Everything you must know about Gorilla trekking tours in Uganda

In this complete guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda, you will find all the necessary information about a Uganda gorilla tour. Welcome to the beautiful jungles, fellow primate enthusiasts! Hi there, are you dreaming of embarking on an unforgettable journey into the majestic World of Uganda Gorilla Trekking? You have come to the right place. Simply grab your camera and trekking gear, don your hiking boots, and get ready to venture deep into the rainforests with Native Africa Tours. We unveil our ultimate guide to Gorilla Trekking in Uganda to provide all the details you require to prepare for this life-changing adventure.

Be prepared to experience the wonder of these beautiful Giant Apes in some of the most phenomenal rainforest environments on the Planet. While on gorilla trekking tours, you will learn how to identify individual mountain gorillas (in their families) by their exceptional behavior, body markings, and even their sizes. With seasoned Park Ranger guides leading the way, you will become a bona fide gorilla trekker and primate lover.

Are Mountain Gorilla Sightings in Uganda Guaranteed?

No one should convince you that mountain gorilla sightings are 100% guaranteed, but at least expect a 95% guarantee. Thanks to the rise in mountain gorilla numbers in the country (more than 50% of the World’s remaining 1080 mountain gorillas). More so, with the help of the expertise of ranger guides, encounters with these Giant Apes are always made by visitors. However, what you can never guarantee is how long it will take to find these creatures.

For this reason, always be prepared for anything (short or long treks), sometimes lasting up to 8 hours before a particular habituated gorilla family is finally sighted. However, if you end up not seeing the habituated gorilla family, just know it has not been your day. The good news is that in all our years of organizing gorilla safaris in Uganda, there has never been a case of not seeing the Giant Apes. This is because trackers usually move ahead of visitors to follow the Giant Apes’ movement based on the previous night’s nests while updating Ranger guides leading your group.

Which Destinations can I visit for gorilla trekking in Uganda?

Uganda, being one of the three countries where the mountain gorillas are around is, so far the best place to go if you dream of getting up close and personal with them. This country has two fantastic gorilla trekking locations, both of which are found on the southwestern side of the country. These destinations are the 321-square-kilometer Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the 34-square-kilometer Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Picture this: the verdant rainforest with sounds of chirping birds and the anticipation building as you scan the dense vegetation for signs of life. That is the magic of the rainforests in southwestern Uganda, a haven for the endangered mountain gorillas and other 119 mammal species all year round. Nestled along the southern border of Uganda, this tropical jungle is renowned for its highest mountain gorilla population, hence making it the premier gorilla trekking destination in the whole World.

The 4 Gorilla Trekking Sectors of Bwindi

Known for its four gorilla trekking sectors that shelter habituated and unhabituated gorilla families, this jungle forest playground is a must-visit destination. The four sectors are Buhoma in the North of Bwindi, Rushaga and Nkuringo in the southern end, and Ruhija in the Eastern side of the Park. Each of these four trekking sectors has its terrain/level of difficulty, unique characteristics, and exceptional habituated gorilla families. Starting gorilla treks from one of these sectors along the edges of the forest, you get the opportunity to join 7 other enthusiastic and optimistic trekkers. Guided treks are taken into the jungles to search for one of the 20 habituated gorilla families.

Expert Ranger Guides – You are Never Alone

Typical gorilla treks in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are done in the company of expert Uganda Wildlife Authority Ranger guides who lead a group of 8 visitors. While on these gorilla treks, be ready to see more than mountain gorillas and open your mind to exploring the unique ecology of the forest. Also, get introduced to the changing landscape of the mountain gorilla’s natural habitat while on these guided treks. Considering mountain gorillas are wild animals (even though they are habituated), they are always mobile meaning it would ideally take several hours to finally find them.

However, the good news is that Ranger guides keep in constant communication with a team of trackers who provide updates on the movement of mountain gorillas, based on their nests for the previous night. Ranger guides take directions from trackers, hence making it less challenging to locate the mountain gorillas.

How gorilla treks are done in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

An early breakfast and briefing

One gorilla tour runs daily from any of the four gorilla trekking sectors, usually starting at 7:00 am with entertainment (from one of the local community Groups) and briefing. Visitors are taken through the rules and regulations of the activity, introduced to the history of the Park, gorilla permits are checked, and porters hired (optional). Actual gorilla treks begin at 7:30 am, and visitors are limited to groups of 8 people to protect the Giant Apes from any possible airborne pathogens. Additionally, the number of people visiting each habituated gorilla family is limited to increase the chances of sightings, considering that large numbers are likely to scare them away.

