From permits, to prices, when to go, how to get there, and where to stay: everything you need to know before you start planning a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda is covered in this practical guide.
This guide is for helping anyone planning a gorilla safari in Uganda in putting together a memorable gorilla trekking adventure to go see the magnificent mountain gorillas and spend a moment with them in their natural rainforest jungle.
Seeing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is a top African safari wilderness experience and one that’ll make you feel good about contributing to wildlife conservation. Uganda protects more than half of these endangered creatures within two locations in the country’s southwestern corner and offers the best gorilla trekking safari experiences. Almost all safari holidays in this tiny East African country include a day gorilla trekking in the prehistoric misty jungles searching for a family of mountain gorillas.
The trek is sometimes longer than expected, tiring, and painful, but the little time you spend with our primitive cousins in their natural home is indescribable. When you’re face-to-face with a 400-pound silverback, a whole bucketload of primitive emotions wash and leave you forever changed.
The gorilla trekking safari is worth all the money, pain, and emotions you spend to get to them. Believe me, every tourist who’s sat in the jungle next to these magnificent creatures will tell you the same thing: the memories last for a lifetime.
With just above 1070 remaining globally, mountain gorillas are among the most protected animals on the continent, yet conservationists still allow tourists to visit them in their natural habitat. Why so?
Uganda is open for tourism amidst a war on COVID-19, and anyone can trek the rainforest jungles and spend a once-in-a-lifetime moment with the mountain gorillas.
Gorilla trekking is ethical and crucial to the flourishing of these primates in protected reserves because, honestly, it is the single most significant financial source for all gorilla conservation efforts.
Not so long ago, the mountain gorillas were on the brink of extinction. They are today considered as one of the greatest conservation stories: thanks to pioneering gorilla conservationists like Walter Baumgȁrtel (1902-1997), Dian Fossey (1966-1995), George Schaller (1959-1960), and paleontologist Lous Leakey. Baumgȁrtel, wishing to attract tourists to his lodge in Kisoro (Travellers Rest Hotel, 1956), obtained permission from the government to organize tracking to see mountain gorillas, laying the foundation for the gorilla tourism conservation strategy.
Today gorilla trekking attracts thousands of travelers to Uganda who naively contribute hugely to the survival of these animals within their ancestral home and the communities surrounding the protected areas.
We can continue protecting them from extinction and human diseases like COVID-19 by embracing the stringent guidelines set by the GoU, UWA, and gorilla conservation bodies. At the same time, continue supporting gorilla tourism through gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda.
So let’s take a look at what you need to know to plan your gorilla safari in Uganda. We write about everything from logistics to when, how much, and what you should expect on a typical trek.
Your planning guide for a gorilla trekking safari to see mountain gorillas in Uganda
“Suddenly, some twigs snapped; Reuben stopped speaking in mid-sentence and signaled to stay put. Between him and me, a massive gorilla burst out of the bush, followed by wife and child. They stopped in the middle of the path, but the old male disliked something. He looked in all directions, stopped short when he noticed us and dived under the shrubs opposite. While his wife followed obediently, the puppy hesitantly did not move … Left alone, he eventually felt uneasy and looked around helpless. Thank God, mother was already there! Without fuss, she grabbed the small curious youngster by the hand, slapped him on the bottom, and dragged him in the secure woodland.”Walter Baumgȁrtel, Kőnig in Gorilland, Stuttgart 1960
The Gorilla Permit
The number one item on the list of planning a gorilla safari in Uganda is the gorilla permit. The permit is your gorilla trekking access pass.
Issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the permit allows you one to four hours with a single gorilla family. It comes with complementary offers like two armed rangers for your security, a trekking guide, and a team of rangers to track the gorillas ahead of you for assurance of meeting the jungle giants.
What is the price of a Uganda gorilla permit?
Any foreign non-resident above the age of 15 can track Uganda’s gorillas for a permit price of USD 700. Foreign residents pay USD 600, and East African Nationals pay 250,000 Uganda Shillings (UGX). However, this permit only allows you one hour with a selected gorilla family.
To get more time with the gorillas in their natural habitat, go for the Habituation permit that currently costs USD 1,500. The Habituation permit offers at least four hours with a gorilla family. If you’re keen to find a physical challenge that will lead to spending priceless jungle hours with gorillas, this is it!
