In short, I usually recommend Rwanda to those looking to splash out, or on limited time. I suggest Uganda is a better choice for the more budget conscious, and if you're looking for a bigger variety of activities before or after a gorilla trek.

Gorilla treks in Rwanda are generally more expensive, with the country focusing on high-end, low-impact tourism. Rwanda is a small country that has made huge strides in tourism; it’s an up-and-coming destination with big ambitions and a growing list of attractions.

Conversely, permit prices in Uganda are much cheaper and there is a wider range of budget and mid-range accommodation. However, journey times in Uganda are longer and roads into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are bumpier. Uganda is a more established destination with a wide variety of additional wildlife, cultural and adventure tourism activities. However, Rwanda’s tourism industry is swiftly developing. A two-country trip is a popular option.

Here's my rundown on the pros and cons of Uganda and Rwanda for a gorilla trek.

Uganda Mountaingorillababy lowres

Mountain gorilla family in Uganda

Is Rwanda Or Uganda better for gorilla trekking?

Weighing up the pros and cons

Rwanda vs Uganda: Gorilla trekking price

The gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda is more expensive than in Uganda. Gorilla tracking permits, accommodations and services are all costlier in Rwanda, part of a concerted government effort to nurture a more exclusive, higher-end tourism industry.

Current tracking permit prices are $700 per permit in Uganda and $1,500 per permit in Rwanda.

Rwanda vs Uganda: Gorilla permits

In Uganda, permits must be bought from the Uganda Wildlife Authority via a tour operator.

In Rwanda you can book a package with a tour operator or buy your permit directly from the Rwanda Development Board via their Irembo platform. There is no need to specify a gorilla family or accommodation.

Uganda vs Rwanda: Trekking difficulty

In Uganda the terrain is often steep and muddy. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is as dense as the name suggests – trekking through the jungle can be tricky and may require your guide to hack a path with machetes. Gorilla families may be spread across larger areas, and treks may be an all-day undertaking. It’s certainly more of an adventure but does require a degree of fitness. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has lighter, bamboo cover (similar to Rwanda’s) but tracking is steep in places.

In Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park has generally easier terrain to climb, except on the longer tracks which can lead you into dense forest at altitude. The forest is largely bamboo, which creates a less dense canopy. Overall Rwanda is a generally easier-going gorilla trekking destination.

Rwanda vs Uganda: Accessibility

In Uganda it’s an eight to 10-hour drive from Entebbe International Airport to the gorilla trekking lodges. Fly-in options to local airstrips (within 30 minutes’ drive of gorilla tracking areas) are available.

Transport and access in Rwanda is much easier. It’s a two-hour drive from Kigali International Airport to Volcanoes National Park. Fly-in options to local airstrips, including helicopter transfers, are available but infrequently requested thanks to the good roads and comparatively short distance.

A popular option is to fly into Rwanda and drive to Uganda. It takes three to five hours to drive from Kigali International Airport to the gorilla tracking destinations in Uganda.

Uganda vs Rwanda: Accommodation

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda’s main gorilla trekking National Park, has four distinct trailheads into the forest’s interior. The location of your accommodation is therefore very important. It’s recommended that you stay in a lodge near your specific starting point, so bear that in mind when you book your permit. Note that many roads are steep and rutted so what may appear as short distances can still involve long drives.

In Rwanda, all gorilla trekking starts at the VNP park headquarters in Kinigi. Most accommodation is within easy driving distance (10 minutes). The furthest lodges are 1.5 hours’ drive.

Rwanda vs Uganda: Trip duration

In Uganda, owing to the remote locations, you’ll need a minimum two-night stay in the gorilla tracking area. Stay longer if you can and enjoy Bwindi Impenetrable Forest's waterfalls and diverse walks, meet the Batwa forest tribe and treasure the beauty of the spectacular rainforest.

In Rwanda, a two-night stay is recommended, although the accessibility of Volcanoes National Park means one-night (and even single day) trips are possible – but not recommended! There is a lot more to the country than seeing the gorillas.

Rwanda vs Uganda: Gorilla families

Rwanda

Rwanda has 12 habituated gorilla families that can be tracked by tourists. All live in Volcanoes National Park (VNP).

Rwanda’s biggest mountain gorilla group is the Kwitonda family, with 35 members. Previously, the Susa group was the largest, but they have split into three smaller groups. This is not the first time the Susa group has split, and they may regroup to form a larger family again. The Susa inhabit the lower base of Mount Karisimbi and are one of the more difficult groups to trek. If you’re after an easier hike, look for the Bwenge family near Mount Visoke, which is a relatively easy hike.

The Karisimbi, Amahoro and Kwitonda families are more challenging to track, while Sabyinyo is the nearest and easiest group to reach. The guides will advise you during your morning briefing and you’ll be assigned to track a gorilla family that matches your group’s fitness and ability.

Uganda

Uganda, my adoptive home, has the largest mountain gorilla population, with around 400 gorillas living in two national parks in the country’s south-west: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

There are 23 habituated gorilla families that can be visited by tourists: 22 in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and one in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

The Binyindo, Habinyanja, Katwe, Kyaguliro, Mubare, Muyambi and Rushegura families can be tracked from Buhoma in the northern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. If you’ve seen videos of human encounters with gorillas in the grounds of a lodge, it’s most likely in Buhoma. This is Bwindi’s first and most developed trekking site with a wide range of accommodation and fantastic views of the rainforest. Trekking here is generally easier than it can be from the three other trailheads. Buhoma is also a good base for visits to local communities.

The Bitukura, Mishaya, Mukiza and Oruzogo families live around Ruhija, on the eastern edge of the park.

In south-west Bwindi are the Bikingi, Busingye, Bweza, Kahungye, Kutu, Mishaya, Mucunguzi, Nshongi families of Rushaga, and the Bushaho, Christmas and Nkuringo families of Nkuringo. Trekking the steep terrain of Nkuringo can be more challenging than at other sites and therefore may take longer. In addition to panoramic views of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Nkuringo has views of the dramatic Virunga volcanoes.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to more than 80 mountain gorillas but has just one habituated gorilla group, the Nyakagezi family.

Because Uganda’s gorilla families are scattered across various locations it's very important that you book accommodation that is not too far away from the national park entrance, otherwise you may have to drive for an hour or more before your 7:00am registration and briefing.

This is one of the main advantages of using a good tour operator: they know all the lodges and all the gorilla families and can make the best possible match for your interests, budget and hiking ability.

About the author

Is Uganda or Rwanda better for gorilla trekking?

Charlotte Beauvoisin

Charlotte is a travel journalist and guidebook author based on the edge of Kibale Forest, Uganda. She is an expert contributor on East Africa for the Bradt Uganda Guidebook and has written for Lonely Planet, The Daily Telegraph and Fodor's. She also volunteers with Conservation Through Public Health where she works with Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Uganda's most prominent gorilla vet.

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