A Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda

Mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda has turned to be one of life’s bucket list wildlife encounters.

If you’re interested in going on a gorilla trek in Uganda or Rwanda, we’ve everything that you’ll need to know in our guide.

What is Gorilla Trekking?

A gorilla trek is a once in a lifetime wildlife activity taking you trekking deep in Africa’s Virunga conservation region and Bwindi impenetrable forest in search for the rare mountain gorillas.

Trekking the Virungas in search of mountain gorillas is such an amazing experience that involves walking and coming into contact with mountain gorillas. Uganda offers a safe and secure surrounding to be able to see the mountain gorillas.

Read more about why responsible tourism is key to saving the mountain gorillas.

Where and when to go gorilla trekking?

Gorilla trekking is mainly witnessed around two countries which are Rwanda and Uganda and can take place all year round, however the major suitable seasons being in June and September, as well as December and February. The dry season in Rwanda starts normally starts from December to February which is the best for you to trek gorillas and enjoy sunny and hot weather. Mid March, May and October is mostly wet and rainy.

Bwindi can be visited anytime of the year. It’s advisable to make bookings within 3 months to a year prior to the visit.

Mountain gorillas are very rare primates on planet earth with less than 900 individual gorillas left in the wild, found only in the Virunga volcano conservation area of 3 countries Uganda, Rwanda and the democratic republic of Congo. 

Gorilla trekking ultimately takes place in Uganda and Rwanda much more than it can be done in the democratic republic of Congo. This is because DR Congo has been considered by many travelers as an unsafe destination to travel to. Consequently most people when planning their trips to trek gorillas, will most likely decide to first compare between Rwanda and Uganda.

For the most part, the well-liked places to see mountain gorillas are Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi impenetrable forests and Mgahinga national park in south western Uganda. The gorilla trekking process is almost comparable in these national parks.

How much is gorilla trekking in Uganda?

Bwindi is the major habit for the mountain gorillas. In order for visitors to be able to see the gorillas in Bwindi they need to obtain a gorilla trekking permit while goes for USD 600 in the peak seasons and USD 450 in the low seasons, the permits can be obtained from UWA Uganda Wildlife Authority.

When going on a gorilla safari, you are required to acquire a gorilla trekking permit to be able to visit the gorillas, the permits cost about USD 500. Safari tours are charged separately from the gorilla trekking permits. The charge varies, and depends on how many people are booked on a tour — the more people, the cheaper the tour will be. There are a number of tour operators in Uganda that can offer different prices, with an option to book online or directly with the operator.

A typical gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi forest involves a game ranger taking visitors on a guided 4 – 5 hour trek to find the gorillas. Visitors are given a short briefing beforehand on what and what not to do while on the trek.

Some lucky tourists may be able to find the gorillas in less than 40 minutes while others can take up to 3 days. The gorillas are not harmful at all, but the silverback can easily injure you if it’s provoked.

It’s a breathtaking experience for anyone who is an adventure lover.

What to wear gorilla trekking in Uganda & Rwanda?

Those going on a gorilla trek need to be physically fit, must have comfortable shoes, a jacket, sunscreen, an insect repellant, and no infectious diseases. Trekkers are also recommended to wear long-sleeved cotton shirts and long pants due to the fact that the forest is full of thorny plants. Garden gloves will also come in handy to protect your fingers when trying to grip onto vegetations for support.  It’s also smart to carry a raincoat and waterproof pants as rainful is frequent in the area even during the dry season.  

The tourists are not allowed to get too close to the gorillas, and are advised to stay as a group, not to use flash light cameras, not to eat or smoke when near the gorillas, and lastly to avoid making loud noises.

Where to go gorilla trekking in Uganda?

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of the many national parks that Uganda has been blessed with.

The park occupies an area of 331 km2, and is well known for its forested area, wide variety of trees, and (most famously) for it’s gorilla trekking safaris.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has introduced a new mountain gorilla habituation experience for visitors of the Ruhija sector in Bwindi National Park. Gorilla habituation in Rushaga is open for two gorilla groups – the Bushaho Group and the Biking Group with a maximum of four people allowed to go trekking with trained rangers and researchers at a time.

Read more about gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park.

Book a Gorilla trek at Bwindi National Park with GAdventures here.

Where to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

Like Uganda, Gorilla Trekking is Rwanda’s most popular attraction that pull tourists to the tiny country

This relatively small country attracts thousands of tourists who are drawn to the northern side of the country for gorilla watching. Annually, the country earns millions of dollars from gorilla tourism, a thriving avenue to promoting conservation within the volatile Virunga Region.

