes National Park. Spend one night acclimatizing before the gorilla trek and another after the trek since you never know the time when you will return from the park. If you return early, you can enjoy optional activities such as forest walk, community or village walk among others. Contact Encounter Africa safaris on how to spend the extra hours in Volcanoes National Park.
Encounter Africa safaris provide transport services with options of traveling in our well looked after Safari Vans (from USD$100) and Luxury Land Cruisers (from USD$250 to 300) depending on carrying capacity. Well-trained safari guides drive all our vehicles and we provide drinking water while in the vehicle travelling to and from Volcanoes National Park.
Why choose Rwanda for a gorilla trekking holiday
There so many reasons one should pay USD$1500 for a gorilla trekking permit that costs as cheap as USD$400 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and USD$800 in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. These are the reasons one should crossover to Rwanda despite the mouthwatering affordable prices for gorilla permits in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Less physically demanding trek
Literally, gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is seen as less demanding compared to Bwindi impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Most tourists who have trekked mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park and Bwindi impenetrable National Park normally testify to this.
Less Foliage in Volcanoes National Park
When one compares Volcanoes National Park and Bwindi impenetrable National Park in terms of forest cover, one realizes that Bwindi impenetrable national park is denser than Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda. The dense forest cover of Bwindi impenetrable National Park sometimes makes it difficult for photography as compared to the bamboo that is predominantly in Volcanoes National Park. Bamboo trees are normally tall, narrow, and less likely to obstruct one as he or she takes photos and videos of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Less drive from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is the easiest mountain gorilla National Park to be accessed from the respective Airport of Kigali. The park is a mere 2-3 hours’ drive on well-maintained roads as compared to Mgahinga or Bwindi impenetrable national Parks that are 10 hour’s drive from Kampala/Entebbe Airport on rough roads. One can avoid such drives by booking our flying safaris to gorillas and using scheduled or charter flights from Entebbe Airport to Mgahinga National Park or Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Gorilla permit money put to good use
The fee for a Rwanda gorilla permit at USD$1500 may seem outrageous compared to Uganda’s and Congo’s gorilla permit price. When compared to how this money is used, the Rwanda government ranks number one since most of it is efficiently used to protect the endangered primates as well as developing communities surrounding Volcanoes National Park. They always put a dollar paid to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda to good use and the experience is worth it.
Arranging a gorilla trekking safari trip in Uganda
Unlike Rwanda, Uganda has two major national Park where one can go see habituated mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Mgahinga and Bwindi impenetrable National Parks are the two parks in the southwestern part of this country called the Pearl of Africa. It’s a gorilla permit you hold that will allow you to trek mountain gorillas of Mgahinga or Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Before planning anything, we recommend that you read the literature about Mgahinga and Bwindi impenetrable National Park to allow you to make a better choice. Encounter Africa Safaris can assist you with relevant information about the two National Park. Contact us.
Gorilla safaris to Bwindi impenetrable National Park
Unlike other National Parks in Africa, the mountain gorilla families of Bwindi impenetrable National Park are scattered across different regions and locations. This therefore implies that one needs to book accommodation in the region where he/she booked his/her gorilla permits. We also highly recommend booking accommodation not very far from the National Park entrance to avoid arriving late for registration and briefing on the day of your gorilla trek.
To be more specific, Bwindi impenetrable National Park is a large tropical rain forest with four regions where mountain gorilla trekking takes place. These regions include Ruhija in the East, Buhoma in the north, Rushaga and Nkuringo in the south. Each of these regions has more than four habituated mountain gorillas. If you book a gorilla permit trekking in Buhoma for example, make sure you book lodges in Buhoma region and the rest is true to all regions. When you contact Encounter Africa safaris, we will handle all this on your behalf including booking a gorilla permit in any of the above regions depending on your interest and physical fitness, as well as advising you on where to spend your overnights depending on your interests and budget.
It is possible to access Bwindi impenetrable National Park by road from Entebbe or Kampala by driving approximately 9-10 hours depending on the region where you are booked to trek mountain gorillas. On your way to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, you will meet Local drum makes, equator, see the Hima grazing their Ankole Long-horned cows as well as the beautiful and rolling hills of the Kigezi region.
The shortest way of reaching Bwindi impenetrable National Park is by flying into Kigali Airport and drive 4-5 hours to Bwindi impenetrable National Park. If booked in Ruhija region of Bwindi in the east, it better to cross into Uganda through Gatuna border. If booked in Rushaga or Nkuringo region, it is better to use Chanika border crossing. Please contact us for details about crossing from Rwanda to Uganda by road.
Best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda
When planning a gorilla trekking holiday to Uganda or Rwanda in Bwindi impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga National Park, and or Volcanoes National Park respectively, you need to know that the climate and visitor seasons are almost the same. This, therefore, means that what we have written here applies to both Uganda and Rwanda for the best time to go gorilla trekking.
