Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda; Travelers’ excitement hormones are raised, breaths are taken away and a certain feeling of fulfillment is derived when mountain gorillas are encountered in their natural habitat. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and nothing beats the thrill of seeing a young gorilla playing and jumping on tree branches or a silverback showing Authority and dominance in his family. This encounter can be best enjoyed in Uganda and Rwanda, although these Giant Apes also live in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Travelers that book Gorilla safaris in Uganda and Rwanda will find themselves immersed in the Volcanoes National Park in the latter, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda is exceptional because travelers have a choice of two fantastic destinations to meet face-to-face with the Giant Apes in their natural habitat.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The 321-square-kilometer Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is popularly referred to as the “ultimate gorilla trekking destination” and shelters the highest population of these Giant Apes and also has the highest number of habituated gorilla families. More than 500 mountain gorillas (almost half the World’s population of mountain gorillas) are found here. With its 20 habituated gorilla families, a total of 160 gorilla permits are issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority every day and these provide access and a one-hour encounter with the Giant Apes in one of the four sectors of Buhoma, Nkuringo, Ruhija, or Rushaga.

This Park is the only place where you can undertake the Gorilla Habituation Experience, and it involves trekking semi-habituated mountain gorillas and spending more time with them (4 hours) instead of the one hour spent during standard gorilla treks.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is popularly known as the smallest National Park in Uganda at 34 square kilometers but what always excites travelers more is the fact that it is also home to mountain gorillas. However, there is only one habituated gorilla family known as “Nyakagyezi” and for this reason, only 8 permits are issued each day for this Park. It is undeniable that mountain gorillas are the stars of the show here but travelers interested in meeting face-to-face with the golden monkeys in Uganda are only able to do it here. This Park is also home to three of the eight Virunga Volcanoes (Gahinga, Muhabura, and Sabyinyo).

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park, a 160-square-kilometer Protected Area in the Northern Province is the only place where mountain gorillas are trekked in Rwanda and here, about 30% of the World’s mountain gorillas are found. This Protected Area is part of the Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) that also encompasses Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Volcanoes National Park

Situated in northwestern Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is where Dian Fossey undertook her research on mountain gorillas for 18 years until her gruesome murder in December 1985. Volcanoes National Park Rwanda currently has 12 (twelve) habituated gorilla families and each is visited by a maximum of only eight (8) visitors thus only 96 gorilla permits are issued each day.

Your typical gorilla trekking day

Regardless of the destination of choice, gorilla trekking begins early in the morning with a briefing at the Park Headquarters. Depending on the location of the gorilla family, travelers first walk or are driven to the trailhead. Later, start searching for the mountain gorillas in the company of an experienced guide and armed Ranger (for protection from stray animals). Gorilla treks are generally long and unpredictable, often lasting for 2-6 hours and this includes one hour of a close encounter with a habituated family of these Giant Apes.

Gorilla Trekking is generally hectic owing to the fact that gorilla families move to far locations, the terrains are sloppy and the ground can be muddy if it has rained. For this reason, a reasonable fitness level is required for you to have a successful gorilla trekking experience.

Rules and Regulations of Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda

Regardless of where your gorilla trekking adventure is based, the same rules and regulations apply and they include;

Keep your voice as low as possible when trekking as you are likely to scare away other creatures in the Park, especially birds, and other primates, or when watching Mountain gorillas, as they are susceptible and sensitive to disturbances.

Flash cameras are not allowed for photography because they startle these Giant Apes hence you risk being charged by the silverbacks and prematurely ending your time with them.

Properly wash your hands with clean water and soap before entering the mountain gorilla natural habitats, to reduce the risk of spreading diseases.

Make sure that you don’t have flue and cough before trekking the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat because they are closely related to us and hence very susceptible to communicable diseases.

A minimum distance of 7 meters should be maintained when watching and photographing the mountain gorillas.

You will have only One hour to watch and photograph the mountain gorillas. However, your time can be cut short when the mountain gorillas become irritated and charge.

Do not drink, Eat, or smoke while in the presence of mountain gorillas as you are likely to draw attention or it also increases the chances of spreading diseases.

Only travelers who are 15 years and above are allowed to trek the mountain gorillas. This limit was placed for a number of reasons that include the fact that gorilla trekking is difficult and physically demanding hence a 7 or 10-year-old can’t handle it. Also, children are very unpredictable (likely to scream when silverback charges).

The best time to trek mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda?

Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is available throughout the year but each season comes with advantages and disadvantages. The dry season (June to September and December to February) comes with minimal rains, drier trails, and therefore relatively less challenging treks. However, the disadvantage is that mountain gorillas move farther in search of fresh vegetation thus treks become longer.

The wet season (March to May and October to November) comes with increased rainfall levels thus more slippery/muddy trails hence more challenging. The good news is that given the abundance of food, mountain gorillas live closer to the forest edges thus treks tend to be shorter. However, let’s bust your bubble by saying mountain gorilla habitats are generally mountainous and heavily forested hence chances of rain in the dry season are as high as it is in the wet season. Therefore, always be prepared for all situations.

Gorilla trekking permit prices in Uganda and Rwanda

Gorilla permits for Uganda cost $700 per person for foreign non-residents, $600 per person for foreign residents, and Shs. 250,000 for the East African Citizens.

Rwanda gorilla permits cost USD 1500 per person. However, at the time of writing, Rwanda is offering promotional gorilla permit rates for Rwandan and East African Community Citizens at $200, and $500 per person for foreign residents in Rwanda and African Nationals.

What to pack for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is not a simple walk and therefore requires proper preparation and what to pack is one of them. Therefore, some of the things that you shouldn’t leave behind are a rain jacket, a backpack, long-sleeved shirts, safari pants, a backpack, gardening gloves, hiking boots, and gaiters, cotton socks, a wide-brimmed safari hat, insect repellents, sunglasses and sunscreen, reusable water bottle, a first aid kit, toiletries, a good camera with extra batteries, pair of binoculars, to mention but a few.

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