Gorilla Trekking Tours are the biggest tourist attraction in Uganda, taking visitors to the remote southwest region to trek the great apes in the early morning mist. The rural landscape is clustered with world-class forest lodges, bathing visitors in idyllic settings and allowing them to spend priceless moments with the beguiling mountain gorillas. With two gorilla national parks, five visitor centres, and more than half of the last endangered mountain gorillas, Uganda is, by far, the best destination for seeing gorillas up close. Here, we help you plan your once-in-a-lifetime gorilla safari trip with local expertise.
Mountain Gorilla Tours & Safari Packages
These mountain gorilla tour packages can be customised for any date, accommodation type, and duration, which determines the total price.
The Gorilla Trekking Experience
Uganda offers two distinctive gorilla tour experiences. The most popular one is the regular guided gorilla trekking excursion, allowing visitors to spend one hour with a fully human-habituated gorilla troop. The alternative is the Gorilla Habituation Experience, allowing visitors to spend at least four hours with a semi-habituated (wild) gorilla group in the company of researchers and rangers. Each requires booking (with cash) a permit that comes with tracking and guide services.
There's something unquestioningly fascinating about the great apes of tropical Africa. A creature that colossal can't fail to impress even a frazzled eye.
The experience of watching mountain gorillas is endearing and intense.
A visitor gets to appreciate the combination of remarkable strength with profound gentleness, the depth of their social bonds, living in harmony with their environment, vulnerability, and struggle to survive.
Perhaps our fascination comes from us seeing in them what we wish to see in ourselves?
We share up to 99% of our genetic material with gorillas, but for years most encounters were, sadly, from behind the inches-thick perspex of a zoo enclosure or as a slapstick mockery in a cheap horror movie.
However, now people are travelling in ever greater numbers to the mountains of Uganda to see the gorilla in its natural environment.
Gorilla trekking starts in the early misty-morning hours at any of UWA's five visitor centres or park management quarters. Visitors must be at the briefing point by 7:30 am, meaning they would have spent a night in the nearby lodges.
A gorilla trekking tour operator will book your permit and check you into a safari lodge near the starting point that is indicated on your ticket so you can be there in time for the gorilla trekking excursion.
A park warden will brief trekkers about the basic rules you must observe during the trek and when with gorillas. They will then randomly group the trekkers into small parties of eight, two armed rangers, and a tracker guide based on the number of gorilla families in the area.
One can choose to hire a local porter, who will carry their pack and give them a helping hand. We highly recommend taking a porter; they charge just 20 bucks.
The trek to the gorillas is tough; steep and muddy terrain, humid and dense forest, and heavy high-altitude air. A porter can be godsent when you start struggling with lifting your body.
Gorillas could be anywhere within two to fifty square kilometres (0.75 – 16 sq mi), so the time you take to reach them can be anywhere between 30 minutes to 4 hours; no one can tell for sure.
Your guide will be cutting through impenetrable vines and bushes with a sharp-edged machete to create a path for you while following GPS coordinates on a walkie-talkie with other rangers.
When you find the dark-furred apes, they're usually taking their mid-morning foraging break and lounging in an area as big as half a football field.
The rangers and guides will help you find a good position to watch and take your photos without ticking off the silverback, the head of the group.
You'll spend one prized hour silently watching the troop at least 10 meters (32 ft) away.
But there's no saying that the gorillas will not break that safe-distance rule; in that case, you have to follow your guide's instructions.
You'll watch their social characters and intimate connection with nature, which closely rival our own.
They groom each other, have light moments, macho moments, fornicate, fart, and the young ones get homeschooled in everything instinctual.
One hour will pass you by like a calm desert wind, and in what seems like 10 minutes, your guide will be leading you out of the 25,000-year old Eden.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the most popular place to watch gorillas in Uganda. The park has three trailheads in its four corners, a great selection of safari lodges near the visitor centres and nineteen fully-habituated gorilla families for tourism. It's the only place that offers the gorilla habituation experience with wild gorilla troops.
Uganda protects more than 400 mountain gorillas in two national parks.
The best gorilla trekking tours are definitely in Uganda's two protected forest reserves in the extreme southwestern region; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, protecting the largest population of gorillas, and Mgahinga National Park at the tri-border with Rwanda's Volcanoes and DRC's Virunga National Parks.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi is a 25,000-year-old oasis of 331 square kilometres (128 sq mi) pristine rainforest with a vibrant ecosystem. It has 19 gorilla groups available for tourism in four sections (Nkuringo, Buhoma, Rushaga, and Ruhija Sectors) spread over the park's four corners. Visitors can access the park by domestic flights from Entebbe or by a 10-hour scenic drive.
Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is on Uganda's side of the Virunga Mountains, shared with Rwanda and DRC. The 33.9-square-kilometre (13.1 sq mi) park conserving the slopes of Muhavura, Gahinga, and Sabinyo dormant volcanoes, is Uganda's smallest reserve. Apart from gorilla trekking safaris, the park offers golden monkey tracking, hiking and birding adventures.
Trip Planning Logistics
To skip gorilla trekking safari planning stress, work with Nkuringo Safaris, a tour operator who understands local logistics and can book your permits, accommodation, transport, and meals without expending your energy on navigating the unfamiliar safari logistics.
Unlike big-city tours and overland adventures, planning gorilla tours in Uganda requires Destination Management Company to buffer you against the local logistical dilemmas.
Our local safari experts will book your trekking permits, organise your transfers between places, and recommend the best accommodations from our selection of properties we have visited and trust to host our type of customer.
Working with us ensures that you get the best recommendation on when to travel, what to pack, and how to shape your expectation of travelling in remote African country for the first time.
Where To Stay
Forest resorts in these destinations are pristine, often with dramatic views of jungle canopies and rugged landscapes, transporting guests to idyllic enchantments.
Our selection of great safari lodges for gorilla trekking includes meals with accommodation; often all meals during your stay.
Usually, you have to book into a hotel near the airport, spend a night and dedicate the next day to travelling across to gorilla country. You'll spend a minimum of two nights in Bwindi, allowing you to save an entire day for the gorilla trekking experience.
Typical Travel Costs
The costs of a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda are basic and knowing where your money will be spent will help you comfortably plan your trip.
- Gorilla Trekking Permit (Foreigners - $700, Resident foreigners $600)
- Gorilla Habituation Permit ($1500)
- Transport & Transfer Costs ($240 – $350 per day)
- Domestic Flights ($500 - $700 pp return)
- Accommodation & Meals ($170 – $1500 per night, full board)
- Logistical Support Fees (relative)
TRAVELLING WITH A PURPOSE
Our gorilla trekking tours are directly rooted in community, a sustainable environment, and gorilla conservation.
How gorilla tourism sustains local communities
Your gorilla trekking safari trip in Uganda will contribute directly to the species' survival and sustain poor communities around conservation areas with alternative livelihoods.
Please contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about our programs that support communities around gorilla habitats.
Much of the mountain gorilla habitats overlap with impoverished, remote communities. People depended on the rainforests long before conservation as an essential source of fuel and food.
Their historical lands are now closed off, and they would be justified to consider gorillas a threat to their living. One of the most crucial factors for effective gorilla conservation is helping the poor communities benefit from the conservation programs.
The Uganda Government, through its conservation bodies, gives back twenty per cent (20%) of every gorilla permit fee to the surrounding communities to develop infrastructure and create alternative livelihoods.
Despite considerable limitations, gorilla conservation through the tourism model has largely been successful for years.
Revenues from selling gorilla tracking permits have powerfully impacted their long-term outlook.
Ugandan locals are employed directly in the gorilla trekking tours as guides, rangers, porters, service providers at lodges, souvenir artists and many other employments around your successful encounter with the gorillas.
Gorilla tracking in Uganda (and Rwanda) is highly developed and professionally organised.
Book your gorilla trekking tours in Uganda with Nkuringo Safaris Ltd, a Destination Management Company whose journeys are rooted in sustainable community programs through its multi-award-winning property, Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, since 2007.
Gorilla Safari Packages
The packages can be customised to for any date, accommodation type, and duration, which determine the total price.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although gorilla trekking tours occur all year round, the best time for gorilla trekking in Uganda is during the region's dry seasons; January to February and June to September.
The dry season can at least guarantee no downpours during your adventure in the rainforests, and the roads to the gorilla parks will be dry for a smooth ride. Remember, you will be walking through a rainforest, meaning that you can't completely rule out rain or muddy conditions on the trail.
However, most travellers will be considering travel during the dry (peak) season, making permits and accommodation availability a challenge. So book your gorilla tours in Uganda at least 4-6 months (even a year) earlier to avoid planning inconveniences.
Some travellers prefer to come during the wet season to take advantage of the low seasonal discounts from safari lodges. The low season runs from September to November and March to May. Although a downpour is guaranteed, it never rains for more than two hours a day, allowing you to engage in some activities and the views are incredible during this time of the year.
Adding wildlife game viewing to your gorilla safari is an excellent idea during the dry season when animals concentrate on water sources. Bird watching is fantastic all year round but is at its peak between November and April when migrant species are present. Even when considered the rainy season, April and May are great times to include birding on your trip.
Key differences between gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation include;
Start Time: In Bwindi, gorilla trekking starts at 8.30 AM and 7.30 AM, the gorilla habituation starts. (Briefing before hiking into the jungle is mandatory and starts way earlier. so be at the trailhead at least 30 minutes beforehand.)
