Gorilla Trekking is a highlight of all visits done in Uganda which started in 1993 in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Uganda is home to half the world’s Mountain Gorilla population. Seeing these apes up close in their natural habitat is one of the most impressive wildlife encounters one can ever experience. Gorilla tracking involves tracking down a habituated gorilla group in any destination in Uganda.
There are two gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda which include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park
Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi is by far a more popular choice as the park contains a greater population of gorillas, and has a greater range of accommodation options. Bwindi is Uganda’s main gorilla trekking destination. Habituated families can be accessed from four trailheads which include Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. The permits cost $700 for foreigners and 250,000ugx for East African citizens. Individuals aged 15 years and above are allowed to participate in the activity.
Departing from one of the four trailheads to the forest, you join a group of 8 trekkers for a guided hike into the forest in search of one of the gorilla families. You will be led by an experienced Uganda Wildlife Authority guide, and you will be introduced to the ecology of the forest and the changing landscape as you trek to the gorillas.
Gorilla trekking is done twice on a daily starting from the park’s headquarters usually at 09:00 am or 2:15 pm and is limited to groups of eight which increase the chances of sightings, as larger groups scare off the Gorillas. 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.
Once contact is made with the Mountain Gorillas, you will have one hour to spend with the gorillas. If you want to spend longer, you can take part in a gorilla habituation experience and spend up to 4 hours with these gentle giants which costs $1500 for foreigners and 750,000ugx East African citizens
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is Close to the border with Rwanda and is a popular option for cross-over itineraries with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. It’s also the only place in Uganda where you can trek Golden Monkeys. A popular option is to combine gorilla trekking in Nkuringo with a gorilla trek at Mgahinga.
Mgahinga is more secluded than Bwindi and the treks are not as challenging. There are fewer permits available in the park. Although gorilla families constantly cross the border from Rwanda to Uganda, there is only one family habituated to make contact in Mgahinga. The Nyakagezi gorilla family has five silverbacks, two adult females and three young gorillas.
Best Time For Gorilla Trekking
The gorillas can be visited any time of the year and the Permit prices are fixed year-round, so the decision on when to visit depends on you, the availability of permits, and your travel plans.
Gorilla permits are currently fixed at $700 per person in both parks. The permits are no longer discounted during the rainy season, but they are easier to secure at short notice if you are travelling during the long rainy season in the months of March to May or in the short rainy season in the months of October to November. For peak travel months in January – February and June – August, permits can sell out as early as a year in advance and the permit numbers are strictly limited.
If one hour of contact is just not enough, you are simply joining the habituation team in the Rushaga section of southern Bwindi. This experience includes up to four hours with the family observing the individuals and their interactions and costs $1,500 per person. Gorilla permits are non-refundable, but if you trek and do not see a gorilla, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund 50% of the permit cost and it’s rare.
What to Wear During Gorilla Trekking
- You will need to be prepared for rain no matter what time of year you are travelling. While you want clothing that protects you from the weather, you also need to keep cool for the 2-6 hour trekking, so you’ll want light and comfortable clothing.
- Good quality waterproof trekking shoes/boots.
- Light waterproof trekking pants/trousers.
- Long socks to pull up over your pants/trousers to keep your skin protected.
- Waterproof jacket
- Gardening gloves protect against thorns and allow you to push through the more difficult parts of the forest without worrying about what you might grab.
What to Carry During Gorilla Tracking
- Day pack
- Insect repellents
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Bottled water
- Energy snacks
Rules and regulations
- Before you start any gorilla trek, you will be briefed by your guide about the rules to follow throughout your time tracking the gorillas.
- You will be given 1 hour to spend with the gorillas once the first contact has been made. For a lengthier experience, you can join gorilla habituation and spend up to 4 hours with the gorillas. Another great option is to do 2 gorilla treks in different areas of the park.
- You must keep a distance of at least 8 metres at all times.
- No flash photography is allowed under any circumstances.
- Gorilla trekking can be conducted all year round in Uganda but the best time to go for gorilla trekking is during the months of June, July, August, September and December. The activity can be tiresome but you don’t have to miss out on the magical experience.