Gorilla Trekking Uganda - An Unforgettable Journey into Africa's Heart
Uganda’s lush and dense rainforests are home to mountain gorillas, apparently the best ape species to encounter in Africa. Gorilla trekking in Uganda is the primary face of the tourism industry, and offers tourists a lifetime chance to come face to face with gorillas in their natural habitat. Uganda gorilla safaris are the best when it comes to trekking with gorillas in the wild.
The Uganda gorilla safari trek itself is amazing. You traverse trails through dense vegetation, with very good views of the landscape; knowing when you finally meet the gorillas, you’ll actually help them grow in numbers as majority of your gorilla permit fees is channeled towards conservation of these gentle giants.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is truly an unforgettable experience and should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
About Uganda: The Mountain Gorilla Trekking Capital
Uganda, commonly referred to as the “Pearl of Africa” is one of the most visited East African countries when it comes to tourism. The country has an incredible biodiversity and natural beauty.
Mountain gorillas are the primary face of the Uganda Tourism Industry; with over half the remaining population residing in two protected gorilla parks; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, earning it the “gorilla trekking capital” name. These are the same parks you'll visit on Uganda gorilla tours.
The Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi and Mgahinga
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not only the most famous gorilla trekking Uganda destination but also the best destination for trekking gorillas in the world.
The park shelters around 459 mountain gorillas, nearly half the remaining population of mountain gorillas in the world.
Perched in the extreme southwestern corner of Uganda (In the Virunga Conservation Area), Mgahinga shares its borders with DR Congo and Rwanda. It is another Uganda gorilla trekking destination but the less popular one.
Mgahinga is home to only one habituated mountain gorilla family, the Nyakagezi group. This family is composed of 2 adult females, 2 infants, 2 blackbacks, a toddler, and three silverbacks, with Mark as the dominating silverback, assisted by the others.
The Actual Gorilla Trekking Experience
Gorilla trekking in Uganda begins with briefing at the park headquarters of your respective sector/region. This is also where the mountain gorilla allocation process takes place. Trekkers are split into small groups of 8, with each being assigned with a distinct gorilla family to visit.
The duration of the trek varies according to the gorilla family you are going to trek. Vulnerable or physically disabled trekkers are assigned to the nearest and easiest groups whereas fully healthy trekkers take on the challenging treks. A Uganda gorilla trek many be as short as 30 minutes and might last up to 7 hours.
When with the gorillas in the wild, you are allowed to spend one hour around them. Use this time to photograph them or film them while maintaining a minimum distance of seven to eight meters. Gorillas are wild animals and getting too close to them might be a risk on your side.
This magical hour is one to remember. You’ll watch the gorillas play, feed, climb trees and interact with each other. When your time is up, you’ll trek back to the starting point, pick your gorilla trekking certificates and finish up your trek.
Conservation and Sustainable Tourism
Gorilla trekking Uganda safaris don’t solely benefit tourists, but also boosts gorilla conservation efforts. The revenue generated from gorilla permits is used to conserve these creatures, support the local communities around the park and also pay the rangers and wardens who protect these gorillas.
This sustainable tourism model creates more employment opportunities, protects gorilla habitats and boosts local development. Moreover, gorilla trekking contributes to the worldwide collective effort to save mountain gorillas from extinction.
When you purchase a gorilla permit and visit gorillas in the wild, you create a very deep connection with the primates and commits you to their preservation.
When to Go
Mountain gorillas in Uganda can be visited and trekked throughout the year, although some months are more convenient than others. The dry seasons start from June to September and from December to February, while the wet seasons occur from mid-March to the end of May and from October to November.
The best times for visiting mountain gorillas are during the dry seasons of June to September and December to February. During these periods, it is mostly sunny throughout the day, and the vegetation is not as dense, making it easier to spot mountain gorillas.
In the dry season, the roads to the park are easily accessible, and the trekking trails are in good condition, providing a memorable gorilla trekking experience. Tourists visiting during this peak season should make an effort to obtain their permits in advance before arriving in the country.