Are there discounted gorilla permits?
Occasionally, the Uganda Wildlife Authority discounts the gorilla permits at least once every year. For example, between Dec 2020 and June 2021, UWA discounted the permit to $400/$300/150,000 (UGX) for foreign non-residents/residents/EA Nationals. To take advantage of the discounted permits, reach out to your tour operator about the latest developments.
Where and how to get a Uganda gorilla permit?
Uganda Wildlife Authority, a government conservation arm, is the only one authorized to issue permits on behalf of the government. You can purchase yours directly from UWA offices in Kampala.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to deal with the cumbersome logistics of rescheduling, canceling, or even just processing to buy a permit, get one through a licensed tour operator in Uganda like Nkuringo Safaris.
UWA licenses several local operators to sell 80% percent of the permits. The other 20% is what is sold directly to tourists. Operators charge about 5-30% of the permit price to deal with the logistics. It is a fair deal considering the modalities of permit processing.
How many gorilla permits are available in Uganda?
Most of the 1070 plus world’s mountain gorillas are wild and far from human reach. However, researchers in Uganda have Habituated 21 gorilla families for tourism and research. 19 gorilla families are available for gorilla trekking, and two are reserved for research and habituation experience. UWA allows only 8 people to visit and spend one hour with a single gorilla family per day for trekking. Only 4 people can participate in the habituation process with a single wild gorilla family.
Therefore, the Uganda Wildlife Authority issues 152 gorilla trekking permits and 8 Habituation permits per day, all year round.
Covid-19 Travel Restrictions
The Uganda government has allowed the tourism industry to continue operating with cutthroat operating procedures amid a second catastrophic coronavirus wave that has shaken all Uganda’s urban regions. Tourists can enter the country and head straight to rainforest jungles where sanity prevails and mountain gorillas flourish.
Mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda is currently open to international tourists with stringent operating procedures to protect tourists and the primates from COVID-19 infections.
Tourism is a huge source of income to so many players, especially the local communities surrounding the gorilla sanctuaries. Almost 80% of what finances the gorilla conservation efforts comes from gorilla tourism. Because of tourism, the mountain gorilla population has dived out of the critically endangered zone to endangered. For that compelling reason, it’s paramount that all tourists adhere to these restrictions.
What are Uganda’s Covid-19 entry restrictions?
Suppose you’re planning your trip to go on an Africa safari and see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, head over to the nearest authorized lab and take your last COVID-19 Vaccine Jab. Don’t leave home for Africa without it; it’s a dangerous journey through airports, flights, and hotels to make it to the gorillas, and a vaccine is the best protection you can have.
A vaccine is not a requirement; however, a VALID NEGATIVE PCR COVID-19 TEST CERTIFICATE is! Immigration will roast you if you don’t carry one that’s been taken within 72 hours of your arrival.
The MoH has categorized all travelers into CATEGORIES 1, 2, and 3 for easy processing. Unfortunately for travelers from CATEGORY-1 (India), you’ve been banned from entry into the country for now if you’re coming from CATEGORY-2 countries (USA, UK, UAE, Turkey, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania) and CATEGORY-3 (not from 1&2). Please carry a valid negative PCR Covid-19 test certificate among your wallet documents.
Also, note that all travelers from CATEGORY-2 countries will be subject to a mandatory PCR COVID-19 TEST on arrival irrespective of a test certificate and excluding those that have completed vaccination. If you completed the vaccination process and fall under CATEGORY-2, you’d just need your VALID negative test certificate. The caps word VALID stands out because security operatives will probe you, and there’s no telling what hush consequences you may face if it’s found invalid.
These restrictions may occasionally change, and the best way to keep up is to talk with your local travel manager at a relaxing time before you catch your flight to Uganda.
If you make it through the COVID Police, you’ll be one step closer to trekking Uganda gorillas. But you have to deal with the immigration office next.
Do I require a visa to travel to Uganda?
Most probably, yes! Unless your country falls under the COMESA partnership, you need a tourist visa to enter Uganda for gorilla trekking. However, you should check with your consulate about the latest Uganda tourist visa developments.
