Gorilla trekking Experience in Uganda – a complete guide
Are you planning to trek mountain gorillas of Uganda, here is a complete guide for a gorilla trekking experience so you can come knowing what gorilla trekking is! This article is going to help you know where mountain gorilla trekking is done in Uganda and the best time to visit the country.
If you read this article, you will know where to find mountain gorillas in Uganda, the best time to trek mountain gorillas, how much is gorilla trekking, what you need to pack, rules and regulations, gorilla photography tips, the minimum age for a gorilla trekking experience, and much more.
Where to see gorillas in Africa?
While planning to encounter mountain gorillas in Africa, the first question you ask yourself is where in Africa can I see gorillas. In Africa, there are two species of gorillas and these are eastern gorillas and western gorillas. The eastern gorillas are further subdivided into eastern lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas while the western gorillas are further subdivided into western lowland gorillas and cross river gorillas.
Most of the tourists in the world visit Africa to encounter the engendered mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas are said to be closest relatives to human beings and they do share 98% DNA with humans. Mountain gorillas live at high altitudes just as their name suggests. They do live in the mountainous areas of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo.
Mountain gorillas in Africa live in the Bwindi impenetrable forest national park which has more than half of the mountain gorilla population. The other group of mountain gorillas lives in the Virunga conservation area which includes Mgahinga gorilla park of Uganda, Virunga gorilla park of DR Congo, and Volcanoes national park of Rwanda.
Where to see gorillas in Uganda?
There is only one sub-specie of gorillas living in Uganda and these are mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas of Uganda can only be found in two national parks all found in the southwestern part of the country. The highest population of mountain gorillas is found in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and the other population is found in Mgahinga national park.
Mgahinga national park protects the least population of mountain gorillas and it has only one gorilla family for trekking purposes. Mgahinga gorilla park is home to Nyakagezi gorilla family that has been so far habituated for trekking purposes. Only 8 people can trek the mountain gorilla family of Mgahinga gorilla park in a single day.
Bwindi gorilla park covering an area of 331 sq. km is home to more than a half of the mountain gorilla population left in the world. The park has over 21 mountain gorilla families, 2 families are open for gorilla habituation and 19 gorilla families are open for trekking purposes. Gorilla families of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park live in 4 sectors of the park which are Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rushaga, and Ruhija.
Is Bwindi gorilla park or Mgahinga gorilla park a better place to encounter gorillas in Uganda?
Both Bwindi gorilla park and Mgahinga gorilla park are good places to encounter mountain gorillas on a safari in Uganda. There are 99% chances of seeing mountain gorillas on a gorilla trekking safari in both Mgahinga gorilla park and Bwindi gorilla park. In terms of security, both Mgahinga national park and Bwindi impenetrable forest national park are safe places for they gave well-trained armed ranger guides that protect the tourists from wild animals that could be dangerous.
Before entering Bwindi gorilla park or Mgahinga gorilla park, there is security at the gates that checks tourists if they have no weapons or firearms. Uganda is a peaceful country so there is nothing like wars in or around Uganda gorilla parks. When it comes to trekking, the parks are safe with well-designed trekking trails which trekkers must use while searching for gorillas. Trekking is not easy and not so challenging but you need to be physically fit to enjoy the activity for the places are located in mountainous/ hilly areas.
Is a permit necessary when trekking gorillas in Uganda?
To trek mountain gorillas of Bwindi gorilla park and Mgahinga gorilla park, you require a trekking permit. Without a trekking permit, you won’t be allowed to trek any of the gorilla families in Bwindi gorilla park and Mgahinga gorilla park. Gorilla trekking permits are the first things wardens ask early in the morning before the briefing starts.
To trek mountain gorillas of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Bwindi gorilla park, you must book a gorilla trekking permit in advance of 3-4 months. You must first secure a gorilla trekking permit before coming into the country otherwise you must get disappointed with the last-minute booking of gorilla permits.
Booking a gorilla permit for Bwindi gorilla park or Mgahinga gorilla park can be done by a traveler themselves or a local tour operator. The gorilla trekking permits are sold at Uganda wildlife authority a government body in charge of tourism in Uganda. The gorilla permits for Bwindi or Mgahinga gorilla parks include park entrance fees, ranger guide fees, and community development fees but exclude accommodation and transport.
How many people track a gorilla family?