Wrapping it up
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is an amazing tour adventure that combines a mountain gorilla encounter with an exceptional scenery viewing experience. It's an experience that can’t easily be forgotten; and shows great reward for nature and wildlife conservation.
If you're looking for the best adventure with mountain gorillas that contributes to a conservation cause, African gorilla trekking in Uganda is an experience you shouldn’t miss.
Commonly referred to as the number one primate trekking destination in the world, Uganda is an amazing place to see mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and wildlife. Uganda boasts with 10 national parks and countless species of wildlife all over the country. When it comes to hospitality, Uganda is one of the most welcoming countries in the world for travelers. Uganda is a home away from home. About Uganda
Between these two parks, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park stands out as the best choice for mountain gorilla safari holidays.
Mountain gorillas share an astonishingly close genetic similarity to humans, second only to Chimpanzees.
This similarity extends to their behavior and traits.
Mountain gorillas, like humans, are identified by their unique nose prints, display intelligence comparable to humans, and exhibit similar behaviors.
They can even appear to express emotions like laughter and anger.
In instances where mountain gorillas charge at humans, displaying a sign of remorse can often calm them down and prevent them from attacking.
Therefore, when you trek gorillas, you are observing a species of apes that share many commonalities with us in terms of behavior.
There is a wealth of knowledge to be gained about mountain gorillas, particularly through a unique opportunity exclusively available to clients planning gorilla treks in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Each sector boasts its own mountain gorilla families and unique terrain.
The Nkuringo sector, situated in the western part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, is home to gorilla families such as the Nkuringo Gorilla Family, Bushaho Gorilla Family, and Christmas Gorilla Family.
Prominent accommodation options in this sector include Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge and Gorilla Heights Lodge.
It’s worth noting that visitors can stay in the Rushaga sector and trek gorillas in the Nkuringo sector, and vice versa.
The Rushaga sector of Bwindi, located in the southern part of the park, boasts the highest number of habituated gorillas among all sectors.
This region is in close proximity to Rwanda and is an ideal starting point for Kigali to Bwindi gorilla trekking tours, with just a four-hour drive from Kigali.
Similarly, visitors can choose to stay in the Rushaga sector and embark on gorilla treks in the Nkuringo sector, and vice versa.
In the eastern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies the Ruhija sector of Bwindi forest, home to several habituated gorilla groups, including the Oruzogo Gorilla Family, Kyaguriro Gorilla Family, and Bitukura Gorilla Family, among others.
The Buhoma sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park was the first region in the park to welcome tourists and is home to the oldest gorilla family in Bwindi.
Situated in the northwestern part of the park, it offers a captivating gorilla trekking experience.
The Four Trailheads of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Referred to as the best gorilla park in the world, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a great place to trek mountain gorillas.
The park itself is isolated from the others in the Virunga Conservation Area, such as Volcanoes National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Virunga National Park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has four sectors, with the Buhoma Sector (Northern Region) being the oldest. These sectors include:
Buhoma Sector of Bwindi
Ruhija Sector of Bwindi
Rushaga Sector of Bwindi
Nkuringo Sector of Bwindi
Gorilla trips in Uganda began in the Buhoma Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the late nineties.
This is the same sector where the horrific Bwindi Massacre took place.
Besides being the first and oldest, Buhoma has established itself as one of the best and busiest sectors in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
To the east is the Ruhija Sector, which is apparently the most accessible sector of all.
The Ruhija sector/region of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is not far from the tarmacked road.
Clients are not allowed to carry heavy photography or filming equipment to the forests/jungles/mountains under the ordinary gorilla permit prices.
They’ll have to pay the respective filming and photography charges irrespective of the destination that they are in.
How difficult is the trek itself?
Gorilla trekking is one of the most sought-after tourist activities, albeit the most expensive one in Africa.
It is challenging to determine the level of difficulty or ease associated with gorilla trekking in a particular country or national park.
The ease or difficulty of the trek largely depends on the gorilla family’s location you intend to track, with some families being relatively easier to locate compared to others residing in higher elevations.