Rwanda hosts almost a third of the world’s estimated population of about 900 mountain gorillas. These great apes are protected in the Volcanoes National Park which is also known as  Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in French.

Where is Volcanoes National Park located?

The park is situated in the northern part of Rwanda in the Musanze district. You can reach the park by public means from Kigali or via private vehicles. It is a 2 hour drive from Kigali airport/city to the park. The park is a continuous part of the larger Virunga conservation area that stretches over the eight volcanoes of the Virunga. Every day, tourists visit this park on gorilla safaris, walking trips in search of the great apes that live high in the Virunga mountains.

How many gorilla groups are found in Volcanoes National Park?

Volcanoes National park hosts ten habituated Gorilla groups namely Amahoro gorilla family, Sabyinyo Gorilla family, Karisimbi Gorilla group, Umubano Gorilla group, 13 group (Aka Agasha gorilla group), Hirwa gorilla group, Bwenge Gorilla family, Ugenda Gorilla family and Kwitonda Gorilla group.

How is gorilla trekking conducted in Rwanda?

Like in Uganda, the Rwanda Gorilla trekking excursion begins with briefing at around 7:30am, followed by gorilla group allocation to ensure that the sick, aged and weak people are given an easy trek.  It is noted that a maximum of eight people are allowed to trek in each gorilla group. All trekker groups are led by ranger guides to ensure an informative and enjoyable trek. Only one hour is currently given to treks stay with Gorillas.

Visitors should be at the Kinigi Head Office by 7:00am for a gorilla briefing session that will be provided by the Head Guide before the actual trekking encounter commences.  If you miss the briefing, you will not be allowed to take part in the Rwanda Gorilla Safari even in the event that you’ve purchased a gorilla permit.  Noting this, it goes without saying that being on time is very important.

A visitor has the choice to decide which group of gorillas they would like to visit.  Each group is typically associated with an easy, medium or strenuous hike and it’s important to be realistic about your physical ability and to ensure that you’re in shape.

A group of eight individuals per day are able to visit each group of gorillas in Rwanda for about one hour.  This means that there are 80 gorilla permites available in Rwanda on a single day.

Please Note: Permits get booked quite early and it’s very necessary to book well in advance.

Gorilla trekking starts in the morning and ranges from one to eight hours of hiking depending on the movement of the specific gorilla family.

How much is the Rwanda Gorilla Trekking permit?

Rwanda Gorilla trekking permit is sold at $750 to foreign residents, Rfrancs 3000 to Rwanda citizens and $ 475 to Eat African Foreign residents.

Where can you get Rwanda Gorilla permits?

You can get trekking permits from Rwanda development Board headquarters in Kigali or from any of the authorized agent.

Tourist attractions within Volcanoes National Park

Other tourist attractions in Volcanoes national park includes the Virunga Mountain which offers a wonderful view for photographing. Some of the volcanoes you can see while in Volcanoes National Park include Mountain Sabyinyo, Visoke/ Bisoke Volcano, Karisimbi Volcano, Mount Mgahinga and Mountain Muhabura.

Golden monkeys are the second attraction after Gorillas in Rwanda. You can conclude your safari in Volcanoes with Golden monkey trekking after seeing Gorillas as your first priority. Golden monkeys are found in groups and it’s enjoyable to meet them in their natural habitat.

Many bird species are found in the park. Volcanoes national park hosts over 50 bird species ,therefore, birders are welcome!

The unique tree species in the park – alongside bamboo vegetation is also amazing to see while in Volcanoes National Park.

Every morning before setting off to trek Gorillas, visitors are entertained with Kinyarwanda dance and songs. The troop performs to its best.

The Safari Lodges consist of Kinigi Guest House, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge among others. The lodges are well decorated to attract visitors- staying at one of the listed lodges is memorable and you will feel as if you are in a home away from home!

The park also hosts insects, butterflies and reptiles among others. It should be noted that reptiles are rarely seen but they do exist.

Tourist attractions outside Volcanoes National Park

The twin lake – Lake Burera and Buhondo are referred to as twin Lakes in Rwanda. The Lakes are situated near Virunga Lodge. Therefore, visitors staying at Virunga Lodge can enjoy the view of the twin lakes while in the veranda of their lodge or you can sit in the chair and enjoy the view while sipping a drink.

