Gorilla trekking Uganda experience: Visiting wild mountain gorillas in Bwindi NP

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

In this blog, you read more about our experience of visiting mountain gorillas in Bwindi Forest National Park. We tell you everything you need to know about a gorilla trekking in Uganda. How much does it cost? How to book it and where to stay? What is the difference between a gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo? And many more tips for getting the best gorilla safari as possible!


Gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park, Uganda

It is mid-August and therefore high season in Uganda. We are located on a campsite near a ranger station of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This is one of the few places in Uganda to spot wild mountain gorillas. I did not buy a gorilla permit beforehand, nor booked a tour to visit these primates. Without making prior arrangements, I go to the ranger station and hope there is still a place available for the gorilla trekking. The ranger asks me to wait.

Meanwhile, the visitors are divided into groups and receive more information about the gorilla tour. The hope that I still can join the gorilla safari is rapidly diminishing. Suddenly, I get tapped on my shoulder and asked if I can pay $700 US dollars (not cash, but with the credit card). I pay the large sum of money and run to my group, where I quickly shake hands with everyone. Yes, I’m going to visit mountain gorillas in their natural habitat! After all those scary stories about how early you should book a gorilla trekking in advance, I did it! I managed to get on a gorilla safari in Uganda without any pre-booking or whatsoever! I realize that I have been very fortunate.

Things to do in Uganda Gorilla Track Uganda


Mountain Gorillas in the wild: Gorilla Trekking in East Africa

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species. Worldwide, about 1000 mountain gorillas still live in the wild. Most of these can be found in Uganda. The rest live in groups in neighbouring countries Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

The mountain gorillas (Gorilla Beringei Beringei) live in tropical rainforests and are vegetarians. Their daily bites mainly consist of berries, bamboo, leaves, stems and fruits. Male mountain gorillas, also known as the silverback, can grow up to 190 cm in length and can easily weigh more than 150 kg. Reproduction is slow: 1 young in 4 (or more) years.

Why are gorillas endangered: Threats to the mountain gorillas

Deforestation, habitat loss and climate change are the major threats to gorillas. Unfortunately, poaching on gorillas also occurs. The locals like to eat gorilla meat. Unfortunately, they are not alone, in the world, there is a great demand for ‘bushmeat‘. People seem to like to eat meat from endangered species including gorillas and other great apes. Fortunately, the population of mountain gorillas is steadily increasing again!

Uganda Gorilla

Experience Gorilla Trekking: What to expect from a gorilla safari?

For many travellers, spotting gorillas in the wild is an important or perhaps the most important reason for visiting East Africa. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the mountain gorillas because of the price of this activity. A gorilla safari is everything but cheap. That’s why I didn’t bother to book gorilla permits in advance.

Our plan was to drive from Lake Bunyonyi to Queen Elisabeth National Park via Bwindi Forest. Since we couldn’t find good campsites before Bwindi National Park, we ended up at a campground in the middle of the park. I saw the jungle and mountains around me and I suddenly got a strong urge to visit the mountain gorillas. It was only now that I realized how special it is to see these primates in the wild.

So the next morning, I went early to the ranger station to see if I could join a last-minute gorilla trek. Before I knew it, I was walking through a beautiful rainforest looking for the mountain gorillas!

What can you expect from visiting mountain gorillas in Uganda?

The day of the gorilla trek starts with a briefing. In the briefing, you are told what to bring with you and which rules you should follow. Next, the rangers determine in which group you are. Each group is dedicated to a gorilla family. The rangers take your physical condition into account when dividing the visitors into groups.

Gorilla Tracking Rangers top attraction Uganda

The chance of spotting a gorilla family in Uganda is very high!

Mountain gorillas are monitored 24 hours a day in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Day and night there are 2 rangers protecting the gorillas from poachers and sharing their location. In this way, the gorilla visitor centre knows where to gorillas are situated. The chance of seeing mountain gorillas is therefore almost 100%.

