What is the cheapest way to see mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda?
Find the cheapest way to see mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda has two gorilla trekking destinations that are Mgahinga Gorilla National Park which has one habituated family known as the Nyakagezi gorilla family and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which has 19 gorilla families that are open for trekking and found in the four sections of Bwindi which are Rushaga, Buhoma, Ruhija, and Nkuringo sectors. Bwindi has the highest number of gorillas in the world, making it the perfect destination for gorilla trekking.
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The gorilla trekking destination in Rwanda is the Volcanoes National Park in the northwest part of Rwanda in the Virunga region and a two hours’ drive from Kigali. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is known as a luxury gorilla trekking destination. It has often been referred to as a destination for all tourists looking to have a luxurious stay on their safari, and this is usually because of the cost of the gorilla permit.
Uganda has cheaper gorilla trekking permit costs compared to the neighboring country Rwanda where the gorilla permit costs $1500 per person for foreign non-residents, $500 for residents of other African countries, and $200 for Rwandan citizens and East African citizens. A gorilla permit in Uganda costs 250,000 UGX for East African citizens, $700 for foreign non-residents, and $600 for foreign residents.
Although there are no more discounted permits during the low season, it is still cheaper to travel during the low season because of discounts offered on other services, especially accommodation. Due to the few tourists who visit for gorilla trekking during the low season (March to May and October to November) because of the rains, accommodation facilities reduce their costs to attract more tourists. The Uganda Wildlife Authority used to offer discounts on the gorilla permits during the low season, but this is no longer the case.
Tips on how to cut costs on a gorilla trek safari in Uganda
Seeing gorillas on a budget is hard, but if you follow the steps below, you can reduce the cost of the gorilla safari, making it easy to see gorillas cheaply.
Getting the right tour operator
A tour operator plays an important role in ensuring you trek gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda on a budget. There are a lot of companies that you will find online but you need to be careful about the choice that you make for example, there are a few things you need to first look at before zeroing down on a specific operator and these are: read through the different reviews of the company both good and bad, find out if they are legally allowed to operate within Uganda and Rwanda, check to see if they belong to the registration organizations that is Association of Tour operators in Uganda (AUTO) by sending an email to email@example.com and the Rwanda Development Board.
At first glance, it might look more expensive to work with a registered company, for it is for your safety. Some will advise that you use the unregistered operators but in the long run, it is more expensive and you might end up being scammed which is not the case with registered companies that help you plan your gorilla safari from purchasing the permit to organizing transport and accommodation and all this can be done within your budget. If you are traveling on a budget, let us know and we will help you plan an enjoyable but budget-friendly gorilla trekking safari.
Accommodation is important when planning how to see gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park in Bwindi and Mgahinga in Uganda have accommodation categorized into three: budget, mid-range, and luxury accommodation facilities, which means that you can still travel to the two countries on a limited budget if you choose the right accommodation facility. On the other hand, Rwanda is a luxury gorilla destination, but once you explain your budget to your tour operator, they will advise you accordingly.
Some of the budget-friendly accommodation facilities that are found around Bwindi and Mgahinga include the Buhoma Lodge and Bwindi View Bandas. Lake Kitandara Bwindi camp, Buhoma community Rest camp, CTPH Gorilla Conservation camp, and Sanctuary Gorilla Forest camp. For more budget/ basic accommodation, contact your tour operator to help you make a choice and we advise that you book in advance to avoid last-minute panicking. You can also try camping, although we recommend communicating with the tour operator first to see a way forward.
The number of days
The number of days spent on a gorilla safari also helps determine whether you travel expensively or cheaply for a gorilla trek. One of the best ways to have a cheap gorilla safari is by reducing the number of days spent on the safari. If you had planned on spending five days, you can reduce them to three because the more days spent, the more money spent, and fewer days equal to less money spent on the trekking safari. Note that most tour operators do not plan gorilla safaris that are less than 2 days and therefore you need to plan your budget gorilla safari to at least three days.
Travel in groups
Sometimes tourists prefer having private gorilla trekking safaris but this means that you have to cater for all the costs hence gorilla trekking becoming expensive. But if you are trying to see the gorillas cheaply, we advise that you travel in groups because this reduces the cost since it is shared among travelers. Some of the costs that can be shared include transport, accommodation, and tips, among other costs. It is also fun to travel in groups, and you get to meet people from other walks of life.
