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 and will gladly tell you how no other wildlife encounter in Africa matches the outstanding experience of spending time face-to-face with Uganda’s wild gorillas in a natural setting.
You cannot see mountain gorillas in any zoo anywhere in the world; they’re found only in two far-flung rainforest jungles in east & central Africa. Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC jealously protect the last remaining approximately 1060 individuals like a medieval king’s castle. Your chance of seeing the mountain gorillas is only by visiting either of the three sovereign nations.
Although the internet buzzes with arguments on which country is the best for a gorilla trekking adventure, the decision all comes down to your preferences, how much you’re willing to spend, likes, and dislikes concerning any of the three countries’ offers.
Uganda is arguably the best in delivering a raw untethered jungle experience to the savvy nature lover. A traveler that chooses to go gorilla trekking in Uganda must be excited about getting down and dirty. Through the tall, tangled scrubs and ancient trees that carpet western Uganda’s rainforest, you find your way with a machete, heavy boots, thick trousers, a ridiculous hat, patience, and a good sense of humor.
Rwanda is for a bucket-list ticker that wants to see mountain gorillas without getting dirty but later spend the evening surrounded by luxurious amenities and high-speed wi-fi, and they got the money for it. DRC is mostly avoided for its never-ending civil wars that have seen millions of civilians hucked to death in the three decades.
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 a meager 240 individuals. As habitat loss, poaching, disease, and other threats had exacted a costly toll on the mountain primates. Due to massive protection, intense research efforts, and funds from gorilla tourism, the mountain gorilla population has grown to just above 1,060 individuals in just about two decades, downlisting it on the IUCN list 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. We will answer some of your questions about gorilla trekking in Uganda in the following paragraphs to help you plan your jungle experience with first-hand knowledge.
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
Gorilla trekking is defined as the guided hike into the rainforest jungles of the Virunga-Bwindi highlands through tall, tangled scrubs and ancient trees with a machete, heavy boots, and thick trousers.
Since these endangered apes can’t survive in captivity, the only way to see them is by trekking up to their natural habitat in the misty cloud forests that can reach altitudes of 14,763 feet (4,500 meters).
Starting at one of the five trailheads in Uganda, at about 08:00, the UWA supervisor will brief a group of eight trekkers and assign them one of the twenty habituated gorilla groups, two armed rangers, and a tracker with a walkie talkie and a machete.
The two rangers will flank the trekkers front and back. At the same time, the tracker will lead while communicating on a walkie-talkie with another group of rangers that went ahead of your group to find the gorillas and make your trekking less challenging.
When you find the gorillas, the rangers will allow you to observe the gorillas for one hour, in silence and at a safe distance. Sitting in silence on the cold ground of a Ugandan forest for 60 minutes might be one of life’s greatest privileges.
Hiking at an altitude of about 2,600m (8,500 ft), gorilla trekking in Uganda is difficult due to its challenging terrain, impenetrable jungles, and unpredictable weather.
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 of hearted. To many, a traveler hiking in the high altitude and the challenging terrain, gorilla trekking in Uganda promises to be the adventure of a lifetime.
It’s tough work to reach the mountain gorillas. It requires navigating uphill or downhill through thick tangles of jungle vines, roots, and thorns. Travel access the appropriately named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park 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 that much better after all of the hard work.
At the trailhead, you’ll find a group of young uniformed men and women offering their services as porters. We strongly encourage you to use their services, especially if you feel you are not fit enough to cope with the terrain, altitude, humidity, and your daypack. For a nominal amount of around $20, you’ll be providing a livelihood to several inhabitants of a nearby village.
Porters are very 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.
The idea of getting up close to such an imposing creature is terrifying. Contrary to common belief, gorilla trekking is a safe activity. Primatologists have habituated the gorillas available for tourism to human presence and put in place safety procedures that allow travelers to approach them safely.
Sitting a few meters away from a family of gorillas, seeing your humanity reflected in their social rituals and warm brown eyes, makes for one of the most purifying and intimate wildlife encounters you can have in Africa, if not the world.
By law, you’re not allowed to reach out and touch the gorilla. However, they can sometimes reach out and touch you, especially the curious babies. In such instances, do not engage the gorillas, and if silverback charges, don’t sprint or make sudden movements but curl down in a submissive position, and he’ll back down.
Even though they have been habituated to human presence, mountain gorillas are wild creatures and thus very strong and unpredictable; you could be severely injured if they detect any aggression from you. It’s advisable to adhere to the gorilla trekking rules diligently.