Because rangers know where the gorillas are located around the visitor centre, the first gorilla family is assigned to tourists who can’t walk that far. If they are lucky, they only have to walk 10 minutes for a wonderful experience with gorillas. The duration of a trek and the distance you have to walk differs from day-to-day. Sometimes a gorilla trekking lasts as short as 2 hours, but this activity can also take 8 hours.

Is gorilla trekking safe: Safety and rules for visiting gorillas in Uganda

Furthermore, there is a limit of 8 visitors per day per gorilla family. Besides, you can’t stay with the mountain gorillas for more than 1 hour. You should also keep a distance of 7 meters. This is to prevent tourists from transmitting diseases to the already vulnerable gorilla family. In practice, you can observe the gorillas from much closer. This depends on where the gorillas are seen. If they are located in an open spot, keeping a distance of 7 m is easy. If the gorillas are among thick bushes, you will not see them if you keep 7 m distance. So, the rangers allow you to get closer to the primates.

The ranger walking behind the group is carrying a gun. In Bwindi Forest, you can also encounter elephants. And elephants don’t get out of the way for anyone. In such a case, the ranger fires a bullet into the air to scare the elephants away and keep the visitors safe. The minimum age for this gorilla safari is 15 years.

Elephants East Africa

My experience with a gorilla trek in Uganda

After 3 hours of walking through the rainforest, we are told we are close to the gorilla family. We leave all our belongings with the porters, except for the cameras of course! Rangers clear the way for us with machetes. This is necessary because we are surrounded by dense bushes and trees.

Every one of the group slowly tries to climb the slippery slope in front of us. Suddenly, out of nowhere a gorilla crosses the group at full speed and cheerfully finds its way through the thick bushes. A little later, a large black fur appears among all the greenery. It turns out to be the oldest female in the group who doesn’t care about us and continues to eat her bamboo.

Rangers constantly communicate with the mountain gorillas by mimicking their sounds. The gorillas growl that everything is fine and that we can quietly get closer to them.

Uganda mountain Gorilla Things to do in Uganda

Visiting the Mikuza gorilla family in Bwindi Forest Impenetrable National Park

We encounter every one of the Mikuza family. Young men, women, baby gorillas and the silverback of the group. Unfortunately, we don’t see much of the silverback gorilla, the dominant male. Rangers say that the silverback got in a fight the day before with a silverback from another gorilla family. The wounds of the fight are still visible: the silverback’s lip is torn apart and it stumbles a bit. The usually so dominant alpha male is very shy today and barely shows himself. Apparently he doesn’t see us as a threat, and he doesn’t feel the urge to protect his gorilla family from us humans.

Gorilla trekking Uganda Silverback Gorilla

The hour flies by and our meet and greet with the mountain gorillas is over. None of us felt unsafe during the gorilla safari. Except for a few scratches, a twisted ankle and some insect bites, this was a fantastic experience! I have been so impressed with these beautiful muscular apes!


How difficult is a gorilla trekking in East Africa?

Mountain gorillas (Gorilla Beringei Beringei) live in dense rainforests in mountain regions. This means that a gorilla tour can be tough. Especially if you climb and scramble along muddy paths after a rain shower.

Often there is the option to hire a porter to help you with your luggage. The porter also helps you with the sometimes heavy hike up. Do you really need a porter? No, but it does make the hike easier. Often porters are people who come from a nearby village. By hiring a porter, you support the local community.

Gorilla trekking east africa close up female gorilla


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How much does a gorilla safari cost in East Africa?

Watching wild mountain gorillas in their natural habitat costs a lot of money. Depending on which country in East Africa you do a gorilla tour, a gorilla trek costs between $400 and $1500 US dollars per person.

If you go on a gorilla safari, you need a so-called ‘gorilla permit‘. This is a legal document that allows you to visit a gorilla family. By using these permits, the government has insight into the number of tourists who visit the mountain gorillas. The price of the gorilla permit is the price of the gorilla safari. This price of a gorilla trekking includes park fee, conservation fee, ranger fee and government taxes. Below the price list of a gorilla tour per country.

