Gorilla trekking is one of the best-rated wildlife safari experiences that one should try out in a lifetime! This adventure activity is done in the tropical rainforests of Central Africa and it involves tourists hiking on foot in search for the habituated mountain gorillas in their natural homes.
Mountain gorillas are found in only three countries in the world; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the whole world.
Where to Go Gorilla Trekking
Of all these destinations, Uganda is the most favorable destination for gorilla trekking since it has two national parks. These are Bwindi impenetrable National park and Mgahinga National Park.
Uganda hosts over 460 mountain gorillas, which are almost half of the population of mountain gorillas in the world. The gorilla watching experience in Uganda is incomparable to the experience attained from other countries that host the endangered mountain gorillas. Here are the ultimate destinations where to see mountain gorillas;
Bwindi Impenetrable National park
The popular Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in the southwestern part of Uganda. Since Entebbe is the ultimate gateway to Uganda, the park can be accessed from Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale. By road, this journey can be covered within approximately 8-9 hours drive.
From Kigali, the journey takes about 3-5 hours depending on the location of the sector you are looking at visiting.
The park can also be accesed by Air. There are scheduled and charter flights from Kajjansi Airstrip and Entebbe Airport to Kihihi airstrip (north of Bwindi) or Kisoro (South of Bwindi).
The UNESCO heritage site of Bwindi is the ultimate destination for gorilla safaris in Uganda since it hosts almost half of the world’s remaining total population of the mountain gorillas. Within the 128 miles of the forest, 18 habituated gorilla families can be visited by tourists. Each family can be visited by a maximum of eight tourists per day.
In addition to gorilla tracking, Bwindi is the only destination where tourists can also opt for gorilla habituation, an activity that involves tourists participating in the “scientific process” through which wild gorillas are handled to get used to human presence.
The activity of mountain gorilla trekking is conducted in four sectors in Bwindi impenetrable Forest and these are;
The sectors where gorilla trekking in Uganda is done include;
The Buhoma sector is located in the northern part of Bwindi impenetrable National park in Kanungu district. It is an exceptional region of the park making it the most preferred sector to be visited by travelers. Since this was the pioneer sector for gorilla visits in Uganda, its trekking permits are on high demand compared to other sectors.
It hosts the oldest habituated gorilla family called Mubare, which was habituated for tourism in 1992. The Buhoma sector has four gorilla families each with different story which include Mubare group with 9 members, Habinyanja group with 18 members, Rushegura group with 19 members and Katwe group the newest family with 7 members.
This sector is located in Eastern part of Bwindi impenetrable National park between the towns of Buhoma to the north and Kibale town to the south. This is the easiest sector to access from both north and south. It has four gorilla families which include Oruzogo group with 23 members, Bitukura with 14 members and Kyaguliro group with 20 individuals and Mukiza with 10 members.
The Rushaga sector is situated in the southern part of Bwindi Forest and is located in Kisoro District. It hosts the highest number of habituated gorilla families and these include Nshongi group with 25 members, Mishaya group with 12 members, Kahungye group with 13 members, Bweza group with 7 members, Busingye group with 9 members, Bikingi group with 21 members, Rwigi group with 8 members and Mucunguzi group with 9 members.
Rushaga is also perfect gorilla watching because the four-hour gorilla habituation experience is done in this sector. The gorilla family of Bushaho is still reserved for this amazing habituation.
This is the hilliest area of Bwindi and It is situated in the southern part of Bwindi Forest. Often tracked by youthful hikers, Nkuringo has only two gorilla families, Nkuringo gorilla group with 19 members and Christmas Group which consist of 9 members.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The less known Mgahinga Gorilla National park sits high in the clouds of the Virunga Mountains. This small sized national park is one of the most beautiful places in Uganda. It is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area, an important biodiversity area that stretches over the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The park can be accessed from Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara, Ntugamo, Kisoro to Mgahinga National park. The journey takes approximately 9-10 hours drive.
It can also be accessed by air transport and there are flights to Kisoro Airstrip.
