Uganda Gorilla Trekking Tours & Safari Holidays 2021/22

Mountain Gorilla Safari

Uganda Gorilla Trekking Tours & Safari Holidays

Gorilla trekking tours in the east-central Africa rainforests, once-in-a-lifetime gorilla safari experiences in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga mountain forests in Rwanda organized by an expert local operator.


Mountain Gorilla Safari

Uganda Gorilla Trekking Tours & Safari Holidays

Gorilla trekking tours in the east-central Africa rainforests, once-in-a-lifetime gorilla safari experiences in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga mountain forests in Rwanda organized by an expert local operator.


Home / Uganda Gorilla Trekking Tours

Uganda Gorilla Trekking Tours

Uganda gorilla trekking tours mainly consist of adventure hiking into the rainforest jungles to see the endangered mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga National Park on Virunga mountains slopes. 

During the Habituation process, a group of dedicated researchers and primatologists take a mountain gorilla family through a five-year-long process of preparing the gorilla family for tourism. During this time, the wild gorilla troop, in their natural habitat,  slowly gets used to human presence. When the gorilla family is gets used to humans being around them, rangers and guides or trackers escort tourists, who have booked this activity, deep into the rainforest jungle to spend one to four hours a day with the habituated gorilla family. The number of tourists allowed to visit a gorilla family is restricted to eight people per day to minimize the stress caused by our presence.

Therefore, gorilla trekking is a hiking excursion into the mountain rainforests of Uganda, escorted by rangers and a tracker, searching for a gorilla family and, when found, spend an exclusively indescribable quiet hour in their presence. That moment is treasured by many who visit these parts of Africa because it’s the only region in the world where the endangered mountain gorillas survive.

It is mainly because of gorilla tourism that conservationists have pulled off the protection of mountain gorillas and their natural habitat from the gruesome expanding world.

Since 2007 when we build our gorilla safari lodge on the southern border of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Nkuringo Safaris has been at the forefront of taking tourists to spend that precious moment with these magnificent primates.

Our Uganda gorilla trekking tours are more than just a jungle holiday. They’re a beam of light into the future, a connection with the natural world, communities, cultures, and human origins surrounding the mountain gorillas in these prehistoric rainforests—preserving yesterday’s natural world for the future generation through sustainable tourism. We invite you to come and become part of our natural history on these adventures.

Trek with us tomorrow!

CUSTOM UGANDA GORILLA TREKKING TOURS Packages

Gorillas in The Wild Adventure Safari

Gorillas in The Wild Adventure Safari

7 Days | Walking, Hiking, Culture & Gorillas
FROM 4,925 pp, sharing

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Uganda Primates Safari

Uganda Primates Safari

7 Days | Gorillas & Chimps

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Best of Uganda Safari

Uganda Safari Adventure

14 Days | Uganda Highlights

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Uganda Safari Highlights

Uganda Safari Highlights

11 Days | Uganda Nature Sites

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Virunga Circuit Safari

Virunga Circuit Safari

16 Days | Hiking & Trekking

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MOUNTAIN GORILLA FACTS

Standing at 4-6 ft tall and weighing about 300-485 lbs (136 to 220 Kgs), the mountain gorilla, scientific name Gorilla beringei beringei, is one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla.

The Mountain gorilla population is estimated to be just above 1060 individuals occupying the montane and bamboo forest jungles of central-east Africa’s volcanic mountain slopes at an altitude of 2,200–4,300 meters (7,200–14,100 ft). These precious mountain giants are listed on the ICUN Red List as endangered species.

Of the four gorilla species found only in Africa, Mountain gorillas live in the most extreme environment. There are two populations protected within the small central-eastern Africa border reserves of three countries.

One of the gorilla populations is in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three protected reserves, including Mgahinga National Park in southwest Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The second mountain gorilla population, which is almost half of the total population, occupies the rugged jungles of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Mountain gorillas can not survive anywhere else other than where they live, even though people have tried to captured and transfer them countless times.

They live in the wild in social families (troops or bands) of 5-30 individuals led by a dominant male silverback who organizes troop activities in a home range of up to 16 sq mi and retains all mating rights to the numerous females among his family.