Permit Costs: Gorilla trekking permit in Uganda costs US $700 while Gorilla Habituation costs US $1,500 per permit per person.
The number of visitors allowed: Only 8 tourists can track each mountain gorilla family while only 4 people can do a gorilla habituation experience.
Duration: The time spent with the mountain gorillas after tracking them is 60 minutes but with gorilla habituation, you can stay with the African beasts for up to 4 hours.
Location: Gorilla habituation can only happen in areas with mountain gorillas under habituation; now, it is only in the Rushaga sector of Bwindi Impenetrable NP.
Uganda gorilla trekking permits cost US$700 per person for foreign non-residents, foreign residents pay $600, and East African Nationals pay 250,000 Uganda Shillings. The same pass in Rwanda costs $1,500 per person, and DR Congo charges $400 per person.
The gorilla habituation experience permit costs US$1,500 per person and allows visitors to spend four hours with a semi-habituated gorilla group.
Nkuringo Safaris Ltd, a Ugandan DMC, is licensed to process your gorilla permit from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) office in Kampala. We will need a copy of your passport and complete payment of the permit's advertised price, and we charge $30 as logistical costs.
If we organise your entire mountain gorilla safari, we need a 30% deposit of the total tour price and the balance due 45 days before the trip. You can cancel your between 90 and 45 days of tour departure, which will incur a 30% of tour price penalty charge. Confirmed bookings cancelled within 45 days of the tour departure date or no show will incur 100% of the tour price penalty charge.
Cancelling your gorilla permit after fully paying for it has the following conditions:
More than 90 days before the tracking date, a 25% cancellation fee
45 to 9 days before the tracking date, a 75% cancellation fee
8 to 0 days before the tracking date, 100% cancellation fee
Important: Gorilla permit minimum age is 15 years. In case of flu or any other airborne disease, please stay back and ask to reschedule. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to see the gorillas.
The costs of mountain gorilla tour in Uganda can quickly mount up, with gorilla permits alone costing $700 per person (or $1500 pp for Habituation Permits). In comparison, Rwanda charges $1500 for a gorilla permit. On top of that, you have to add transport and accommodation costs, making the gorilla safari a costly holiday.
The primary reason why gorilla trekking is expensive is that the conservation programme to save these great apes is very costly. The men and women involved in providing security, healthcare, and trekking services work in the remotest and most inhumane conditions. These people work many hours, days, and even weeks away from their families to ensure the gorillas get the attention to survive extinction.
Almost 75% of the gorilla permit fees go back to human resources and conservation efforts, yet it is not enough. 10% of that money is reserved for developing infrastructure and income opportunities for communities surrounding parks.
Gorilla safari lodges operate in the remotest conditions, often transporting fresh food from as far as 500 kilometres, using unpaved roads gruesome to vehicles and their occupants. They go out of their way to offer some of the most luxurious amenities where you shouldn't expect them.
So yeah, mountain gorilla tours are expensive because the success of your dream encounter with the great apes is high maintenance.
You should definitely hire a porter on your gorilla trekking excursion. The trek is quite tuff for many people. Porters are very useful in helping you navigate challenging terrain by pulling your hand, pushing you up steep slopes, and sometimes carrying you when injured.
They also hold your pack or gear, so the hike through high altitude is not sweaty and unpleasant.
On a responsible travel note, hiring a porter is an excellent way to support the local communities directly. The men and women offering their services as porters come from remote villages that would be looking at the rainforest for livelihood. The 20 bucks you pay can support an entire family for almost twenty days, which is quite something for low-income families.
- Yellow fever and Covid-19 vaccination card
- Tourist visa ($50 per person, East African Visa for Kenya, Uganda, & Rwanda is $100)
- Lightweight, waterproof hiking or walking shoes
- Lightweight waterproof jacket or poncho
- Hiking trousers and a long-sleeved shirt
- Hiking gloves, sunhat or cape
- A fleece or light-wool sweater for cold mornings
- Waterproof backpack to carry drinking water, packed lunch and your gadgets
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Camera and binoculars
- Walking poles or staff; UWA provides a walking stick at the trailhead.
- At least one litre of drinking water and packed lunch (upmarket lodges provide packed lunch)
- A pair of disposable facemasks
- A basic first aid kit may come in handy: antiseptic wipes, antihistamine cream, insect repellent, plasters, painkillers, antimalarials and rehydration sachets.
There’s no particular dressing style for Uganda gorilla tours. Consider that you’ll be trekking through muddy, uneven terrain and forested jungle. In that case, you have to dress appropriately to keep yourself stable on the ground and protected from the unexpected. You’ll enjoy your time with the mountain gorillas when you eliminate anything that makes you uncomfortable.
