Rwanda vs. Uganda: Which One Offers The Best Gorilla Trekking Experiences
Rwanda and Uganda undoubtedly stand out as the best gorilla trekking destinations worldwide. Since both have outstanding infrastructure for primate adventures, the big ‘Rwanda vs. Uganda’ debate rages on which one provides the best gorilla trekking experience. We want to address some of those concerns to help you make the best decision.
Tracking the gorillas in both countries involves hiking up or down steep terrain through the thick, tangled bush and unmarked trails. It is a bit challenging, but almost everyone that embarks on this quest always reaches the gorillas. When it comes down to hiking the steep mountain slopes to find a mountain gorilla family and spending that allotted one hour with the gorillas is an incredible experience that will leave you breathless no matter which country you choose for the adventure.
The decision to choose Rwanda over Uganda will most probably come to the availability of gorilla permits, the cost of the adventure, where to stay, access to the gorillas, and what other activities can be added to your journey. We recommend seeking the help of a local tour operator to help find the permit and decide. Like Encounter Africa Safaris, most tour operators can plan gorilla trekking safaris in either country and are willing to give you all the necessary information at no cost.
Gorilla Permit Availability
Uganda has an edge on gorilla permit availability. That is so because Uganda protects more than half of the total gorilla population with double the number of habituated gorilla groups and more gorilla trekking points than Rwanda. With 20 habituated gorilla groups in two National Parks (Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park), Uganda offers more than 160 gorilla permits per day. Doubling the number of permits in Rwanda.
You’re not only sure to acquire a gorilla permit in Uganda, but you will also have more than five trekking points spread across the park boundaries, where you’ll find a variety of accommodations. Bwindi alone has four sectors, including Buhoma in the north, Ruhija in the west, Rushaga, and Nkuringo in the south.
Rwanda has 12 habituated gorilla groups available for trekking, with less than 80 permits available per day. Gorilla trekking excursions start at a single point in Kiningi and spread out on the base of the volcanoes. All accommodations are concentrated in Kiningi.
The Cost of Gorilla Trekking
The cost of gorilla trekking is majorly determined by the price of the gorilla permit and accommodation cost. Rwanda’s gorilla permit price is more than double that of Uganda, which could be said about the accommodation price.
The permit in Rwanda costs $1500 per person per trek and has stayed that way since 2017. Any traveler above 15 years can buy the permit from Rwanda Development Board or through any licensed local tour operator at face value.
The Uganda gorilla permit has cost $700 per person per trek since 2019. You can buy the permit from Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala or through any licensed tour operator. Alternatively, Uganda offers a $1500 gorilla habituation permit (not in Rwanda) where travelers can spend more than four hours with a semi-habituated gorilla family: an experience most would prefer to trekking in Rwanda.
Logistics of finding a permit in either country during the peak seasons of July to September and December to March are more challenging than in the low seasons. Plan to book your permit at least six months in advance if you intend to visit during the peak seasons.
Access To Gorillas
Rwanda has the easiest access to gorillas with just about a 2-hours drive from the international airport to Volcanoes National Park on a well-surfaced road. You can land at the airport in Kigali and transfer directly to your bush lodge near the gorillas on the same day.
However, the same cannot be said of Uganda. Uganda’s gorilla parks are located about 500 km from the International Airport in Entebbe. When you land in Entebbe, you’re expected to spend a night before you embark on a 10-hour drive across the country to Bwindi or Mgahinga National Parks. However, two small airports are a 2-hour drive outside Bwindi & Mgahinga for travelers who wouldn’t want to drive for ten hours in the back of a safari truck.
If you choose to drive across Uganda or Rwanda, the undulating countryside landscapes are very rewarding. Most seasoned travelers decided to take the drive and discover these incredible views.
In both countries, you can access the mountain gorillas only on foot. There are no roads in the park, and in some instances, you may drive close to 45 minutes on an unpaved dirt road from the briefing point to the gorilla trekking starting point. Whichever country you choose, be prepared to get down and dirty.
Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park spreads across the base of five dormant volcanos, and the trailheads sit at the extreme bottom. In many cases, the gorillas move up the mountain slopes, and you’ll be trekking up to find them. The terrain can be steep and uneven and will require moderate physical fitness to navigate.
Trekking in Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park is much like trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park’s rugged terrain is more unpredictable, so most travelers will rate it more challenging, but that’s far front the truth. Bwindi’s terrain makes it hard to predict where the gorillas will be (down in the valley or up the slopes).
In Bwindi, you could be hiking up or down the slopes on any given day; it’s impossible to tell. Some days trekkers are lucky to find the gorillas close by the park boundaries, and they don’t have to trek deep into the jungle. Although the Bwindi Forest is thicker and darker than Volcanoes, the trekking experience is unpredictably challenging in both destinations.
You could be tracking the gorillas for about 30 minutes to 4 hours in either Uganda or Rwanda; you can’t accurately determine how long it would take because they move freely within their protected zones, and trackers have to follow their lead.
Accommodation choices are abundant in both countries relative to the availability of gorilla permits, although Rwanda’s accommodation costs could be a bit pricey to bench on the luxury market.
Rwanda’s gorilla trekking accommodation is concentrated in Kiningi, with up-market choices outshining the budget options. You’re more likely to enjoy Rwanda’s gorilla trekking experience if you stay in a luxury lodge with dashing amenities than staying in a budget hotel and paying the hefty gorilla permit price.
Uganda, on the other hand, has an extensive array of gorilla trekking accommodation options. From budget hostels to comfortable lodges and out-of-this-world forest retreats spread across the five gorilla trekking sectors. Some lodges in Uganda have unexpected gorilla visits that surprise guests on a given morning or evening foraging expedition.
You could sleep right above the park canopy and walk five minutes to the trekking excursion starting point in Uganda. The gorilla trekking experience is that adventurous in Uganda.
Most travelers chose to combine their gorilla trekking experience with a safari drive. Both countries offer favorable activities for a combined safari, but Uganda has the upper hand with better safari offerings.
For a laid-back big five safari adventure in Rwanda, Akagera National Park in Rwanda’s northwest is the best and only option. For primates and nature hikes, the rugged Nyungwe National Park in the south will provide some of the best chimpanzee trekking experiences in the region. Rwanda has excellent conservation and cultural tourism programs that most travelers want to explore in addition to the gorilla experience. And if the plight of the 90s genocide appeals to you, it would be worth staying a night in Kigali and checking out the memorial museums.
Uganda, on the other hand, offers a more varied safari experience. One can choose to spot the elephants riding down the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park or cruising a boat on Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park among pods of Hippos, herds of buffalo, and antelope on the shoreline. Another of Uganda’s highlights is walking with our hyper chimpanzee cousins in Kibale Forest, rated as the best primate experience worldwide.
For a more concentrated safari experience, both countries combine well with the neighboring Masai Mara in Kenya and Serengeti in Tanzania. One can quickly fly between Kigali and Serengeti National Park or Entebbe and Masai Mara National Reserve and witness the exhilarating Annual Great Migration.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda or Uganda Safaris
Interested in tracking gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda, Encounter Africa Safaris has a dedicated team of local consultants that will help you find a suitable destination for your budget, calendar, and travel options. We can also find you a gorilla permit in either country, book your accommodation, transfers and manage your trip. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and talk to a consultant.