Are you physically fit?

Before Native Africa Tours’ visitors embark on gorilla safaris, we always recommend undertaking physical exercises to prepare the body and mind for the formidable slopes and terraced Volcanoes that usually prove challenging. That’s the nature of mountain gorilla natural habitats hence physical strength is required to maneuver through the dense, triffid-like vegetables, ascending and descending muddy slopes, as well as crossing craggy Valleys.

The terrain of the Bwindi

The challenging terrains, high elevation, and slippery trails make gorilla treks very challenging but the thought of meeting face-to-face with the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat makes the experience worthwhile. After several hours of searching, you will know when you are getting closer to them by the presence of gorilla nests. Take a silent wait to watch and take photos of them as they go about their day-to-day routines deep in the dense vegetation. The mountain gorillas surrounded by the lush forest create an amazing backdrop for photography.

Meeting the gorillas

Silence is broken by the cracking of leaves and tree branches, as the mountain gorillas go about their daily routines, and your time with these Giant Apes is limited to one hour. However, if this time is not enough and you wish to spend more time with the mountain gorillas, you can book the Gorilla Habituation Experience. This exceptional adventure is only available in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and provides visitors the opportunity to spend up to four hours with the mountain gorillas.

Where to stay on a gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi?

What could be more unforgettable during a gorilla safari than being treated to a free gorilla viewing experience right from your front porch? Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, and Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp are some of the few places that enjoy the sweeping lush views of the rainforest surrounding them. These Lodges are found in the Buhoma sector and other options in the sector include Ride 4 a Woman Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Trackers Safari Lodge, and Mahogany Springs Lodge among others.

Also boasting spectacular rainforest vistas or direct access to the Briefing point are Gorilla Safari Lodge, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge, Four Gorilla’s Lodge, and Rushaga Gorilla Lodge in the Southern sector of Rushaga. Other options in the southern sector (Nkuringo or both) include Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Heights Lodge, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, and Mutanda Lake Resort among others.

Ruhija accommodation options include Bakiga Lodge, Kiho Gorilla Safari Lodge, Agandi Uganda Eco-Lodges, Broadbill Forest Camp, and Bwindi Trekkers Tavern Cottages. Interestingly, visitors tracking from the Ruhija sector can also choose to stay in the Buhoma sector, which is one hour’s drive away. If you choose this option, you will be required to leave Buhoma by 6:00 am latest so that you are at the briefing point by 7:00 am.

Mgahinga National Park Gorilla Trekking

Known as the smallest National Park in Uganda, close to the Rwandan border, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is another incredible place to enjoy gorilla treks in Uganda. This 34-square-kilometer Protected Area is known for being a perfect choice for cross-over itineraries with Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Thanks to this Park’s strategic location, it is possible for visitors to enjoy Uganda and Rwanda Gorilla Tours, in addition to being the only place to see Golden monkeys in the country.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

Unlike Bwindi which is more popular, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is more secluded and raw for gorilla tours, and surprisingly, treks are less challenging. On the downside, Mgahinga has only one habituated Gorilla Family, which means fewer gorilla permits are available. In the past, this Park was considered an overflow destination for gorilla treks in Bwindi but this has changed in recent years. For instance, with the increase in Rwanda’s Gorilla permits in 2017 (from $750 to $1500), more visitors are prompted to arrive via Kigali and then cross the border to Mgahinga to trek gorillas from Mgahinga.

Secondly, thanks to Mgahinga’s location close to the beautiful Lakes of Bunyonyi and Mutanda, visitors can enjoy a gorilla trekking tour and end it with a relaxing trip to any of these places. It is also a wonderful destination for mountain climbers, with hikes reaching up to 4000 meters above sea level.

Where to stay on a gorilla trekking safari to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park?

Mount Gahinga Gorilla Lodge, boasting sweeping views of the Virunga Volcanoes and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the most popular accommodation option for this small Protected Area. Other fantastic retreats include Mgahinga Gorilla Triangle Lodge, Traveler’s Rest Hotel, Mucha Hotel Kisoro, Ichumbi Hotel Kisoro, Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp, the budget Ntebeko Homestay in Kisoro, to mention but a few.

When to Visit Uganda for Gorilla Trekking Tours

The mountain gorilla’s natural habitats are marked by high altitudes ranging from 2500 to 4000 meters above sea level as well as dense vegetation/rainforests. The southwestern side of Uganda, where the two National Parks are found has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. These are the dry season (June through September and mid-December through February) and the wet season, which is the remaining months of the year. Considering the high altitudes and vegetation of these Parks, it can rain at any time in the rainforest, although it is important to always know which months receive the heaviest rainfall.

