How to plan to see gorillas in Uganda during the winter break
Winter break coincides with Christmas, one of the most celebrated holidays in the world, and what better way to celebrate the holiday and break than with the endangered Mountain gorillas in Uganda? Uganda has half the world’s gorilla population, and we can help you organize the best safari.
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Planning a winter break gorilla safari to Uganda does not involve a lot of steps as long as you have the right and necessary information. You need to know about mountain gorillas, what to expect when you are with them, and research about the country of destination. There are things that you need to know, and the steps to having a successful safari include:
Getting the right tour operator: This is usually the first step because you will be scammed with the wrong local tour operator and might not enjoy the safari. Research the operator you have chosen by reading reviews on TripAdvisor, and you can also check with AUTO (Association of Uganda Tour Operators to see if they are fully registered). Once you zero down on who you are to use, payments will be made to the company account. Tour operators help book and organize gorilla safaris and other safaris in the country.
Decide on the trek destination: Uganda has two gorilla trek destinations, Bwindi and Mgahinga, and you can choose to have your safari in either. They are located in southwestern Uganda, Mgahinga, with one gorilla family, Nyakagezi, and Bwindi, with about 19 habituated gorilla families. If you are okay with crowds and want a different experience with various gorillas, then Bwindi is your best destination. Mgahinga, on the other, has fewer crowds.
Plan on when to go: The winter break season is the dry season in Uganda, and since it also has the Christmas festivities, expect to see large crowds of trekkers. You are advised to book the permits and safari to get your desired dates because the permits get sold out fast. After deciding the dates, contact a tour operator like Encounter and let us plan your safari.
Where can I trek gorillas on my winter break in Uganda?
Uganda has two gorilla trekking destinations: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. Both national parks are in southwestern Uganda and offer unique gorilla trekking safaris. The permit costs for both Bwindi and Mgahinga are the same, but your choice depends on your travel plans.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi: Bwindi Impenetrable national park in southwestern Uganda is the main gorilla trekking destination in Uganda, with half the world’s population of gorillas in the world. Habituated gorilla families in Bwindi can be trekked from four sections: Nkuringo, Ruhija, Buhoma, and Rushaga. Each section is uniquely characterized and has different gorilla families.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga: located close to the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mgahinga National Park is a popular safari destination due to the presence of the Nyakagezi gorilla family open for trekking. It is also the only place in Uganda where golden monkey trekking is carried out. The gorilla treks in Mgahinga are more accessible than those within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. They are more secluded, making them the perfect gorilla trekking destination for tourists who prefer less crowds. Mgahinga National Park has almost 10% of the remaining gorilla population in the world.
What to expect during the trek
One commonly asked question is what one should expect on a gorilla safari in Uganda. The answer is that the experience varies depending on who is trekking, but all you need to know is that it is an exciting and wonderful experience everyone should experience.
Once you get to the park headquarters early morning after breakfast, a lead guide will go through the rules that must be followed when trekking. After the briefing, you will be put in groups of 8 and assigned gorilla families (in Bwindi according to the sector set during the booking process). This is the best time to ask for a shorter or easier trek if you are not physically fit and pull out of the trek in case you are sick.
After assigning the groups, with a guide and porters for those who need them, the trek starts and can last between 2 and 6 hours, depending on the location of the family. There are concerns about being unable to see the gorillas, but this has never happened in Uganda, so there is no need to worry.
When you locate the assigned gorilla family, you have an hour with the gorillas, where you learn about their behaviors around humans and take photos and videos. After your one hour is up, you trek back to the headquarters, where you will be awarded a certificate of participation. The one hour, however, can be cut short if the gorillas are agitated.
Getting a gorilla permit in Uganda
Gorilla permits in Uganda can be bought from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or through a tour operator. Uganda no longer offers discounts on permits during the low season, and the easiest way to purchase one is by booking it at least six months before your winter break for proper planning. The gorilla permit cost is relatively cheaper compared to Rwanda, and UWA sets the cost according to the types of tourists.
The gorilla permit is 300,000 ugx for East African citizens, $700 for foreign residents, and $800 for foreign non-residents. The gorilla habituation, on the other hand, is $1500 per person, and it gives you 4 hours with the gorilla groups that were set aside for the process in the Rushaga sector. The permits cost is the same no matter where you have bought them.
