Where do you fly to see gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda?
Gorilla trekking is a top tourist activity currently only carried out in three African countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorillas were declared nearly extinct, and this was due to the constant poaching that was carried out by the locals, which caused the gorilla numbers to dwindle drastically. Dian Fossey changed that when she started a campaign to protect the Mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and after her death, the respective governments gazetted off the respective national parks to protect the gorillas. The gorillas are now increasing in number, and gorilla habituation was introduced in Bwindi to ensure that the primates get used to human presence.
Most Popular Safaris
Uganda and Rwanda are the top tourist destinations for gorilla trekking in Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda has half the world’s Mountain gorilla population found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and Bwindi has 10% of the population, making Uganda a top gorilla trekking destination. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is, on the other hand, carried out in the Volcanoes National Park. Getting to these national parks can be done in two ways: by either flying or driving. Driving to the gorilla trekking destinations is more scenic, although it is long. For example, it takes 8 to 10 hours to get to either Bwindi or Mgahinga, and it is about a 2 to 3-hour drive from Kigali International Airport to Volcanoes National Park.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is Uganda’s main tourist and place for gorilla trekking, with half the world’s remaining Mountain gorillas. The national park is divided into four sections, which include Rushaga, Buhoma, Nkuringo, and Ruhija sections, and each of these has different gorilla families that have been habituated to get used to human interaction. The sections, also known as trailheads, are the starting points for gorilla trekking, and the hike can range between 30 minutes to 6 hours, depending on how far the gorilla family you have been assigned to have migrated. The different gorilla families in Bwindi include the following.
Rushaga section: Mishaya family, Nshongi gorilla family, Busingye and Bweza gorilla family.
Buhoma section: Rushegura, Mubare gorilla, and Habinyanja gorilla families.
Ruhija section: Oruzongo gorilla, Kyaguriro, and the Bitukura family.
Nkuringo section: Nkuringo gorilla family
Led by an experienced guide and an armed ranger, groups of 8 people are led through the forest to track the gorillas, and once you get to the gorillas, you get to spend an hour with the primates. Gorilla trekking starts early in the morning with a briefing about the rules you need to follow while gorilla trekking and what to expect within the hour spent with the gorillas.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga
Also located in the southwestern part of Uganda, Mgahinga National Park is located further along the border of Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a popular tourist attraction and the only other destination in Uganda where you can go for gorilla trekking. Mgahinga is also the only other place where you can go for Golden Monkey trekking. Mgahinga receives fewer visitors than Bwindi because there is only one gorilla family to trek in the park. The Nyakagezi gorilla family is the only family in Mgahinga that is open to the public. However, you can still join trekking in the Nkuringo sector in Bwindi with Mgahinga gorilla trekking.
Mgahinga National Park has about 10% of the world’s gorilla population. It has the beautiful scenery of the Lakes Bunyonyi and Mutanda and can easily be accessed from Rwanda. Other activities are carried out in Mgahinga, including exploring the Batwa trail, visiting the local communities, golden monkey trekking, and birding, among others.
Flying to Uganda for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is carried out in the further southwestern part of the country, and you can either use road or air transport. Flying is expensive, but it is the best, most comfortable, and fastest way to get to the National Parks. Flights are chartered from Entebbe International Airport and Kajjansi Airstrip to either Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrip, where a safari vehicle (that is if you booked through a local tour operator) will drive you to your accommodation within the national parks.
Entebbe International Airport
Entebbe International Airport is the main entrance to all visitors coming into Uganda and the country’s national Airport in Entebbe. Charter flights using Aero Link Uganda depart from Entebbe to either Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrip daily for tourists traveling to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park.
This is one of the airstrips used to get to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks in Uganda. It is the smallest National Park in Uganda and, simultaneously, the 3rd largest in the country. Domestic flights are chartered daily from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip to Kihihi Airstrip, found in Kanungu district and named after Kihihi town.
Kisoro Airstrip is strategically located at the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The three countries share the Virunga region, where the Mountain gorillas are trekked. Kisoro airstrip is the best and most used for travelers heading to Bwindi, and it will get you to the southern sections, including Nkuringo and Rushaga.
Flying to Rwanda for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is done in Volcanoes National Park, and the easiest way to get there is by flying to Kigali International Airport, located in the capital city of Rwanda, and then driving for about 2 to 3 hours to the National Park. Kigali International Airport is Rwanda’s national Airport. When you fly into the country, a safari vehicle organized by your tour operator and an experienced tour guide will be waiting at the Airport to drive you to your destination, Volcanoes National Park, for your gorilla trekking safari.