This journey entails traversing tough terrain and dense jungles, necessitating the use of long-sleeved clothing to shield against biting insects and carrying raincoats in case of rainfall during the trek.
Mountain gorillas inhabit higher elevations that demand a certain level of physical fitness to conquer.
If you are not in good physical condition, you might become very tired and slow down the pace for other hikers.
It is advisable to engage in physical exercises before the actual trekking date.
Additionally, mountain gorilla trekking becomes more challenging when it rains because the trekking trails become exceedingly muddy and slippery, making it difficult to track the gorillas.
The best option is to plan your visit during the dry season, which typically occurs from June to September and December to February.
Comparing Rwanda vs Uganda gorilla trekking experiences
Gorilla tracking in Uganda is awesome and most preferred because of the affordable gorilla permit prices, multiple trekking destinations, various sectors; Buhoma Sector, Ruhija Sector, Rushaga Sector, and Nkuringo Sector, various accommodation facilities ranging from budget to luxury, and several other advantages.
Mountain gorillas in Uganda are found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is very popular and turns out to be the most visited because of the multiple gorilla families it has.
Gorilla permits in Uganda cost USD 700 each irrespective of the month you are visiting (low, high, and peak seasons).
So many people go to see gorillas in Uganda, and everyone has a different story to tell. This is what actually makes it fun.
You can never predict what your experience will be like. You could spend longer or shorter to reach the gorillas or actually trek in rain or hot sunshine irrespective of the month you are visiting.
Gorilla tracking is loved by many, and we admit it is an awesome activity. However, it can be dangerous sometimes as it involves meeting wild gorillas.
Much as these gorillas are habituated and made friendly to humans, they still remain wild gorillas as they roam in the wild.
It is easy to cross the line and annoy them if you do not follow the set rules and guidelines.
Because of this, not all age groups are allowed access to gorilla trek. An adult is likely to consent to set rules and regulations, which is exactly the opposite with kids who are so playful in nature.
Besides, the actual trek is tiresome as well, and much as the group moves at the pace of the slowest person, the last thing the rangers want is a member of the group giving up early and causing a delay to the rest.
Because of this, the set minimum age limit for gorilla tracking in Uganda is 15 years of age.
Authorities assume at this age, a child is old enough to adhere to set rules and guidelines and hike in the forest without or with fewer disturbances.
A child younger than 15 years of age cannot trek gorillas.
However, in Uganda, you stand a chance. A child between the ages of 11 onwards may trek gorillas on condition that the parents sign an indemnity form claiming responsibility for any unexpected occurrences that might arise from the trek should your child break any of the rules or rather fail to make it to the gorillas.
If your child gets tired along the way, you will have to pay approximately $420 for sedan seat services so that they are carried up to the gorillas and back.
Essential gorilla trekking requirements & packing list for Uganda
Below are some of the essential gorilla trekking requirements and equipment that you will need to fulfill before you meet the gorillas:
Gorilla permits: The most important requirement for tracking gorillas is a gorilla permit. Each permit entitles you to one gorilla encounter. Clients who wish to trek gorillas multiple times should acquire additional permits depending on the total number of encounters they wish to have. Uganda gorilla permits are purchased from Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala. Trekking permits are sold on a first-come-first-serve basis; hence, clients are advised to make their bookings several months in advance to avoid missing out.
Good health: Another important requirement is a sound and healthy body. Considering their closeness to humans, mountain gorillas are susceptible to infectious diseases, and their immunity is not strong enough to fight diseases. This can lead to the demise of many members of a gorilla family. Clients with infectious diseases like cough, influenza, or any other airborne diseases will not be permitted to join other travelers in the trek to cut out the risk of gorilla infection. Taking flu shots and ensuring your health is very vital to your preparation process, and you should take this seriously to avoid any disappointments.
