Gorilla Trekking Hope Tours Africa

Gorilla Trekking In Uganda

With two gorilla trekking destinations, Uganda is home to half the world’s mountain gorilla population. Seeing mountain gorillas up close in their natural habitat is one of the most incredible wildlife encounters in Africa, taking part in gorilla trekking in Uganda also directly supports conservation efforts and population growth of mountain gorillas.

Uganda has two gorilla trekking destinations that is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, by far Bwindi is the more popular choice for gorilla trekking in Uganda as it hosts a greater population of gorillas. Also, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has a wide range of accommodation options 

The park you will visit for gorilla trekking in Uganda will depend on your wider travel plans and the time you have, there is no difference in permit prices or chances of sightings across the two parks. 

By location, Bwindi and Mgahinga is in the south-western region of Uganda. 

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the main gorilla trekking destination in Uganda, the park has four trail heads namely Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo hosting habituated families. Each trail head has its own gorilla families, characteristics, and levels of difficulty. 

Gorilla trekking in Bwindi departs from one of the four trailheads on the perimeters of the forest, visitors are grouped into a maximum group size of 8 people for a guided hike into the forests in search of one of the habituated gorilla families. 

Gorilla treks are led by experienced Uganda Wildlife Authority guides, along the trek you will be introduced to the ecology of the forest and the changing landscape as you trek the gorillas. You are guides are in communication with the team of trackers who will have been shadowing the gorillas since daybreak. Your guides are directed by trackers to bring you to the gorillas. 

Gorilla trekking excursions run daily from the park headquarters start at 08:30 am with briefing at 7:30 am, the groups are limited to 8 people and the reason for limiting the group is to keep the gorillas safe from any airborne diseases. Also, to increase the changes of gorilla sightings as larger groups often scare off the gorillas. 

To reach the gorillas, you must hike through the thick, triffid-like tangles of vegetation, up muddy hills and down into the craggy valleys. 

The high altitude and testing terrain make the journey tiresome, but the reward is more magical. 

Once you encounter the gorillas, there is usually a silent wait, deep within the dense foliage as the gorilla edges closer. When they do merge, seeing the gorillas in their natural habitat is truly a breathtaking experience. 

Any silence is soon broken by the rustling of leaves as gorillas wander and play and the calls, whistles, and whoops of thousands of animal species for miles around providing the perfect soundtrack. 

You will have up to one hour to spend with the gorillas watching them play with each other, feed and groom each other. For visitors who wish to spend more time with mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, you can take part in a gorilla habituation experience and spend up to 4 hours with these gentle giants. 

Habituated families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can be accessed from four trail heads – Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. Each trail head has its own characteristic, families, and levels of difficulty.

The trailheads serve as launch points for treks to the habituated gorilla families, the standard treks depart in the morning and include one hour observing the gorillas from about seven meters. 

The treks can be quite challenging, and you need to be prepared to trek for up to 6 hours, although most sightings take place within 2-3 hours.  

Situated close to the border of Rwanda and part of the Virunga Conservation Area, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a popular gorilla destination for cross-over itineraries with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The park is the only place in Uganda where you can trek golden monkeys.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is more secluded than Bwindi and the treks are not as challenging, there are fewer permits available in Mgahinga. There is only one family habituated to make contact in Mgahinga called Nyakagezi group, this gorilla family has five silverbacks, two adult females and three young gorillas. 

Traditionally, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was used as an overflow gorilla trekking destination for Bwindi, but that has recently changed for two reasons 

  • The increase in gorilla permit in Rwanda to $ 1,500 has prompted visitors to explore Rwanda’s other destinations and then cross the border to Mgahinga for gorilla trekking where the permit is $ 800. 
  • Mgahinga is a such a wonderful place to visit as it is closely situated to the beautiful lakes of Mutanda and Bunyonyi. 
  • You can also climb the Volcanoes at Mgahinga, this is a very rewarding adventure, and the hike surpasses 4,000 meters with 8-9 hours hiking.  