Only 8 people are allowed to trek a fully habituated gorilla family in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga national park. For gorilla habituation, 4 people are allowed to trek a gorilla group. There are several reasons as to why gorilla trekking is limited to a certain number of people and some of them include reducing behavioral disturbance of the gorillas, minimizing the risk of spread of diseases, as well as conserving other forest wildlife by reducing the damage to the forest.
How long can trekkers spend with the gorillas in Uganda?
According to Uganda Wildlife Authority, trekkers are allowed to spend only one hour with a mountain gorilla family in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga national park. During the 1 hour given, the trekkers are able to capture different images of mountain gorillas, learn about their habits and spot them doing daily activities such as hunting, climbing, breastfeeding, nesting, and eating among others.
How much does it cost to see mountain gorillas in Uganda?
Seeing mountain gorillas in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla park costs $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents, and UGX250,000 East African citizens. Mountain gorilla habituation permits for Bwindi gorilla park alone costs $1500 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents, and UGX750,000 East African citizens.
What is gorilla habituation experience?
Gorilla habituation experience is a process of slowly introducing wild mountain gorillas to get used to human presence. Tourists are now able to be part of the mountain gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park only in the whole world. The gorilla habituation experience starts with only rangers, researchers and conservationists visiting a wild gorilla family and making it used to human presence.
When the gorillas start getting used to human presence then the tourists are also able to be part of the gorilla habituation experience. The gorilla habituation exercise in Bwindi gorilla park takes place for 2-3 years until the mountain gorillas get used to human beings around them and also pass the mocking stage. During the mountain gorilla habituation exercise, the trekkers are able to be around mountain gorillas for 4 hours, unlike mountain gorilla trekking experience where trekkers are around mountain gorillas for 1 hour.
How to book a gorilla trekking safari to Uganda?
Booking a gorilla safari to Uganda is easy when you use a trusted local tour operator. These tour operators help in booking gorilla trekking permits, accommodation, and organizing transport. For the gorilla trekking permits, tourists must book in advance to avoid last-minute booking disappointments. Travelers will look for trusted local tour operators and send them an email containing the dates of the month and year they want to travel and they will use this information to check for the availability of the permits with the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
When the permits are available, the tour operator will send you banking details of how you can send them money and once they receive it, they will book the permit and then send you a scanned copy. After securing a gorilla permit, next is where you shall spend nights during the tour. The local tour operator can always book for you the best accommodation options based on your choice and budget.
How hard is gorilla trekking?
The level of difficulty of gorilla trekking varies depending on the location of the gorilla family assigned and the body fitness. Mountain gorillas in Mgahinga gorilla park and Bwindi impenetrable forest national park love on high altitudes on the slopes of mountains and hills. Gorilla trekking experience in Uganda involves hiking through difficult trails, passing through thick vegetation cover, and hiking hills.
Gorilla trekking experience in Uganda is very challenging in that it can leave one very exhausted especially if they are not used to walking and hiking for long hours. The gorilla trekking experience in Mgahinga national park and Bwindi gorilla park takes 2-7 hours of passing through thick vegetation cover using trekking trails. Planning to trek mountain gorillas in Uganda, you are advised to come when you are mentally and physically prepared to hike the steep slopes, go through thick forests and be ready for the unpredictable weather conditions.
When is the best time to have a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda can be done all year round but there are months that are better than the rest. The dry months are the best for gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda and they do occur from June to September and December to February. They are characterized by little or no rainfall and this leaves the trekking trails dry, the vegetation is thin with clear views of park animals, photography is good and the roads leading to the park are passable.
Travelers can still have a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda during the rainy season that occurs from March to May and October to November and those who visit the parks during this season enjoy huge discounts on accommodation facilities. Travelers that are planning to have gorilla trekking tours in Bwindi gorilla park in the rainy season should know that there is too much rainfall during that time. The trekking trails in the parks are muddy and slippery, the vegetation is very tall giving unclear views of the park animals and bad photography while the roads leading to the parks are impassable.
What is the minimum age for gorilla trekking Experience in Uganda?
The minimum age for gorilla trekking in Bwindi gorilla park and Mgahinga national park is 15 years old. The age of people is usually determined using their passport or identity cards. Parents or groups that want to travel with children that are below 15 years of age must inform their tour operators so that they organize small activities for children to engage in. There are circumstances where children below the age of 15 years of age are allowed to trek for example when the child has enough energy and is physically fit to complete the hike. A child may also be allowed to book a gorilla permit if they are going to be 15 years by the time of travel.
