Comparing Gorilla Trekking in Uganda vs. Rwanda, where should you go tracking the mountain gorillas? Which country offers a better experience?
The gorilla viewing experience is no different in either Rwanda or Uganda. However, both countries offer different experiences in reaching the gorillas and the bureaucratic process of planning a gorilla adventure. To clearly understand the differences in both destinations, one has to consider other modalities, including the cost of the trip, safety, degree of hiking, accommodation options, and how to get there.
It may seem unfair to compare gorilla trekking in Uganda vs. Rwanda because both destinations offer quite different attractions to complement a gorilla safari. However, most tourists would like value for money by adding a few more activities on their itinerary for intimately connecting with the destination.
Uganda offers a lot more wildlife attractions than Rwanda. It has 10 national parks that combine so well with gorilla trekking in two gorilla parks; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. On the other hand, Rwanda has four national parks, with only two combining well with gorilla trekking and only one gorilla habitat; Volcanoes National Park. Also, Uganda is nine times bigger than Rwanda, which means that navigating Rwanda is easier, and transport to the gorilla habitat is easier in Rwanda than in Uganda.
Nonetheless, the mountain gorillas in both countries are the same species, behave the same (though some family characters differ), visitor numbers are restrictive in both countries, and a one-hour visit with a gorilla family will give you the same bucket-load of emotions.
However, in light of the above, we will provide you with all the gorilla trekking highlights and lowlights in both countries to make a suitable choice for yourself.
Mountain gorillas live in two regions in east-central Africa and nowhere else in the world. The first gorilla habitat is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where almost half of the total mountain gorilla population finds refuge. The second habitat is on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC.
Tourists can see mountain gorillas in two destinations in Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks), one destination in Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park), and one destination in DRC (Virunga National Park). Uganda and Rwanda provide the best gorilla viewing experiences because of their safety, accommodation choices, and simple logistics.
Unlike Rwanda, Uganda offers five trailheads where gorilla trekking excursions are based, while Rwanda has only one. There are four trailheads on the borders of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, including Buhoma (North of the park), Nkuringo (South), Rushaga (South), and Ruhija (East). The fifth trailhead is in Mgahinga National Park, the park that shares habitat with Rwanda and DRC. All trekking excursions in Rwanda start at a single trailhead 110 km from Kigali at Kiningi in Ruhengeri, Musanze province.
In Uganda, one can buy a gorilla permit to see one of the 20 habituated gorilla families available for tourism; 19 in Bwindi and the other in Mgahinga. Only eight people can be escorted into the jungle to meet a single gorilla family per day in Uganda. At the same time, only six (recently reduced from 8) can see one of the 10 habituated gorilla families per day in Rwanda.
Gorilla trekking is a highly restricted and highly sought-after activity on East Africa safari itineraries, making the gorilla permit a very scarce item. Uganda Wildlife Authority currently issues out 152 gorilla permits and 8 habituation permits per day. At the same time, the Rwanda development board also issue 60 gorilla permits per day. Therefore, it’s highly advisable to process your gorilla permit with a licensed safari operator at least 4 months before your date of travel.
A gorilla permit in Uganda costs USD 700/$600/UGX250,000 per person per day for foreign non-residents/foreign residents/EA nationals. Sometimes the permit is discounted, especially during low travel seasons (check with your tour manager for the correct dates). A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs USD 1,500 per person per day.
If pricing is a great factor in your choice of gorilla trekking in Uganda vs Rwanda, then Uganda offers a more budget friendly option than Rwanda. But before you lock down on your choice, you may want to look at other factors like accommodation and transfers before you make your choice.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is Uganda’s gorilla trekking jewel. About half of the world’s mountain gorillas live in Bwindi, and nineteen gorilla families are habituated within the park. In Bwindi, tourists can track gorillas from any of the four different sectors, including Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and the Nkuringo, all under the management of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the other gorilla destination in Uganda, is home to one habituated gorilla family called the Nyakagezi group, a nomadic group known to cross the border into Rwanda and DR Congo’s Virunga National Park.