The season of travel
Lastly, one way to see gorillas cheaply is by choosing the right travel season and avoiding the crowded season. Two seasons are experienced in Uganda and Rwanda: the peak season (June to October and December to February) and the low season, also known as the green season, experienced from March to May and October to November. During peak seasons, a large crowd of tourists increases the cost of services. On the other hand, the low season is a good time to travel for a gorilla trek because the accommodation rates are reduced during this time, making the safari budget-friendly.
Rules and regulations for gorilla trekking
Long before gorilla trekking and habituation became a known activity, locals who used to live within the national parks poached on the gorillas which led to the gradual decrease of the gorillas which almost led to their extinction. After gazetting the national parks, rules were set to protect the now-endangered species. The gorilla rules and regulations in Uganda and Rwanda are the same, and these include the following:
- Keep a distance of 7 meters from the gorillas. The distance helps reduce the easy transmission of diseases from human interaction.
- No one is allowed to litter the national park. When you have rubbish with you, we advise keeping it until you find the dustbins set up to avoid damaging the ecosystem of Mgahinga.
- Eating, drinking, and smoking while near the gorillas are not allowed.
- The minimum gorilla trekking age in Uganda is 12 years, and this was recently changed to engage more children in exercise. The minimum age in Rwanda is 15 years. There is no maximum trek age as long as you are fit.
- When you need to use the toilet, dig a 30 cm hole and then cover it properly because you will not find any toilets within the jungle.
- Flashlights should be turned off when taking photos because flashlights scare off the gorillas.
- Avoid putting on sunglasses because when gorillas see their reflection, they might be tempted to attack.
- When gorillas approach you, do not run but walk backward and reach a crouch position to show submissiveness towards the dominant male silverback.
- Avoid making noise with the gorillas, turn off your phones, and do it in harsh tones if you need to communicate.
- Follow all the guidelines given to you by the tour guides.
Packing list for a gorilla safari
A packing list for a gorilla safari involves numerous items that are all essential to the success of the gorilla trek. Uganda and Rwanda have two seasons, the wet and dry seasons, and you will need to pack appropriately according to the season of travel. However, note that the weather changes drastically, and you must be ready. The packing list for a gorilla trek is listed below.
- Long-sleeved shirts and trousers. These protect your body from scratches, the sun, and insect bites. The clothes packed should at least not be of bright colors, black heats up fast, bright colors attract a lot of attention and blue attracts tsetse flies. Neutral-colored clothes, most likely khaki, are best for your gorilla safari.
- Strong ankle hiking boots for hiking through the forest. Ensure that the boots are not ill-fitting to avoid blisters on your feet and if possible, try them on and use them before coming for the safari.
- Sunhat, sunscreen for skin protection, insect repellent to avoid insect bites, wet wipes, and toilet paper.
- A day back, this will help carry all the essential items you need throughout the hike.
- A fully stocked first aid kit.
- A camera, extra batteries, lenses, equipment, and binoculars.
When is the best time to book a gorilla trip to Uganda and Rwanda?
Uganda and Rwanda experience two seasons that is the wet and dry seasons. The dry season from June to September and December to February is considered to be the best time to go for a gorilla trek in both countries because of the weather conditions that make it easy to spot the gorillas and other primates, the trek routes are easy to use because they are not slippery and muddy.
The wet season, on the other hand, is a good time for gorilla trekking. You will, however, need to be able to brave the rains received during this time. It is a good season for traveling, especially if you are on a low budget because this a low season and the accommodation costs are reduced to attract more tourists.
How to get to the gorilla destinations
Uganda: Getting to Bwindi and Mgahinga was made easy with two options: road or air. Driving to Bwindi and Mgahinga from Kampala takes 9 to 10 hours, with a few stops along the way, including the Kayabwe stop where the Equator monument is found. Driving takes time, but it is the most scenic way of getting to the national parks. Charter flights from Entebbe International Airport and Kajjansi Airstrip to the Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrip. A safari vehicle will take you for the rest of the journey to either Bwindi or Mgahinga. If you plan on flying, you must note that all flights must be booked in advance to ensure that the planes are available on your trek dates.
Rwanda: Volcanoes National Park is just 2 to 3 hours from Kigali International Airport, the main entrance into the country. Once you land in the country, a safari vehicle with a tour guide will drive you to the national park through Kigali for your gorilla safari.
All in all, gorilla trekking has been termed as an expensive activity and most tourists believe that they cannot enjoy the safari but with the few steps mentioned above, you can still get to enjoy a gorilla safari cheaply in both Uganda and Rwanda.
Contact us and let us plan your safari today.