The process of purchasing a permit involves contacting the tour company, and after that, you will be asked for your details as they appear on your passport, names, and dates of birth and to choose your desired dates for trekking during your winter break. The tour company then confirms if the dates you prefer are available. Once confirmation is set, you will be emailed about the dates and how to make payment. To avoid being scammed, you should note that no purchase will be made if you do not make a full payment. Make payments to the company bank account and not a personal one. When payment has been confirmed, the purchase of the permits will be made, and a copy will be sent to you for proof. If the tour company plans the entire safari, payments must be made at least three weeks before the travel date.
Gorilla permits are non-refundable unless, in instances where you go trekking and do not see any gorillas, and this is a rare occurrence.
Rules & regulations for gorilla trekking in Uganda
Before trekking starts, you will be given a set of rules and guidelines that must be followed throughout your safari. It is extremely important to get to know and listen closely to the rules laid out and respect them for the conservation of the gorillas in Uganda.
- Every group of trekkers spends an hour with the gorillas after locating them and making contact. You can opt for gorilla habituation if you want to spend more time with the gorillas. Still, you should note that the gorilla habituation permit cannot be exchanged with the normal gorilla trekking after purchase.
- Gorilla trekking has a minimum age limit, which was put up by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to protect the primates, and it is 15 years.
- Trekkers are put in groups of 8, and this is the maximum number of people allowed to trek a gorilla family in a day. Gorillas are easily overwhelmed, which is why the number of people is limited to 8.
- After contacting the gorillas, avoid sudden movements and making noise. Gorillas, like their quiet and noise, might be perceived as an attack on them.
- Under no circumstances is flash photography allowed when with the gorillas.
- You will not be allowed to join other trekkers in cases where you are sick, especially with viral infections like flu and cough.
- When you are in contact with the gorillas and feel like coughing or sneezing, turn away from them and cover your mouth and nose before sneezing and coughing.
- All trekkers are supposed to put a distance of 7 meters between them and the gorillas at all times.
What to wear for the gorilla trek winter break safari in Uganda
Walking through a dense forest is not an easy fit, especially if you are not dressed as needed. Winter coincides with the short dry season in Uganda, which means you must be dressed appropriately to have a good gorilla trek safari. You will be trekking for an unlimited time before locating the gorillas, so you need comfortable clothing. Below is a list of appropriate clothing for the trek.
- Good quality, strong hiking boots. These should be ankle-length, waterproof, and sturdy for muddy trek routes.
- Long-sleeved shirts are the extra layer that protects your skin from insect bites and scratches and keeps you warm.
- Gaiters are also needed to protect the upper part of your legs from dust, mud, and water.
- Light trekking trousers. Avoid shorts because you will trek in the jungle with different bug species and bushes. Avoid trekking in Jeans as well.
- Long socks, which are pulled over the trousers while trekking, are mandatory.
- Undershirts and any other extra clothing.
- Gardening gloves to protect your hands from thorns, and tree scratches and to avoid blisters while trekking through difficult times.
- A waterproof rain jacket or windbreaker
- A warm jacket.
What to pack for a winter break gorilla trek safari
Packing for any safari to Uganda is one of the things that you should not ignore because you neither want to be under-packed nor over-packed. You need to have just the right luggage for the safari, and some of the things that you need to pack for the gorilla trek in Uganda include:
- Insect repellent
- A camera with extra batteries, lenses, a tripod, lens cleaner, and a waterproof camera bag.
- Re-hydration salts
- Refillable water bottle
- A walking stick is provided at the start of the trek if you need it.
- A flashlight and extra batteries
- Waterproof backpack
- First Aid Kit.
Accommodation options during a gorilla trek in Uganda
There are numerous accommodation options in Uganda that you should consider when planning a gorilla trek safari in Uganda, and these cater to the different tourists visiting the country. Accommodation is categorized into three: Basic/budget, mid-range, and luxury accommodation facilities, and whereas some are located inside the national park, others are located in the nearby towns. Some of the accommodations to choose from include Buhoma Lodge, Bwindi Volcanoes Lodge, Haven Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Engagi Lodge, Nkuringo Lodge, and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, among others.
Getting to the gorilla trek destinations in Uganda
You can get to Bwindi or Mgahinga by either road or air. Driving to the national parks is the most commonly used type of transport because it is cheap and offers exciting scenery to tourists. The drive to the national parks takes about 9 to 10 hours, with stopovers at the Equator monument and lunch in Mbarara. The first day is used for traveling, and you get to the parks late evening for an overnight at the hotel and dinner. Flying is the best way to travel because it takes one hour and 45 minutes but is expensive. Charter flights can easily be arranged but in advance using domestic flights from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi to either Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrip.
Contact our safari consultants to help you plan your safari today.