Weather and trekking conditions in Uganda and Rwanda
The first thing you need to know when determining the best time to go gorilla trekking in a rainforest like Bwindi impenetrable National Park, it is by definition that it rains all year round. That said, being in the tropics, these two African countries have both wet and dry seasons for gorilla trekking.
Drier and hotter weather
Drier and hotter weather exist during May, June, July, and August, and then return in December to February. During the dry season, gorilla trekking becomes easier since there are fewer muddy trails and hikes in both Bwindi impenetrable National Park and Volcanoes National park in Uganda and Rwanda, respectively. The only disadvantage with planning to go gorilla trekking in drier seasons is that it coincides with summer and peak seasons for gorilla trekking. This implies that gorilla permits can be hard to get if not booked in advance. We recommend to all those planning to go gorilla trekking during drier seasons to book gorilla permits a year in advance and if not 3-5 months. Encounter Africa Safaris organizes last-minute gorilla trekking holidays to Rwanda and Uganda as long as there permits when contacted.
Wet weather conditions
Wet and rainy weather prevails in April, May, September, October, and November. During this time, roads are muddy where trails become so slippery. That gorilla trekking takes place throughout the entire year and chances of seeing gorillas are 90 percent and more. You need to prepare very well by making sure that you are relatively physically fit and have the right gear with you. We highly recommended a porter to a push or a pull should it be needed.
Temperatures in Uganda and Rwanda are fixed year-round between 21°C (70 F) and 30°C (86 F), dropping to 10°C (50 F) at higher altitudes. Although chilly at night, the exertion of hiking and climbing will keep you warm during the day.
When to book a gorilla trek during Peak/high season in Uganda and Rwanda
Peak or high seasons in Uganda and Rwanda are basically warm and drier months of June, July, August, September, and December to February. These seasons coincide with summer holidays and pleasant weather which attracts more tourists to Bwindi and Volcanoes National Park.
If you plan to go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Volcanoes National Park during peak season or if you are in a large group, book six months or more in advance. The earlier you book, the more choice you have on where you trek gorillas and where you stay.
Last-minute bookings may be possible during low season or with smaller groups, but cannot be guaranteed.
Events and Festival time in Uganda or Rwanda
Rwanda’s annual Kwita Izina gorilla-naming ceremony takes place every September and offers a fascinating insight into Rwandan culture and the country’s efforts to promote gorilla conservation. The event is free to attend, but by invitation only. A good tour operator will arrange access for you.
If you want to track the gorillas and attend the ceremony, do book in advance as it is popular.
A more solemn occasion is Kwibuka, which means remember in Kinyarwanda. This is a series of events held in April in commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in which nearly one million Tutsi—70% of the Tutsi population—were killed. Visitors are welcome at these events. April can be a sombre month in Rwanda.
Gorilla trekking frequently asked Questions
Is gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda worth it?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda is by far one of the most fascinating and one in a life time experience to many people visiting these two African countries. As earlier noted, all gorilla safari packages to see mountain gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda are quite expensive but whether it is quite so life-changing for you, may depend on how passionate you are about wildlife encounters (and early morning starts!) It is extremely rare to hear anyone say that it is a less than wonderful experience and should be regarded as a whole day’s activity in a pristine natural environment, not just the precious hour with the great apes.
To get maximum value from the experience, make sure you’re prepared. Be as fit as possible, wear the right gear, rest well and don’t try to pack too many activities into your itinerary. Uganda and Rwanda are fascinating countries with much more than ‘just’ gorilla trekking; round out your experience with a few more days of getting to know your destination.
Is gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda safe?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda involves visiting wild mountain gorillas, right? Many will ask themselves the question that how dangerous is the mountain gorilla? Will they charge at us? We can confidently assure you that gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is safe and as long as you follow rules and regulations plus guidance given to you by your ranger guide, nothing will happen to you. For all the years we have conducted gorilla safaris to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Bwindi impenetrable National Park in Uganda, we have never heard of such an incident. This is because all gorilla families visited by tourists are fully habituated by relevant park authorities and are used to people. So be rest assured that your gorilla trekking excursion to volcanoes National park or Bwindi impenetrable National Park will be safe.
It’s also common knowledge that gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda takes place in the wild forests and on foot. It’s also possible that one can be attacked by other wild animals and or people such as rebels or poachers. Both Uganda and Rwanda take the security and safety of tourists seriously and all parks are guarded and an armed ranger will also escort you to scare away such animals if they are found. Encounter Africa safaris operate only in safe Destinations since the safety and security of our clients is our number one priority.
How difficult is gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda?