Ther diet is omnivores, feeding on roots, shoots, fruit, wild celery, tree bark, and pulp. They can weigh up to 481 pounds (216 kgs) at a standing height of up to 6 ft (1.8 m) and live to be 35 years. Mountain gorillas can climb trees but prefer to spend most of their lives on the forest floor, where they find plentiful food for their vegetarian diet.

Contrary to popular belief, mountain gorillas are gentle giants that spend most of their time foraging, feeding, napping, fornicating, and grooming each other. The huge male silverback will occasionally show off his physical prowess by chest-thumping and hauling in deep, loud voices, but he would rather avoid a confrontation if he can. He could, however, tare a human to pieces if provoked. Violent encounters with other silverbacks are often fatal leading to death.

Book any of our Uganda gorilla trekking tours above to see these incredible giants up-close in their natural habitat. Remember, they’re not found in any zoo worldwide; the ones you see in zoos are the other smaller species, the western lowland gorillas from West Africa.

Map showing where mountain gorillas are found - uganda gorilla trekking tours
Map of southwestern Uganda showing gorilla sanctuaries and how to reach them. © 2021 Nkuringo Safaris Ltd.

WHERE TO SEE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS

Mountain gorillas are found in extreme mountainous conditions around the Virunga mountains in two separate but close habitats. One of the gorilla habitats, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, harbors about half of the mountain gorilla population near Uganda’s southwestern border with DRC. The second gorilla habitat is shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC and is located on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains.

Many of the mountain gorillas in the wild live far from human reach, deep inside the rainforest jungles. However, governments collaborating with conservationists have Habituated a selected number of gorilla families for gorilla tourism in the four national parks where the mountain gorillas are protected.

In Uganda, tourists above 15 can see mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which has 19 gorilla families are available for gorilla trekking tours. An additional Habituated family of gorillas is open for trekking in Mgahinga National Park, found at Uganda’s extreme southwestern corner border. The two gorilla parks in Uganda are less than 300 square miles (10 times smaller than Yellowstone National Park in the USA) and protect more than half of the world’s total mountain gorilla population.

Unlike Rwanda, Uganda has five trailheads where gorilla trekking tours start to go see the gorillas.

Four trailheads in Bwindi include Buhoma (north), Nkuringo (South), Rushaga (southeast), and Ruhija (east). The fifth is the only one in Mgahinga. All Uganda gorilla permits are issued based on the location of these trailheads, and gorilla excursions to see the mountains begin early morning at the trailhead and head out to find the primates.

From Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, tourists can see mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park at the extreme northwestern Rwanda border with Uganda and Congo. The park has 10 gorilla families available for gorilla trekking tours. The park is about 2.5 hours drive from Kigali International Airport and is dotted with excellent travel accommodation spanning from budget to top world-class luxury lodges. Rwanda gorilla trekking tours are incredibly popular with high-end travelers because of their hefty price tag.

On the DRC’s side, tourists can see mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. The easiest access to this park is either from Uganda or Rwanda. However, this park is not as popular as Uganda’s Bwindi and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Parks because of the ambiguous logistics involved in getting to the gorillas.

Although we prefer Uganda gorilla tours for all our travelers, we also arrange gorilla safaris in Rwanda for those that prefer the small destination for their African jungle experience.

Mountain Gorillas Family Sited in the bush - Gorilla trekking
Munyinya, Silverback of the Hirwa Group sited with his family in Volcanoes National Park

THE UGANDA GORILLA TREKKING TOURS EXPERIENCE

The gorilla experience on our Uganda gorilla trekking tours starts at any one of the five trailheads very early in the misty hours of the morning. Trekkers are divided into groups of eight people at the trailhead, escorted by two armed rangers and an expert tracker guide. A lead guide will then brief the trekking party about the activity and the rules governing gorilla trekkings, stressing out operating procedures to protect the wild gorillas and the people out to see them.

Briefing at the trailhead takes place at about 07:30. The lead guide will verify the permits, check the trekkers for illness and prepare them for the activity. The most important rules while trekking mountain gorillas include keeping a 10-meter (32 ft) a safe distance from the gorillas, avoiding direct contact with the gorillas, wearing a fresh facemask as soon as they reach the gorillas, no flash photography, staying calm and quiet, and no eating food anywhere near the gorillas.

