Mountain gorilla numbers are up but they remain one of the rarest species on earth, with under 1 000 animals in existence today.
We are fortunate to offer our clients the privilege of embarking on gorilla trekking adventures in both Rwanda and Uganda. The chance to witness these great apes in their natural surroundings is a once-in-a-lifetime privilege and should be carefully considered when planning your African safari.
Both countries offer exceptional gorilla trekking opportunities and deciding between the two will often come down to a matter of budget, itinerary and availability of permits. On any given day, there are hundreds of people who would like to view the mountain gorillas, only a few will ever be granted permission.
Trekking to see these critically endangered animals can be a costly experience as a group – going solo, even more so. Yet the emotional fulfillment and the experience is worth every cent that leaves your pocket. Experienced consultants will turn your dreams of encountering these mystical souls into reality, planning and preparing an itinerary for a unique lifetime adventure
Here’s what we have learned from our own travels and during our years of booking gorilla trekking excursions for our clients.
The Best Time of Year to Go Gorilla Trekking
To avoid some of the 1 000mm of rain that falls annually in Uganda and Rwanda, it’s best to book your gorilla trekking jaunt around June to September or between December and February.
Gorilla permits are more easily available outside of these peak seasons and many travelers prefer to enjoy the experience without the crowds. If you don’t mind a downpour in between the usual bouts of daily sunshine this could be an option for you.
No Permit – No Gorillas
You can choose between just 3 destinations for gorilla trekking. These are Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.
Each of these have strict regulations around allowing access to this treasured species. No amount of bribery or impassioned pleas will cut through the red tape of getting gorilla permits in either Rwanda or Uganda.
The easiest way to ensure that you receive the necessary paperwork in time for your gorilla trekking adventure is to book your safari with us at least 6 to 9 months in advance. Trying to cut through the red tape of obtaining the formalities yourself is almost impossible. Besides, tour operators generally buy up all the available permits on the day that sales open.
Permits are not issued to any traveler under the age of 15 years old and cost USD 600 per person in Uganda and USD 1 500 per person in Rwanda.
Extra Attractions during your Gorilla Safari
During a gorilla safari, we like to include as many other activities as time and budget will allow. Your choice of accommodation will have an impact on what’s possible. Here’s a snapshot of what to expect depending on where you stay:
In a nutshell… Uganda is a great option for quick ‘in and out trip’ especially if your only desire is to see the gorillas. The drive from Kigali to the Volcanoes National Park is only 2.5 hours on very good roads. Unfortunately the trekking permits are expensive but well worth it. Rwanda is actually the better option if wanting to combine with an East African safari.
Virunga Safari Lodge – Activities at Virunga Safari Lodge include visits to local villages, a hike to the beautiful site of Dian Fossey’s grave, volcano hikes, demonstrations by local Intore dancers and golden monkey tracking expeditions.
Bisate Safari Lodge – The above activities are all offered at Bisate Safari Lodge along with an additional hike to the Twin Lakes of Ruhondo and Burera, and the lava tunnels of the Musanze Caves is offered.
In a nut shell… There is a wide variety of experiences to be had and destinations to see. The distances are vast and so the best way to get around is to fly as the roads are very pot holed and bumpy. It is a beautiful country, however the amount of litter is disappointing. Especially in comparison to Rwanda which is spotlessly clean thanks to a law by which the whole country has to stop work and embark on a country wide ‘clean up’ once a month!
Mount Gahinga – The portfolio of activities at this lodge include tracking golden monkeys, volcano climbing, walking through local villages and learning about the culture of the Batwa pygmies, the oldest inhabitants of this area.
Bwindi Lodge – Guests at Bwindi Lodge are privy to exquisite views over Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and can enjoy tea tours, village visits and birding. Even the gorillas like to spend item at Bwindi Lodge and can sometimes be seen munching on the bamboo shoots which grow around camp.
The above lodges are our preferred partners when it comes to gorilla trekking, providing accommodation, protective gear, great guides and delicious meals.
- What to Expect on the Trail
In both Rwanda and Uganda, gorilla tracking takes place on the slopes of the volcanoes through jungle terrain. Groups of 8 adventurers set out with 1 tracker each and the expedition can take up to 3 ½ hours one way. Gorilla tracking requires a high degree of physical fitness although most travelers find that the experience is more strenuous in Uganda. We recommend hiring a porter for your trek. Even fit guests should consider using the services of a porter as it contributes to the incomes of the local people as well as protecting the gorillas.
- Combining Gorilla Trekking with Your African Safari
We find that gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda provides a fulfilling add-on if guests are planning a safari to east African countries like Kenya and Tanzania.
The million-dollar question is still Uganda or Rwanda?
After all, the gorillas in both countries are exactly the same species!
Gorilla trekking in both Uganda and Rwanda has been highly recommended by our many inspired clients as well as our well-travelled consultants but the ultimate decision has to come down to personal preference, cost and location:
cheaper permits, but longer travel to and from your arrival point which can be costly, and the trek – although equally beautiful, is a little more challenging. Other activities in the surrounding area are plentiful and easy to access.
the permits are considerably higher but the trekking is a little easier which makes it the better option for those challenged by time. Get in touch to discuss the perfect match for you. We can sculpt a safari to suit your interests, itinerary and budget, regardless of which destination you choose.
Camille in our office recently travelled to Uganda and Rwanda. So get in touch with your questions and we will source permits and arrange a trip to suit you and your budget.
And then why not add a good cause to your trip. Our Tree planting initiative is aimed at gorilla habitat preservation – a cause we are very passionate about. We’ve adopted 100 hectares dedicated to planting trees that will expand the natural habitat of these amazing creatures.
We can plant a tree on your behalf too. Find out more.