Rwanda offers gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, which is only 3 hours drive (110 kilometers) from Kigali International Airport. Ten habituated groups are available for tourism, limited to only eight people per day per group. A Rwanda Gorilla permit buys you 1 hour with the gorillas. The gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park include Susa group, Karisimbi, Uganda, Umubano, Sabinyo, Hirwa, Amahoro, Bwenge, Agasha, and the Kwitonda
Trekking mountain gorillas is not a dangerous activity. Animal experts have habituated all gorilla groups available for tourism in these wild jungles to avoid dangerous encounters with humans. The gorillas seem very dominant and very strong when seen but are shy to aliens in their habitat and will only attack to protect their own when they feel threatened. Your guide will advise you to take extraordinary precautions not to threaten them when you meet them.
The jungle, where you’ll find the mountain gorillas, is not a paved zoo or forest with visible trails. It is somewhat dark, misty, uneven ground, steep climbs, large trees, thickets that may need a machete, and the ground is mostly dumping. So be ready to put in some work to get to the mountain gorillas.
Heading into the jungle alone may be too scary than meeting the gorillas. Depending on where the gorilla group is located, one could be jungle trekking Gorillas from 1 to 8 kilometers over very steep inclines and muddy terrain in some instances.
You also must be concerned about the human disease infections to gorillas: conservationists put several operating procedures to cab infections from humans way back before COVID-19, and those measures are improved as the situation requires. Today all tourists are required to test negative to COVID-19, wear a face mask, sanitize, and stay at most 10 meters from the mountain gorillas. These procedures keep the gorillas safe within their habitat.
It is also possible to see mountain gorillas in DR Congo’s Virunga National Park. Although the gorilla permits are only $400, the area is unstable due to the political, military, and rebel activities.
There is a probable threat to visitors’ lives, and travel advisories strongly do not recommend traveling there. In most cases, your Travel Insurance becomes void.
The main threat to mountain gorillas is human encroachment, poacher, and diseases. However, tourism authorities have sensitized the community, reserved the forest, even evicting Batwa pigmy’s from the forest, and regulate and prevent the spread of diseases. They have conservation measures, thus controlling visitors’ number around the gorilla group’s fragile natural habitat to only eight people.
It is essential to pack sturdy hiking boots for hiking steep and muddy trails—gloves to protect your hands when you grab branches and vines. Rain jacket or poncho in case it rains. Plenty of water to keep you hydrated. Energy snacks to keep you going during the tough trekking. Long pants and shirts to prevent any bug bites.
Here’s are comprehensive lists of what you can consider packing;
Mountain gorillas are, in essence, gentle giants. They show very little aggression toward each other, and their overall vibe is incredibly peaceful. In essence, they’re more scared of your presence than you are. However, there is always a potential danger when you are close to wildlife. You can minimize the risks greatly by exercising caution and safety guidelines put in place by the authorities.
The frequently poached gorillas in DR Congo moved to the Uganda or Rwanda sides of national parks in the Virunga Mountains giving Uganda an upper hand for trekking.
Experiencing these fantastic creatures and getting to the gorillas takes more effort, more time, and more expense than a traditional African safari. However, you will enjoy value for your money.
Your choice from all we’ve written about gorilla trekking in Uganda vs Rwanda will come down to your preferences. Remember it is the experience that matters. Choose the destination that fits your travel goals, budget, and comfort zone.
Gorilla trekking in either Rwanda or Uganda combines well with Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti for the world-famous Annual Wildebeest Migration safari. Alternatively, Uganda also offers good safaris within their savannah game parks like Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, and Kidepo National Parks. It would make much sense to avoid crossing borders, stay safe, and do your entire gorilla tracking and wildlife safari in Uganda.
Nkuringo Safaris is one of the pioneer gorilla safari operators in Uganda. Our trips are entirely customizable with the help of any of our experts. We take care of processing your gorilla permit, book your accommodation, deal with the transfers and manage your itinerary to give you the rest of your journey for your uninterrupted experience. Send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or through the booking form to get quick attention from our safari experts.