Trekkers that don’t trust their physical ability will be asked to hire a porter to help them through their struggles. Porters are strong men and women who live around the park communities and look to this activity for employment. They can carry, assist a trekker or carry their bag and equipment through odious hikes. A porter costs about $20 per person.

At about 08:00 after the briefing, the trekking party sets off into the jungles. Trekkers can pick up a walking stick at the trailhead or come with theirs. Cutting through thick jungle shrubs with non-existent trails and hiking uneven terrain, the trek can take from 30 mins to about 4 hours to reach a mountain gorilla family.

Almost all trekkers make it to the gorillas despite their fitness levels. A group of trackers goes out early to locate the gorillas, and through walkie-talkies, guide your lead tracker guide to their position. So all trekkers are assured of meeting the mountain gorillas at some point. Remember that the slowest person usually sets the hiking pace in the group because the rule is no one is ever left behind.

When trekkers find the gorillas, they’re asked to leave their bags a safe distance away from the gorilla family and carefully approach them with just their silent cameras.

While the lead tracker guide will be relaying information during the visit, the next one hour with the gorillas is left to the trekker to use optimally.

After one precious hour with the gorillas, the guide will lead the trekkers quietly out of sight and head out the jungle. Usually, after such an intense moment, one needs to restock on their protein reserves. The guide finds a clean, safe place to sit and allows trekkers to eat their packed bite or drink some water.

When the trekking group gets back at the trailhead, they’re issued a Uganda gorilla trekking certificate (with their names) for having completed one of the most challenging experiences.

WHAT YOU SHOULD WEAR OR PACK

There’s no particular dressing style for Uganda gorilla trekking 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.

THE UGANDA GORILLA HABITUATION EXPERIENCE

Gorilla trekking is exhilarating but not as much as an encounter with a wild mountain gorilla family on a Habituation Experience.

Our Uganda gorilla trekking tours give tourists a chance to spend more time (at least three hours more than the gorilla trek experience) with a semi-habituated gorilla family.

Wild mountain gorillas do not tolerate the presence of human beings in their wild homes because of the gruesome history they’ve had with sapiens. They either shy away or become aggressive.

Humans have hunted and killed gorillas for hundreds of years, forcing them into inhabitable regions high up the mountains. Thanks to the excellent research work of Dian Fossey on mountain gorillas in 1966, habituated gorillas tolerate or even ignore our presence when we visit.

Gorilla habituation is the slow progressive process of preparing a gorilla family for the human presence within their natural habitat. To become habituated to our visits, each gorilla group undergoes a prolonged, delicate process, lasting around five years, gradually getting accustomed to the presence of humans.

Park rangers, doctors, and researchers start by spending a short period with the gorillas every day, at a certain distance representing the limit of the gorillas’ comfort zone.

As the years go by, they gradually increase the time and reduce the length until they deem the gorillas ready for paying clients to visit them.

In July 2014, UWA introduced the Gorilla Habituation Experience to allow paying participants to join researchers and rangers in the process of habituating a gorilla family, giving paying participants at least 4 hours in the presence of Africa’s wild gorillas. Such a once-in-a-lifetime experience has been described by many as unmatched in all Africa safari activities.

In Uganda, gorilla habituation experience happens in the Rushaga region of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Tourists can now move with researchers to experience how mountain gorillas are habituated. The Habituation Experience permit costs USD 1,500 per person per day.

Gorilla trekking will allow you only one hour in the presence of gorillas, but the habituation experience allows four hours with the mountain gorillas. Because of the dangers and adrenaline rush involving habituation, the price tag on habituation doubles gorilla trekking (at USD 1,500 pp).

Gorilla habituation experience only takes place in regions that have mountain gorillas under habituation. As of now, it’s only in Rushaga where new gorilla groups of Bikingi and Bushaho are under habituation. Gorilla habituation is limited to only four people per gorilla troop per day, while gorilla trekking allows up to eight people per gorilla group.

