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.
The internet buzzes with arguments on which country is the best for the gorilla trekking adventure. However, you have all the power to choose which destination suits your preferences based on 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. If you choose gorilla trekking in Uganda over Rwanda, you must be excited about getting down and dirty.
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 boots, wearing long jungle pants and a ridiculous hat. Better pack a bag of patience and a good sense of humor to lighten the anticipation.
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 that have been to DRC and braved the uncertain eventualities, say great praises for the authentic experience.
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 to protect 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.
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 Uganda Wildlife Authority.
All the sectors combined have 20 habituated mountain gorilla families, and 160 gorilla trekking permits are available daily.
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, 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. 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 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, habituation experiences.
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 email@example.com; they could have some last-minute permits for you.
You can see wild gorillas only in these African destinations.
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, tourists can only see them by trekking into their natural habitats. The terrain is rugged, steep and the jungles are misty and thick, reaching 14,763 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level.
Daily treks begin at five visitor center locations at 08:00 am, in small controlled groups of eight tourists, an expert tracker, and two armed rangers. You will be walking in untamed territory where anything could potentially be dangerous. Armed rangers are for your security from dangerous animals and anything else that cause visitors harm. The tracker will also be carrying a fine-edged machete for clearing your path and a walkie-talkie to communicate with other rangers and trackers.
Your tracker guide will be communicating 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 and make your trekking less challenging.
When you finally find the gorillas, your trekking guide will ask you to wear your facemask and observe them in silence 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 your experience. Mountain gorillas have a very calm demeanor and graciously ignore your presence unless you get out of line with the rules and all!
Sitting in silence on the cold ground of a Ugandan forest for 60 minutes might be one of life’s greatest privileges.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is difficult due to its challenging terrain, impenetrable jungles, unpredictable weather, and you’ll be hiking at high altitudes of about 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 appropriately 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, a traveler hiking in the high altitude and the challenging terrain, gorilla trekking in Uganda promises to be the adventure of a lifetime.
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 while carrying your daypack. Porters offer their services for a nominal amount of around $20, and you’ll be providing 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.
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 safety procedures in place to allow travelers to approach them safely. Even though they are habituated to human presence, mountain gorillas are powerful and unpredictable wild creatures. A silverback could rip you into pieces if they detected any harmful intent for you. It’s advisable to diligently adhere to the gorilla trekking rules to avoid dangerous encounters.
Firstly, two armed rangers escort you into the gorilla jungle, ensuring your security from aggressive attacks and any other unknown threats. You’re very safe if you don’t wander away from the trekking group.
Secondly, respect that you’re a guest in the wild, and gorillas will tolerate your presence for the specified time. To stay safe, do not do anything outside the rules of gorilla trekking. Follow everything your guide says during the whole expedition.
Thirdly, because of their vulnerability to human disease, by law, you’re not allowed to reach out and touch the gorillas. However, they can sometimes reach out and touch you, especially the curious youngsters. In such instances, do not engage the gorillas and humbly avoid any contact. If the silverback charges, don’t sprint or make sudden movements but curl down in a submissive position, and he’ll back down.
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 with flu or something, you will not be allowed 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.
Sitting a few meters away from a family of gorillas and seeing your humanity reflected in their warm-brown eyes and social rituals is one of the most purifying and intimate wildlife encounters in Africa. If not, the world.
You can’t put a price on an encounter with a four hundred pound silverback in its natural domain. Gorilla trekking is definitely worth the money because you’ll not only have an experience of a lifetime but also generously contribute to conserving the endangered apes and their habitat. A big chunk of the fees collected from gorilla permits is put back into the conservation efforts.
Secondly, Uganda’s typical all-inclusive gorilla trekking safari is way cheaper than trekking in Rwanda. The costs of a gorilla adventure will often include a local flight ticket between Entebbe & Bwindi and transfers or transport to the gorilla sanctuary (10-hour drive or one-hour local flight), a $700 gorilla permit, and accommodation for three or more days.
Priceless is hiking in the impenetrable jungle as you follow a tracker through the abundance of the tropical rainforest, wiping sweat from your eyes and feeling grateful for your hiking gaiters. Suddenly, your tracker excitedly halts your trekking group – it’s time to meet the dark-furred giants. With a wide grin, your guide turns and whispers the words you’ve been longing to hear: “There they are.” Unhurriedly, with nothing but your camera and the thrill of anticipation, you move forward to meet your protagonist.
You see glossy black bodies against the rainforest’s luminous green; it is the reason you saved your money. You’ve finally met 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 the mighty forest giants, 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. At the same time, the patriarchal silverback keeps a protective eye on the surroundings.
Yes, the once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking in Uganda is worth your savings.
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Gorilla trekking in Uganda primarily costs $700, the price of a gorilla permit. The permit is discounted at $600 to 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.
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.
Month-by-month details on when to go.
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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.
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.
As part of your Uganda safari from Queen Elizabeth National Park, you can reach the Buhoma gorilla trekking trailhead in 2-3 hours (from the Ishasha sector) or 5-6 hours (from more Kazinga Channel).
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
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.