How to Go Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
This Uganda Gorilla Trekking Guide Includes:
- What is Gorilla Trekking?
- Best Time of the Year for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
- What Is The Trek Like In Uganda?
- How Difficult is Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?
- How to Book Gorilla Trekking Permits in Uganda
- Uganda is Best for Traveler Types Who…
- Best Places To See Gorillas In The Wild
The African continent is renowned for its once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings and encounters. However, few are as highly sought-after (or as frequently featured on traveler bucket lists) as coming face-to-face with Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitat.
Listed as one of Africa’s critically endangered species, there are approximately 1000 mountain gorillas left in the wild. These mountain gorillas can be found in the area known as the Virunga Mountains, and live in:
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
- Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
- Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to nearly half the planet’s remaining mountain gorillas. Carefully protected in the Impenetrable Forest of Bwindi, this esteemed national park is one of only three places in the world where travelers can see these remarkable and rare critically endangered mountain gorillas in the wild.
What is Gorilla Trekking?
Imagine this: You follow a narrow hiking trail through the lushness of a tropical rainforest, wiping sweat from your eyes and feeling grateful for your hiking gaiters. Suddenly, a tracker returns from scouting ahead and excitedly halts your group – it’s time to move forward, slowly, with nothing but your camera and the thrill of anticipation. Grinning, your guide turns and whispers the words you’ve been longing to hear: ‘There they are’.
Gorilla Trekking is an extraordinary bucket-list worthy adventure where you hike, bushwhack, and trek deep into Africa’s Virunga conservation region and Bwindi impenetrable forest in search of rare mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Trekking into their native forests is the only way to see these critically endangered gorillas, as they cannot survive in captivity. Trekking for gorillas in Africa’s emerald rainforests and observing the everyday interactions of these vulnerable primates is arguably one of life’s greatest privileges and most powerful wildlife experiences.
Follow gorilla families as they go about their daily lives. Observe how a mother tenderly feeds her young while being cognisant of the cautious stare from a 200kg (440lbs) silverback as he keeps a protective eye over his troop. Locking eyes with a distant relative is a profound experience that makes spending time with gorillas in Africa an unsurpassable wildlife encounter.
Gorilla trekking is best early in the morning. Typically trackers who know the gorillas well will head off into the jungle at first light to look for their gorilla family. Once they find them, they will radio through to the rangers, who will be waiting for you at the start point – This is when the gorilla trekking adventure begins!
There are a number of different gorilla families you can visit, living in various areas around the Virunga Mountains. In Uganda there are 19 habituated (meaning they are used to humans) gorilla families in Bwindi and 1 in Mgahinga. In Rwanda there are approximately 10 habituated gorilla families.
**Important Note: In order for you to go gorilla trekking in Uganda and/or Rwanda you need to apply for a gorilla trekking permit. These permits can be rather costly. The cost of a gorilla trekking permit various from one country to the next.
Best Time of the Year for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
- Best time: Uganda’s Dry Months | June – September | December – February
- Budget-conscious: Uganda’s Low Season | March – May | October – November
Uganda experiences two dry and two wet seasons in a year. Although a Uganda gorilla trekking expedition is considered a year-round activity, most visitors and wildlife enthusiasts prefer the drier months of June to September and December to February, when trekking conditions are more favorable.
However, as gorilla trekking in the forests of Uganda are great, and equally thrilling, right throughout the year, many travelers prefer to visit Uganda during its low season – March to May and October to November. Not only will you be able to tick an unforgettable gorilla trekking experience off your bucket-list, but Uganda’s parks are less crowded and accommodation facilities are far more affordable due to the fewer visitors during the low season.
Uganda’s low season is regarded as the best time for budget-conscious visitors interested in a Uganda gorilla trekking trip.
What Is The Trek Like In Uganda?
As the mountain gorillas cover large territories in Uganda tracking time can vary greatly from day to day. The time it takes to trek gorillas is completely unpredictable and can take anywhere from one hour to nine hours or in some cases even longer.
**Extra Tip: Be sure to communicate your fitness level to your tour operator so they can recommend the best trek based on endurance.