Like gorilla tracking, the minimum age for gorilla habituation is 15 years, and above and all booking guidelines are the same as those for gorilla trekking.

THE GORILLA PERMIT

A gorilla trekking permit in Uganda costs $700 per person for foreign non-residents. Foreign residents pay $600 per person, and East African Nationals pay 250,000 Uganda Shillings. The same permit in Rwanda costs $1,500 per person, and DR Congo charges $400 per person.

The gorilla permit includes armed ranger protection in the jungle, tracking and guiding services, a trekking certificate, and a community levy. According to Uganda Wildlife Authority, 75% of the gorilla permit fee is given to the gorilla conservation fund, 15% as taxes to the Government of Uganda, and 10% is left for the development of communities around the parks.

If you’re considering one of our Uganda gorilla trekking tours and hope to see mountain gorillas on safari, you must first obtain a gorilla permit from the UWA in Kampala or RDB in Kigali.

If you prefer avoiding the bureaucracy of acquiring a permit, which can be cumbersome for many, Nkuringo Safaris is licensed to process the gorilla permit on your behalf up to 2 years ahead of your trekking date. In case of uncertain events and you need to postpone your trekking date, we’ll still deal with all the rescheduled on your behalf.

Our Uganda gorilla trekking tours experts will help you obtain a trekking permit for either one of the park sectors (Nkuringo, Buhoma, Ruhijja, or Rushaga Sectors) in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga gorilla permits. We’ll also process for you gorilla permits in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, based on availability.

We cannot make tentative bookings for tracking permits with UWA or RDB. All bookings we make with the wildlife authority must be supported with payment in cash when making the reservation.

THE BEST TIME FOR UGANDA GORILLA TREKKING TOURS

The raised topography of southwestern Uganda means a cooler climate than its tropical setting suggests. Still, it’s essential to know the best time to go for the most comfortable trekking conditions if you’re planning a gorilla trekking safari. However, Uganda gorilla trekking tours occur throughout the year irrespective of the weather.

Although gorilla trekking is a year-round activity, the best time for a Uganda gorilla trekking safari is during the region’s two dry seasons of January and February and June to September.

There are fewer rains during the dry season, the roads are more comfortable to navigate, and a Uganda safari itinerary may not be interrupted by unexpected downpours.

Also, note that most tourists chose to go trek Uganda’s mountain gorillas during this time, making permits very scarce, accommodation is expensive, and privacy hard to secure. So book your Uganda gorilla safari at least 4-6 months earlier to avoid inconveniences.

Some travelers chose to travel during the wet seasons which is considered the low season in Uganda.

The wet seasons from September to November and March to May usually pull in fewer crowds, accommodation is cheaper, and it’s easier to process a gorilla trekking permit. But choosing gorilla trekking during the wet season would mean you endure the unfriendly experience of torrential rains, impassable roads, and difficult photography. Some travelers choose the wet season for the experience and price tag on safaris.

Game viewing in Uganda’s savannah parks is best at the end of the dry seasons – February and March and September/early October – when wildlife is concentrated around 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 one of our Uganda gorilla trekking tours. The views are stunning, and it rains mainly in the afternoon for 1 hr and not tempering with activities.

SHOULD YOU TREK IN UGANDA OR RWANDA?

A common question among travelers before considering gorilla safari is whether to trek gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda. Both countries offer excellent trekking experiences, but since we offer custom Uganda gorilla trekking tours, our consultants will usually give you all the pros and cons for either country and let you weigh what works for you.

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. Otherwise, the gorilla-watching experience is the same in both countries, and the chance of seeing the gorillas is the same.

Rwanda offers more upmarket travel options for gorilla safari accommodation.

The gorilla permit price in Rwanda is more than doubles that of Uganda at $1,500 per person.

With transfers, it’s a shorter distance from Kigali International airport to Volcanoes National Park, where tourists trek gorillas, about 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 options to combine trekking with savannah game drives. Uganda also offers relatively more accommodation options for all markets, cheaper safari packages, more trekking trailheads, and more gorilla families habituated for tourism. There are more gorilla permits in Uganda than in Rwanda.

The choice remains with you on which destination suites you. You can also read more in our post about which choice to make: Rwanda or Uganda?

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