A Uganda tourist visa cost USD 50 per person and allows you 60 days into the country. If you plan to visit Uganda’s East African neighbors, Rwanda and Kenya, we recommend an East African Visa that costs $100 and lasts 60 days after your gorilla trekking adventure.
From the June presidential directive, all visas to Uganda shall be issued only through the online portal visas.immigration.go.ug to avoid cueing crowds at the airport’s immigration office. Your flight may not even let you onboard if you don’t have a visa processed online.
What gorilla trekking operating procedures should I observe?
Testing negative for COVID-19, wearing a facemask, sanitizing hands regularly, physical distancing, and avoiding public places are the standard gorilla trekking operating procedures travelers should observe from the airport all the way to that jungle moment with you and the gorillas.
You will be required to have two facemasks for the gorilla trekking activity, preferably N95 facemasks, for their durability during physically demanding tasks like trekking. We understand cloth masks are environmentally friendly and would be a better choice, but most of them are homemade and not medically tested. You’ll be required to wear a fresh mask when you meet the gorillas for preventive reasons.
All-access points at hotels, national parks, and random places have temperature checkpoints. Don’t be so frightened or tight teethed when patrons ask to check your temperature before allowing you entry.
Your transfer driver/guide on this Uganda gorilla safari will be following stringent guidelines to keep your vehicle disinfected and to standard capacity to minimize infections. Otherwise, they may lose their license.
The GoU imposed a nightly curfew that sweeps across the country from 06:00 to 05:00. If you’re not transferring between the airport and your destination, ask your guide to avoid driving late hours and keep away from public areas. Most hotels in Uganda, gorilla safari lodges, and camps have vast acres of compasses that allow you to stroll uncontrollably. Stay within the hotel or lodge’s compound after curfew hours.
The Gorilla Safari in Uganda Itinerary
Most small operators in Uganda can organize a basic gorilla safari itinerary which usually features the gorilla trek and a wildlife safari in either Queen Elizabeth or Lake Mburo National Park. Tourists can join a group of at least four people and share accommodation and transport costs or use a specialist safari operator to organize an all-inclusive private gorilla safari.
An all-inclusive private gorilla safari would mean that everything is arranged privately without having unknown travelers joining your itinerary. All meals, transport, accommodation, permits, entry fees, and activities are planned and managed by a dedicated tour manager. What makes tailored private Uganda gorilla safaris a bit pricy for a budget traveler is the transport costs between the far-flung destinations and the airport.
How to get to the gorilla parks in Uganda
Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park, where gorilla trekking occurs, are located about 500 km (310 mi) from Entebbe International Airport.
Halfway the 10-hour journey is Lake Mburo National Park, a small wilderness sanctuary that often works as a buffer for the long odious drive to the gorillas. One can have an evening walking safari and morning game drive through the park before continuing their extended drive southwest.
Alternatively, you can take a small flight from Entebbe to Kisoro Airstrip, about 38 km from the park. With a 4×4 car transfer, it would take you about 2 hours drive on the dirt road to any of the four trailheads in Bwindi and about 1 hour to get to Mgahinga.
The destination offers more for Africa safari, and a gorilla safari in Uganda can provide you with both the rainforest and the savannah plains big-game experience. Something other safari destinations cannot offer.
Can I combine gorilla trekking with a wildlife safari?
After gorilla trekking, there are many activities and things to do in Uganda, and the most popular one is a safari in one of the savannah reserves. You can combine gorilla trekking with a wildlife safari game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Lake Mburo National Park on a gorilla safari in Uganda. Queen Elizabeth is about 100 km (62 mi) north of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and about 165 km (102 mi) north of Mgahinga.
After trekking in Bwindi, most Uganda gorilla safaris drive north to Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. They spend a night and do a game drive to spot the magnificent tree-climbing lions. They’ll later continue north for another 80 km (49 mi) to Kazinga Channel, take a boat safari on the channel, spend a night and do a morning game drive on the northern Kasenyi tracks in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
At this time, the gorilla safari itinerary can throw in a chimpanzee tracking experience in the nearby Kyambura Gorge or continue driving north to the more exciting chimp troops at Kanyanchu in the famous Kibale National Park about 78 mi (127 km).
Kibale offers the best chimpanzee viewing experiences in Africa, and it’s a common last attraction on almost all Uganda gorilla safari itineraries before they head to the airport and back home. Other primate itineraries just include gorillas and chimps in Kibale and then head out.