The Nyakagezi family is the only habituated gorilla family with the in Mgahinga National park. It hosts nine members including three silverbacks. This park offers an amazing experience to see the great apes since you will enjoy watching the three silverback gorillas in the same family.
Gorilla watching is an adventure activity that is highly regulated so that the concerned authorities can ensure sustainable conservation of the great apes for future generations. With a set carrying capacity in both national parks, the authorities allow a maximum of only eight tourists to visit a habituated gorilla family per day.
Gorilla trekking is strictly limited to a maximum of one hour in the presence of the gorillas while for gorilla habituation; the activity is restricted to a maximum of 4 hours.
More Activities Await You in Bwindi
Though gorilla trekking is the major tourist activity, you can enjoy other adventure activities within Bwindi and Mgahinga. These include;
- Nature walks and hiking in the tropical rain forests of Bwindi impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga
- Bird Watching along the well-developed trails,
- Golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga National park,
- Cultural tours to the pygmies’ i.e. Batwa, Bakiga, Bafumbira etc.
What is the Cost of a Gorilla Safari?
A gorilla safari does not come cheap. A gorilla trekking permits in cost US$600 and the price is yet to increase to US$700. However, Uganda offers the best deal on gorilla trekking since Rwanda sells its gorilla permit at US$1500 per person.
With as low as US$600, Uganda is relatively a cheaper destination if compared to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Generally, gorilla permits are expensive because there is need for conservation of mountain gorillas in their natural habitats. The higher price charged for gorilla permits aims at generating enough revenue that can be used to protect the endangered species and reduce the disastrous effects of mass tourism that can lead to destruction of their natural environments.
The part of the revenues raised from gorilla tourism also used to the raise the standards of living of the people living adjacent to the national parks.
Best time to trek gorillas
Many people wonder about the best time to see the gorillas in the wild. You can go for gorilla trekking anytime of the year!
However you need to know that the dry season makes hiking easier and thus to most tourists, this is the best time to track mountain gorillas. Within Uganda, the dry months are December to February and June to September. Please note that these months are regarded as the high season and it is important to book your gorilla pass well in advance. In these times, the areas receive low rains thus making the trails passable and easier to reach the gorillas.
Important Things to Know Before Planning a Gorilla Visit
Here are some important things to know when planning a gorilla safari in Uganda.
- Book Your gorilla Permit early
Gorilla trekking permits should be booked as early as 5-6 months prior to the trekking time due to the high demand of the permits especially in the high season. Travelers are required to make full payments to ensure early allocation of gorilla families. A gorilla permit in Uganda is issued to persons above 15 years with valid passport number, with full names, trekking dates and country of residents.
- Be in the know of the Gorilla trekking rules and regulations
Before travelers go out for gorilla trekking, they are first briefed on the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking to have a successful trek.
- Only eight visitors are allowed in the presence of the endangered species to avoid over crowing.
- Always wash hands before heading out to the gorillas
- Do not leave rubbish in the forest, which might transfer disease to the animals.
- Do not go trekking when you have cough or flu because you might affect the gorillas leading to death.
- Always keep your voices low when trekking gorilla because you might scare them away.
- Keep 7 meters away from the gorillas to avoid them from catching diseases.
- Always turn away from the gorillas when you sneeze or cough.
- Pack the Right Gear
Gorilla trekking involves hiking through the forested jungles. It is therefore important to carry the right gear. You will need the following items;
- Good hiking boots to pass through the bushy and hilly trails.
- Rain jacket (or poncho) in case rain comes
- Long trousers and long sleeved shirts or blouses
- Gardening gloves that protect from the harsh branches
- Wear hut that protects you from sun and rain
- Insect repellant to avoid insect bites
- Cameras and lenses to take enough pictures
- Where to book gorilla
Gorilla safaris in Uganda are booked through tour companies and it is important to book your trip early in advance. Since gorilla permits sell out fast, you need to plan your trip at least 4 months before the actual travel dates most especially if you are to travel during the peak months. If you are caught up by time, you can look for last minute deals from local tour operators since they are more aware about the actual state of availability of gorilla permits.