How many days do you need for a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda and Rwanda?
Spending time with the gorillas has become a favorite activity carried out in three countries, including Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A face-to-face encounter with these primates is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that every tourist should participate in when they get the chance. The number of days typically depends on the time one has on a safari but the recommended standard time is 3 days.
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The 3 days are enough for one to trek and spend an hour with the gorillas. Trekking gorillas is seen as an expensive safari due to the cost of the permit, for example, 800 USD and 1500 USD per person in Uganda and Rwanda, respectively. The steep cost is to protect the endangered gorillas and their natural habitat. Below is a further explanation of how many days are spent on a gorilla safari in Uganda and Rwanda.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park are located in the southwestern part of Uganda where gorilla trekking takes place. Bwindi has the highest number of gorillas in the world, with half the remaining population in the world and these are separated into different families to ease the trekking process. The minimum age for gorilla trekking in Uganda was recently changed from 15 years to 15 years and this was to include a younger generation and special requests for children below 15 years will no longer be accepted.
Bwindi has 16 gorilla families that are ready for trekking whereas Mgahinga has 1 gorilla family. The Uganda Wildlife Authority issues the gorilla permits and cost 800 USD per person. They are always in high demand and tourists are advised to book in advance for proper planning.
There are two ways you can get to Bwindi and Mgahinga: road and air transport. Flying is better and short of getting to the national parks, but it is extremely expensive. Driving is a longer but more scenic way as you get to see the country’s beauty, including making a stopover at the Equator monument.
3-day itinerary for gorilla trekking in Bwindi
Day 1: Entebbe to Bwindi
Day 1 begins with our driver guide picking you up from Entebbe or Kampala and embarking on the 9 hours drive to Bwindi in southwestern Uganda. If you are using air transport, charter flights are arranged from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip to Kisoro Airstrip where a safari vehicle will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the park.
Day 2: Gorilla trekking
Day 2 is the trek day and the hike starts from the park headquarters after a hefty breakfast. Locals will welcome you with song and dance, and your guide will brief you on what to expect during the gorilla trek. During this briefing, you should inform the guides of your preferences and you will be assigned a gorilla family to trek for that day. The trek is unpredictable due to the gorillas’ abrupt movement and can take 30 minutes to 7 hours. After trekking and spending an hour with the gorillas, it’s time to head back to the lodge for lunch and an overnight stay. You will also be awarded a trekking certificate to confirm that you actively participated in the exercise.
Day 3: Departure
Day 3 begins with breakfast, checking out the lodge, and driving back to either Kampala or Entebbe. You can opt to stay an extra day at the hotel (on your bill) or you can travel on that same day. This will be the end of the tour and the inclusions are transportation, accommodation (full board), gorilla permit, activities discussed during booking, and experienced tour guides. However, The fee discussed does not include personal purchases, international flights, or visa fees.
Mgahinga National Park has over 80 Mountain gorillas with only 1 habituated family that is open to the public. The beauty about trekking in Mgahinga is that there are fewer crowds than Bwindi. Visitors are advised to book permits in advance because a few permits are sold per day.
3 days gorilla trekking itinerary to Mgahinga
Day 1: Arrival
When you get to Entebbe, you will be picked up by our tour guide and driven to Mgahinga in about 8 hours, passing by beautiful scenery along the way, including the Equator monument. There will be a few stops for you to stretch your legs and also purchase a few souvenirs before continuing with the journey. There are several accommodation options to choose from and your budget will determine the category (budget, mid-range, and luxury) to go with.
Day 2: Trek day
This is the long-awaited day when you meet and spend time with the gorillas. The trek begins after breakfast and a briefing from the tour guides about the gorillas, how to act around them and the rules to follow. This is also the best time for verifying the gorilla permits and in a group of 8, the trek will begin and after finding the gorilla family, you get to spend an hour with them. After the trek and enjoying lunch at the lodge, you can take on the Batwa trail where you learn more about the culture of the Batwa people.
Day 3: Departure
On day 3, after breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we drive back to Entebbe if you have a flight that day or Kampala if you are planning on spending more time in the country and this marks the end of the gorilla trek safari in Mgahinga.
Trekking Mountain gorillas in Rwanda is carried out in the Volcanoes National Park and require at least 2 days or more. However, since Volcanoes National Park is near the city center, you can still go gorilla trekking in one day since the National Park is about 2 to 3 hours from Kigali. Mountain gorillas can only be trekked in their natural habitat. On a guided trip around the Volcanoes, you get to experience the wonderful Mountain gorillas in their natural habitat and other wonders in the forest Rwanda offers.
Although we earlier stated that you can trek the gorillas in 1 day, we recommend a minimum of 2 days to see the gorillas due to the vast nature of the Volcanoes. The recommended days from us is 3 days and the 3-day gorilla safari in Volcanoes starts and always ends in Kigali. The first step is to purchase a gorilla trekking permit, which goes for 1500 USD per person, and you will be able to trek over 400 gorillas that live in the Volcanoes National Park.
3 days gorilla trekking itinerary
Day 1: Kigali to Volcanoes National Park
Day 1 is arrival day in Rwanda. Upon arrival at the Kigali International Airport, a driver guide will be waiting to take you to the Volcanoes National Park from Kigali on a drive that takes about 2 hours. You might get a small tour around Kigali if you get into the country early before retiring to your lodge where you will also be briefed about what to expect on your trip. Some lodges include Volcanoes Lodge, Muhabura Hotel, and Le Bamboo Lodge.
