Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a once-in-a-lifetime journey to see the incredible mountain gorillas of central Africa’s rainforests on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains and in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Travelers that have been on this Uganda safari highly rate the activity. They say no other wildlife encounter in Africa compares to the outstanding experience of spending face-to-face time with Uganda’s wild gorillas in a natural setting.
Mountain gorillas cannot survive outside their natural habitat—certainly not in any zoo. They live only in two far-flung rainforest jungles in east & central Africa, specifically Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC. These governments jealously protect the last remaining giant apes like a medieval king’s castle. Your chance of seeing the mountain gorillas is only by visiting either of the three sovereign nations.
Where is the best place to see gorillas?
The best and safest place to go gorilla trekking and see gorillas in Uganda is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The dense forests of this UNESCO World Heritage Site provide a challenging yet rewarding environment for trekking with gorillas, which makes Uganda the best country for this raw untethered jungle experience for nature lovers.
You’ll find your way through the tall, tangled vines and ancient trees that carpet western Uganda’s rainforest, following an expert tracker clearing the way with a fine-edged machete. Your best foot forward will be wrapped up in light, waterproof hiking boots, wearing long jungle pants and a ridiculous hat. You better pack a bag of patience and a good sense of humor to lighten the anticipation.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is for bucket-list tickers who want the gorilla trekking adventure without getting down and dirty. The type of travelers that want to spend the evenings surrounded by luxurious amenities and high-speed wi-fi. They usually have the money for it.
Travelers usually avoid DRC, sighting its never-ending civil wars. However, some intrepid adventurers who have been to DRC and braved the uncertain eventualities say great praises for the authentic experience.
Gorilla population and tourism history
Mountain gorillas are the world’s most successful conservation story, thanks to gorilla tourism introduced in 1973. And thanks also the undying efforts of Louis Leakey and Dian Fossey’s research in the ’80s that brought the mountain giants to the natural world’s attention.
In the 1980s, environmentalists estimated the mountain gorilla population to have dwindled to 240 individuals as habitat loss, poaching, disease, and other threats had exacted a costly toll on the mountain primates. Due to government interests in protecting them, intense research efforts, and funds from gorilla tourism, the mountain gorilla population has grown to more than 1,060 individuals in two decades. The IUCN has also downlisted them from critically endangered to endangered. A beautiful story all environmentalists celebrate.
You can be part of this beautiful story and also get to spend a moment with the world’s most revered primates in the most beautiful natural setting. In the following paragraphs, we will answer some of your questions about gorilla trekking in Uganda to help you plan your jungle experience with first-hand knowledge.
Where can I see mountain gorillas in Uganda?
There are two gorilla trekking destinations where you can see mountain gorillas in Uganda; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. These two parks offer trekking excursions at five trailheads; Nkuringo, Rushaga, Buhoma, Ruhija in Bwindi, and Ntebeko in Mgahinga, all under the management of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
All the sectors combined have 20 habituated mountain gorilla families, and 160 gorilla trekking permits are available daily.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The best destination to see mountain gorillas in Uganda is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park , which has half of the world’s total population. Bwindi is a prehistoric, montane, and lowland forest spanning 131 sq km (128 sq mi). The jungle is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its incredible biodiversity and many endangered species that find sanctuary within its protected boundaries.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the second gorilla park in Uganda, takes a 13 sq mi chunk from the more extensive Virunga habitat, stretching 168 square miles into Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The park encompasses three of the eight major Virunga peaks: Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Sabyinyo.
However, Bwindi outshines all the gorilla trekking destinations because of the many habituated gorilla families available for tourism. The park also has several other activities within and around the park, including birding, nature walking safaris, community programs, and habituation experiences.
The experience of walking with mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga is exhilarating and highly rewarding. Which gorilla trekking section you should choose for your adventure excursion will depend on where the gorilla permit will be available when you book. During the peak seasons of June to August and December to February, it can be challenging to own the choice because of the scarcity of permits. But, the low season offers you a chance to choose which trailhead suits you.
Last-minute gorilla permits are scarcely available unless you contact a licensed tour operator, who usually stash some away for the drought. Ask Nkuringo Safaris at firstname.lastname@example.org; they could have some last-minute permits for you.
