A Tale of Two Countries: Comparing Gorilla Trekking Experiences in Uganda and Rwanda
Are you dreaming of an unforgettable gorilla trekking experience but need help deciding between Uganda and Rwanda? Look no further, as we’ve got you covered.
While both countries offer incredible gorilla-viewing experiences, there are some key differences to consider before making your choice. The bureaucratic process of planning a gorilla trekking adventure, safety, degree of hiking, accommodation options, and transportation are all factors that can influence your decision.
If you’re looking for more wildlife attractions, then Uganda is the place to be, with ten national parks that can easily be combined with gorilla trekking in either Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga National Park. On the other hand, Rwanda has four national parks, with only Volcanoes National Park offering gorilla trekking. However, Rwanda is a smaller country, making navigating and transporting to the gorilla habitat easier.
One thing to always remember is that the mountain gorillas in both countries are the same species, with similar behaviors, and visitor numbers are restricted in both destinations. A one-hour visit with a gorilla family will give you an unforgettable experience, no matter which country you choose.
When it comes to pricing, Uganda provides more affordable gorilla permits, costing USD 700, compared to Rwanda’s USD 1,500 per person.
Generally, both Uganda and Rwanda offer unique experiences and unforgettable memories. Whether you choose Uganda’s diverse wildlife attractions or Rwanda’s ease of transportation, both countries provide an adventure of a lifetime.
So, which country will you choose for your gorilla trekking adventure? Let’s help you compare the two experiences.
Uganda vs Rwanda
|Permit Price||USD 700 per person||USD $1500 per person|
|How to book the permit||The Uganda gorilla permit is attached to the trekking location where you must book your accommodation. There are 5 locations, and availability will determine which it will be.||Very simple. No need to specify a gorilla family or accommodation.|
|Where to stay||Matching accommodation location to your gorilla permit is important. This is when local operators come in handy.||Two-night stay is recommended. One night (and even same day) options are available but not recommended.|
|Difficulty||The terrain is often steep, slippery and sometimes muddy. Tracking through the jungle can be tricky and require trackers to hack a path with machetes.||Generally, easier terrain to climb, except on the longer tracks.|
|Trip duration||Owing to the remote location, you’ll need a minimum two-night stay in the gorilla tracking area.||Two-night stay is recommended. One night (and even same day) options are available but not recommended.|
|Other activities||Uganda has a huge range of primate, birding, safari and adventure options across the country. The capital Kampala is a buzzing and popular city.||Rwanda has a limited (but decent) range of wildlife and safari activities, including Akagera National Park (a “big five” destination) and Nyungwe Forest National Park (for chimp tracking).|
|Access||Eight to 10-hour drive from Entebbe International Airport. Fly-in options to airstrips within 30 minutes’ drive from gorilla tracking areas are available.||A 3-hour drive from Kigali International Airport. Fly-in options to local airstrips, including helicopter transfers, are available.|
Pros & Cons of Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
With two national parks, Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla, for gorilla tours, Uganda offers more options for the gorilla trekking experience. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorillas, with nineteen habituated gorilla families. Tourists can track gorillas from any of the four sectors managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, providing visitors with a unique and authentic experience. Additionally, Uganda offers more affordable gorilla permits, making it a budget-friendly option for travelers. Moreover, Uganda’s diverse wildlife attractions, including ten national parks, provide an excellent opportunity to combine gorilla trekking with other wildlife safari experiences.
Pros: Top Reasons to Choose Uganda for Gorilla Trekking
- Uganda’s gorilla permits cost USD 700 by UWA, less than half of what Rwanda charges.
- Uganda has special resident and foreign resident rates.
- 20% of the permit revenue goes to community development in Uganda.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park hosts almost half of the total number of endangered mountain gorillas worldwide.
- Uganda offers much more wildlife, birdlife, and exciting activities compared to Rwanda.
