Gorilla Trekking is the pioneer in Uganda safaris and while there are other numerous adventures to relish in this country, the experience of walking through the jungle in search of Giant Apes is second to none. Just organize a gorilla safari and let the jungles show you the best of what they can offer in terms of unforgettable encounters.
Where is gorilla trekking done in Uganda?
Two sensational destinations in Uganda offer unforgettable gorilla trekking experiences and they are; the iconic Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the tinny Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The former is so far the better choice for meeting face to face with Giant Apes in their natural habitat, given the fact that it shelters the higher population of these magnificent creatures in addition to offering numerous sleeping options.
The destination you choose for achieving your lifetime dream of seeing mountain gorillas in the wild largely depends on your general travel itinerary as well as the available time at hand. However, permit costs and chances of sighting gorillas don’t vary across these two Gorilla Parks. It is possible to combine these two places, given their location within the south-western side of Uganda, close to the Democratic Republic of Cong border to the extreme west as well as Rwanda to the far south.
The beauty about gorilla trekking in Uganda is done majority of safari destinations are found in the west and south-west, hence making it possible to combine gorilla and wildlife safaris and spicing your trip with once-in-a-lifetime-experiences.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park
Bwindi National Park is the country’s pre-eminent gorilla trekking destination where habituated gorilla groups can be visited in four wonderful sectors/regions that include Nkuringo, Buhoma, Rushaga and Ruhija, each offering unique terrains, exceptional groups and levels of trekking difficulty.
Leaving from trailheads of one of the four sectors/regions within the boundaries of the Impenetrable Forest, trekkers join a group of 7 other visitors for a guided walk through the forest in search of one of the 21 habituated gorilla groups. Treks depart early in the morning and usually include up to 60 minutes watching the Giant Apes from a reasonable distance of 7 meters.
Guided by expert Ranger guides attached to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), visitors are introduced to the remarkable ecosystem of Bwindi as well as the varying landscapes while trekking the Giant Apes. These guides will be in constant communication and updating with the team of Trackers who move ahead to locate the gorilla group. It is with the guidance of trackers that treks won’t take an entire day, otherwise they are always on the move.
Once gorilla nests are located, you will receive notification from the ranger guides and later walking for a short time before a silent wait is noticed from the heart of the thick vegetation as Great Apes come closer. When the Giant Apes finally emerge from the dense vegetation, make sure that your camera is ready to start capturing pictures, as you have one hour in the presence of these creatures.
One hour is allocated to spend with the mountain gorillas after making contacts and travellers who wish to spend more time can book for the Gorilla Habituation Experience to spend up to four hours with these Gentle Apes. Gorilla treks are quite strenuous and participants have to be prepared for up to half a day in the jungle, much as most adventures last only 2-4 hours.
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga National Park
Just a stone throw from the border with Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the beautiful Mgahinga National Park is a renowned option for cross-border safaris with Volcanoes or Virunga National Parks. Not only that, it is a famous option for visitors who wish to combine with gorilla treks in Bwindi, especially the sector of Nkuringo.
There are many other reasons for choosing this destination. It is undeniably more isolated than the popular Bwindi National Park in addition to treks being less strenuous. However, only 8 gorilla permits are available each day because only one habituated gorilla group is found in the 34-square kilometer Mgahinga. Named Nyakagezi, the group has 10 members that include 5 silverback, 2 adult females and 3 infants.
Best time to go gorilla trekking in incredible Uganda
The beautiful Tropical climate of Uganda implies temperatures are favorable throughout the year. Seasons are separated/marked by rainfall levels whereby the long rainy season from March to May and short from October to November is marked by heavy downpours. This makes Park roads very muddy and therefore pose great challenged for accessing the destinations, which are even worsened by the muddy/slippery forest trails but treks still go on as planned. The two advantages of trekking in wet season are the fact that treks tend to be shorter and low-season discounts provided by some Lodges.
The long dry season from June to September and shorter season from December to February is when most gorilla treks in Uganda are conducted. This is because Park roads are dry and forest trails not muddy or even slippery. The only challenge of this season is the difficulty in booking gorilla permits at short notice, given the high demand. All in all, the endangered Mountain gorillas can be trekked at any time of the year.
Acquiring Permits for trekking mountain gorillas in Uganda
Permits for trekking mountain gorillas in Uganda cost $700 per person for foreign non-resident tourists, $600 per person for foreign tourists and Shs. 250,000 per person for East African tourists for the standard treks (one hour). The Gorilla Habituation Experience with four hours in the presence of Giant Apes goes for $1500 per person. Given the fact that the number of gorilla permits is usually limited, visitors are advised to plan in advance and remember that permits are non-refundable or non-transferable.
Difficulty of Gorilla trekking in Uganda
Travellers planning to undertake gorilla trekking in Uganda should expect hiking through difficult terrains with steep Valleys and slopes while following trails created through thick undergrowth for over 6 hours while sometimes are as short as 30 minutes to 3 hours. Treks conducted during wet months involve maneuvering through slippery trails that are even more challenging.
What to wear and carry for gorilla trekking tours in Uganda
Gorilla trekking involves walking through thick forests of Bwindi or Mgahinga for 1-6 hours. You will therefore require wearing lightweight, comfortable and breathable clothing. Sturdy and good quality rainproof hiking boots, long sleeved shirt, lightweight rain jacket, breathable and well-fitting trekking pants, gardening gloves for protection from thorns, long cotton socks to pull-over trekking pants, wide brim hat and sunglasses for sun protection. Carry camera, pair of binoculars, backpack, enough drinking water, healthy snacks, insect repellants and so much more.
Some ground rules to follow during gorilla trekking in Uganda
- Visitors are allocated one hour to spend with the mountain gorilla once located.
- Flash photography is prohibited during photography.
- The limit of 8 persons per habituated gorilla group has to be maintained and avoid joining other groups.
- A distance of 7 meters has to be kept under all circumstances.
- Visitors shouldn’t trek mountain gorillas if feeling unwell.
- Making noise while trekking scares other residents of the Park and in the presence of mountain gorillas irritates them.
Accommodation options during gorilla trekking in Uganda
Accommodation options for Bwindi gorilla trekkers are Gorilla Safari Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Ruhija Safari Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Bwindi View Bandas, Bakiga Lodge, Mahogany Springs Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Nkuringo Safari Camp, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Lake Kitandara Camp among others.
Mount Gahinga Lodge is the sole Safari Lodge within Mgahinga National Park but Camping is available at Amajambere Iwacu Camp and exquisite Lodges/Hotels in the nearby areas (in Kisoro) include Travellers Rest Hotel, Kisoro Tourist Hotel or Lake Bunyonyi (such as Arcadia Cottages, Lake Bunyonyi Safari Lodge and so much more.