How to apply for extra gorilla permits for Bwindi and Mgahinga through UWA
Gorilla trekking is one of the most participated activities in Uganda. It is carried out in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park, located in southwest Uganda. It is top of the bucket list that most tourists visit Uganda and one of the most important documents needed for gorilla trekking is the gorilla permit, a legal document that belongs to the government.
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A gorilla permit will ensure you can access the gorillas for at least an hour. Permits are always on high demand, especially during the peak season, with many tourists booking them at least three or six months before the prior trip date. In this article, we will look at all the necessary questions that you might have about gorilla permits, how to apply for the extra permits and why they are needed.
What is referred to as a gorilla permit?
A gorilla permit is a document given to you by the Uganda Wildlife Authority so that you can access the Mountain gorilla. It is a temporary paper/ document that is valid for an hour with the gorillas, and note that the one hour does not include the time spent while searching for the gorillas. Gorilla permits both in Bwindi and Mgahinga include security for the hikers in the form of rangers who have guns, and UWA has also partnered with other security agencies to make sure that the visitors are safe from other wild animals that are found in the national parks.
Why do tour operators request extra permits?
This might be new for clients, but tour operators can request extra permits after the original purchases. Because of the stiff competition, these permits are always available on a first come first serve basis. In most cases especially during the peak season, gorilla trekking permits quickly sell out, and you might put in a request to UWA and be told that they no longer available. However, this does not mean that your chances of participating in the gorilla trek are next to zero because you can still go ahead and ask for extra permits.
Steps taken when applying for an extra gorilla permit
Applying for an extra gorilla permit for Bwindi and Mgahinga involves a few steps that need to be followed to be granted one, including the following.
- Applying for extra gorilla permits for both Mgahinga and Bwindi national parks and the first step is to officially write to the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices to the Executive directors’ office requesting an extra permit on the same date that you had booked the first permit with clear explanations as why you did not book earlier on and why you need the extra permit. You can also contact a local tour operator to help book the extra permits for a small fee (the tour operator will help you with the application process and this will reduce the hustle of doing it on your own).
When applying for the extra gorilla permit, make sure that you specify all the requirements that you need, provide all the efficient details, and any other information that you consider relevant.
- The second step is the evaluation process, which is carried out by the UWA officials who will go through your request to verify that all the information entered into the system is suitable for example the park and sector booked and whether the permit had been booked on that specific date mentioned.
Once the evaluation process is thorough and everything has been verified. It would be best if you got an extra permit. You will be granted the extra permit and had the opportunity to go for gorilla trekking in either Bwindi or Mgahinga.
- When the availability of the permits on the given date is confirmed, you will be required to pay the gorilla permit fees. You will receive an email or physical confirmation that you need to keep safe as you will need it on the day of the trek.
Note that normal gorilla permits are always printed in the form of cards. Still, when it comes to the extra gorilla permits, an introduction letter is attached to the permit addressed to the warden. The same letter is emailed to the park warden where you are to trek the gorillas explaining the reason for the permit.
UWA however retains the rights of either refusing or accepting to grant the extra gorilla trekking permits even when you have a valid reason for the request. One of the main reasons why you may be granted extra permits is that there are extra gorilla families that are not habituated and are available for trekking even when the number of trekkers per day has already exceeded (this is a special case because most of the families available for trekking on short notice are still not open to the public for trekking). In case you are denied an extra permit, a group not exceeding 8 people already has already booked your exact date. They must refrain from overbooking it to help conserve the gorillas and their habitat.
Cost of a Gorilla Permit in Uganda
The cost of a gorilla permit in both Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the same and it depends on the category of the persons purchasing the permit. Below is the cost of a gorilla permit.
Foreign non-residents 700 USD
Foreign residents 600 USD
East African Citizens 70 USD.
Packing list for a gorilla trek in Bwindi and Mgahinga
Gorilla trekking is no easy fit due to the terrain, so you need to be as comfortable as possible to enjoy the excursion. Some of the essential things that you might need to pack for a gorilla trek in Uganda include insect repellent, long-sleeved shirts and trousers (ensure that the clothes you are putting on are of neutral color, avoid camouflage clothes because they are associated with the army and avoid blue and black as it attracts tsetse flies), water bottle, camera, binoculars, sunhat, sunscreen, rain jacket, strong hike waterproof boots, day backpack, garden gloves and if possible gaiters among others.