The first item on your packing list should be a light pair of trekking boots or waterproof shoes. Get a good pair of shoes that’s stable on uneven ground and will keep muddy water off your feet; wet feet can be so uncomfortable walking long distances. A couple of comfortable sox, trousers, a long-sleeved shirt, a pair of hiking gloves, and maybe, a hut should make your gorilla trekking packing list.
Throw in a pack of N95 facemasks, insect repellent spray, sanitizer spray bottle, and an extra battery for your camera in your luggage. It could rain anytime in the rainforest, so carry a light rain jacket or poncho and a waterproof backpack to carry your stuff. Your backpack will have some energy bars, a camera/phone, packed lunch, and anything else you will need for your experience. Basically, your luggage should be light and appropriate for the most incredible experience.
Close contact with human-habituated mountain gorillas is considered safe compared to the note habituated wild ones.
The two to five-year habituation process gradually introduces human presence in the gorilla's environment without agitating them or muddling in their daily lives. At first, the apes are non-welcoming and aggressive towards the intrusion but later look forward to having humans around.
However, for us to safely visit them in their natural habitat, researchers have developed ground rules to protect humans, gorillas and other animals in the protected reserve.
Firstly, all trekkers must stay ten metres (32 ft) from the gorillas and follow ranger guidelines during their visit to avoid any hostility and spreading of infectious diseases.Other basic trekking rules include,
- Wear a facemask and gloves when near the gorillas
- No going into the gorilla forest when you have signs of infectious illness like fever or a cold.
- Avoid staring directly into a gorilla's eyes (the lead silverback may mistake it for hostility
- Staying still, or moving and talking quietly - when a gorilla comes close
- Not eating, drinking, or excreting near the gorillas
Trekking to find the gorillas can be physically challenging for anyone, especially the older trekkers and non-physically fit. Mountain gorillas live at high altitudes between 2400 - 3900 meters (8,000 to 13,000 feet) above sea level, which can cause altitude sickness to some travellers. The gorilla jungle is mountainous, and visitors sometimes have to climb steep, muddy slopes to reach the apes.
Before you go, ensure your body can handle the physical challenges of gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda by visiting the gym. And, you can spend more days outside their habitat to allow your body to acclamatise.
Both countries, Uganda and Rwanda, offer excellent trekking experiences, but your choice comes down to a few options, including the terrain for physical fitness, driving distance from the airport, accommodation choices, permit pricing, and entry restrictions.
Rwanda offers more upmarket travel options for mountain gorilla tour accommodations, and the gorilla permit price ($1,500 per person) far exceeds that of Uganda. Also, It's a shorter distance from Kigali International airport to Volcanoes National Park, a 3-hour drive.
It's about a 10-hours drive through Uganda's pristine southwestern highlands to make it to the gorillas. One can take a small flight from Entebbe to a small airstrip 3 hours outside the park, though!
On the other hand, Uganda offers a raw and challenging experience with more safari options to combine trekking with descent game viewing. Uganda also offers relatively more accommodation options for all markets, cheaper safari packages, more trekking trailheads, and more gorilla families habituated to tourism.
There are more gorilla permits in Uganda than in Rwanda.
The choice remains with you on which destination suits you.
Find more comparisons between Uganda and Rwanda.
Joining the daily guided gorilla trekking excursion may not guarantee that you will see the mountain gorillas, but it promises you a 97% chance.
Rangers and researchers have perfected the gorilla trekking experience, with almost all trekkers being able to spend that magnetic moment with the great apes of Uganda (and Rwanda).
In the olden days, trackers escorted the trekkers to a gorilla group's nest. They then tracked the apes from the nest, which gave a very minimal chance of finding them. Today, a team of rangers goes out at dawn to find the gorillas before they leave the nest they built the previous evening. They stay with them and send back position coordinates to your lead trackers, who pinpoint their position via walkie-talkie. The lead tracker/guide will lead the tourists to where they will spend their time with the giant beasts.
UWA reports very few, far apart incidences where people don't see the gorillas. In such cases, the gorillas could have been spoofed off by other wild animals in the night or disrupted by unfriendly weather, and the rangers couldn't find them. Besides, the trekking office will know when that happens and assign you a mountain gorilla family you can see.
Any level of gratitude is highly appreciated. Although tipping is not mandatory, please be so kind as to tip the gorilla trekking rangers, guides and porters based on your level of satisfaction.
Here's a rough guide on how much to tip on a mountain gorilla tour;
- Transfer driver - $5
- Service staff at safari lodge/camp - $15 per couple per day
- Safari Guide - $20 per couple per day
- Trackers - $15 per couple per day
- Porter - $20 per person (This is the standard hiring fee per person)
- Butler - $15 per couple per day
These are just standard rates we see with many travellers, but you can give a bigger tip if you desire.
Tips should be in small US dollar bills (dated post-2006), but most would prefer local currency. Visit the airport Forex shop or bank before going to the countryside to get local currencies and understand the exchange rate.