You arrive in the Land of a Thousand Hills. Otherwise known as the Virunga Mountains, Rwanda. As you are taken back by the sheer vastness of the lush jungle, your friend taps you on the shoulder. You seem to have awoken from a daydream, picturing yourself in a scene out of Tarzan.
Don’t worry, you won’t be dangling off of any vines here, friends. Here you will find the mountain gorilla. Unfortunately, the powerful yet playful ape faces critical endangerment. With 900 remaining on our planet, time is of the essence. One day we may not be able to lay eyes on these fascinating creatures, only pictures in textbooks will remain. We have grown up seeing most animals in captivity in zoos.Why not experience them in full, while trekking through their own habitat? After purchasing your mountain gorilla permit, you will be on your way to seeing your first troop of mountain gorillas.
Your guide will take you through the forest cutting past thick brush until the moment of truth arrives. Maintaining a distance, but close enough to hear the apes scratch, eat and play with their young. An hour with these gorillas will leave a footprint on your soul for a lifetime.
Due to tourist safety concerns, it is currently best to avoid gorilla trekking in Congo.
Best Time To Go
$3,000 - $5,000
Observing the critically endangered mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; Visiting Dian Fossey’s grave and research station; Learning about the Genocide against the Tutsi at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre; Sightseeing at Murchison Falls; Viewing other primates at Kibale National Park; Going for a game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Why Experience Gorilla Trekking?
Gorilla trekking is unlike anything you have ever experienced. It takes some patience and basic physical fitness to actually reach the location of where the gorillas are. There are porters available, which can help you reach the destination and carry your bags.
Your trek will usually begin around 7:30 in the morning. You will be assigned an experienced guide to take you on a 2-5 hour journey to see a group of gorillas.
You start your journey at base camp and then hike up into the dense forests. A maximum of 8 visitors are allowed per gorilla family. Your guide will prep you and tell you what you can and cannot do. Once you reach the gorillas, you are allowed to observe them for one hour. This is an opportunity to take as many photos as possible and soak up the moment in its entirety. Once your time is up, you head back down to be greeted by flat land again.
When visiting Uganda, accommodation can range anywhere from $70 a room to $900 a room. For a luxurious experience, expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 a person. The permit costs $600 a person.
In Rwanda, accommodation ranges in price from $100 to $800 a room. This may or may not include your meals and transportation costs. Most tourists prefer mid-range accommodation, as it is more authentic to the overall experience. The one downside to visiting Rwanda is the gorilla trekking permit alone is $1,500 per person.
A piece of advice to make your travel planning easier is to book through a safari agent. Some credible booking companies include Insight Safari Holiday, Wild Whispers Africa, and Kori Safaris. This is extremely convenient as they are able to apply for your gorilla trekking permit while creating your itinerary and booking all of your accommodation.
Pros And Cons
- While on this adventure, you will be able to see a rare species of ape while in their own habitat.
- Mountain Gorillas are just one of the animals in West Africa. There are various species of birds and monkeys in the forests and several animals in the Savannah like lions, Kob elephants, hippos, and leopards. With the amount of wildlife, there is great opportunity to book other safari activities in addition to your gorilla trek.
- This is all easily booked through a safari agent where they will organize your full itinerary and book your accommodation. A safari agent is especially convenient when booking a gorilla trekking permit. These are crucial to book far in advance as there are limits to how many can be issued.
- Most gorilla families include at least 10 members, this increases your chances of seeing the gorillas and seeing several of them at a time. You are also likely to see gorillas varying in age. The babies are bound to tug at your heartstrings.
- The most important thing about gorilla trekking is that when you purchase a gorilla trekking permit, you are contributing towards the conservation and protection of the mountain gorilla. You are also helping boost the economy of these West African countries by paying for accommodation and other safari activities. These are great ways to support the countries and gorillas so we will be able to enjoy them for years to come.
- Due to a recent yellow fever outbreak in Angola, U.S. citizens are required to have a yellow fever vaccination before entering Rwanda. Otherwise, you could pay $40 to get the vaccination on arrival. This is simply a precaution, as the outbreak did not occur in the countries of Rwanda or Uganda. Other vaccinations and medications that are an opportunity for good measure when visiting are Hepatitis A, Malaria, and Typhoid.
- As a dream list experience, be prepared to spend a fair amount. Considering it is such a special encounter, the cost is fairly reasonable. If you are able to, book with a group to split accommodation and transportation costs or visit during the offseason.
Best Time To Go
In Uganda, most tourists visit between June and September and December to February. Because of the countries rainy and tropical climate, the dry season is ideal. Not only is it more comfortable for trekkers, it allows for drier savannahs to see the animals better. If you are looking for a discount in Uganda, they offer gorilla permits at half price in March and April. The best time to visit Rwanda is similar to Uganda. You are able to add on activities and sightsee at Murchison Falls or see other wildlife at Kibale Forest National Park.Although Rwanda is a smaller country to Uganda, it has twice as many Mountain
Gorilla Groups. This allows for easier access to permits. Rwanda offers a 4-day experience of seeing the gorillas, as well as visiting Dian Fossey’s grave and her old research station This is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of a school holiday and book a fun and educational trip. Not only will you be in a beautiful country filled with wildlife, you will also learn about the mountain gorilla. This is key to bringing awareness to their endangerment.