Gorilla populations are already under severe threat from logging, poaching, and human encroachment on their environment, plus they are highly susceptible to human diseases. Not only can you not interact with them, but you will have to keep a distance of at least ten meters (32 feet) at all times and wear a face mask. If you are ill, you will not be allowed to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, so ensure you are in excellent health before traveling and taking precautions not to pick up a bug on the flight over.
Gorilla trekking is definitely worth the money you’ll spend. A typical all-inclusive gorilla trekking safari in Uganda will cost you a flight ticket to Entebbe, a one-day drive to the gorilla sanctuary, or a one-hour local flight, a gorilla permit of USD 700, and two or three nights in a safari lodge.
In the impenetrable jungle as you follow a narrow hiking trail through the abundance of the tropical rainforest, wiping sweat from your eyes and feeling grateful for your hiking gaiters. Suddenly, a tracker returns from scouting ahead and excitedly halts your trekking group – it’s time to move forward, slowly, with nothing but your camera and the thrill of anticipation that is worth all the money you’ve paid to get here. With a wide grin, your guide turns and whispers the words you’ve been longing to hear: “There they are.”
Glossy black against the rainforest’s luminous green, this is what you saved your money for; to come to Africa and see a family of mountain gorillas headed by a watchful but benevolent silverback male.
The efforts leading up to this moment evaporate in an instant, and, for the one enchanting hour you spend with them, an odd sense of familiarity settles on you. Young gorillas rough and tumble like sumo wrestlers, maternal females gather in grooming groups, occasionally reprimanding the little ones, while the patriarchal silverback keeps a protective eye on the surroundings.
If you ask again, yes, the once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking in Uganda is worth your savings.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda will cost you the price of a gorilla permit of USD 700 (or $400 during discounted months) if you’re a foreign non-resident. However, there are a couple of other things to consider in the cost of the trekking adventure, like transportation, where to stay, meals, and safari operator fees.
When you use a tour operator like Nkuringo Safaris, 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 Kihihi airstrip (2.5 hours outside Bwindi) is about $350. And all-inclusive descent accommodation around Bwindi ranges between $100 – $600 per night. If you’re using a travel agency, they may charge you between 5% – 30% of the total price.
So, with the price of the gorilla permit, transportation, meals, lodging, and agency fees in considerations, you can approximate what you’ll spend on a gorilla trekking safari trip.
There are two gorilla trekking destinations where you can see mountain gorillas in Uganda; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. There are five trailheads offering trekking excursions; Nkuringo, Rushaga, Buhoma, Ruhija in Bwindi, and Ntebeko in Mgahinga, all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority. All the sectors combined have 20 habituated mountain gorilla families, and 160 gorilla trekking permits are available every day.
The best destination to see mountain gorillas in Uganda is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that has half of the world’s total population.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park 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 takes a 13 sq mi chunk from the more extensive Virunga habitat, which stretches across 168 square miles into Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mgahinga includes 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 high number of 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, habituation experiences.
Which section you should choose to see mountain gorillas will depend on where the gorilla permit will be available. 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. However, the low offers you a chance to choose which trailhead suits you. Nkuringo Safaris promises to get a Nkuringo or Rushaga permit no matter what time of the year you want to see the mountain primates.
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 savvy travelers who can withstand the drenching walks use this change 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.
The chances of seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda are pretty high at 99%. On infrequent occasions have trekkers reported not getting the opportunity to see these incredible primates.
Because Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers, researchers, and guides closely monitor the mountain gorilla families and that the trackers are in close contact with field workers from dawn till dusk every day, guides know more or less where the different families are all the time. You probably have a 99% chance of seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda.
Of course, there are no guarantees with wild animals. An overnight thunderstorm or an unexpected encounter with a predator may cause a troop to move unexpectedly in a completely different direction during the night when no one is there. However, scouts will likely pick up their trail the following day. Before your gorilla trekking excursion starts, a team of scouts go 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.
Nkuringo Safaris makes booking a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda very easy. We will process the gorilla permit on your behalf, and we rarely fail to secure a permit at a reasonable booking date. Our safari experts will work with you to customize a safari trip that suits your taste and style of travel while immersing you in local cultures and nature. We own two multi-award-winning lodges in Entebbe and Bwindi that will give you the exclusive treatment that travelers have come to love over the years.
Contact our local safari experts to get you started on the planning right away.