A few tourists trek gorillas in Mgahinga, stay another night, and trek golden monkeys the following day in the same park or hike the two volcanoes, Mount Gahinga and Sabinyo.
What is the price of a gorilla safari?
Excluding the gorilla permit, which costs $700 (see above), the price of a gorilla safari in Uganda is determined by the traveler’s choice of accommodation, transport, and any other activity you would want to include on your itinerary.
A basic all-inclusive 3-day gorilla safari costs approximately $800 per person, including transfers in a 4×4 safari cruiser, a driver/guide, lodge accommodation, and meals. It is a mid-priced safari that would not include the permit, visa, tips, covid test, and any else.
Where To See Mountain Gorillas in Uganda
Mountain gorillas in Uganda are found in two southwestern Uganda locations. One can see them in either one of the four sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga National Park. The best destination to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park protects about half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, with 19 gorilla families available for tourism in four sectors, more than any other mountain gorilla sanctuary. Gorilla permits in Uganda are issued exclusively for one section or trailhead: to trek in another park section, one has to purchase another gorilla permit.
Which section of Bwindi is best for gorilla trekking?
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest contains four sections for gorilla trekking spread around the park’s borders, and one of them offers the Habituation experience. All the sections offer the same riveting gorilla trekking experience; the difference is the different tourist infrastructure and the different number of Habituated gorilla families at each trailhead.
The location of each section is based on how the gorilla families defined their territories and how UWA can access the gorillas for tourism.
- Buhoma Sector
Buhoma Sector is nestled in the park’s northwest corner and currently has 5 habituated gorilla groups; 40 gorilla permits are issued per day. Buhoma gorilla groups include Muyambi (newest, 6 members), Katwe (8 members), Rushegura (18 members), Mubare (9), and Habinyanza (14).
As the first section of the park to open for gorilla tracking in Uganda, Buhoma is by far the most developed in terms of tourist infrastructure. The Buhoma sector is the most popular on Uganda safari itineraries, mainly because one can easily connect to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a safari after the gorilla trekking experience.
Buhoma has many gorilla lodges spread along the trailhead entrance and one gorilla camp exclusively planted inside the park. Gorillas are probably the most accessible here, too, sometimes as little as a 30-minute trek away. And sometimes, the gorillas come out of the jungle and walk through guest camps in Buhoma.
Variable accommodation types for all types of travelers sprout all over Buhoma Sector. From luxury forest lodges within trailhead walking distance to budget camps and sleazy lodging dotted around the sector, you can’t fail to get where to sleep.
For a Luxury stay in Buhoma, we recommend Buhoma Lodge, Sanctuary Retreats & Mahogany Springs, and Budget: Buhoma Rest Camp and Ride for a Woman.
- Nkuringo Sector
Nkuringo Sector is home to 3 habituated gorilla groups, with 24 permits available per day in Nkuringo.
Nkuringo trailhead gorilla groups include Nkuringo (13 members), Bushaho (12 members), and Christmas (9 members). The fourth gorilla group, Bikingi (15 members), is still under Habituation and will soon be available for the 4-hour experience.
Nkuringo sector is regarded as the most entertaining, with the most relaxed gorilla groups and most challenging trek. It’s a preferred choice by seasoned hikers that want the challenge the terrain presents and those that want to see more of the primeval jungle after the gorilla trek. Nkuringo Sector is very popular with photographers.
Nkuringo is spectacularly set in the southwest of Bwindi on a ridge opposite Bwindi’s wall of green. You can see Lake Edward, the Rwenzoris, all of the Virungas, and even Nyiragongo active Volcanoes from various spots. And for a 30 minutes drive from Nkuringo, one can access Rushaga Sector.
Nkuringo does not offer as many accommodation types as Buhoma. It has more high-end accommodation ranging from $200 – $1000 per person per night. For a Luxury high-end stay, Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge provide the most excellent gorilla safari accommodation south of Bwindi.
- Rushaga Sector
Rushaga sector, in the southwestern section of Bwindi, has 6 Habituated gorilla groups and 2 semi-habituated gorilla families available for the experience. Therefore, Rushaga issues 48 gorilla permits and 8 Habituation permits per day: the highest number of permits than any other gorilla trekking section in Uganda.
