Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a once-in-a-lifetime journey to see the incredible mountain gorillas of central Africa’s rainforests on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains and in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Travelers that have been on this Uganda safari highly rate the activity. They say no other wildlife encounter in Africa compares to the outstanding experience of spending face-to-face time with Uganda’s wild gorillas in a natural setting.
Mountain gorillas cannot survive outside their natural habitat—certainly not in any zoo. They live only in two far-flung rainforest jungles in east & central Africa, specifically Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC. These governments jealously protect the last remaining giant apes like a medieval king’s castle. Your chance of seeing the mountain gorillas is only by visiting either of the three sovereign nations.
The internet buzzes with arguments on which country is the best for the gorilla trekking adventure. However, you have all the power to choose which destination suits your preferences based on how much you’re willing to spend, likes, and dislikes concerning any of the three countries’ offers.
Uganda is arguably the best in delivering a raw untethered jungle experience to the savvy nature lover. If you choose gorilla trekking in Uganda over Rwanda, you must be excited about getting down and dirty.
You’ll find your way through the tall, tangled vines and ancient trees that carpet western Uganda’s rainforest, following an expert tracker clearing the way with a fine-edged machete. Your best foot forward will be wrapped up in light waterproof boots, wearing long jungle pants and a ridiculous hat. Better pack a bag of patience and a good sense of humor to lighten the anticipation.
Rwanda is for bucket-list tickers who want the gorilla trekking adventure without getting down and dirty. The type of travelers that want to spend the evenings surrounded by luxurious amenities and high-speed wi-fi. They usually have the money for it.
Travelers usually avoid DRC sighting its never-ending civil wars. However, some intrepid adventurers that have been to DRC and braved the uncertain eventualities, say great praises for the authentic experience.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda — Guide To See Mountain Gorillas
Where can I see mountain gorillas in Uganda?
There are two gorilla trekking destinations where you can see mountain gorillas in Uganda; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. These two parks offer trekking excursions at five trailheads; Nkuringo, Rushaga, Buhoma, Ruhija in Bwindi, and Ntebeko in Mgahinga, all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority.
All the sectors combined have 20 habituated mountain gorilla families, and 160 gorilla trekking permits are available daily.
The best destination to see mountain gorillas in Uganda is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which has half of the world’s total population. Bwindi is a prehistoric, montane, and lowland forest spanning 131 sq km (128 sq mi). The jungle is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its incredible biodiversity and many endangered species that find sanctuary within its protected boundaries.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the second gorilla park in Uganda, takes a 13 sq mi chunk from the more extensive Virunga habitat stretching 168 square miles into Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mgahinga includes three of the eight major Virunga peaks: Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Sabyinyo.
However, Bwindi outshines all the gorilla trekking destinations because of the many habituated gorilla families available for tourism. The park also has several other activities within and around the park, including birding, nature walking safaris, community programs, habituation experiences.
Which gorilla trekking section you should choose for your adventure excursion will depend on where the gorilla permit will be available when you book. During the peak seasons of June to August and December to February, it can be challenging to own the choice because of the scarcity of permits. But, the low season offers you a chance to choose which trailhead suits you.
What is gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking is defined as the guided hike into the rainforest jungles of the Virunga-Bwindi highlands through tall, tangled scrubs and ancient trees with a machete, heavy boots, and thick trousers.
Since these endangered apes can’t survive in captivity, tourists can only see them by trekking into their natural habitats. The terrain is rugged, steep and the jungles are misty and thick, reaching 14,763 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level.
Daily treks begin at five visitor center locations at 08:00 am, in small controlled groups of eight tourists, an expert tracker, and two armed rangers. You will be walking in untamed territory where anything could potentially be dangerous. Armed rangers are for your security from dangerous animals and anything else that cause visitors harm. The tracker will also be carrying a fine-edged machete for clearing your path and a walkie-talkie to communicate with other rangers and trackers.
Your tracker guide will be communicating with another group of rangers who go out at dawn to find the gorillas before they leave their nests and stay with them throughout the day. They then send coordinates to your tracker and make your trekking less challenging.
When you finally find the gorillas, your trekking guide will ask you to wear your facemask and observe them in silence for one hour at a safe distance of about 32 ft (10 m). Visitors usually find them at their mid-morning break, so there’s less movement during your experience. Mountain gorillas have a very calm demeanor and graciously ignore your presence unless you get out of line with the rules and all!
Sitting in silence on the cold ground of a Ugandan forest for 60 minutes might be one of life’s greatest privileges.
Is it safe to trek gorillas in Uganda?
The idea of getting up close to such an imposing creature is terrifying. Contrary to common belief, gorilla trekking is a safe activity.
Primatologists have habituated the gorillas available for tourism to human presence and put safety procedures in place to allow travelers to approach them safely. Even though they are habituated to human presence, mountain gorillas are powerful and unpredictable wild creatures. A silverback could rip you into pieces if they detected any harmul intent for you. It’s advisable to diligently adhere to the gorilla trekking rules to avoid dangerous encounters.