- Uganda has 19 habituated gorilla groups, with more groups coming up, compared to Rwanda’s 12 groups.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are easily accessible when you fly in through Kigali, which is only a 3-hour drive, the same as driving to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Alternatively, you can book a scheduled chartered local flight from Entebbe to Kisoro (an hour outside Bwindi) for about a $300 return flight.
- You can combine gorilla trekking and golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga.
- There are various breathtaking accommodation facilities near or around the parks catering to the budget, middle, and luxury classes.
- In Uganda, you can enjoy gorilla habituation for up to 4 hours at the price of a gorilla permit in Rwanda: $1500.
- The parks in Uganda offer beautiful scenery, including lakes, plateaus, and mountains.
- Communication is easier in English, which is commonly spoken in Uganda.
- Both Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Cons of gorilla trekking in Uganda:
- The driving distance from Entebbe International Airport (EBB) to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is about 10 hours, which may be considered long for new Africa safari travel entrants. However, there are local chartered flights to Bwindi from Entebbe, or one can land at Kigali Airport and drive 3 hours crossing the border into Uganda, which is a convenient option.
- Bwindi is remote, and some roads are not accessible during the Rainy Season.
- Unlike Rwanda, there are no gorilla festivals in Uganda, such as the annual gorilla baby naming ceremony.
- The vegetation in Bwindi is dense, which may present challenges in getting clearer photos.
- Local flights in Uganda tend to be expensive, which can be a drawback for budget-conscious travelers.
- Bwindi has several park offices and starting points, which may confuse some visitors who are not familiar with the area.
- There are no add-on services like refreshments and cultural dance offered at the park offices in Bwindi, which may be a downside for those who want more amenities during their safari experience.
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Exploring Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda: Weighing the Advantages and Disadvantages
Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park provides a more compact and easier-to-navigate destination for gorilla trekking, with one trailhead compared to Uganda’s five. Rwanda’s gorilla permits are more expensive than Uganda’s, but the country offers a more comfortable and luxurious experience, with high-end accommodations and better infrastructure. Moreover, Rwanda has a well-developed tourism industry with well-trained guides and rangers, offering a seamless and unforgettable experience. Ultimately, the choice between Uganda and Rwanda for gorilla trekking depends on individual preferences, budget, and priorities, but both destinations offer an opportunity to connect with one of the world’s most incredible and endangered creatures, the mountain gorilla.
Pros of tracking gorillas in Rwanda
- The driving distance of 3 hours from the airport to Volcanoes National Park is much shorter than Uganda’s 10-hour drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, making it a more convenient option for travelers.
- The roads to Volcanoes National Park are good, easily accessible, and in good condition, providing a smooth and comfortable journey for visitors.
- The vegetation in Volcanoes National Park is not dense, offering better visibility and more explicit photographs of the gorillas.
- In addition to gorilla trekking, Volcanoes National Park offers golden monkey trekking, providing visitors with a unique and diverse wildlife experience.
- The annual baby gorilla naming festival in Rwanda is a popular international event and a unique opportunity to witness Rwandan culture and conservation efforts.
- Rwanda’s Umuganda Day, a monthly community service day, is a unique experience where locals and visitors can participate in community development activities.
- Despite being busy, Volcanoes National Park has one well-organized park office, providing visitors with a seamless and efficient experience.
- Visitors to Volcanoes National Park can hike the volcanoes, adding an exciting and adventurous element to their gorilla trekking experience.
- Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has 10 habituated gorilla groups, offering visitors a more intimate and exclusive experience with the gorillas.
- Rwanda offers add-ons like welcoming refreshments and cultural dance, providing visitors with a more immersive and authentic experience of Rwandan culture.
Cons for gorilla trekking in Rwanda
- Gorilla permits in Rwanda are expensive at $1500 compared to Uganda’s $700, making it a less budget-friendly option for gorilla trekking.
