Gorilla Trekking: An Essential Guide

Gorilla Trekking In Uganda

Gorilla Trekking In Uganda
By Charlotte Beauvoisin

Uganda 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.

Uganda is by far the bigger gorilla trekking destination, with a wider range of accommodations and budgets.

Here's our essential guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

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A mountain gorilla and baby in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

Where to see mountain gorillas in Uganda

Uganda has 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, 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 in 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; however, it is served by some of Uganda’s lodges. In addition to panoramic views of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Nkuringo has views of the dramatic Virunga volcanoes. Your tour operator can advise on the best tracking and lodge options.

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.

Where to see mountain gorillas in Uganda

Uganda is home to over half of the mountain gorilla population. They live in two national parks in the country’s south-west: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is 331 square kilometres. It's one of Africa’s richest rainforests and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bwindi is more than 25,000 years old and ranges in altitude from 1,160m to 2,607m above sea level.

The forest’s age and altitude give Bwindi abundant biodiversity. More than 320 tree species have been recorded here. 310 butterfly, 88 moth, 51 reptile and 120 mammal species have been recorded here. In addition to the mountain gorillas, Bwindi is home to a further nine primates, such as chimpanzees, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey and blue, red-tailed and L'Hoest monkeys. The forest is alive with birdsong (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has been named as one of Africa’s top 10 birding destinations by the African Birding Club).

In comparison to Bwindi, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a relatively tiny 33.7 square kilometres. Uganda's smallest national park is just one part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area which covers 434 square kilometres of volcanic mountains linking Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. The bamboo forested slopes and calderas and views of Lake Mutanda below are reasons enough to visit this enchanting, picturesque border area.

Although Mgahinga only has one habituated gorilla family, this magical setting is the only place in Uganda where you can track golden monkeys. It's also the perfect base for hiking a volcano (or three). The secluded and little-visited Sabinyo Gorge is a 3-4 hour round trip into the National Park, where keen birders may spot Albertine Rift endemics such as Rwenzori turaco, black-headed waxbill and Kivu groundthrush.

When to go gorilla trekking in Uganda

Since Rwanda almost doubled the price of gorilla tracking permits, it has become more difficult to secure gorilla permits in next door Uganda.

If you plan to travel during peak season or if you are in a large group, you should book six months or even a year in advance. Peak seasons are June to October and Christmas and the New Year. The earlier you book the more choice you have on where you stay and where you track. Last-minute bookings may be possible during low season or with smaller groups, but cannot be guaranteed.

Gorillas can be tracked throughout the year, however, rainfall is heavier in November and April/May. During those times, it can be very muddy underfoot. The upside is that permits are a little easier to obtain plus you may find fewer tourists on your trail, which many people prefer.

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Baby mountain gorilla, Uganda

Gorilla trekking prices in Uganda

The advertised price for a gorilla permit in Uganda is US$700 per person, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s tariff of July 2022 to June 2024.

There is also the option for an extended "habituation experience" permit which allows approximately four hours with the gorillas, rangers and researchers and costs $1,500.

As an incentive for visitors to explore less-visited corners of the country, gorilla permit holders are entitled to a day’s free entrance to either Mount Elgon National Park in eastern Uganda or Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve in western Uganda. This fee doesn't cover activity fees, only park entrance.

Uganda gorilla permit availability

With 23 habituated gorilla families in Uganda and a maximum of eight visitors per group, there are a total of 184 permits available per day.

Gorilla tracking permits can be purchased up to two years in advance through a registered tour company.

Accommodation costs

Uganda has more budget and mid-range accommodation options than Rwanda and also has a number of luxury lodges.

Budget : $50-$70 per person per night based on two sharing

Mid-range: $80-$120 per person per night based on two sharing

Luxury: $300-$3,000 per person per night based on two sharing

The cheapest three-day gorilla trek will cost around $1,200 per person and will include one gorilla tracking permit, private transport, an English-speaking guide, accommodation and meals. A three-day luxury gorilla safari may cost upwards of $3,000 per person. Higher-priced tours may include flights to one of the small airstrips a half-hour drive from the gorilla tracking region.

Gorilla Trekking In Uganda

Charlotte Beauvoisin

Charlotte is a travel blogger based on the edge of Kibale Forest, Uganda. She is a contributor to the Bradt Uganda Guidebook and has written for Lonely Planet, The Daily Telegraph and Fodor's. She first arrived in Uganda in 2009 as a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer with the Uganda Conservation Foundation.

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