Firstly, two armed rangers escort you into the gorilla jungle, ensuring your security from aggressive attacks and any other unknown threats. You’re very safe if you don’t wander away from the trekking group.
Secondly, respect that you’re a guest in the wild, and gorillas will tolerate your presence for the specified time. To stay safe, do not do anything outside the rules of gorilla trekking. Follow everything your guide says during the whole expedition.
Thirdly, because of their vulnerability to human disease, by law, you’re not allowed to reach out and touch the gorillas. However, they can sometimes reach out and touch you, especially the curious youngsters. In such instances, do not engage the gorillas and humbly avoid any contact. If the silverback charges, don’t sprint or make sudden movements but curl down in a submissive position, and he’ll back down.
Gorilla populations are already under severe threat from logging, poaching, and human encroachment on their environment. Plus, they are highly susceptible to human diseases. Not only can you not interact with them, but you will have to keep a distance of at least ten meters (32 feet) at all times and wear a face mask. If you are ill with flu or something, you will not be allowed gorilla trekking in Uganda. So ensure you are in excellent health before traveling and taking precautions not to pick up a bug on the flight over.
Sitting a few meters away from a family of gorillas and seeing your humanity reflected in their warm-brown eyes and social rituals is one of the most purifying and intimate wildlife encounters in Africa. If not, the world.
Is Gorilla trekking worth the money?
You can’t put a price on an encounter with a four hundred pound silverback in its natural domain. Gorilla trekking is definitely worth the money because you’ll not only have an experience of a lifetime but also generously contribute to conserving the endangered apes and their habitat. A big chunk of the fees collected from gorilla permits is put back into the conservation efforts.
Secondly, Uganda’s typical all-inclusive gorilla trekking safari is way cheaper than trekking in Rwanda. The costs of a gorilla adventure will often include a local flight ticket between Entebbe & Bwindi and transfers or transport to the gorilla sanctuary (10-hour drive or one-hour local flight), a $700 gorilla permit, and accommodation for three or more days.
Priceless is hiking in the impenetrable jungle as you follow a tracker through the abundance of the tropical rainforest, wiping sweat from your eyes and feeling grateful for your hiking gaiters. Suddenly, your tracker excitedly halts your trekking group – it’s time to meet the dark-furred giants. With a wide grin, your guide turns and whispers the words you’ve been longing to hear: “There they are.” Unhurriedly, with nothing but your camera and the thrill of anticipation, you move forward to meet your protagonist.
You see glossy black bodies against the rainforest’s luminous green; it is the reason you saved your money. You’ve finally met a family of mountain gorillas headed by a watchful but benevolent silverback male.
The efforts leading up to this moment evaporate in an instant, and, for the one enchanting hour you spend with the mighty forest giants, an odd sense of familiarity settles on you. Young gorillas rough and tumble like sumo wrestlers, maternal females gather in grooming groups, occasionally reprimanding the little ones. At the same time, the patriarchal silverback keeps a protective eye on the surroundings.
Yes, the once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking in Uganda is worth your savings.
How Much is Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda primarily costs $700, the price of a gorilla permit. The permit is discounted at $600 to foreign residents and UGX 250 for East African citizens. However, you’ll need more than a permit to make it to the gorilla sanctuary. Consider accommodation near the park entrance because treks start early in the morning. Accommodation usually includes meals. Also, consider transfers, other activities, and tour operator fees if you’re not backpacking.
Let’s say you travel with a tour operator like Ngoni Safaris. In that case, we’ll charge you $30 to process your gorilla permit only if you don’t use our other services. Transport by road from the airport to your booked gorilla lodge in Bwindi may cost between $120 – $300, including driver fees, fuel, and 4×4 vehicle hire. A scheduled return flight between Entebbe and Kisoro/Kihihi airstrip (2.5 hours outside Bwindi) is about $350. And all-inclusive descent accommodation around Bwindi ranges between $100 – $1000 per night. Agency fees could come to about 5% – 30% of the quote.
Now that you know a bit about the main costs of the trip, you can approximate what you’ll spend on a gorilla trekking safari journey in Uganda.
When is the best time for gorilla trekking in Uganda?
Although gorilla trekking is a year-round activity, the best time to see mountain gorillas in Uganda is during the dry seasons of June to August and December to February. During the dry season, the forest floor is drier and less slippery. Also, there’s a lesser chance of a downpour during your trekking experience, and photography will be more rewarding.
During the heavy rains of April and May, the roads may be impassable, and your Uganda safari itinerary could be disrupted by torrential downpours creating some uninvited annoyances. The wet seasons in Uganda are considered the low travel season where fewer travelers come into the country and properties lower prices to attract the few that can come.
Some intrepid travelers who can withstand the drenching walks use the low season to take advantage of the discounts and the heavenly privacy at destinations. You could find just yourself in the entire lodge or trekking with only the rangers during the wet season.
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