Planning your Uganda gorilla trek? Perfect! In this post, you'll learn what to expect, the best time to go, prices, and how to choose. I also include a list of the top 3 trekking tour companies.
What should you bring on your gorilla trek? Don't forget anything with our Complete African Safari Packing List
How to Choose a Uganda Gorilla Trek
The Impenetrable National Forest. Does that sound interesting?
It probably brings up visions of green mountains and low lying mists, the sounds of mysterious animals off in the distance. If you’re lucky, it might mean the sight of some of the rarest gorilla groups in the world.
That’s right. Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest is one of the locations of Uganda’s famed Gorilla Treks. If a Uganda gorilla tour isn’t on your bucket list yet, it should be. Here's why…
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Uganda has had its share of problems in the past, but the country is currently on the road to recovery. It’s more stable, there are fewer threats of violence, and a resurgence in tourism has greatly contributed to the country’s infrastructure.
One of the biggest draws to Uganda is the remote area home to the country’s rare gorilla families. While gorilla safaris in Uganda aren't the cheapest or easiest trips to take, they're well worth the time and expense.
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There are other locations to view rarely seen gorilla families in their natural habitat, and we will discuss in a section below the pros and cons of each to help you make your best decision. For now, let’s take a look at what Uganda has to offer.
3 Ugandan Gorilla Trek Tour Companies
Here are three of the most popular gorilla trek companies covering Uganda:
- Insight Safari Holidays: This company covers both Uganda and Rwanda and have been in the tour business since 2000. They take a 3 day gorilla safari into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
- Wild Whispers Africa: They offer 14 tours around Uganda, including 8 specific gorilla treks.
- Kori Safari: This company is based out of Kampala, Uganda and offers 11 different gorilla safaris – the most of these companies.
What To Expect on a Ugandan Gorilla Tour
Gorilla treks are not guaranteed to spot any gorillas although tour companies are staffed with experts who know how to give you the best chance to see them.
When the day arrives, it usually starts at a designated meeting point. Some treks begin directly from here while others meet up at a spot further away. You don’t always know which your tour will be.
Tour groups receive some short training, usually in the form of a video and a briefing from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, about what to do and what to expect during the trek. If the group is too large to trek safely, it is divided into more manageable groups of eight people or fewer.
The Ugandan gorillas are known by families that live in different parts of the park. The trek usually tracks one of these known families through their usual territories through the mountains. The group contains a guide who helps locate the families and usually an armed guard or two for safety.
It can take anywhere from one to five hours to locate the gorillas and sometimes longer. The groups are mobile because gorillas are vegetarian and must travel vast distances to keep up with nutrition demands.
The guides must track their movements through their usual territories. This can take quite a bit of time considering that the guide is also leading a group of people through the forest.
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Once you find the gorilla family, you spend about an hour watching from a safe distance. Any longer has the potential to cause agitation and danger. Tours are not allowed to eat anywhere near the gorillas, nor are groups permitted to feed the gorillas. There is no flash photography allowed.
If you follow the rules in place, you should have about an hour to watch the group interact with each other. If you get really lucky, some of the gorillas might approach you under the watchful eye of your guide.
After the hour is up, the guide leads you back to the meeting point, and you head back to your accommodations or another activity for the day. It’s best to leave the day completely open should it take longer than expected to find the gorilla family.
Overall, the trek is mildly difficult, but most average hikers should be able to keep up without too much trouble. If you go during the rainy season, the trek may be more uncomfortable, but still doable.
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What’s Involved on a Gorilla Trek
You can’t just show up in Uganda and expect to sign up for a tour. The Gorillas are a protected species, and their habitats are protected ecological areas. It’s far too dangerous to allow just anyone to wander out into the forest.
You’ll need to get a permit first. Permits allow you to access the section of forest where the different Gorilla families live, and each permit is issued for a specific part of that forest. If you have an interest in a particular gorilla family or a particular park area, you should make that request either of the tour group or when applying directly.
Uganda Gorilla Trek Pricing
Permits in Uganda are around $600 per person during the high season and as low as $450 during the low season. High season permits sometimes sell out months in advance, so if you plan to go during the busy season, you must book out as far as you can.
Going during the low seasons means smaller groups and easier permits, but the weather might not be as accommodating. The most significant complaint is the rain, so plan accordingly.
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Getting To Bwindi
It takes about 10 hours to get to Bwindi from the nearest city (Kampala to Bwindi is 550 km). You’ll need to budget for the car if you plan to drive yourself, or for the driver and car if you aren’t comfortable driving.
Some smaller airlines offer charter flights from the nearest airfield in Kihihi. You’ll still require some transport from the airfield to your accommodations, but the flight will cut down on the transport time to the national park.