Getting a gorilla permit
Gorilla permits are official documents used to gain access to the Mountain gorillas; without them, no one can go gorilla trekking.
In the past, Gorilla trekking permits were discounted during the wet season, but this is no longer the case as the wildlife authority bodies have come up with standard prices to protect the gorillas and conserve the wild. The gorilla permits are in high demand during the peak season (June to September) and sell out fast, so we strongly advise that you plan early.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is more expensive than trekking in Uganda. The gorilla permit fee only covers the 1 hour spent with the gorillas and entrance to the national parks. It does not cover transport, accommodation, and other purchases, which are to be paid separately. The cost of a gorilla trek has been listed below.
Foreign non-residents $800
East African Citizens $70
And gorilla habituation costs foreign non-residents $1500 per person and 300,000 UGX for East African citizens.
Foreign non-residents $1500
East African citizens $300
When is the best time to go trekking?
Uganda and Rwanda experience the equatorial climate with two wet and dry seasons. The tropical climate has consistent temperatures throughout the year, separated by the two seasons, meaning the gorillas can be visited all year round. The dry season is from June to September and December to February, whereas the wet season is experienced from March to May and October to November.
The cost of the gorilla permits throughout the year is constant; the only change is the cost of accommodation, transport, and other costs. The dry/peak season has large crowds of tourists coming in for gorilla trekking, which hikes that cost, whereas the wet/low season has fewer crowds, making it the best time to trek for those who are on a budget and wouldn’t mind a little bit of rain.
How difficult is gorilla trekking?
Trekking through the dense forest in the different seasons might be challenging, but with the help of tour guides and armed rangers, it becomes easier if you follow the rules set up by the Wildlife authorities.
Note that trekking is carried out in a jungle with different terrain, and you should be prepared for it by preparing mentally and physically for the hike.
What to wear for a gorilla trek in Uganda and Rwanda
Considering that you will be trekking through the jungle for some time, you still decide you should get the right clothes for the hike if you want to enjoy the trip. Gorilla trekking clothes for Rwanda and Uganda are the same; you need comfortable clothing on you to protect your skin and have a comfortable trek. The essential gorilla trekking clothes include:
- Waterproof and lightweight trousers. We advise that you avoid jeans because they make the trek slow and more difficult when they soak through.
- Long-sleeved shirts. Avoid colors blue because of the tsetse fly attraction, black because it absorbs heat, and camouflage because of its attachment to the army. Pack neutral-colored clothes to blend in with the jungle and not stand out.
- Waterproof Gaiters and thick socks
- Gardening gloves protect your skin from scratches and thorns as you go through the jungle.
- A waterproof jacket or a windbreaker
- A sunhat protects your hair from sticking on the tree branches and the sun.
- Strong waterproof-fitting hike boots.
Rules for gorilla trekking
The rules to be followed during a gorilla trek in Uganda and Rwanda were set up to protect the gorillas. These are told to every group of trekkers at the start of the hike so that no mistakes are made, and the rules that need to be followed include:
- There is no littering in the National Park, and in cases where you have rubbish, you are to keep it until you find a bin.
- The minimum age for gorilla trekking in Uganda is 15 years, and 15 years in Rwanda. There is, however, no maximum age limit for as long as you are fit.
- A group of 8 people is allowed to trek a gorilla family per session. If you are to go for gorilla habituation in Rwanda, then a group of 4 people spends a maximum of 4 hours with the primates.
- You are not allowed to eat and drink when with the gorillas.
- Do not smoke in front of the gorillas.
- Avoid trekking to protect the gorillas from falling sick because they are easily prone to diseases.
- When you want to use the toilet, dig a hole about 30 cm deep, and after you are done, cover it well.
- Do not approach the gorillas, and in cases where one comes you, do not run, crouch into a submissive nature, and they will back away.
- Avoid staring the gorillas in the eye and putting on sunglasses when with the gorillas.
Packing list for a gorilla trek
A good gorilla packing list is the key to enjoying gorilla trekking; some of the things that should appear on your list include a walking stick or trekking pole, sunscreen, insect repellent, refillable water bottle, snacks, sunglasses, a day backpack (waterproof if possible), neutral colored clothes and all the traveling documents needed.
Your traveling budget will determine where to fly for a gorilla trekking experience in Uganda and Rwanda. If you are on a budget, we advise going for gorilla trekking in Uganda since it is cheaper whether you plan to go to Bwindi or Mgahinga. But if you are looking for a luxury gorilla safari, Rwanda is the perfect destination.
Contact us for more information.