Gorilla trekking gear & equipment: To make your trek even easier and much more comfortable, you need the necessary gorilla trekking gear and the right clothing before you embark on your journey into the forest or mountains to search for mountain gorillas. Some of the gear you need includes cameras for recording, a walking stick, sunglasses, insect repellents, energy snacks, and many more.
First aid kit: Most importantly, carry a small first aid kit since there is no hospital in the jungle. Having one keeps you safe in case of any minor injuries during your trek.
Proper clothing: As for clothing, long trousers, long-sleeved tops, rain jackets, hats, and long hiking boots are highly recommended.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking Cost: What You Need to Know
The total cost of gorilla tracking depends on several factors, including the choice of accommodation, the country from which you are trekking gorillas, the Uganda tours and travel company you are using, the number of trekking iterations you want, the duration of your trip, the type of safari vehicle used, any special requests for gorilla trekking, and the actual type of experience you want (whether gorilla habituation or gorilla tracking), among other factors.
The most important cost of all is the gorilla permit cost, as this is what unlocks everything.
Without the availability of a gorilla permit, it is very hard to determine which accommodation you will stay in and plan the other aspects of the trip.
So, while you make further plans and research regarding the total gorilla trekking cost, you should highly prioritize the gorilla permit fees.
Regarding accommodation, budget lodges cost less, mid-range lodges have average prices, whereas luxury lodges are more expensive.
As for trekking iterations, each gorilla trek requires a gorilla permit.
So, assuming you plan to trek gorillas four times, you’ll need four separate permits for that.
In terms of the duration of the trip, the longer your trip, the more expensive it becomes because each day in the itinerary calls for expenses such as meals, accommodation, transportation fees, guiding fees, and activity fees (if any).
Regarding transportation, land cruisers are charged at a higher rate than normal safari vans.
If you intend to use a land cruiser (whether short or extended), you’ll notice a sudden increase in the total price of your safari.
Discover the Gorilla Families of Uganda
Over the years, the population of mountain gorillas has steadily increased, a significant sign that the conservation efforts in place are actually paying off.
Mountain gorillas live in families headed by a Silverback, an alpha-male gorilla that dictates the day-to-day activities of the group, protects them, and reserves the right to mate with the females in the group.
If any other male member of the group wants to mate with a female, he either has to challenge the leading Silverback to a battle and overthrow him or go and start his own family with other females.
If gorilla trekking wasn’t worth it, there wouldn’t be so many gorilla permits available per day.
Uganda is one of the busiest, if not the busiest gorilla safari countries.
Gorilla permits get sold out in advance, hence a clear indicator that trekking gorillas in any of the Ugandan gorilla parks is actually more than worth it.
If the activity wasn’t worth it, very few clients would engage in it.
A gorilla permit costs $700 here in Uganda, making it affordable enough for clients who want to engage in mountain gorilla safari tours.
This permit entitles you to one encounter, inclusive of a full hour around gorillas.
If you’d like to spend longer around mountain gorillas, you’d have to opt for the gorilla habituation experience, whose permit goes for $1500 each.
A gorilla habituation experience allows you up to four full hours around mountain gorillas, learning how they are habituated and made available for public visits.
This activity only takes place in the Rushaga Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and nowhere else in the world.
Lastly, what makes treks worth it is the fact that you contribute to the conservation of these rare apes when you purchase a permit(s).
When booking your trip, do not look at it as giving the government a lot of money for the trek but rather as giving back to the gorillas and the communities around them.
Over 80% of permit fees go back to the conservation of mountain gorillas and helping them multiply in numbers, considering the fact that they nearly went extinct at one point in time.
Gorilla Trekking Clothing: What to wear on a gorilla trek?
Dressing right for your gorilla encounter won’t only save you from insect bites but also pricks from the jungle.
All trekking sectors are in the wild.
You get to hike through tiny trails as you make your way to the exact location of the allocated mountain gorilla family.
If your clothing is not right, trekking might turn out to be a nightmare for you.
Imagine you forgot your garden gloves and happened to grab a plant that pricked you? That wouldn’t be nice.
Clothing should be one of your strongest considerations for gorilla treks.