No one who looks into a gorilla’s eyes – intelligent, gentle, vulnerable – can remain unchanged, for the gap between ape and human vanishes; we know that the gorilla still lives within us. Do gorillas also recognize this ancient connection?George Schaller, mammalogist, conservationist
What is gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking is a wildlife adventure involving hiking through the highlands of Virunga-Bwindi rainforest jungles to observe Africa’s endangered gorillas in their natural habitat. Since mountain gorillas cannot survive in captivity, tourists can only see them by trekking into their natural habitats. Guided tours take tourists through rugged, steep terrain, thick jungles, and tall, tangled scrubs, reaching up to 14,763 feet (4,500 meters) elevations.
Daily gorilla treks begin at visitor center locations at 08:00 am in small controlled groups of eight tourists, an expert tracker, and two armed rangers. The trekking guides carry a fine-edged machete for clearing your path and a walkie-talkie to communicate with other rangers and trackers.
Your trekking guide will communicate with another group of rangers who go out at dawn to find the gorillas before they leave their nests and stay with them throughout the day. They then send coordinates to your tracker to make your trekking less challenging.
When you finally find the gorillas, your trekking guide will ask you to wear your facemask and observe them silently for one hour at a safe distance of about 32 ft (10 m). Visitors usually find them at their mid-morning break, so there’s less movement during the experience. Mountain gorillas have a very calm demeanor and graciously ignore tourists’ presence unless they get out of line with the rules and all!
Sitting in silence on the cold ground of a Ugandan forest for 60 minutes while observing these magnificent creatures in their natural environment is an unforgettable experience and a privilege that few people can enjoy.
How Difficult is Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda can be challenging due to the rough terrain, impenetrable misty jungles, and unpredictable weather. Additionally, gorilla treks take place at high altitudes of around 2,600m (8,500 ft).
One look at southwestern Uganda’s emerald terraced hills and rugged landscapes and it’s clear this area of the country is not for the faint-hearted. It’s tough work to reach the mountain gorillas, and it requires navigating uphill or downhill through thick tangles of jungle vines, roots, and thorns.
Travel access to the intimidatingly named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is only on foot. There are no paths, no signs, no directions—and, more often than not, no clearings (which is why the park rangers carry machetes). However, the reward seems much better after all of the hard work.
To many travelers hiking in the high altitude and challenging terrain, gorilla trekking in Uganda promises an adventure of a lifetime.
Should you take a porter on the gorilla trek?
At the park entrance, you’ll find a group of young uniformed locals offering their services as porters. We strongly encourage you to hire porter services for the gorilla trek, especially if you feel unprepared to cope with the terrain while carrying your daypack. Porters offer their services for a few $20 bucks, which provides a livelihood to several inhabitants of a nearby village.
Porters are often former poachers or people who would have looked to the protected forest for livelihood. Without work and the ability to earn a living within gorilla conservation, many will be forced to return to finding and capturing, killing gorillas for bushmeat or the illegal wildlife-trafficking trade. The incentives offered by poaching syndicates can be very lucrative for impoverished villagers with few other ways of earning a living. It’s better to graciously accept their help and pay the fee – which will amount to a couple of coffees back home – and help ensure the continued conservation of gorillas.
How much do you tip guides on a gorilla Trek?
You should tip of around $10-$20 to each guide or ranger when you go on a gorilla trek in Uganda. It’s best to use the local currency, considering that you’ll be trekking isolated areas where exchanging money could be difficult. In that case, giving each guide or ranger 10,000 to 20,000 Ugandan shillings is a thoughtful way to show your appreciation.
You don’t have to tip the porters who assist you with your bags and support you during the gorilla trekking trip. This is because you’ve already hired and compensated them directly for their services. Getting a porter to help with the trek usually costs about $20 or 70,000 Ugandan shillings.
Is it safe to trek gorillas in Uganda?
The idea of getting up close to such an imposing creature is terrifying. Contrary to common belief, gorilla trekking in Uganda is typically considered safe. This is because the gorillas you encounter are accustomed to human interaction, and armed park rangers will accompany you during the trek for added security. Uganda has taken steps to enhance the safety of tourists exploring its national parks, which include areas designated for trekking with gorillas. Notably, no security incidents have been reported over the past ten years.
Experts who habituate or familiarize mountain gorilla families with human presence for tourism purposes have established safety protocols to enable travelers to interact with them securely. Although these gorillas are accustomed to people, they remain powerful and unpredictable wild animals. A silverback, the dominant male, could cause harm if it perceives a threat.
To ensure safety during gorilla trekking:
- Guided Expeditions: Armed rangers accompany you through the gorilla habitat, guarding against potential dangers and unknown risks. Staying close to the trekking group significantly enhances safety.