1. The cost of a gorilla trekking in Uganda

A gorilla permit costs $700 US dollars in Uganda. 180 gorilla permits are available daily in Uganda. 80% of these tickets go to tour operators affiliated with the Association of Uganda Tour Operators. 20% of the permits are available online for tourists and freelance tour operators.

2. How much does a gorilla trek in Rwanda cost?

The price for a gorilla permit in Rwanda is $1500 US dollar. The place to spot mountain gorillas is Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. A beautiful gorilla habitat surrounded by many volcanoes and high-end luxurious lodges.

3. The price of a gorilla tour in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The permit for a gorilla safari in Congo costs $400 US dollars. Although it seems that Congo is a budget destination for visiting gorillas extra costs will come on top of the bill. More about that later.

Where does the money earned from gorilla trekkings go to?

Much of the proceeds from gorilla trekking go to the protection of national parks and gorillas. 10% of the revenue goes to local communities. In this way, one ensures that local people do not become farmers and therefore do not cut down trees for agriculture. Schools and roads are also being built with profits from gorilla treks. The rest of the money goes to the governments of these countries.

Uganda Gorilla

How to book a gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo?

Is watching mountain gorillas high on your bucket list? Do you also want to go on a gorilla tour? Rest assured. There are several ways to book your gorilla permit. In some countries, it is easier to book a gorilla trekking than in others. Planning to visit the gorillas in the high season, make sure to book your permits on time!

1. Book a gorilla permit yourself at the official government websites

Click here for more information about Gorilla spotting in Congo. DRC gorilla trekking costs $400. It seems it is possible to do a ‘budget’ gorilla safari in Virunga National Park Congo. But there are many additional costs: transport (easily $100, since Congo, is not safe and armed rangers need to protect you during the trip). Also overnight stays in Congo is a lot more expensive than in Uganda, for example.

Click here to independently book tickets for Gorilla trekking in Rwanda. We have booked our tickets for the Chimpanzee trekking through this site: it works fine. A gorilla permit costs in Rwanda $1500 per person. Via Rwanda Development Board you book permits to visit the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

Click here to book your ticket for a gorilla watching in Uganda. The price is $700 US dollars per person. Make sure you book your gorilla permits via the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). You can purchase your gorilla permit 2 years in advance. Be aware that you have to collect your gorilla permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in Kampala.

Gorilla safari tip: In some months (i.e. the low season), discounts are given up to 25% on gorilla permits if booked on time online! In this way, backpackers with less money could do a gorilla trekking on a budget. It doesn’t get ‘cheaper’ than this!

2. Can’t arrange gorilla permits? Try to arrange a gorilla safari on the day itself.

No luck with acquiring your permit? Visit a ranger station on the day itself from where the gorilla tour starts. If there is still space, you can join the gorilla trekking after payment. In the high season, you have to be lucky to join a gorilla safari in this way. In the low season, you have a greater chance. This is an ideal way for backpackers who want to keep all options open.

Baby Gorilla wildlife Africa apes

3. Book a gorilla trekking through a tour operator or travel agency

An easy way to book a gorilla trek is through one of the many tour operators and travel agencies that offer gorilla permits. This travel agency only arranges the gorilla permit. You often pay a service & administration fee for this option on top of the gorilla permit.

4. Book a multi-day trip with a travel agency includes a gorilla trek

When you book a package holiday or a multi-day safari that includes a gorilla trek, you do not pay any extra administration costs for the gorilla permit. You can easily book these multi-day safaris online via GetYourGuide:

  • Rwanda: 2-day trekking including gorilla permit for Volcanoes National Park from Kigali. Prices start from €2743 per person. Click here for more information.
  • Uganda: 4-day trekking including gorilla trekking, transport and hotels from Entebbe. From €4144 for 2 people. Click here for more information.

Tip: book your gorilla tour at least half a year in advance. During the busy months of January, July to September and December, it is difficult to get gorilla permits.

Uganda Gorilla


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Where in East Africa can you spot wild mountain gorillas?

Mountain gorillas can only be seen in Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Well-known parks where you can see these animals are the Virunga National Park (Congo), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda), Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (Uganda) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda).