So what is the appropriate clothing that clients should carry for their Africa gorilla safari experience?
I would say wearing long pants (preferably khaki or jeans), leather hiking boots (should be long), long-sleeved shirts (protects you from insect bites and unnecessary pricks), a rain jacket in case of downpour, a cap and sunglasses in case of excessive sunshine, and garden gloves to protect your palm when you touch rough surfaces.
You should also carry a backpack with you where you’ll put your energy snacks, drinks, cameras, a first aid kit, and a few other necessary trekking gears.
Regarding your dressing, you should endeavor to wear light clothes as it makes you feel lighter, which is good for long hikes.
Heavy clothing can cause extra weight on you and lead to early fatigue. Ensure your dressing is light but essential for the trek.
Crucial Tips for Trekking Gorillas in Uganda
There are so many gorilla trekking travel tips out there that you should definitely read and follow.
Some of them will be read to you prior to your experience, during the morning pre-briefing meeting at the park headquarters. Some of the most essential tips are as follows:
Get your gorilla permit before you arrive (we always have them ready).
Be prepared for any weather by packing all the necessary clothing, just in case the weather changes for the better or worse.
Take food, water, energy snacks, and energy drinks with you to the forest so that you are prepared enough for hunger because hiking is energy-consuming.
Waterproof your cameras and filming equipment to protect them from damage in case of heavy downpour.
Deactivate the flash from your cameras as it frightens gorillas and might cause them to charge at you or worse, injure you.
Take on the necessary training and physical challenges for several months prior to your actual trek.
Travel in the dry season.
Take all the necessary shots to protect you from contracting infectious diseases, as they can be transmitted to gorillas.
Respect the gorilla’s space by maintaining an eight-meter distance because they can get quite dangerous when annoyed or can easily contract infectious diseases from humans.
Ensure your health is sound, as hiking can be tiresome at times, and just in case you have any health issues, endeavor to communicate this to your operator several months prior to your gorilla encounter.
Clients with severe health conditions are usually carried on sedan seats or bamboo stretchers all the way up to the gorillas and back to the starting point of the trek. This will save you from any unnecessary occurrences arising from your health conditions, if any.
What are the accommodation options?
When booking accommodation for your gorilla trek, you have to stay close to the park and sector that you are tracking gorillas from.
Accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Gorilla safari lodges are split into the four sectors of Bwindi. In Buhoma sector, options like Engagi Lodge are highly recommended. Semi-luxe lodges like Mahogany Springs Lodge, Buhoma Lodge are good options for clients looking for an upper mid-range facility. Bwindi Volcanoes Lodge and Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp are the best options in this sector.
Rushaga Sector has quite many accommodation options. Lodges like Rushaga Gorilla Haven Lodge and Gorilla Closeup Lodge are good budget options. Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Camp and Gorilla Valley Lodge are the best mid-range options while Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge is the best luxury option. Another good mention for luxury travelers is Chameleon Hill Lodge.
Most clients that trek gorillas in the Nkuringo Sector of Bwindi prefer sleeping in Rushaga Sector (About 30-40 minutes away). The two best luxury lodges in this sector are Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge and Gorilla Heights Lodge.
Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the less popular Uganda gorilla trekking destination. It is home to only one mountain gorilla family and for this reason, there are not so many accommodation options here.
However, it’s proximity to Rushaga & Nkuringo sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Lake Mutanda, Kisoro and Lake Chahafi makes it accessible from gorilla safari lodges within these areas.
Good luxury gorilla safari lodge options are Mount Gahinga Lodge and Mutanda Lake Resort. Mid-range options include Travelers Rest Hotel, Ichumbi Hotels, Mutanda Lake Resort and Lake Chahafi Resort.
The best budget option here is Mucha Lodge.
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Africa is a gem with lots of unique and awesome travel experiences that you will definitely love. Commonly termed as the best primate trekking continent in the world, Africa has so much more to offer in terms of wildlife, adrenaline activities, mountain climbing adventures, and honeymoons among other experiences.