Gorilla trekking in Uganda
Gorilla trekking in Uganda gives you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the amazing mountain gorillas of central Africa’s rainforests on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains and in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Travelers who have experienced this Uganda safari give it great praise. No other wildlife encounter in Africa, according to some, comes close to the unforgettable thrill of getting up close and personal with Uganda’s wild gorillas in their native habitat.
Outside of their natural habitat, mountain gorillas cannot thrive, and therefore cannot be kept in zoos. They only inhabit Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two remote rainforest jungles in east and central Africa. The last few enormous apes are fiercely guarded by these nations, like a king’s fortress from the Middle Ages. The only way to view mountain gorillas is to travel to one of the three independent countries.
Where to Trek Gorillas in Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are the two places in Uganda where one can go gorilla trekking. Due to its larger gorilla population, superior location for fly-in safaris, and wider selection of lodging alternatives, Bwindi is by far the more popular option. The park you choose to visit will depend on your overall trip itinerary and the amount of time you have. The two parks’ permit costs and sighting probabilities are identical.
During gorilla trekking in Uganda, you will visit both Bwindi and Mgahinga, located in deep southwest Uganda, close to the borders with Rwanda to the south and the DRC to the west. The southwest of Uganda is home to many safari locations. This makes it simple to combine a gorilla trek with a savannah safari to create a single itinerary packed with unforgettable encounters. Uganda is a tiny nation, yet it has a lot to offer.
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The primary location for gorilla trekking in Uganda is Bwindi. Four trailheads here provide access to habituated families: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. There are distinct qualities, families, and levels of difficulty at each trailhead. You join a group of trekkers (maximum group size of 8 people) for a guided trip into the forest in search of one of the 21 habituated gorilla families, setting off from one of the four trailheads on the forest’s edges.
As you hike to the gorillas under the direction of knowledgeable Uganda Wildlife Authority guides, you will learn about the ecology of the forest and the shifting environment. The group of trackers who have been following the gorillas since dawn are in contact with your guides. Your guides are instructed by the trackers to lead you to the gorillas.
There is one daily trek that leave from the base camp; they can only accommodate groups of eight and typically depart at 9:00am. The maximum group size is set to protect gorillas from airborne infections and to maximize the likelihood of sightings because these (surprisingly) timid animals are frequently scared away by bigger groups.
The towering southwest inclined slopes and terraced volcanoes present an intimidating opponent right away. It takes trudging through the dense, triffid-like vegetation, through muddy hills, and down into rocky valleys to reach this gorilla region. The difficult terrain and high altitude make the journey exhausting, but the rewards are even more magical.
As the gorillas approach after making contact, there is typically a silent pause in the middle of the thick vegetation. It is a genuinely stunning experience to observe the gorillas in their natural habitat when they do emerge, with the lush forest serving as the ideal backdrop. The rustling of leaves as the gorillas play and roam quickly breaks any silence, and the calls, whistles, and whoops of countless animal species for miles around create the ideal soundtrack. You have up to an hour with the gorillas after making contact. If you wanted to spend more time with the gentle giants, you could sign up for a gorilla habituation experience and stay with them for up to four hours.
Gorilla trekking sectors
There are four trailheads where habituated families can be reached: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. There are distinct qualities, families, and levels of difficulty at each trailhead. Treks to 21 completely habituated gorilla family groups can be started from the trailheads. The typical walks start early in the morning and last up to 2 hours, during which time you can observe gorillas from a distance of roughly ten meters. Although most sightings happen within 2-3 hours, the treks can be rather difficult, and you should be prepared to trek for up to 6 hours.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga
Mgahinga National Park is a well-liked alternative for cross-over itineraries with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park because it is close to the Rwandan border. In addition, it’s the only location in Uganda where you can go golden monkey trekking. Combining a gorilla hike in Mgahinga with a trip to Bwindi is a popular choice. Compared to Bwindi, Mgahinga is more remote, and the hikes there are easier. Here, fewer permits are available. There is only one family that has been accustomed to making contact in Mgahinga, despite the fact that gorilla families frequently cross the border from Rwanda to Uganda. Its five silverbacks, two adult females, and three baby gorillas are collectively known as the Nyakagazi group.
Mgahinga was once utilized as an “overflow” location for gorilla trekking in Bwindi, but this has changed for two reasons. The first is that, because Rwandan gorilla permits now cost $1,500 per person, tourists are choosing to first tour Rwanda before hopping across the border to Mgahinga, where treks are only $700 per person. The beauty of Mgahinga as a destination is the second justification. You could spend a week in the far south-west of Uganda and save the rest of the country for a subsequent trip because it is so near to the lakes Mutanda and Bunyoni.
The volcanoes at Mgahinga can also be climbed; these climbs are extremely challenging, exceeding 4,000 meters and taking 8 to 9 hours, but they are also quite rewarding. Only 10% of all gorilla treks in Uganda take place in Mgahinga; the vast majority take place in Bwindi!
