When to go gorilla trekking: quick reference

Charlotte Beauvoisin
By Charlotte Beauvoisin

In my opinion, the best times to see gorillas in Rwanda & Uganda are during the dry (but hot) seasons between June-September, and December-February.

High / peak season: June-August.

Low season: April-May and September to November.

Best weather: Between June-September, and between December-February.

Worst weather: Between March-May and September-November.

Clouds Bwindi Uganda

The cloud cover moves in over Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

When to see gorillas in Uganda & Rwanda?

Climate, seasons and best months to visit

The climate, gorilla trekking conditions, and tourism seasons are more or less the same in both Rwanda and Uganda. Gorilla-trekking is a year-round activity, but I find there are some important considerations when timing your trip.

In my experience, the overall best weather is during the two dry seasons, which run from June-September, and December-February. You can still expect some rain during these periods, but conditions are generally more comfortable and the trails less muddy.

Of the two, I find June-September are the driest; with light showers during December-February.

The rainy seasons, from March-May and September-November, can be very soggy. March-May brings the heaviest rains, and the going can be tough – especially in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which is generally steeper, muddier and more dense than in Rwanda.

That said, gorilla tourism remains open year-round. It will be much quieter during the rainy/off season and you might find some good deals.

My biggest tip is to time your visit for the “shoulder” period either side of the rainy season, when prices are lower, crowds are lighter and the rains might be easing off.

When to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can be done year-round, however, rainfall is heavier in September-November and March-May, when paths can become muddy and difficult to hike.

I always remind people that they're visiting a rainforest. It will, by definition, be wet all year round!

That said, there is still a marked difference between the dry and rainy seasons. The weather is generally drier and hotter between June and September, and again from December to February. These are my preferred months to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

During March and May, and again from September to November you can expect more frequent and heavier rain showers. Muddy roads and paths can become tricky to handle.

Temperatures are fixed year round between 21°C (70 F) and 30°C (86 F), dropping to 10°C (50 F) at higher altitudes. Although chilly at night, the exertion of hiking and climbing will keep you warm during the day.

The advantages to visiting in dry season are less muddy paths, easier hiking and clearer views of the wildlife. The disadvantage is that this is peak tracking season and therefore permit availability is lower. You’ll need to book well in advance.

Peak season & when to book

Peak tourism seasons are June to August and around Christmas and New Year. If you plan to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda during peak season or if you are in a large group, you should book six months or more in advance. The earlier you book the more choice you have on where you trek gorillas and where you stay. Last-minute bookings may be possible during low season or with smaller groups.

Aside from more choice in permit and accommodation availability, there are some other pros to visiting during rainy season—not least that smaller group sizes allow a more intimate tracking experience.

If you have little time it is, in theory, possible to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda in just one day—if you fly in very early in the morning. However, it is strongly recommended to spend at least two or three days in the region. The altitude and exertion of the climb can be unpleasant when rushed, and it is worth spending some time acclimatising. And besides, there's so much more to Rwanda than 'just' one hour with the gorillas.

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, I strongly recommend you 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 I prefer.

Permit availability

Permits and accommodation during the peak summer months of June-August sell out a long way in advance. If you’re set on visiting during the peak months you may need to book at least a year in advance.

Other things to do

Since you’re going all the way to East Africa, you’re hopefully also making time for the rest of the region:

July-August is normally peak wildebeest river crossing season in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, when the herd makes its epic (and dangerous) crossings of the Mara River.

December is the main Mt Kilimanjaro climbing season in neighbouring Tanzania.

In Rwanda, the annual Kwita Izina gorilla-naming ceremony takes place every September. A more solemn occasion is Kwibuka, a series of events held in April in commemoration of the 1994 genocide. Visitors are welcome at both events.

About the author

The best time to see gorillas

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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