Gorilla trekking Rwanda vs. Uganda

What is the best country in East Africa to visit gorillas: Rwanda or Uganda? Mountain gorillas are treated with respect in both countries. The gorilla habitats in both countries are also beautiful to see. Perhaps the Volcano National Park in Rwanda is slightly more impressive with all its volcanoes. Moreover, Rwanda is known for her easier gorilla safaris. Hiking in Volcanoes National Park is less challenging than visiting gorillas in Uganda.

However, if money plays a role, Uganda is a cheaper option. You pay $700 instead of $1500 for a gorilla permit. Besides, the population of gorillas is bigger in Uganda compared to Rwanda. Uganda is home to about half of the total mountain gorillas worldwide. In short, both countries are therefore very suitable for gorilla trekking.

Volconoes National Park Rwanda Gorilla trekking


Bwindi Forest Impenetrable National Park: a hotspot for gorilla trekking!

Ries did the gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park. The Bwindi Forest Impenetrable National Park is a beautiful national park in southwestern Uganda. It covers more than 330 square kilometres and is one of the most beautiful and wild rainforests we have ever seen. Bwindi National Park is divided into four sectors, which correspond to the four places where you can do a gorilla tour. These sectors are Buhoma in the northwest, Ruhija in the northeast, Rushaga in the southeast, and Nkuringo in the southwest of the park.

Map of the sectors in Bwindi Forest National Park (Uganda)

Bwindi Impenetrabel National Park sectors for gorilla trekking Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has 4 sectors to spot gorillas

When you purchase a gorilla permit, you only know a few days in advance which of the four sectors you should be in. This depends on where the gorillas are located. Before we drove to Bwindi National Park, we asked at a UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) office in Kisoro what the best sector was for a gorilla safari. That was the Ruhija sector.

Buhoma sector in Bwindi National park: Easy hike for spotting gorillas

The Buhoma sector is the most popular sector with most tourists. This is because this sector in the Bwindi National Park is very accessible and therefore people with a less physical condition can watch the gorillas. Buhoma is also the place with the most luxurious and expensive accommodations.

Ruhija sector in Bwindi National Park: Budget accommodations and tough hikes

Emerging Ruhija offers more budget-friendly accommodation and there are campgrounds. We set up our tent at Ruhija Community Rest Camp. Another advantage of Ruhija is that it is relatively easy to reach by car or even public transport. It is close relatively close to Kabale (55 km), from where you drive to Ruhija in about 2-3 hours. You can also easily drive from Ruhija to the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).

The other two sectors (Nkuringo and Rushaga) have fewer accommodation options. Usually, the mountain gorillas are too far from these sectors to start a gorilla trek from here. But this may, of course, be different in a few years.


Where do you sleep in Bwindi Forest National Park?

Where you book your hotel depends of course on where you will do the trekking. If you book with booking.com, chances are that you can cancel your hotel just in advance in case you go to another section. Very practical! Here are some hotels and lodges in the Buhoma and Ruhija sectors. These accommodations come in different budget ranges so that there is something for everyone.

Note: we almost never had telephone coverage in the Bwindi Forest National Park. So booking in advance is essential!

Hotels in the Buhoma sector in Bwindi National Park

Bwindi Forest Lodge €Forest Lodge Bwindi Buhoma

This is the budget option in the Buhoma sector in Bwindi. Located near the park gate, it has simple yet clean rooms and a dining room. You sleep in private rooms with breakfast from €55 per night (two persons).

Book now!

Silverback Lodge €€Silverback lodge Buhoma Bwindi

This beautiful lodge is a bit higher so you have a phenomenal view of Bwindi National Park. Rooms are luxurious and spacious. You sleep here from €374 in a beautiful room including breakfast (two persons)!

Book now!

Trackers Safari Lodge €€€

Trackers safari lodge Buhoma BwindiThis is truly a luxury lodge in Buhoma. With a lovely swimming pool, a large communal area overlooking Bwindi and the surrounded mountains and wonderful beds. You sleep here from €882 all-inclusive (two persons).

Book now!