Uganda’s equatorial climate means temperatures remain quite consistent year-round, rainfall is all that separates the seasons. March to May is the long rainy season and October to November is the short rainy season.

Mountain gorillas can be visited at any time of the year; however the dry season offers the best conditions for gorilla trekking as the trails are less muddy and slippery. 

Currently gorilla permits in Uganda cost US$ 800 per person 

Gorilla permits in Uganda are no longer discounted permits in Uganda during the rainy seasons, however the advantage of traveling during the rainy season either short (October to November) or long (March to May) is that the gorilla permits are easy to secure.

If you are traveling in the peak travel months of January to February and June to August, note that the permits can sell out as early as year in advance. The gorilla permits are strictly limited so we strongly recommend planning gorilla trek and booking your permit early.  

One advantage of visiting the gorilla in Uganda is that the permit is relatively cheap compared to the neighboring Rwanda where permit prices are US $ 1,500 per permit. 

Travel Tip: if one hour of being in contact with mountain gorillas is not enough for you, it is possible to do the gorilla habituation experience which is only offered in the Rushaga Sector of Southern Bwindi. This experience costs US$ 1500 for a permit for 4 hours of being in presence of a semi-habituated gorilla family.

Gorilla permits are non-refundable, but if you trek and do not see the gorillas, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund 50% of the permit cost. Though it happens very rarely. 

Be prepared for a walk through a challenging terrain of steep ridges and valleys, the trek is done following animal paths through tangled undergrowth of about 3 hours, although sometimes contact can be made after 45 minutes and other times 6 hours. 

During the rainy season, the trekking routes can become very slippery and much more challenging. The rains can sometimes bring the mountain gorillas to the lower ground which shortens the length of the trek, but you should be prepared to trek for up to 6 hours in any case. 

Typically, the gorillas prefer the highlands, so the trek is made more challenging due to periods of steep gradients 

Trekking through the dense forest thickets in Bwindi or Mgahinga require a well – considered get-up, since these two destinations are situated on the equator, you need to be prepared for rains no matter what time of the year you are travelling.

While you want clothing that protects you from the elements, you also need to keep cool for the 2–6-hour trekking. So, you will want light and comfortable clothing. The essential clothing for gorilla trekking in Uganda is as follows 

  • Good quality, robust, waterproof trekking shoes/boats 
  • Light waterproof trekking pants/ trousers to keep your skin protected, waterproof gaters are even a better option 
  • Waterproof jacket/raincoat/wind breaker 
  • Long sleeve trekking T-shirt (ideally Dri-FIT or similar)
  • Gardening gloves to protect you against thorns and allow you to push through the difficult parts of the trail without worrying about what you are grabbing on to. 
  • Also, we recommend bringing a few sachets of re-hydration salts. Water is of course provided for the treks, but you can often find yourself dehydrated after a full day of trekking and the salts can provide quick relief.  
  • A walking stick will be provided for you on a trek

While sightings of gorillas can never be guaranteed, the rise of the gorilla populations in Uganda combined with the experience of your trekking guide means that encounters are almost always made in Bwindi or Mgahinga

That said, you have to be prepared to work for it as you might have to trek for 6 hours before finding a habituated group. If you end up not seeing the gorillas, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund 50% of your permit cost. In the history of gorilla trekking, there has never been anyone not seeing the gorillas.   

Most of the lodges around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are found in the region of Buhoma, from this sector you can trek both the Buhoma routes and the Ruhija routes. 

These accommodations range from budget, midrange, and luxury. These include Mahogany Springs, Buhoma Lodge, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp and Bwindi Volcanoes Lodge.  

Other lodges include Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Buhoma Haven lodge, Buhoma Community Camp among others.  

In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, there are limited accommodation options, and the available options are Mount Gahinga Lodge, Mount Gahinga Rest Camp, Lake Mulehe Safari Lodge and community campground. 

You can also get accommodation in Kisoro Town. 

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