Gorilla trekking rules and regulations
Before heading to the jungle to search for gorillas, trekkers must attend to the rules and regulations of the trekking activity
Trekkers that show signs of illness such as flu and cough are not allowed to trek because gorillas are vulnerable and can easily get diseases
Each gorilla family is trekked by a maximum of 8 people
Trekkers must wash their hands before heading to the jungle
Littering in the jungle is not allowed, trekkers must keep their rubbish till they trekked out of the forest and dump then in the bins
Eating or smoking around mountain gorillas is not allowed
When trekkers want to ease themselves while in the jungle, they must inform their ranger and dig holes for them which must be covered after
Trekkers must keep their voices low during the trekking
When trekkers meet the gorillas, they must keep a distance of 7 meters from the gorillas.
Photographing mountain gorillas is done using cameras that have no flashlight
What to pack for gorilla trekking Experience in Uganda?
There is a lot, travelers can pack for a gorilla trekking experience in Uganda and some of them include waterproof hiking shoes, cotton stocks, long-sleeved clothes, a pair of gaiters, gardening gloves, rain jacket, a hat, sunscreen, a light backpack, a camera, a pair of binoculars, insect repellents, sanitizer, facemask, drinking water bottle, energy-giving snacks, and first aid kit among others.
Where to stay on a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda?
Mgahinga gorilla park and Bwindi gorilla park have lots of accommodation facilities that are built outside or within the park for travelers to spend a night or two. The accommodation facilities are of different prices and offer different services. They range from budget to mid-range to luxury options.
Accommodation in Nkuringo sector: Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Heights Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Bwindi Backpackers Lodge, Mutanda Eco Community Centre, Nshongi Camp, Crested Crane Bwindi Hotel, Lake Mulehe Gorilla Lodge, and Virunga Campsite
Accommodation in Ruhija sector: Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge, Ruhija Community Rest Camp, Bakiga Lodge, Gorilla Mist Camp, Broadbill Forest Camp, Agandi Lodge, Gift of Nature Lodge, Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Cuckoo Land Tented Lodge, Ecomarvels Gorilla Lodge, and Trekkers Tavern.
Accommodation in Buhoma sector: Buhoma Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Forest Lodge, Mahogany Springs Lodge, Bwindi View Bandas, Ride 4 women Guest House, Silverback Lodge, Buhoma Rest Camp, Haven Lodge, and Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge.
Accommodation in Rushaga sector: Rushaga Gorilla Lodge, Four Gorillas Lodge, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Camp, Bwindi Jungle Lodge, Gorilla Valley Lodge, Lake Mulehe Gorilla Lodge, Nsongi Camp, Rushaga Gorilla Haven Lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Resort, and Wagtail Eco Safari Lodge.
Accommodation in Mgahinga gorilla park: Gahinga Lodge, Lake Mulehe Lodge, Lake Chahafi Lodge, Gorilla Heights Lodge, Lake Mulehe Gorilla Lodge, Travellers Rest Hotel, Air Land Hotel, Lake Chahafi Resort, Muhabura Climbers Rest Camp, Sabyinyo Guest House, Virunga Campsite and Backpackers, and Gorilla Hills Eco-Lodge among others.
Gorilla trekking tips in Uganda
Physical fitness: Mountain gorillas in Bwindi gorilla park and Mgahinga national park do live at high altitudes. Those of Mgahinga national park live on the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Muhabura. Trekking mountain gorillas at high altitudes is very challenging and so trekkers must come physically fit and in good shape.
Dress properly and pack the right equipment: On the day of hiking, a trekker must put on long-sleeved pants and long-sleeved shirts, a hat, and also wear waterproof hiking shoes with cotton stocks. Things to put in your backpack during trekking include insect repellents, energy-giving snacks, a drinking water bottle, a camera, and a pair of binoculars.
Don’t rush: While trekking mountain gorillas, don’t rush always move at your own pace for the other trekkers can’t leave you alone in the jungle they will always wait for you. If you feel like you are tired, take a rest.
Trek gorilla in the dry season: Trekking gorillas in the dry season is advised for there is little or no rainfall, the trekking trails are dry, the vegetation is short with clear views of the gorillas, photography is good because there is little fog, and the roads leading the park are passable.
Choose accommodation near the briefing point: Choose accommodation facilities in the park that are very close to the briefing point so that you make it to the briefing exercise early in the morning at 8 am.
Photography: While trekking mountain gorillas carry good cameras that have no flash because cameras that have flashlights are not allowed to take gorilla pictures. If your camera has a flashlight, you must turn it off because mountain gorillas don’t like flashlights.