The best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda
The equatorial environment of Uganda ensures that temperatures are fairly stable throughout the year. The only factor separating the seasons is rainfall. The long rainy season lasts from March to May, and the short rainy season lasts from October to November. Anytime of the year is a good time to visit the gorillas. Sadly, this no longer applies; in the past, the cost of gorilla permits varied according to the season. The choice of when to come should be made based on your availability, the availability of permits, and your vacation plans outside of gorilla trekking since permit rates are set year-round.
How to secure your gorilla permit?
At this time, the cost of a gorilla permit is set at $700 USD per person for foreign nonresidents, $600 for foreign residents and 250,000/= for East African citizens. Although the permits are no longer cheaper during the wetter months, they are still simpler to obtain on short notice if you are traveling in Uganda during either the short or long wet season (March to May) or October to November). Permits can sell out up to a year in advance during the busiest travel seasons (January through February and June through August). The number of permits is strictly limited, so we strongly advise making early plans.
One benefit of seeing gorillas in Uganda is the relatively affordable price of permits compared to Rwanda, which is neighboring and where permits currently cost an eye-watering $1500 USD per person. You can also join the habituation team in the Rushaga area in southern Bwindi if an hour of contact simply isn’t enough, if you are a wildlife photographer, or if you are generally fascinated by the behavior of these incredible animals. This experience includes spending up to four hours with the family and observing the members as well as their interactions. Although gorilla permits are non-refundable, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will reimburse half of the fee if you trek and fail to spot a gorilla. However, this hardly ever occurs.
How difficult is the gorilla trek?
You should be prepared to walk over difficult terrain with rocky peaks and valleys for around 3 hours, while sometimes contact can be made after 45 minutes and other times it takes 6 hours. The trekking routes can become exceedingly slick and quite difficult during the wet season. You should be ready to go for up to 6 hours in any scenario, but sometimes the rain will move the gorillas to lower ground and reduce the walk. The walk is more difficult because there are times when the terrain is steep because gorillas normally favor the highlands.
What to wear on a gorilla trek?
Both at Bwindi and Mgahinga, charging through the thickets of woodland demands a carefully calculated get-up. No matter what time of year you travel, you must be ready for rain because you are on the equator.
For the 2 to 6 hours of trekking, you’ll need to stay cool, so you’ll need clothing that protects you from the weather while still being lightweight and comfortable To safeguard yourself against forest animals (especially fire ants) and spiky plant life, it’s important to keep your skin covered. You’ll want to stay comfy and cool while also staying dry.
The necessary attire includes light, waterproof trekking pants or pants and sturdy, high-quality hiking footwear. Long socks that you can draw up over your jeans or other clothing to protect your skin. Gaters that are waterproof are an even better choice. windbreaker, raincoat, and waterproof jacket. A long-sleeved T-shirt for hiking (ideally Dri-FIT or similar). Gardening or outdoor gloves to shield you from thorns and let you move through the more challenging sections of the trail without being concerned about what you’re holding onto!
Additionally, we advise bringing some sachets of rehydration salts. Although water is given for the hikes, you may become dehydrated after a full day of hiking, in which case salts may offer fast relief. There are walking sticks available for you.
Rules and regulations for gorilla trekking
The park guides will give you a briefing about the guidelines to follow while gorilla tracking before you embark on any trek. It is crucial that you pay close attention to this briefing and follow the guidelines provided. The main points are as follows:
After the initial encounter, you will get an hour to spend with the gorillas. Although one hour might not seem like much time, most individuals feel that it is more than enough time to fully appreciate the event. Joining the gorilla habituation team will allow you to spend up to 4 hours with the gorillas if you choose a longer experience. The practice of undertaking two separate gorilla hikes in various parts of the park.
At all times, you must maintain a minimum distance of 10 meters, and flash photography is not permitted.
If you become ill before the expedition, you are unable to participate in the gorilla trek.
Don’t litter in the forest. Don’t drink eat or smoke in the presence of the gorillas.
Are gorilla sightings guaranteed?
The increase in gorilla populations in Uganda and the expertise of your trekking guide ensure that encounters are virtually always made in Bwindi or Mgahinga. However, we can never guarantee sightings. However, you must be willing to put up the effort because it may take 6 hours of trekking to discover a habituated troop. The Uganda Wildlife Authority will reimburse 50% of your permit fee if you don’t see the gorillas. We have never had a visitor who didn’t see the gorillas during our entire time working in Uganda.
Accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The region of Buhoma is home to the vast majority of the lodges in the Bwindi area. You can trek the Buhoma and Ruhija routes from your base in Buhoma. Simpler locations like Engagi Lodge and Haven Lodge have amassed devoted followings over time. Gorilla Forest Camp and Bwindi Volcanoes Lodge are two of the top options available, while Mahogany Springs and Buhoma Lodge are dependable favorites in the mid-range. Although there are properties in Rushaga and Ruhija, they are less frequently used. Despite being closer to the trailheads, reviews about the quality of the lodging and service are frequently inconsistent. The stunning Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge offers chic, opulent lodging in the deep south, while Nkuringo Lodge offers a slightly more basic—but quickly improving—alternative.