The six habituated gorilla families in Rushaga include Nshongi (9 members), Mishaya (12 members), Kahungye (17 members), Busingye (9 members), Mucunguzi (12 members), and Bweza (12 members).
Rushaga trailhead is about a 30-minutes drive from Nkuringo trailhead, where there’s the best luxury accommodation. Budget visitors can still get average accommodation, including budget camps around the Rushaga sector. However, upmarket visitors can book into Nkuringo Sector and get to Rushaga in time for the trek.
How to spend more hours with the gorillas in Uganda
- Ruhija Sector
In the northeast of the Bwindi park is Ruhija Sector. Ruhija Sector has 3 habituated gorilla groups: Bitukura (14 members), Oruzogo (17 members), and Kyaguriri (20 members). 24 permits per day are available in Ruhija.
Ruhija sector’s location with Buhoma to the north and Kabale in the south gives it easy access to both sides of the park. You can easily connect to Queen Elizabeth from Ruhija, making it a favorite choice among budget trekkers that hope to later connect to the northern savannah park.
Because Ruhija has the least amount of permits, suitable gorilla safari accommodation may be hard to find in Ruhija. New gorilla lodges are beginning to sprout there, but it would take a careful planner to book you into suitable accommodation in Ruhija.
- Ntebeko Trailhead in Mgahinga
Ntebeko is the only trailhead in Mgahinga National Park where all park activities start including gorilla trekking. It is also the location of the park headquarters. The park has one habituated gorilla family offering only 8 gorilla permits per day.
Mgahinga also offers golden monkey trekking with one Habituated golden monkey family (with over 30 individuals) available for tourism. It’s a common choice for trekkers to combine gorilla trekking with golden monkey trekking or hiking the famous Virunga Mountains.
Heading out from Ntebeko, mountain climbers can hike the simple Mount Gahinga (3,474 m), any one of the three peaks on Mount Sabinyo (3,645 m), or the much challenging Mount Muhavura (4,127 m).
Mgahinga does not provide many accommodation choices close to the park because it attracts very few tourists and Uganda gorilla safari operators. However, high-end luxury travelers can lodge at the elegant Mount Gahinga Lodge located a few meters from the park’s entrance.
Budget campers can choose from one of the two options available. Otherwise, Kisoro Town is the nearest town with a broader range of accommodation choices. The most prominent is Traveler’s Rest Hotel, famous for lodging historical figures like Diane Fossy, George Schaller, and Luis Leaky.
What To Expect on a Gorilla Trek
On a gorilla trek, expect to hike for extended hours, hucking your way and crouching through misty rainforest jungle on uneven terrain. You’ll be in the company of seven other trekkers, a pair of armed rangers, and an expert tracker guide armed with a machete till you find a gorilla family and spend an hour in close proximity with them.
Whatever means you use to get to the gorilla parks in southwestern Uganda (see above), lower your gorilla trekking expectations to the least possible level. You’ll be surprised at the terrific experience on your gorilla safari in Uganda when you don’t push everything around to fit your expectations.
Most probably, you’ll have booked in the closest lodgings to the trailhead. Have your driver drop you at the briefing point by 08:00 with your packed lunch and be suitably dressed for the jungle trek (see bellow for dressing details). Carry a copy of your passport, packed luck, and your camera in a light backpack.
A lead guide-ranger will brief you on the dos and don’ts for gorilla trekking and what you should expect heading into the jungle at the trailhead.
After the briefing, two armed rangers flanking your group of eight trekkers will escort you into the wilderness with the guidance of a tracker guide armed with a walkie-talkie. The armed rangers are for your security if your group meets wild animals like elephants and any unexpected insecurity in the jungle.
Trekking through the gorilla jungle.
The jungle is a seemingly everlasting thicket of tangled emerald green with no street signs, walking trails, or Google Maps voice directions. To find the gorillas, you must get up early and, with the protection of park rangers, religiously follow the footsteps of a local tracker who uses a machete to clear a path through the jungle.
Every tiny detail is investigated as the trackers determine the gorillas’ direction. You will get muddy and sweaty. Beneath the forest canopy, the air is humid, misty, and the terrain very uneven. It’s a good idea to bring a bottle of freshwater to hydrate as you go.