The Heavy rains

Keep in mind that the heaviest rainfall is experienced between March and May, then October to early December. The dry season is generally marked by sunny weather and lower humidity while vegetation is sparser. This makes it less challenging to navigate through the Bwindi and Mgahinga rainforests while searching for the mountain gorillas. This is the main reason why gorilla treks are more popular during these months hence making it the peak season for gorilla tours. During these months, it is advisable to book gorilla permits at least 6-12 months in advance to avoid missing out on your anticipated gorilla safari.

The rainy season is when the jungle gets full bloom (greener vegetation) but the high precipitation levels mean forest trails are muddy and slippery, hence becoming more challenging to navigate through. The upside of this season is that being a low season, it is possible to enjoy low-season (discount) rates for accommodation. Also, forest trails are less crowded hence enhancing gorilla trekking experiences. However, Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks are open for gorilla trekking adventures all year round, regardless of the season.

How to book Gorilla Trekking permits in Uganda?

Gorilla trekking permits for Uganda can only be booked through registered and licensed Tour Operators (Tour Companies). Uganda Wildlife Authority is the official permit issuing entity and over 160 permits are issued every day. At the time of writing, these permits are fixed at $800 per person for foreign non-residents, $700 per person for foreign residents (possessing Uganda work permits), and $500 per person for Citizens from the Rest of Africa and Shs. 300,000 for East African Residents. Discounted (low-season) gorilla permits are so longer sold in Uganda. The only difference is that gorilla permits for the peak season (June to September and December to February) sell faster than those of the low season.

To book gorilla permits, start by sending the dates you are interested in trekking mountain gorillas to Native Africa Tours and we shall check availability. If positive, you can go ahead to make payment for your gorilla safari but if you are interested in booking gorilla permits alone, you will be required to add a small commission to cover administrative costs.

How difficult is gorilla trekking in Uganda?

Gorilla Trekking is not just a walk in the Park but real work.  You will be ascending and descending slopes/hills (which are sometimes slippery), dense vegetation, and going too high sometimes up to 4000 meters above sea level. For this reason, anyone who signs in for our gorilla safari should be ready to walk through these challenging terrains of steep ridges as well as deep Valleys. Treks involve following gorilla trails through dense and tangled undergrowth for 1-3 hours (sometimes even up to 6 hours), although we have seen cases of visitors encountering mountain gorillas after just 30 minutes of walking.

Gorilla treks become even more challenging during the rainy season as forest trails become muddy and slippery. However, it is interesting to know that mountain gorillas get closer to the lower altitudes during the rainy season. This is because of the increase in food and extreme coldness in higher altitudes hence making gorilla treks shorter.

Uganda Gorilla Trekking Rules and Regulations

Responsible Gorilla Trekking needs patience, discipline, and a full understanding of the language of the mountain gorillas. To properly understand how we should act before entering the forest when searching for the Giant Apes, and while in the Company of these incredible creatures, there are a set of rules and regulations to be followed. These guidelines make it possible to seamlessly watch the mountain gorillas in their natural habitats, all year round, right there in southwestern Uganda. Ensure that you are healthy (free from communicable diseases like cough and flu) before visiting the mountain gorillas because these Giant Apes share at least 98.2% of DNA with humans. This makes them susceptible to a lot of human communicable diseases.

The gorilla trekking rules and Regulations in Uganda

The recommended number of travelers that should trek and visit a habituated gorilla family without compromising mountain gorilla welfare/day-to-day activities or without compromising their behavior is 8 persons.

Stick to the allotted one hour of watching and taking photos of the mountain gorillas to avoid stressing the Giant Apes and risking the spread of diseases.

Do not intentionally make noise while trekking or watching the mountain gorillas, as these primates are incredibly sensitive to noise. Also, you will be scaring away other creatures in the Forest.

Do not approach mountain gorillas beyond the minimum distance of 8 meters, as a way of protecting them from any possible diseases and scaring them.

Similarly, touching mountain gorillas isn’t permitted and is highly discouraged. Much as these primates are fully habituated to human presence, they are still wild animals which can turn dangerous when they feel threatened.

Do not eat, drink, or smoke while in the presence of the mountain gorillas as food droplets can become breeding places for germs. Similarly, feeding the mountain gorillas is prohibited as these primates are wild and their whole lives depend on finding their next meal. Influencing the way they forage by feeding them anything is likely to create a dangerous situation.