- Respect Boundaries: Remember that you’re a guest in their natural environment. Gorillas tolerate your presence for a designated time, provided you follow all trekking guidelines. Listen closely to your guide’s instructions throughout the experience.
- No Physical Contact: Due to their susceptibility to human diseases, it’s forbidden by law to touch the gorillas. While young gorillas might approach you out of curiosity, avoid engaging them and any physical contact. If the silverback displays aggressive behavior, maintain calmness, crouch down submissively, and the situation will likely de-escalate.
- Protecting Their Environment: Gorilla populations are endangered due to logging, poaching, and human intrusion. To safeguard them and yourself, always maintain a distance of at least ten meters (32 feet) and wear a face mask. If you’re unwell, you won’t be allowed to trek. Ensuring good health before traveling is crucial.
Observing a gorilla family from a respectful distance, witnessing their social behaviors and gazing into their expressive eyes, offers a profoundly moving and close wildlife encounter. It’s an experience that can be both enlightening and deeply personal, making it among the most exceptional wildlife interactions in Africa, if not the world.
Is Gorilla trekking worth the cost?
Imagine being face to face with a 400-pound silverback gorilla in its natural habitat. Gorilla trekking is unquestionably a valuable investment because it offers not only a unique experience but also contributes significantly to the protection of these endangered creatures and their environment. A substantial portion of the fees from gorilla permits directly funds conservation initiatives.
Furthermore, opting for an all-inclusive gorilla trekking expedition in Uganda is considerably more affordable compared to trekking in Rwanda. Typically, the expenses of such an adventure cover local flights between Entebbe and Bwindi, transportation to the gorilla sanctuary (a 10-hour drive or a one-hour local flight), a $700 gorilla permit, and accommodation for three or more days.
Picture yourself trekking with gorillas
Traversing the dense jungle, guided by a tracker, as you wipe sweat from your brow and appreciate your hiking gear. Suddenly, your tracker signals your group to stop – the moment has arrived to encounter these majestic creatures. Your guide turns to you with a smile and whispers the words you’ve been waiting for: “There they are.” With a sense of excitement, armed only with your camera and a rush of anticipation, you step forward to meet the gorillas.
You witness the contrast of glossy black gorilla bodies against the vibrant green backdrop of the rainforest – this is why you saved up for this experience. Finally, you are face to face with a family of mountain gorillas, led by a vigilant and gentle silverback male.
In that instant, all the preparations and efforts leading up to this encounter fade away. For that enchanting hour spent with these magnificent forest inhabitants, a feeling of connection washes over you. Young gorillas playfully engage, females groom one another, and the watchful silverback oversees it all.
Undoubtedly, the unique opportunity of gorilla trekking in Uganda, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, is well worth the financial commitment.
How Much is Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda primarily costs $700, the price of a gorilla permit. The permit is discounted at $600 for foreign residents and UGX 250 for East African citizens. However, you’ll need more than a permit to make it to the gorilla sanctuary. Consider accommodation near the park entrance because treks start early in the morning. Accommodation usually includes meals. Also, consider transfers, other activities, and tour operator fees if you’re not backpacking.
Let’s say you travel with a tour operator like Nkuringo Safaris. In that case, we’ll charge you $30 to process your gorilla permit only if you don’t use our other services. Transport by road from the airport to your booked gorilla lodge in Bwindi may cost between $120 – $300, including driver fees, fuel, and 4×4 vehicle hire. A scheduled return flight between Entebbe and Kisoro/Kihihi airstrip (2.5 hours outside Bwindi) is about $350. And all-inclusive descent accommodation around Bwindi ranges between $100 – $1000 per night. Agency fees could come to about 5% – 30% of the quote.
Now that you know a bit about the main costs of the trip, you can approximate what you’ll spend on a gorilla trekking safari journey in Uganda.
When is the best time for gorilla trekking in Uganda?
Although gorilla trekking is a year-round activity, the best time to see mountain gorillas in Uganda is during the dry seasons of June to August and December to February. During the dry season, the forest floor is drier and less slippery. Also, there’s a lesser chance of a downpour during your trekking experience, and photography will be more rewarding.
During the heavy rains of April and May, the roads may be impassable, and your Uganda safari itinerary could be disrupted by torrential downpours creating some uninvited annoyances. The wet seasons in Uganda are considered the low travel season, where fewer travelers come into the country, and properties lower prices to attract the few that can come.
Some intrepid travelers who can withstand the drenching walks use the low season to take advantage of the discounts and the heavenly privacy at destinations. You could find just yourself in the entire lodge or trekking with only the rangers during the wet season.
