Since Uganda is thought to protect half the world’s mountain gorilla population, it’s a brilliant destination for getting within just a few feet of our closest living cousins in their jungle home. But what exactly does gorilla trekking in Uganda involve? If you’re interested in finding out more, you’ve come to exactly the right place!
Where to Go Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is limited to the forests of the country’s southwest corner close to its borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. By far the country’s most famous gorilla trekking destination is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, just a short internal flight from the main international airport at Entebbe.
Two hours further south by road there’s a second Uganda gorilla trekking destination. Although smaller than Bwindi and less well known globally, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers the same chance of encountering these majestic creatures in their natural habitats.
Gorilla trekking can also be combined with wider tours, including Uganda safaris and trips to Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest body of water.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi has 11 gorilla families which have been habituated to the presence of human visitors, as well as at least two more which are preserved for scientific study alone. These 11 families can be reached by one of four trail heads, called Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
The trail you take on your particular Uganda gorilla trekking experience will depend on the location of the gorilla families on that day. They will have been tracked since daybreak by rangers who radio back the information.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Often combined with trips to Volcanoes National Park in neighboring Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smaller of Uganda’s gorilla trekking destinations. As a result, there are fewer permits available (see below) than at Bwindi but the trails are considered to be slightly less challenging. Only around 10% of Uganda gorilla trekking takes place in Mgahinga, making it the more exclusive destination.
Mgahinga has just one resident gorilla family, the Nyakagazi group. Consisting of around ten animals, it includes several males, two adult females and younger gorillas still learning the ropes of gorilla life.
What Gorilla Trekking Involves
While Uganda gorilla trekking is open to anyone, you will need a basic level of physical fitness since you will be walking jungle paths for several hours to reach the location of a gorilla family. Waterproof gear is essential. You should be prepared to walk (with breaks) for up to six hours, although most gorilla encounters take place between the two and three hour mark.
Tours are usually operated on a small group basis, with a national park ranger guiding groups of up to eight individuals. They depart twice daily if there’s demand, at around 9am and again at around 2pm. On reaching a gorilla group, you will have approximately an hour to enjoy their antics before you are required to return to your base.
Along the way there’s a good chance you’ll encounter several other species, from golden monkeys in Mgahinga to birds and stunning butterflies.
Limitations to Uganda Gorilla Trekking
The most important consideration for those looking to experience the wonder of gorilla trekking in Uganda is the fact only a limited number of permits are issued in any given year. Issued on a first-come first-served basis, once they’re gone, you’ll have to wait another year to complete what might be a lifelong ambition.
Permits currently cost $700 per person per trek, which is approximately half that of similar trekking experiences in Rwanda. Although this sounds expensive at first glance, the cost goes towards maintaining the country’s gorilla population for future generations. Permits will be organized by your travel company. They are not refundable, however in the rare occurrence you fail to find any gorillas, you’ll receive a 50% refund.
In addition, you will not be able to have any physical contact with Uganda’s mountain gorillas. A minimum distance (of around seven meters) is always kept to protect the health of the animals – they are able to contract human diseases including the common cold and coronavirus.
For the same reason, you will not be able to begin the trek if you are displaying any symptoms of an illness.
Best Time for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Gorilla trekking in Uganda can take place at any time of year. Prices of the all-important permits are also now the same across the year, meaning it’s really up to you and your additional plans in Uganda when you go gorilla trekking in the country.
Because of Uganda’s equatorial location, temperatures remain constant year-round, with averages of around 26°C (79°F). More important is the timing of the rains. The long wet season lasts from March until May, with a second ‘shorter’ wet season between October and November. That said, the jungles where Uganda’s gorillas live are wet and humid outside of these months too.
Permits for the dry season months, of January to February and June through to August, can sell out up to a year ahead of time. Obtaining a permit during the wetter months is much easier.
Additional Ways to Encounter Gorillas in Uganda
If your one hour with Uganda’s gorillas has you wanting even more, one option is to take part in Bwindi’s habituation program, giving you around four hours instead. An integral part of the conservation of the species, habituation of a new family group can take anywhere from two to five years. The program takes place in the Rushaga area of the national park. It costs around $1500 per person to take part, but when you consider you get four times as much time with the gorillas, it actually works out as a bargain!
A Meeting Like No Other
Encountering mountain gorillas in their home habitat is an experience you’ll never forget, and one in which Uganda excels. Follow our expert guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda and you’ll be fully prepared for one of the natural world’s most impressive experiences.