Day 2: Trek day
After breakfast, you will be taken to the park headquarters, where a briefing about what to expect and the dos and don’ts about gorilla trekking is and after that, the trek begins. The time taken to find the assigned gorilla family depends on where they migrated to and this might take 1 to 6 hours after locating the gorilla family, each group spends an hour with them. Other wildlife species you get to see while trekking include bird species and golden monkeys. After the trek, you will be escorted back to the lodge for lunch, and you can opt to do other activities like cultural visits, nature walks, or birding.
Day 3: Volcanoes to Kigali International Airport (Departure)
This is our last day at the national park and after breakfast, check out of the lodge you will be driven back to Kigali, where you can buy souvenirs and explore the city more if you have time before heading home.
The 3-day itinerary includes gorilla permits for each of the parties involved, transportation, photography, full board accommodation, and any other mentioned activities while booking. The days, however, exclude Visas, hotel fees in Kigali if you come a day early or leave a day late International flights, and premium beverages.
Note that the Rwanda Tourism Board issues only 86 gorilla permits per day and you should therefore book in advance because it is important for proper planning of the trip.
How long does gorilla trekking take?
Make sure to distinguish this question from how many days are needed because this specifically deals with the time spent trekking on the trek day. This is one of the most frequently asked questions by tourists and many trekkers have discussed how long it can take to trek and find the assigned gorilla family.
There is no definite answer to this question because these are wild creatures and extremely unpredictable, meaning a group can take less than 30 minutes, whereas others might take more than 5 hours to get to the gorillas. The length of a gorilla safari is not specific and depends on several factors listed below but rest assured, you will be able to find and enjoy the company of the gorillas. Some of the factors to be put into consideration include the following.
Physical ability: This usually is fine. However, due to the tough terrain in the national parks, one needs to be physically fit to participate in the exercise, so there is a minimum age for gorilla trekking. If you cannot trek long distances, we advise that you talk to your guide so that you are assigned gorilla families that are believed to be easy to find and near.
The weather conditions: It is better and faster to trek during sunny weather conditions because the trek routes are dry and passable compared to the wet season when the routes are slippery. The slippery trek routes make it harder for hikers to trek, making the gorilla trek through the rainforests.
Location of the gorillas: The location of the gorilla family you are assigned will determine how long your gorilla trek will be for the day. The guides are always in sync and communicating constantly about the last place that the gorillas were seen, but note that these are wild animals, and they keep on moving in search of food and water, and the more they move, the longer the hike.
Rules and regulations for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking is carried out in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga regions which are shared among the three countries. Mountain gorillas
The rules set up for gorilla trekking are to protect both the endangered gorillas and the trekkers and these are to be followed by all gorilla trekkers in the three countries where the endangered species are located. These include the following:
- Every group is to spend a maximum of 1 hour with the gorillas and the reason as to why it is strictly an hour is to prevent the gorillas from getting used to humans because they might go into the nearby towns, to avoid stressing the gorillas and to prevent easy transmission of diseases from man to the primates.
- A maximum of 8 people is to trek the assigned gorilla family for a normal gorilla trek and only 4 people for the gorilla habituation experience.
- You are not to litter the forest because it might cause diseases to the gorillas. Every visitor is expected to carry his or her rubbish until it is correctly disposed of.
- In cases where you are feeling sick, it is advisable that you volunteer to stay back and not participate in the trek and this is to protect the gorillas.
- If you feel like using the toilet, dig a hole of 30cm and cover it properly after you are done.
- The minimum age limit for gorilla trekking in Uganda is 15 years and 15 years in Rwanda.
- You are not allowed to eat or drink in the presence of the gorillas.
- Do not smoke when close to the gorillas; when you feel a cough or sneeze coming up, turn away from the gorillas before coughing or sneezing.
- When a gorilla charges at you, do not attempt to run crouch down in a submissive manner and avoid looking the gorilla straight in the eye especially if it is the dominant male silverback.
- Avoid putting on sunglasses in the presence of gorillas.
Gorilla packing list
To have a good and enjoyable gorilla trek experience, you need to have packed well and we have listed essential things that you shouldn’t miss out on your packing list including long-sleeved shirts and trousers in neutral colors, sunscreen, insect repellent, a sunhat, strong waterproof hiking boots, day backpack, waterproof jacket, a camera with extra batteries, binoculars, garden gloves to protect your hand, gaiters, thick socks, and warm clothes. Avoid putting on colors black and blue because black absorbs heat and blue attracts tsetse flies.
Best time for gorilla trekking
Uganda and Rwanda have two trekking seasons: the wet/low/green and dry/peak season and trekkers can go trekking in any of the two seasons. The Peak/dry season is the best time for gorilla trekking because the gorilla trek is much easier as compared to the low/green season, which is the best time for visitors traveling on a budget, but beware of the slippery and muddy routes.
By going for a gorilla trek safari in Rwanda and Uganda, you get to explore other national parks that are home to wildlife, including the big five, and since this can easily be arranged, our safari days might be more than three. You can also join the Rwanda gorilla safari with Uganda by connecting to the two countries by flying from Kigali to Bwindi or driving through the Katuna border on the Uganda-Rwanda border.
Contact us for more information.