What is the best time for gorilla trekking in both Bwindi and Mgahinga?
Gorilla trekking in both national parks can be carried out throughout the year. Still, the best time to go for a hike is during the dry season, known as the peak season experienced from June to early September and December to February. It becomes easier to trek during the dry season since the trek routes are easier to use than when they are slippery in the wet season.
What does a gorilla permit in Bwindi and Mgahinga cover?
The gorilla trek permit only gives you an hour with the Mountain gorillas and does not cover other expenses like accommodation, transport, food, tips, or any other personal purchases. With the permit, you will be able to go for gorilla trekking.
Cancellation policy and refunds on a gorilla permit in Uganda
The Uganda Wildlife Authority can refund your money depending on the days before your trip. The cancellation policy stated below only applies to tourists who have paid full fees for the gorilla trek safari and is used by the UWA, however note that the different tour operators have cancellation policies that work for them.
- Cancellation from 95 days and above before the trek, UWA refunds 75% of the total funds paid.
- If you cancel between 46 to 90 days to the trek date, the refund is 50% with UWA retaining the other 50%.
- Cancellation between 8 to 45 days to the trek date comes with a 25% refund and UWA retaining the 75%.
- Cancellation between 0 to 8 days doesn’t come with a refund.
Some of the reasons that might be considered for a gorilla permit cancellation include the following:
- If you fail to trek the Nyakagezi gorilla family in the Mgahinga National Park, you will receive a 100% refund from the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
- In cases where you are ill with proof and are unable to make it. The same case works when you have an accident.
- When you have double booked and paid for the permits, you will be refunded the extra payment (100%) once it is confirmed.
How to obtain a gorilla permit (not the extra (permit)
Many tourists planning a gorilla trekking safari to Uganda usually find it tiring and hard due to the long process involved especially if you are booking directly. Still, if you get a registered tour operator to help with the process, you only need to pay and show up on the trek date. Local tour operators rarely charge an extra cost on purchasing the permit if you are going to use their other services like transfers and booking accommodation. Still, if you only need the gorilla permit, they will charge an extra fee of about $60 to $100 per permit.
- The first step is contacting the tour operators with your desired dates for trekking. After they find out whether they are available, you will be informed, and the dates will be booked temporarily, but in instances where they are not available, the tour operator will avail you with the available dates.
- Bank details will be sent after the temporary booking, where money for the permit will be transferred. However, do not pay to a personal bank account because every company needs a company account to avoid fraud. Bank charges are to be charged from your account, so remember to instruct your bank to deduct those.
- An email will be sent upon receipt of the money and the next step involves you sending a copy of your passport (passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months). The details on the passport
How to get to Bwindi and Mgahinga
By air: You can fly directly from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi airstrip to Kisoro airstrip or to Kihihi airstrip to access the national parks in the southwest of Uganda. It will take you about an hour and a half from Kajjansi and a 45 minutes’ drive to the national parks. You can use several domestic airline operators, including Fly Uganda and Aero link. You will however need to organize with your tour operator to organize transportation from the airstrip to the national park.
By road: Getting to Bwindi and Mgahinga is a longer route but has great scenery compared to flying. Different routes lead to the national park, and all these converge at the Butogota, about 10 miles from the Buhoma gate. If you are driving from Kampala or Entebbe, it will take you between 9 to 10 hours and if you are coming from Lake Mburo National Park, it will take 5 to 6 hours, whereas Queen Elizabeth National Park is a 2 to 3 hours’ drive.
Driving to Mgahinga National Park takes 9 to 10 hours from Kampala or Entebbe and you will have to use the Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Kisoro road leading to the Ntebeko headquarters.
As you can see, getting a normal gorilla permit is relatively easy, and the same applies to extra gorilla permits for as long as you have the right authorized tour operator. We recommend booking early to avoid any last-minute inconveniences. It is also important to note that registered tour operators under AUTO usually buy almost 80 % of the gorilla permits, making them the perfect people to help secure the extra gorilla permits for Bwindi and Mgahinga.
Gorilla trekking is an experience that is unforgettable once you encounter the mountain gorillas, contact us to have your permits reserved and prepare for your gorilla trekking safari today.