The vegetation on the lower slopes will be dense, often a mix of bamboo, ferns, and galium vines. As you climb, the undergrowth should thin out a bit.
Mountain gorillas live way up in the cloud forests, ranging from 2200 meters to 4300 meters altitude. You may feel a little short of breath. Remember to let your guide know if you feel a bit lightheaded.
The hike up or down the mountain slopes to get to the mountain gorillas is an exciting experience in itself because it brings you to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the few remaining magnificent verdant swaths across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley.
It’s not possible to predict how far the gorillas have moved from the previous day or what direction they’ve taken, so patience is definitely a good state of mind while following trackers at this time. But sooner or later, they will find the group they are seeking.
Mountain gorillas move around depending on the season, spending time in the subalpine regions to feed on fresh vegetation and fruits during certain times of the year. A trek could take from 30 minutes to 4 hours to find them.
The first sight of gorillas is unforgettable! Inside the intense green of the dense vegetation, you’ll see dark shapes as you got closer. It takes a few seconds to realize that these shapes are wild gorillas right there in front of you. Amazingly, they are perfectly calm. The gorillas may glance at you at first but will quickly resume their normal activities.
The preeminent German-born American biologist and conservationist Gorge Schaller, in his 1964 epic book, The Year of The Gorilla, wrote;
“A musty, somewhat sweet odor of gorillas hung in the air. Somewhere ahead and out of sight, a gorilla roared and reared again, uuua-uuua! An explosive, half-screaming sound that shattered the stillness of the forest again… Then another roar, but father away. I continued over the ridge, down, and up again. Finally, I saw them, on the opposite slope about two hundred feet away, some sitting on the ground, others in trees.”
“An adult male, easily recognizable by his huge size and grey back, sat among the herbs and wines. Beside him sat a juvenile, perhaps four years old. Three females, fat and placid, with sagging breasts and long nipples, squatted near the male … We sat watching each other. The large male, more than others, held my attention … I felt a desire to communicate with him, to let him know by some small gesture that I intended no harm, that I wished only to near him.”Gorge Schaller, The Year of The Gorilla 1964
What are the gorilla trekking rules?
The primary gorilla trekking rule is to stay away if you’re ill. The other most important rule is to keep 32 ft (10 meters) between you and the gorillas and avoid contact during your visit. Young gorillas are very naughty and curious, so they may try to reach out to you. In that case, follow the advice of your guide or ranger to maintain that no-contact safe distance.
Other important rules include wearing a fresh facemask as soon as you approach the gorillas. You’ll be requested to leave the luggage or backpack about 50 meters away and no smoking or eating anything near the gorillas. Your camera shatter should be set to silent with the flash disabled.
If you feel an urge to sneeze or cough, cover your face and turn away from the gorillas to minimize the spread of pathogens. All visits are limited to one hour (4 hours for Habituation) per gorilla group per day.
Is gorilla trekking in Uganda safe?
Mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda is very safe because the gorilla groups go through a slow five-year process of habituating them to human presence before they’re available for tourism, plus, visitor numbers are restricted to less than 8 tourists per gorilla group per day. Visitors are escorted by armed rangers for unexpected security shortfalls, an expert tracker for guidance, and must stay a safe distance of 32 ft (10 meters) away from the gorillas. A negative COVID-19 test is a prerequisite for gorilla trekking, and visitors must wear a facemask when with gorillas.
In collaboration with researchers and primatologists, Uganda Wildlife Authority has put in a lot of work over many years to make sure gorilla trekking is safe for tourists and mountain gorillas. The activity is super important to the continued conservation of the primate sanctuaries and every wild living thing in them. Gorilla trekking is a kind of tourist’s direct contribution to the conservation efforts.
What are the chances that you’ll see the mountain gorillas?
Every trekker’s chances to meet the mountain gorillas on a Uganda gorilla trek are pretty high and assuring. UWA trailhead offices send out a group of rangers to track a gorilla troop from where they left them nesting the previous evening. When they find them, the rangers radio-call out to your lead ranger guide with information on their location bearings. That’s why your lead guide carries a walkie-talkie.
Previously, the trekking team of 11 people (8 trekkers, 2 rangers, and 1 guide) had to find the spot where gorillas nested the previous night and track their way to the gorillas with no assurance of finding the gorillas at all.