How Difficult is Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda?
While extremely exhilarating, gorilla trekking in both Uganda and Rwanda can be pretty tough. The trekking journey can become incredibly challenging, especially if the gorillas are constantly on the move. Mountain gorillas are remarkably fast and move through the jungle with great ease and speed, so trying to keep up with them takes quite some effort. For this reason, a moderate to high level of fitness is typically required to take on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
If you’re not exactly in tip-top gorilla trekking shape and your fitness level isn’t quite where it needs to be, you can request at the gate to be put in a group that will be trekking one of the nearer gorilla families. While it’s not always possible, it is certainly worth asking.
Regardless of your fitness level, it is important to keep in mind that you are literally trekking ‘through’ the jungle (which in itself is beyond impressive and an INCREDIBLE feat), with the rangers sometimes having to navigate and cut their way through in order to create a path. You need to remember that these are called ‘mountain’ gorillas for a reason and the terrain is pretty steep and can be slippery, especially in the rainy season. Good hiking shoes/boots are essential.
If you need help or require some assistance, you can hire porters to help you either by carrying your bag / bags, providing you with support, or assist you in navigating the hard and challenging sections of the trek.
If you have limited mobility, you can also hire a ‘gorilla chair’ and the porters can carry you through the jungle on your gorilla trekking journey – There is absolutely no reason why anyone, irrespective of their abilities, should miss out on this truly extraordinary experience.
How to Book Gorilla Trekking Permits in Uganda
The only way to book, purchase, and obtain your Uganda Mountain Gorilla Trekking Permit is via the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA). This can either be done in person at the office in Kampala, via email or telephone. Once your permit is confirmed, you will need to make a bank transfer to the UWA to secure your permit.
In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, there are 4 locations, Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo, so just be aware that it is best to book your permit close to where you will stay (as it’s quite far and expensive to travel between locations, especially as the treks start at 8am).
They only issue permits from the Kampala office, so if you are booking your permit independently / by yourself, you will need to pick up your permits in Kampala. This is fine unless you were planning on flying into Kigali. If that’s the case, it will require you to travel far out of your way in order to collect your permit from Kampala. For this reason, you’re best flying into Entebbe and/or passing through Kampala overland.
If you are booking your Mountain Gorilla Trekking Permit via a company or on a tour, this won’t be an issue as they will pick up your permits for you.
Uganda is Best for Traveler Types Who…
Where lions stalk their prey through grasslands, hippos soak lazily in the shallows, mountain gorillas move purposefully though tangled forests, and calm waters of Lake Victoria transform into the thundering rapids of the River Nile as it makes its way across Africa – Uganda is a country and wildlife safari destination unlike any other.
It offers wildlife enthusiasts and adventure travelers the opportunity to go on a thrilling Uganda gorilla trekking adventure as well as enjoy an exciting safari experience in one of Africa’s best wildlife and safari destinations – Experience the very best of both worlds and the greatest Uganda has to offer.
**Added bonus: Thanks to Uganda’s low cost of trekking permits, it’s a great choice for travellers looking for budget-friendly options to see gorillas in Africa.
Best Places To See Gorillas In The Wild
Here is a guide outlining where the best places in Africa are to see gorillas in the wild:
|Gorilla Species||Mountain gorillas||Mountain gorillas||Western lowland gorillas|
|Best gorilla trekking destination||Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park||Volcanoes National Park||Odzala-Kokoua National Park|
|Best time to go||All year round, but driest from June to September and December to February||All year round, but driest from June to September and December to February||All year round, but driest from June to September and December to February|
|Trekking time||Up to 5 hours, depending on weather, fitness levels of guests, and proximity of gorilla families||Up to 5 hours, depending on weather, fitness levels of guests, and proximity of gorilla families||Up to 5 hours, depending on weather, fitness levels of guests, and proximity of gorilla families|
|Trekking terrain||Hiking at altitude through thick forested slopes||Hiking at altitude through thick forested slopes||Hiking on ground level through thick rainforest|
|Time allowed with gorillas (excluding trekking time)||1 Hour||1 Hour||1 Hour|