Hotels in the Ruhija sector in Bwindi National Park

Agandi Ecolodge €Agandi Uganda ecolodge Bwindi Ruhija

These beautiful eco-lodges offer the option to camp, starting from $10 per person. In addition, you can eat here by the campfire, and there is wifi. If you choose the lodges, take into account $150 per room.

Book now!

Ruhija Community Camp €€Ruhija Community Rest camp Bwindi

This lodge is run by the community. From here you have a marvellous view over the valley. Expect really basic rooms or a tent. Camping is also possible here, from $10 per person. You sleep here from €65 per night.

Book now!

Ruhija Gorilla Lodge  €€€Ruhija Gorilla Lodge Bwindi

Dit is een wat luxere accommodatie bij Ruhija, maar verwacht ook hier eenvoud. Wel heb je een openhaard en enorm uitgebreid ontbijt. Je slaapt hier vanaf €141 inclusief ontbijt met twee personen.

Book now!

Finally, in Nkuringo is the luxury lodge Gorilla Safari Lodge situated and in Rushaga the beautiful Lodge Rushaga Gorilla Camp.


What is the best time to go for a gorilla trekking?

Although it is possible to go on gorilla tracking in Uganda and Rwanda all year round, the dry months are the best. The best time for gorilla trekking is December to February and June to September. This applies to Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.

Packing list for Gorilla trekking: what to bring with you on a safari?

I myself was not well prepared for my gorilla experience. I only brought 0.5 litres of water, a few toasts and my camera. That was it. Clearly, not enough for a 6-hour hike through dense rainforest. Learn from my mistakes and make sure you come prepared. Bring the following with you:

Is a mountain gorilla trekking in Africa worth the money?

Is a gorilla safari worth it? This is a tricky question. Yes, seeing gorillas in the wild is a very special experience. But $700 USD is really a lot of money. If you are crazy about gorillas and love wildlife photography, a gorilla trekking experience is really worth it! Do you have less with mountain gorillas and hiking is not really your thing. Then don’t do it. This experience is simply too expensive for that.

Travel Guide Uganda Gorilla Tracking Certificate


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Things to do in Uganda: top attractions and national parks!

Wondering what else you can do in Uganda? Uganda is a beautiful country and very suitable for road trips and safaris. Safaris are a lot cheaper in Uganda than in Kenya and Tanzania, for example. Uganda is a great destination for spotting wildlife. Uganda has many exotic birds, the big 5 (including the rhino), golden monkey, chimpanzees and even the rare mountain gorillas!

Map of Uganda with top sights and national parks

 

Map of Uganda National Parks and top attractions itinerary

There are plenty of cool things to do in Uganda. From spotting wildlife to city tours and rafting. Below, 4 other cool activities to do in beautiful Uganda:

1. Safari in Queen Elisabeth National Park (QENP)

Do you want to experience QENP with a game drive? If you are lucky you can see the famous ‘tree’ lions sitting in the trees. Make sure you make the lovely boat tour on lake Edouard or lake George. Book your safari easily online here. From €150 per person.

2. Discover the heart of Kampala with a three-hour walking tour

The ideal way to discover the vibrant city of Kampala is on foot with a local guide. This is a safe and cool way to learn more about the history and culture of Uganda’s capital. Click here for more information on the walking tour. From €9.40 per person.

3. Safari in Murchison National Park

Looking for a game drive for Murchison National Park? Murchison Falls national park is known for her many elephants and giraffes. Everywhere you look, you will see wildlife. Besides, Murchison Falls are also great to see! Book your 4-hour game drive here. From €185 per person.

4. Exploring Jinja & rafting on the famous Nile

Adrenaline junkies beware, Uganda is one of the best places in the world for rafting! You can raft here easily and safely on level 5 cascades! Click here to reserve your spot and for more information.


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2 Comments

  1. by kabira on 4 May 2020  20:50 Reply

    what a great post surely thanks so much

  2. by Mamerito on 6 May 2020  17:53 Reply

    Thank you for visiting Uganda. You travel blog is very informative and recommended. See you soon when it is safe to travel again.
    Read about: Gorilla Population in Bwindi NP see a rise

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