Today, if the early morning rangers don’t find the gorillas due to unfortunate night jungle events like wild fights, your team will know before they set off from the trailhead and assign you another gorilla troop. 99% of all trekkers in Uganda get their chance to meet the incredible mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Is Gorilla trekking difficult in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is moderately difficult, challenging, and requires moderate physical fitness because you’ll be hiking through rugged, uneven terrain, damp, muddy forest floor, and thick forest undergrowth. There are no used trails in the gorilla jungle, and your rangers will be cutting through shrubs and vines to create a path for you.
However, anyone above 15 years with moderate physical fitness can trek gorillas with the help of a porter. A group of porters hangs out at the trailhead offices in hopes of getting employment from trekkers that would require assistance to trek through the ordeal. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; nothing should stop you from meeting Uganda’s mountain giants. A porter costs $20 for the entire hike: as much as a souvenir you would hang on your kitchen wall and not look at for years.
A porter is very strong and will carry your backpack, camera gear or even take you on their back if necessary.
Besides, hiring a porter is a way of directly giving back to the communities around the gorilla parks. The forest used to be their source of food and wellbeing. Since these young men and women are forbidden from hunting and foraging in the protected forests, they come to gorilla tourism for employment. Even if you can make it on your own, hire a porter for posterity reasons.
The Best Time To Go on Gorilla Safari in Uganda
Uganda straddles along the Equator, which gives the country a tropical climate all year round. The gorilla parks are open for tourism all year round. However, the best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda is during the dry season months of January, June, July, August, and December.
The dry season is also considered the peak season in Uganda when many tourists flock into the country and accommodation prices shoot up. During this time, gorilla permits are very scarce, and we recommend processing yours at least a year in advance if you want to go during this time.
The other months experience torrential rains that could disrupt your trekking experience. The dry season is the best time for gorilla trekking in Uganda because the forest floors are less damp, trails are passable, and you’re sure you and your photography equipment will not get drenched in the torrential downpours.
June and July are the driest months in the southwestern region where gorillas live but expect to see some occasional rains because the area is mainly covered with rainforests.
Compared to June and July, the gorilla region gets a little more rainfall in December, January, and February. Some chose to come during this time to taste the developing emerald green across the countryside.
Average temperatures during the dry season in Uganda get as low as 16° Celcius (61° Fahrenheit) in the morning and as high as 27° Celcius (81° Fahrenheit) in the afternoon. In higher altitudes, where you’ll trek the gorillas at 1,300 m (4,265 ft), it gets very chilly. Make sure you carry something to keep you warm in the wee hours.
The dry season is also the best time for a wildlife safari in Uganda’s savannah parks because the skies are clear, there’s less rain, more sunshine, and vegetation are less. The water holes are practically an animal magnet, and the animals gather around primary water sources, making wildlife easier to spot. It is also the best time to take that boat launch safari on Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth NP and on Victoria Nile in Murchison Falls NP.
Can I track gorillas during the wet season?
Yes, you can trek gorillas during the wet season in Uganda. Gorilla excursions go out every day irrespective of the weather.
Also, it’s the low season for the gorilla safari in Uganda during the rainy months of October to November and March to May. Some budget travelers like trekking gorillas during the low season and take advantage of the low-season discounts regardless of the regular downpours.
Tourists usually avoid the wet season, and it is during this time a savvy tourist can enjoy a private safari. You could find just you and your partner as guests in an entire lodge property during the wet or low season—a perfect way to enjoy the African wilderness without disruptions from other tourists.
What To Pack For Gorilla Trekking
What you should pack for gorilla trekking in Uganda primarily includes facemasks, portable hand sanitizer spray, a pair of light hiking boots, a waterproof jacket, a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, trekking gloves, a pair of gaiters, insect repellent, refillable water bottle, and a waterproof backpack.
In your wallet, you should have a copy of your gorilla permit, your negative Covid test certificate, passport, visa, credit/debit card, and some cash to exchange at the airport forex shop.
That looks like a simple packing list, right? It is easy to overlook these items, but each one of them will prove very vital in the moment of need when you’re right in the middle of the jungle where there are no shopping malls to bail you out.