Start your African Adventure
4 Day Gorilla Trekking & Uganda Wildlife Safari
This affordable 4 Day Gorilla Trekking & Uganda Wildlife Safari takes you African Mountain Gorilla Trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to encounter these endangered primates in the wild - a rare and unforgettable wildlife experience! The Uganda Budget Lodge Safari also travels to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel and game viewing in Uganda's top national park. Safari highlights include a village walk near Bwindi Park and visiting Igongo Cultural Village.A once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking and wildlife adventure in Uganda!
The Ultimate Gorilla Experience
Uganda is a land of contrasts. In half a day you can drive from mist-shrouded volcanic mountains to hot hazy savannah, dappled with wildlife. Serene undulating hills of tea plantations, lush but ordered, give way to tangled jungle and rainforest with the musical accompaniment of chaotic, cacophonous birdlife. Uganda is alive with these contrasts: The tiniest sunbirds, iridescent in the morning light, the massive lumbering yet silent elephant, disappearing like a vapor behind the trees, the chimpanzees crashing about the forest canopy, the lugubrious gorilla, chewing thoughtfully in the bamboo thicket. There’s the Nile, twisting its way north like a shimmering ribbon, through arid semi-desert scattered about with rocky kopjes. Snow-capped peaks, tropical, sandy, freshwater beaches, and smiling faces everywhere. It’s all here, a feast for all the senses.
Gorilla Experience and Lake Bunyonyi Tour
The gorilla and Lake Bunyonyi experience will bring you closer to the Giant shy Apes and the beauty of the Lake Bunyonyi
Gorillas Trekking, Masai Mara & Zanzibar Holiday
From tracking wild mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, to soaring over the plains of the iconic Masai Mara in a hot air balloon, and swimming with whale sharks in Zanzibar, we’re certain that this African adventure will be the most magical and memorable holiday you will ever take. Starting in Rwanda you’ll track endangered mountain gorillas, before spending three days in Kenya’s Masai Mara. This phenomenal holiday ends with four days on the exotic spice island on Zanzibar.
Best Parks For Gorilla Trekking
What to expect
There are four trailheads within Bwindi, from where you can start your trek:
- Ruhija, Buhoma, Nkuringo and Rushaga.
Once at your particular trailhead, you will be briefed before beginning your adventure. On this challenging hike through uneven terrain, steep slippery slopes and dense jungle, you will have the opportunity to see the true beauty of Bwindi. You will encounter other primate species along your way, as well as a variety of birds and a unique abundance of butterflies. There are other mammals present – buffalo, giant forest hog and the rare forest elephant – but you are less likely to encounter them. Once you find the gorillas, you will get to spend an hour with them, before making the return trip, back to the trailhead.
This is a very challenging hike (and can take from 3-9 hours), and being physically fit is highly recommended.Only 88 permits for gorilla trekking are issued each day, and booking as early as possible is essential, especially if you want to visit in the high season (June-August). Permits currently cost $600 per person per day.
When to visit
Although Bwindi is open all year-round, the best time to go gorilla trekking is from June to August (dry season). There is also a short dry season from December to February, which is great for gorilla trekking. The trails are not as slippery during the dry months, which make for easier hiking, and the drier weather means accommodates more beautiful photos.
MGHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK IN UGANDA
What to expect
In comparison to Bwindi, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is not as great. The park forms part of the Virunga Mountain Range and is not as beautiful. Additionally, it is harder to find gorillas here. There is only one habituated mountain gorilla family in the park, and they can be very nomadic – moving across the border at times.
When to visit
As with Bwindi, Mgahinga National Park is open all-year, and the best time to visit is from December to February and June to August.
What to expect
Once you arrive at the starting point in the morning, you will be assigned to a gorilla group and briefed. The treks begin at the base of the volcanoes, travelling up the slopes of the mountains, through the misty, dense forest. Depending on which group of gorillas you are tracking, the trek could be a short one, or end up taking you deep into the forest. The gorillas move around, searching for food. This is why finding them will usually take some time – but you won’t go home disappointed.
Once you find these gentle, fascinating creatures, you are only allowed to visit with them for one hour, before you need to head back to the starting point. Don't forget to turn you camera flash during your photo taking session.
Remember: You will trekking through mountainous forest terrain. Being in good physical condition is of utmost importance.
There are only 80 gorilla trekking permits issued each day. Be sure to book your visit well in advance to avoid disappointment. Permits are currently $1,500 per person per day.