Is it better to see gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda?
When deciding where to go for gorilla trekking between Rwanda and Uganda, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each destination. Uganda offers a more affordable option compared to Rwanda, while Rwanda provides better accessibility.
In Uganda, the gorilla treks take place in Bwindi National Park. The trek begins at a higher elevation and follows a downhill path to the gorillas, providing a more leisurely experience at first. However, the trek ends with a challenging uphill climb. The terrain in Bwindi is rugged and challenging to navigate, and unpredictable weather can make it even more difficult.
In Rwanda, you can encounter mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, which features less slippery and steep terrain compared to Bwindi. The landscape in Rwanda is characterized by towering volcanoes and a more open environment as you ascend, making the trek more pleasant. However, Volcanoes National Park is situated at a higher altitude, making the hike more demanding.
While reaching the gorillas may be easier in Rwanda, there is a limited daily allowance of less than 100 visitors. On the other hand, Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda admit significantly more visitors, about 160 tourists per day.
What are the chances of seeing gorillas in Uganda?
Mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda is an incredible experience many travelers consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. According to reviews, the chances of seeing these majestic primates in their natural habitat are pretty high, at about 97%. That said, there have been rare occasions where visitors haven’t been able to see them.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority, as well as researchers and guides who closely monitor the mountain gorilla families, make it their priority to ensure that visitors have the best possible chance of seeing these amazing creatures. Guides are in constant contact with field workers from dawn till dusk every day, so they know where the different families are located at any given time. So, your chances of seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda are around 99%.
Of course, wild animals are unpredictable, and there are no guarantees. Factors such as an overnight thunderstorm or an unexpected encounter with a predator can cause a troop to move in a different direction during the night. However, scouts will likely pick up their trail the following day. Before your gorilla trekking excursion starts, a team of scouts goes out to follow the gorilla tracks and stay with the gorillas once found. That’s why your guide will carry a walkie-talkie to keep in touch with the scouts for directions.
Packing Tips For Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla trekking demands a reasonable level of fitness as you navigate humid terrain and steep, sometimes muddy mountain paths. Your clothing and footwear choices should match these conditions. Let’s explore what you should wear when you go gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Clothes to wear to a gorilla trek
- Wear nature-inspired hues like greens, greys, and browns to blend seamlessly with your environment. Lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics are key. Avoid camouflage attire, which is often prohibited for civilians, and skip animal prints to prevent gorilla alarm.
- Despite the heat, prioritize long-sleeved shirts and trousers to shield against prickly vegetation and bugs.
- Consider hiking gloves for better grip and protection from plants during your hike.
- Waterproof hiking boots with strong ankle support and traction are essential for muddy conditions during treks that can last up to eight hours.
- To prevent blisters, wear layer-thin, moisture-wicking socks under thicker cotton socks.
- While not compulsory, trekking poles offer valuable balance and support; practice using them before your trip.
- Gaiters, particularly knee-high ones, keep debris out of your boots and your pants dry.
- A Camelbak water pouch lets you stay hydrated while keeping your hands free. Staying adequately hydrated, especially at higher altitudes, is crucial.
Prioritize a light packing approach. Remember that light bush aircraft might be involved in transfers to lodges or camps with strict size and weight limits for baggage. If you plan to continue your journey after gorilla trekking, your gorilla safari vacation specialist can assist in safely storing excess luggage.
How To Get There
Most tourists enter Uganda through Entebbe International Airport (EBB), about 46 km/29 mi from Kampala capital city. It is possible to fly by a local carrier from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi Airfield) to Kihihi Airstrip in the north Bwindi or Kisoro Airport in the south of Bwindi near Mgahinga. You can drive to Bwindi or Mgahinga within two hours from the two small airports.
You can reach Buhoma and Ruhija via Kihihi Airport, Nkuringo, Rushaga, and Mgahinga can be reached via Kisoro Airport in the south. Also, small plane chatters and luxury private helicopter transfers are available.
There are four distinct trailheads for gorilla trekking in Bwindi and one in Mgahinga. These trailheads are several hours apart by road and will greatly determine which route you’ll take to reach the gorillas. Buhoma sector is in the north, Ruhija in the northwest, Rushaga, and Nkuringo in the south.
If driving straight from Entebbe you will take about 8-10 hours to reach the various gorilla trailheads. A drive from Lake Mburo National Park will take about 5-6 hours.
During the rainy season, travel by 4WD vehicle is necessary to navigate the dirt roads from the highways to the trailheads, which are usually between 30-40 km