Remember to pack lightly but appropriately. You can also carry your photography gear; your permit allows you to have a single camera. However, commercial photography needs a license from UWA.
What the hell should I wear or pack for gorilla trekking in Uganda?
What should I wear for gorilla trekking?
You should wear a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, light hiking boots, gaiters, poncho or waterproof jacket, and hiking gloves for gorilla trekking. Nothing fancy but mainly to protect you from thorny bushes, forest bugs, unexpected downpours, and keep you stable on the ground.
You shouldn’t worry much about what you should pack for your gorilla safari in Uganda. However, pack lightly and remember in Uganda’s gorilla highlands, the weather gets chilly at night. Pack a sweater to keep you warm on those late evenings at the fireplace.
Where To Stay
A top highlight that worries travelers in planning a gorilla safari in Uganda is where to stay in the remotest parts of the country and go gorilla trekking with some sanity. If there’s such a hefty price tag on the gorilla trekking activity, there must be great wilderness sanctuaries to escape to after your wilderness adventures.
Suppose you have taken the 10-hour drive from Entebbe to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. In that case, you may never imagine that at the end of the day, you’ll throw your bags in a corner and drop back on a luxurious bed in a forest room that makes the Burj look like your teenager’s bedroom.
From deluxe “glamping” cottages occasionally visited by the gentle giants of the forest to private rooms on the edge of the ridge overlooking the forest canopies and secluded cabins tucked into a tangle of the rainforest to budget hostels and camps, all kinds of accommodation types sweep across the five gorilla trailheads in Uganda, creating a plethora of accommodation choices for any traveler on a gorilla safari in Uganda.
All-inclusive, high-end accommodation
The best choice for high-end gorilla safari accommodation, these lodges stand out for a price ranging from $250 – $900 per person in a single private room per night.
- Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge (Nkuringo, Rushaga Sectors, Bwindi)
- Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge (Nkuringo, Rushaga Sectors, Bwindi)
- Mount Gahinga Lodge (Mgahinga)
- Buhoma Lodge (Buhoma Sector, Bwindi)
- Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge (Buhoma Sector, Bwindi)
- Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Lodge (Buhoma Sector, Bwindi)
- Mahogany Springs Lodge (Buhoma Sector, Bwindi)
- Lake Mutanda Resort (Rushaga, Nkuringo Sectors, Bwindi)
- Silverback Lodge (Buhoma Sector, Bwindi)
- Travelers Rest Hotel (Kisoro, Mgahinga)
- Engagi Lodge (Buhoma Sector, Bwindi)
- Ihamba Residence (Ruhija Sector, Bwindi)
- Chameleon Hill Lodge (Rushaga, Nkuringo Sectors, Bwindi)
- Broadbill Forest Camp
- Wagtail Eco safari camp
- Bwindi View Bandas
- Gift Of Nature Lodge
- Nshongi Gorilla Resort
- Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort
- Buhoma Community Rest Camp
- Bwindi View Bandas
- Nshongi Camp
- Ruhija Community Rest Camp
As I took the gun from the bearer, I glimpsed a patch of black fur half-hidden in the greenery fifty yards ahead. I crouched down to wait for a better view and motioned the boys to bring up my motion picture camera. Whi it was slowly pushed toward me, the animal I was watching climbed upon the horizontal moss-covered branch of a half-dead tree, apparently looking straight at me.
I raised my camera carefully and put it in position. As I did so, a large female gorilla climbed up and settled herself comfortably on the horizontal branch. Almost before I realized what was happening, I was turning the crank of the camera while two undisturbed gorillas stood out in full view … At the time, I did not give a thought to the fact that I was doing something which had never been done before.Carl and Mary L. Jobe Akeley, Lions, Gorillas and Their Neighbors, New York 1951
References: Important links to help you verify this information about gorilla safari in Uganda.
- Uganda Wildlife Authority: ugandawildlife.org
- Permits & Entrance Fees: UWA Tarrifs 2021/22
- Covid-19 SOPs: PDF download
- Saving The Gorilla Species: gorilladoctors.org
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: IUCN Conservation Assesment
- Mountain gorillas make a comeback – Unesco
- We don’t know how many mountain gorillas live in the wild. Here’s why
- The only key to saving the mountain gorilla: Responsible tourism