Trekking mountain gorillas in Mgahinga, Bwindi impenetrable or Volcanoes National Park in Uganda and Rwanda respectively can be physically demanding and that’s why a certain level of physical fitness is highly recommended. While on your trek, expect passing through muddy trails, thick vegetation and dense forest cover but in all this, you should ensure that you are well prepared both mentally and physically. The mist and regular rainfall in these forest mean hiking and trekking can be slippery and sometimes muddy. That’s why we recommend you bring the right gear for your trek.
If you are aged or physically unfit, don’t worry, Encounter Africa safaris will always have solutions for you. While in Bwindi impenetrable National Park or volcanoes, you can hire porters to carry your daypacks and camera equipment. This makes it easy for you to hike or move with ease.
If you are old and unable to walk for long-distance, we recommend hiring a stretcher or sedan chair and porters to carry you to and from the gorillas. This comes at an extra fee of between USD$300 to USD$700. Encounter can organize this on your behalf as long as you inform us of your need. With common sense and a reasonable level of fitness, your day will be memorable for all the right reasons.
In Rwanda mountain gorillas
Volcanoes National Park is accessed via gently sloping farmland. Inside the park is a variety of habitats: bamboo forest, open bush and darker, moss-covered trees with rocky paths. The higher you climb, the denser the forest.
In Uganda mountain gorillas
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a dense rainforest of trees, shrubs and creepers. The terrain is mountainous, with access via steep dirt roads. Trees—some reaching 50m in height—create a dense canopy. Trekking through the jungle can be tricky and your ranger guides may have to hack a path with machetes. Rivers and waterfalls intersect the forest.
The forests of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are less dense than Bwindi, but the climb to see the gorillas can be very steep in parts.
Why is mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda expensive?
Trekking mountain gorillas in Uganda or Uganda don’t come so cheap. A gorilla permit in Rwanda alone costs USD$1500 per person per trek, while in Uganda is currently USD$800. This excludes costs of transport and accommodation. So, one will ask him/herself why gorilla trekking in these two countries is so expensive? Here are some of the reasons.
Mountain gorillas worldwide as considered as endangered animals. In order to limit the number of interactions of the gorillas with people in order to protect them from suspected infections from human beings, a higher fee to see them becomes inevitable. This has also not stopped people from competing for gorilla permits in Uganda and Rwanda.
Also, the need to raise the required funds to protect these mountain gorillas and their habitats means that tourists intending to include gorilla trekking in their itinerary are charged such. It’s this same money or portion of it that is used to guard the forest, pay researchers as well as workers of Uganda and Wildlife Authority in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
On balance, the price might not be low, but it is still pretty good value considering the experience and importance of protecting this endangered primate.
Is there a gorilla trekking age limit in Uganda and Rwanda?
Both Uganda and Rwanda have a uniform age for trekking mountain gorillas, since rules and regulations governing the conservation of these endangered apes are almost the same. The gorilla trekking age or minimum age is 15 years. You can only be allowed to visit habituated mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Volcanoes National Park if you are 15 years or more. You are supposed to provide your passport details on booking your gorilla permit as well as at the park headquarters before being allowed to trek gorillas in either park. While Rwanda is so strict with, Uganda Wildlife Authority sometimes can allow a child who is 14 years and nearing his/her 15th Birthday. Such a child must show maturity and be physically fit to take on the trek. If you need more information, kindly contact Encounter Africa safaris and we will gladly advise you.
How close can one get close to Mountain gorillas in Bwindi and Volcanoes NP?
Both Bwindi and Volcanoes National Parks allow a 7 meters distance from the gorillas and your ranger guide will assist you in ensuring that this is adhered too. Mountain gorillas don’t know this rule and they may end up coming closer to you. If they do, your ranger guide will advise you to keep calm, lower your voice and avoid eye contact. Avoid trying to touch an individual of the family as this might lead to charging mainly from the Silverback.
How big is a silverback gorilla?
The mountain gorilla is the world’s largest living primate. You can expect a fully-grown male gorilla to be between 5-6ft (1.5-1.8 meters) tall and weigh 300-440lbs (140-300kg). Female mountain gorillas are between 4-5ft (1.2-1.5 meters) tall, weighing 300-220lbs (90-100kg).
Mountain gorillas are exceptionally strong and surprisingly quick. A gorilla can reach speeds of 25mph and is between 8-15 times stronger than a human.
For more information about all frequently asked questions about mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda, feel free to contact Encounter Africa safaris on email, WhatsApp or Telephone.
Why deal with Encounter Africa safaris
Encounter Africa safaris is an expert in organizing amazing wildlife, culture and adventure safaris in East Africa. In the 15 years of our operation, we have trained a team of professional Safari consultants and guides who will make sure that planning and execution of your safari goes on smoothly. We are fully registered and Licensed to operate in East Africa. We are members of AUTO (The Association of Uganda Tour Operators) and work closely with Uganda Tourism Board, Rwanda Development board as well as Uganda Wildlife Authority. In the many years of our existence, we have served many happy clients and some have managed to live a review on trip advisor and Safari bookings.