Many tour companies figure in the cost of transport to your package if you’d prefer not to deal with the details. This will free you up for thinking about other things though it is indeed possible to manage the transport yourself.
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Bwindi Accommodations and Lodges
There are lodges located in many of Uganda’s national parks including Bwindi. Accommodations include running water, en-suite bathrooms, and fantastic views of the forest.
Many of the cabins are eco-friendly and offer solar power along with designs that are intended to blend into the natural view. They are smaller lodgings that will give you a more intimate feel and make it easier to meet new friends if you so choose.
Some of the rooms are also family friendly, offering cabin style lodgings with a little more space. Many of the tour groups will be able to book accommodations that will fit your preferences to help you before and after your gorilla experience.
Best Time to Go Uganda Gorilla Trekking
There are several options for Uganda gorilla trekking best time to go. The weather is much more accommodating during Uganda’s high season.
January and February are reasonably dry, but this time of year is still considered the low season. It offers the best time to view gorillas without the huge crowds but before the rains hit.
March, April, and May are the rainiest months. Although many tour groups still operate during this time, more planning is involved in making sure that permits are still being issued. If they are, you’ll practically have the gorillas to yourself although the rain might make the trek uncomfortable for you. Pack accordingly.
June, July, and August are considered the high season. The weather is excellent and many tourists combine this trek with a trip to view the wildebeest migration in neighboring Tanzania. This time is the most difficult time to get a permit, and you must purchase a permit months in advance. This also means more gorilla watchers, making locating the skittish families much more difficult.
September and October are good months if you plan to combine with a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The conditions should be just about right to handle the trek to high altitudes, but the second rainy season won’t quite have arrived.
November and the beginning of December are part of the second, smaller rainy season, and few tourists go during this time. Again, this is good for a quieter experience, but it might make planning difficult if the country doesn’t issue permits during this time.
Around Christmas and on into the following months are good times to go when the weather has greatly improved, but it’s still considered Uganda’s low season.
When you decide to go depends on your preferences, tolerance for rain, and any other trips you’ll combine.
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Gorilla Trekking: Rwanda, Uganda or DRC?
You have three choices for finding the gorillas: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Most people consider Rwanda vs Uganda gorilla trekking, but don't forget the DRC.
Permits are the most expensive in Rwanda at $1500. Uganda costs around $600 during the high season and $450 during the low season. DRC issues permits around $400. Although Rwanda might seem like a massive price increase, it’s actually much more expensive to travel to both Uganda and DRC than it is to Rwanda, so the cost somewhat evens out in the end.
It’s best to fly into Rwanda for trips in all three countries. From Rwanda, it’s a simple car transfer of two to three hours to Ruhengeri Park. To get to Uganda, it’s a four-hour car ride with a border crossing for Bwindi. To the DRC, it’s three hours to cross the border before another 90 minutes to the national park.
All three countries offer equal chances to view the rare gorilla families, and each trek is staffed by people who are trained to locate the families. Although the most families live in Rwanda, this doesn’t increase your chances by too much since the families all have patterns of travel well known to the trackers.
Rwanda and Uganda both offer plenty of luxury and budget accommodations within the parks. DRC only has two choices at the moment, but each offers amenities and tranquil forest views. In one camp, gorillas have been known to make their way directly into the center of the lodgings.
DRC is currently in conflict, and while tour operators do their best to keep your safety in mind, concerns for safety should be at the top of your list. It offers the most as far as out of the way travel and serious adventure tourism, but heed warnings.
Rwanda is the best if you are looking for a more comfortable trek, either for personal preference or physical needs. It’s also best if your gorilla trek is merely a small part of a larger excursion. You’ll appreciate that everything is well laid out with minimal effort on your part.
Best Country for Gorilla Treks: Uganda
For the best of both, adventure and safety, gorilla safaris in Uganda are the best choice. It’s a beautiful safari destination in its own right offering stunning views, out of the way parks, and a variety of accommodations.
It’s still considered off the beaten track, even in the high season, so your Uganda gorilla tour will have a personal feel. It’s also a perfect trip to pair with time spent at Lake Victoria, one of Uganda’s most beautiful natural sites. Many tours operate out of Lake Victoria and will handle all the transfers necessary to get to Bwindi.
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Uganda is one of the most promising places in Africa to visit due to its unique history and geography, and still being off the beaten path. Visiting Uganda is a perfect way to get to know a culture and area that are sure to be some of the best stories you’ll ever tell.
Although a Uganda gorilla trek isn’t cheap, spending time with some of the world’s rarest animals is a chance you won’t want to miss. Pretty much everything in your life leads up to that moment, right?
Your own opportunity to meet the gorillas in the mist and experience something few people in the world will ever get to see.
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Are you planning your Uganda gorilla trek? What do you think about Rwanda vs Uganda gorilla trekking? Let us know the details in the comments below.