- Rwanda has fewer gorillas and fewer habituated gorilla families than Uganda, making a gorilla permit in Rwanda scarce and in high demand, requiring early booking.
- There are no special rates for residents, and all visitors are required to pay the full $1500 permit fee.
- In terms of safari, Rwanda has only one savannah wildlife reserve (Akagera National Park), providing visitors with limited wildlife experiences.
- Accommodation facilities in the parks are scarce and expensive, catering primarily to the luxury class, making it less accessible to budget-conscious travelers.
- Only 10% of the permit revenue in Rwanda is given to community development, compared to Uganda’s 20%, which may raise concerns for those interested in conservation and community development efforts.
- Communication can be a challenge in Rwanda, with many locals speaking French and Kinyarwanda, which may cause language barriers for some visitors.
- Rwanda’s gorilla permits are limited to only 80 permits a day in the ten groups, which may make it more difficult to secure permits during peak seasons.
- Unlike Uganda, Rwanda does not offer gorilla habituation experiences, which may be a drawback for those looking for longer and more intimate encounters with the gorillas.
- The elevation in Rwanda involves hiking the volcano, making gorilla trekking more physically demanding and challenging for some visitors.
Is it safe to get close to the gorillas?
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, while appearing dominant and strong, are shy towards strangers 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.
However, the jungle where you’ll find the mountain gorillas is not a paved zoo or forest with visible trails. It is somewhat dark, misty, and has uneven ground, steep climbs, large trees, and thickets that may require a machete. The terrain is mostly muddy and challenging, so be ready to put in some effort to get to the mountain gorillas.
Heading into the jungle alone may be scarier than meeting the gorillas. Depending on where the gorilla group is located, one could be jungle trekking for 1 to 8 kilometers over very steep inclines and muddy terrain in some instances.
It’s also crucial to consider the potential for human disease infections to gorillas. Conservationists have put several operating procedures in place to curb infections from humans, which were in place long before COVID-19. Today, all tourists are required to wear a face mask, sanitize, and stay at least 10 meters away from the mountain gorillas. These procedures keep the gorillas safe within their habitat.
Overall, trekking mountain gorillas is a unique and unforgettable experience that is safe and well-managed. With the necessary precautions and guidance from your tour guide, you can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
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What to pack for gorilla trekking
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 our comprehensive lists of what you can consider packing;
Gorilla Trekking Safety & Precaution
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.
- Keep a safe distance of at least 10 meters from primates.
- Wear a facemask when near the mountain gorillas
- Do not visit gorillas when you are ill or with an infectious disease.
- Human waste must be buried 30cm deep.
- Do not use flash photography.
- Back away slowly if the animal approaches you.
- In the forest, the path or trail does not belong to you. Never block the animal’s path.
- If a gorilla charges, follow the guide’s example -crouch down slowly, do not look the gorillas directly in the eyes, and wait for the animals to pass.
- Don’t make any quick movements.
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.
Booking a Gorilla Trekking Safari
When it comes to choosing between gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda, it’s important to remember that the experience is what truly matters. It’s all about finding the destination that aligns with your travel goals, budget, and comfort zone.
But why settle for just gorilla trekking? Uganda and Rwanda offer so much more to explore. Combine your gorilla trekking adventure with a visit to Kenya’s Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti for the awe-inspiring Annual Wildebeest Migration safari. Or, if you prefer to stay closer to your gorilla trekking destination, Uganda also boasts stunning savannah game parks, such as Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, and Kidepo National Parks.
For an uninterrupted and hassle-free experience, consider booking with Nkuringo Safaris, one of the pioneering gorilla safari operators in Uganda. Our trips are completely customizable, and our team of experts will take care of everything from processing your gorilla permit to booking your accommodations and managing your itinerary. With us, you can focus on enjoying every moment of your journey.
So why wait? Contact us today at email@example.com or through our booking form, and let our safari experts help you plan the adventure of a lifetime. Remember, the world is waiting for you to explore!