More of the rules

Gorilla trekking adventures are restricted to persons of 15 years and above, and this is for safety reasons. First, young children are likely to slow gorilla treks. Secondly, children’s behavior is quite unpredictable, as you might not know whether they will scream or not when mountain gorillas begin charging.

Always listen to your Ranger guides during gorilla trekking, as they are there to not only impart knowledge on the behavior of these Giant Apes but also ensure the safety of all visitors. For this reason, it is very important to listen to their instructions and follow their safety guidelines which include staying in your group, and many others.

Do not make sudden movements while watching and taking photos of the mountain gorillas as it could startle them, and bring your viewing session to a halt.

No rubbish or left-over food should be thrown in the forest during gorilla trekking as they not only degrade the naturalness of the Forest but also act as breeding places for germs.

Flash photography isn’t allowed around mountain gorillas, as it is likely to scare them away and make them aggressive, thus cutting your viewing sessions short.

What to carry for gorilla trekking tours in Uganda?

Packing for a Gorilla safari to Uganda can be stressful for some people because you can’t bring a lot of luggage but also need to pack right. You only need essentials for gorilla trekking adventures which include;

Comfortable, breathable, and lightweight clothing. This is to keep you warm during the cold weather or cool during hot and humid environments. Consider long sleeves and long safari pants to protect you from stinging nettles/insect bites as well as scratching tree branches while trekking.

A good camera and pair/s of binoculars. Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks are not only gorilla Havens but also every photographer’s Paradise. For this reason, don’t forget to pack a camera and binoculars to capture the incredible mountain gorillas as well as the rich wildlife, birds, and scenery. Also, ensure that you have extra SD Cards as well as a spare camera battery because you will be taking lots of photos.

A wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. You will be exposed to the scorching Tropical sun while trekking mountain gorillas in the jungle. For this reason, don’t forget a good hat and sunglasses to protect your skin, eyes, and neck.

Insect repellant. Insect bites can become a real nuisance in Bwindi and Mgahinga forests, hence packing a good insect repellant (with Picaridin or DEET) is highly recommended.

More of these

Comfortable hiking boots. The terrains in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are uneven, rugged, and slippery, and they can be worsened during the rainy season. It is for this reason that we always advise gorilla trekkers to pack a pair/s of comfortable rainproof hiking boots with good traction and ankle support.

Rainproof rain gear/jacket/poncho. The mountain gorilla’s natural habitat, like any other rainforest is known for impromptu downpours hence it is crucial to pack a rainproof/or waterproof rain jacket. Although sometimes Safari Lodges and Park Rangers lend visitors ponchos for the duration of the gorilla treks, it is always advisable to pack them. Rain jackets should be packed regardless of season because downpours are experienced at any time.

A reusable water bottle. You will need lots of water (at least 2 liters) to stay hydrated during gorilla treks. Most Safari Lodges around Bwindi and Mgahinga provide unlimited drinking water which visitors can refill in bottles before heading out on their adventures.

A portable charger or power bank. Visitors who have been to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks before will agree that most Safari Lodge don’t have electricity 24/7 hence bringing a portable charger will be a life-saver. Your devices (phone/s, cameras, and others) will be given an extra boost hence enhancing your gorilla trekking experience.

A basic first aid kit. Another must-have essential for gorilla trekking in Uganda is a first aid kit. This should at least contain over-the-counter malarial and anti-diarrheal medicines, insect bite cream, plasters, bandages, blister medicines, and tweezers among others.

How to access Bwindi and Mgahinga for gorilla trekking?

Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks are found in the southwestern side of Uganda, and there are two options to get to these gorilla trekking destinations.

By Road

Road trips to these Parks take between 8 and 10 hours through tarred and well-maintained roads. However, the shortest drive to these Parks is from Kigali City, which is 3-4 hours long.

Flights to Bwindi

For Bwindi, you can fly into Kihihi (when visiting the Buhoma and Ruhija sectors) or Kisoro (when visiting the southern sectors of Nkuringo and Rushaga), then connect to Bwindi by road. These flights begin (and end) at Entebbe International Airport and last one and a half to two hours depending on the routing of the day. The drive from the Airstrips to Bwindi lasts two hours.

Flights to Mgahinga

For Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, flights start from Entebbe International Airport and end at Kisoro Airstrip, followed by a one-hour drive to the Park.

Conclusively, our guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda is every visitor’s eye to what it feels like to undertake gorilla trekking tours in Bwindi and Mgahinga. If you are planning to visit any of these incredible Safari destinations, be ready to be amazed. If you have any more questions, please speak to any of our safari experts. We shall do our best to make your trip memorable.

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