When to visit
As with Uganda, gorilla trekking in Rwanda is available throughout the year. The best time to track gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is from June – September and December to February. The mountainous rainforest is easier to hike in these dry months. The overall weather is good in Rwanda all year. Apart from tracking gorillas, the dry months are the best time to see more wildlife and birds. The drier weather makes the forest climate more bearable.
On the edge of the Albertine Rift Valley lies the unspoiled rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This park is the finest place to track mountain gorillas in Uganda as these endangered primates are protected in this dense, lush rainforest. The park is home to nine other primate species and is a wonderland for birdwatching – with 23 out of the 350 species endemic to the Rift. Bwindi also boasts 220 recorded species of butterflies, coloring the jungle.
Volcanoes National Park offers exceptional views from enchanted peaks, and stunning scenery from volcanic mountain slopes. The park is the Rwandan portion of the striking Virunga Volcanoes Mountains. This spectacular forested range is home to five of the eight Virunga volcanoes and is the absolute best place in Africa to track the endangered mountain gorilla.
Getting There And Safety
- Waterproof jacket
- Long pants made of a thicker material to withstand thorn bushes
- Layers of clothing (long t-shirt underneath with another short sleeve t-shirt on top)
- Hiking boots
- Gardening gloves to protect hands during the hike
- Thick long socks
- Waterproof day pack
- Snacks and a water bottle
Going on a gorilla trekking adventure in Africa comes with obvious risks. We recommend you get travel insurance for all safaris in Tanzania. Make sure your insurance has full medical coverage, emergency air evacuation, repatriation and the standard travel insurance for cancellations, delays and luggage cover.
Check World Nomads’ travel insurance calculator to see the cost of the safari trip cover.
Both Uganda and Rwanda offer similar experiences when it comes to gorilla trekking. The deciding factors depend on the traveler and what they are looking for. Uganda has 4 gorilla groups, while Rwanda has 7.
Rwanda is a smaller country than Uganda so you may have to walk less to find gorillas. The mountain slopes in Uganda and Rwanda are both extreme and require treks up hills, requiring someone who is physically fit. A gorilla trekking permit in Uganda is less expensive than in Rwanda. In both countries, there are other activities to do besides gorilla trekking.
In Rwanda, you are able to visit Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, hike to Karisoke where Dian Fossey completed her research, and see the Golden Monkeys of Volcanoes National Park. In Uganda, you will be able to enjoy the greatest African safari adventure. Uganda is known to be one of the best safari countries in Africa and you will find the big five game.
Although incidents are extremely rare, you should not take gorilla or chimpanzee trekking lightly. It is not a walk in a park and you will be encountering wild primates in their natural habitat, where they reign supreme. To us, humans, it is a humble reminder of our real place in the packing order in the true nature.
However, you will be briefed before the trek and encouraged to rely on your common sense and your guide's experience to have an enjoyable and safe hike.
Otherwise known as gentle giants, mountain gorillas are usually very kind towards each other. In any case, your guide will only take you to track habituated chimp groups, as they will be familiar with human visitors.
Primates you can see in Africa are known as Great Apes, or Hominids. It’s important to remember that we fall into the same biological genera:Homo and other ancestors are also called great apes together with orangutans, gorillas and chimps.
This is why certain safety precautions are different from viewing other wild animals. Here are are few to remember:
- No mater what you believe, always apply your guide's advice.
- Remain close to your guide at all times. You will need to see their actions to repeat, if necessary.
- Be quiet on your hike.
- Move slowly whatever you do.
- Watch your step and hold branches on your way, to avoid slapping the next person in the face.
- Leave the food behind before approaching gorillas.
- Because they are our biological relatives, gorillas can get viruses from us, so you shouldn't go on a hike if you’ve got a cold, flu or any other virus.
- Some blogs suggest sneezing and coughing away from the animals, but this is not a real precaution for them. Because these species are critically endangered - only 900 left - please put their survival before your interests and wait till you are no longer contagious before heading into their natural habitat. Consult your guide about getting necessary medication to speed up the process.
- Keeping your distance is extremely important, so please don’t try to get closer than 21ft (7m) to gorillas. Your guide will show you how to slowly back off, if the animals start getting closer to your waiting place.
- Give gorillas way of movement, do not block their path.
- Avoid eye contact with gorillas.
- In an extremely rare scenario where you sense hostility from a gorilla slowly back off. This usually involves crouching down and waiting till they pass you by.
- Switch off flash on your camera before your hike. Check the light and practice taking photos without it, so that you can get great pictures without disturbing gorillas.
- Wear a long-sleeved top and long pants for the hike to avoid scratches and mosquito bites. Use 20-30% DEET repellent.
- Wear sun protection: sun screen and a hat.
- Stay hydrated, bring some water.
- If you go to the toilet on the hike, it is essential to bury your waste at least 12”(30cm) underground. So it’s important to go to the toilet before the trek.