The Iby’iwacu cultural villages are situated outside Volcanoes National Park but are well worth a visit. At the Iby’iwacu cultural village, you will be entertained by the residents through music, dance and drama, enjoy local stories, meet traditional fortune tellers among other things.  At the Iby’iwacu cultural village, visitors are equipped with weaving skills, drumming skills, skills in using arrows while hunting and so on.

Where to go Gorilla Trekking in Congo?

Visiting the Congo’s Viruga National Park for gorilla trekking is an absolute highlight of a trip to Africa. A safari to the Virunga Conservation Area in the Congo is an extraordinary adventure offering visitors something new and unique.

Virunga Conservation Area

The Virunga region is comprised of three parks that are great for encountering gorillas including Virunga National Park, Mgahinga National Park in Southern Uganda, and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Destination Congo offers travelers a chance to visit mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park and trek Eastern Lowland Gorillas in Kahuzi Biega Natonal Park or Western Lowland Gorillas in Odzala National Park in the Congo.

A Congo safari best suits travelers looking for something pristine, unspoiled or undiscovered. It’s a true African adventure, exploring rarely seen culture and wildlife, with the option of also trekking up one of the world’s most active volcanoes: Mount Nyiragongo.

Gorilla Trekking Rules

Very important… follow your guide’s instructions! Your guide leads visits to gorillas every single day and is familiar with the gorilla environment.

Keep with your group, otherwise you can easily get lost in the jungle. The group moves at the pace of the slowest person. When in the presence of gorillas, don’t disperse to get a better view, stick to your group at all times.

It’s important to work on your physical fitness and be prepared for a long walk and some fairly strenuous hiking.

Don’t go gorilla trekking if you’re sick. Inform your Park Warden and you will receive a refund for your gorilla permit.

Don’t leave rubbish in the forest. Gorillas are very much vulnerable to human infection. It’s very necessary that you trek out anything that you trek in.

Don’t make noise when in the presence of the gorillas. This can irritate and threaten them!

Keep a safe distance from the gorillas to avoid disease transmission. Gorillas can easily die from human diseases, as they have no immunity to human-transmitted infections.

Don’t try to touch or hold eye contact with the gorillas. They are wild and can react unexpectedly.

No flash cameras are allowed at any point in the trekking experience. The flashlight can make the gorillas feel threatened and cause them to become violent.

Hydration is extremely important. It gets very hot and humid in central Africa, so be sure to hydrate and replace the water you lose through sweat.

What you need to know about Gorillas

Scientific Name:  Gorilla Beringei

Size:                     Up to 6 feet tall

Weight:                300 to 425 pounds

Lifespan:             35–40 years and 50 when in captivity.

Habitat:               Montane forests and swamps.

Diet:                     Herbivorous

Gestation:            8.5 months

Predators:           Leopards, crocodiles, humans

Things to know about gorillas

The Rare Mountain gorilla also referred to as Man’s shy cousin is shy and retiring rather than ferocious and treacherous. It is not problematic unless harassed but will valiantly defend its family group if threatened.

The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95–99% depending on what is counted, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the bonobo and chimpanzee.

Gorillas are covered with brownish hair on most of their body (except their fingers, palms, face, armpits, and bottoms of their feet).

They have a very large head with a bulging forehead, a crest on top (it is called the sagittal crest, and is larger on male gorillas), tiny ears, and small, dark-brown eyes. Gorillas have no tail. Adult gorillas have 32 teeth, with large molars (flat teeth used for chewing food) and large canines (pointy teeth used for biting), which are especially large in the male gorillas.

Gorillas each have a unique nose print (humans too have unique fingerprints).

Gorillas have senses very similar to humans, including hearing, sight (they seem to be slightly nearsighted and to have color vision), smell, taste, and touch.

Gorillas’ hands are very much like ours; they have five fingers, including an opposable thumb. Their feet have five toes, including an opposable big toe. Gorillas can grasp things with both their hands and their feet.

Not many animals have ignited the mind of man as much as the gorilla, the largest of the living primates.

The mountain gorilla inhabits the Albertine Rift Montane cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes, ranging in altitude from 2,200–4,300 meters (7,200–14,100 ft). Lowland gorillas live in dense forests and lowland swamps and marshes as low as sea level, with western lowland gorillas living in Central West African countries and eastern lowland gorillas living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near its border with Rwanda. Most gorillas live in inaccessible regions in various dense forests in tropical Africa, and only in the last 30 years have scientists learned details of their life in the wild.

Several volcanoes known as the Virungas run through the western section of the East African Rift Valley, forming part of the border between Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. These magnificent mountains and the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda are the last haven for the endangered Mountain gorillas.

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