Gorilla Tracking Tips
For many travelers to Uganda, gorilla trekking is the anchor activity and highlight of their trip. To encounter mountain gorillas not only carries some expense, but it also takes planning and preparation to make the most of your visit. In this Uganda Gorilla Trekking Beginner's Guide we share all you need to know to prepare for and get the most out of you gorilla trekking experience in Uganda.
Gorilla tracking tips
Approximately 900 mountain gorillas live in the shared-border forests that extend into Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After decades of decline due to poachers, civil war and diminishing forests, gorilla populations have begun to pick up in the last couple of years. In some respects, the growth of gorilla tourism may have helped protect these animals as the government receives funding for conservation and sees the economic benefit of protecting the animals and the national parks that serve as their homes.
Today, around 400 gorillas call the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park their home. Of these, nine gorillas families (each family usually consists of 10-15 members) have been habituated, meaning that although they are still wild they have become accustomed to humans and are unlikely to attack.
It is possible to go gorilla trekking all year round, but you may face rain or more crowds during certain times of year. The high season is June-September and December-February when Uganda has its dry(er) season and Europeans have their holidays. Even during this time you may experience rain in the forest. Trekking permits will be a bit pricier and more in demand during these times.
Gorilla trekking permits are a hefty expense at $600 per person for most of the year, with April and May at $350 per person (2014 prices). The maximum number of visitors per day is 72, divided into groups of 8 persons maximum. Each group visits a different habituated gorilla family. The permit assigns you to a gorilla family and allows you to spend one hour with the family once your group finds them.
Our gorilla trekking permit and organization was included as part of our G Adventures tour in Uganda. This means that they took care of the paperwork as well as transport to and from our accommodation to the park. Each gorilla family is in a different area of the park, so your accommodation should be coordinated with the park entry point for that particular family. All we needed to do was show up and be prepared. Made for a very stress-free experience.
The length of your overall experience and the amount of time it will take to actually meet your gorilla family is said to vary widely. It may take as little as 30 minutes to find your family and as long as five to six hours. The day we went, we spent about an hour looking for the gorillas while another group spent three hours searching in thick jungle.
Gorilla trekking permits exist to limit the number of visitors and thereby reduce the stress on the gorillas. Our individual behaviors can also help to reduce the anxiety that our presence may effect, too. Give the gorillas the space they deserve.
Some travelers may ask: Are mountain gorilla encounters sustainable and ultimately beneficial to the mountain gorillas? On one hand, the visits are clearly an invasion. Imagine a bunch of photographers coming into your home at approximately the same time every day. You might tire of it, no?
From speaking with our guides, I also sensed there is much jealousy in Uganda, as the gorillas have created a lot of haves and have-nots. In communities farther from the gorillas, there is resentment that so much money flows to the communities near the gorillas. Additionally, those lucky enough to be trackers, guides, or score one of the coveted jobs at expensive lodges can make significant changes to their life and the lives of their family members. Certainly the resulting wealth differential is not a problem limited to Uganda & Bwindi.
To the extent that, at least in Uganda, the mountain gorilla trekking experience is administered by the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the tour operator does not influence the gorilla encounter itself. So any tour operator that offers tours will essentially carry you to the park, but the encounter will be managed by park-provided trackers and guides.
Where tour operators make a difference perhaps is in the background and respectful travel suggestions they might provide in the lead-up to your mountain gorilla encounter. I cannot comment on whether or how this applies to Rwanda mountain gorilla trekking or Congo gorilla trekking, but I suspect the situation is similar.
Gorilla tourism has brought quite a number of benefits to the area as opposed to the negatives. A hospital was build in Buhoma ( one of the locations of gorilla tracking) which would have otherwise not been possible and recently a nursing school. People are employed as guides, potters, lodges and many sell their crafts. From my experience of interacting with the people as i take tourists there, the gorillas would most likely be extinct especially with the population pressure on the land as clearly seen on the edges of the forest. Not all the gorillas have been habituated. In many
Nice read! Great tips and beautiful photos. I would really love to see them on person, I saw a documentary show on national geographic about the gorillas and I thought they are really amazing creatures. Maybe some day I can visit the place. God bless the people who keeps this wonderful creatures safe. Thanks for the share!
An informative post! In terms of gear, may I also suggest gardening gloves (which my tour operator recommended)? When I recently did the gorilla trek in Rwanda, they protected my hands from getting scratched or pierced by the bushes and nettle.
An updateGorilla permit price for Uganda gorilla park, Bwindi forest and Mgahinga park will stay at the current one which 600USD for high season months ( January, February, March, June, July, August, September, October and December) , 350USD for low months (April, May and November) in 2016 & 2017
Thanks so much for this wonderful post, i greatly appreciate the effort rendered. To bring on some notice on board, i am tour operator based in Rwanda, but operating across East Africa, for the gorilla permit in Rwanda, it no longer $750, it is now $1500 per person. For Uganda it is still $600 per person the promotion of $350 is no longer in existance. If you would wish to only do gorillas, i advise for both Rwanda and Uganda, because the security is okay, Congo recently is not secure as to some tourists were Kidnapped, some few month ago. In case price is your worry, then Uganda is the best option for you, but if your interested only in gorilla, you can do even a two day trekking or one day as well, You can even fly through Rwanda using a direct flight and trek the following day in Uganda, after getting an East African Visa on arrival, which is $100. For more, am available
As i conclude, we shall have more protection, go news is, the gorilla status has moved from critically endangered to endangered.The number is increasing here and then. Lets keep supporting the local communities as they have started to realize the importance of the gorillas and tourism.
There are only 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the world and they can be found in the wilderness of only 3 countries: Rwanda (Volcano National Park), Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park) and Democratic Republic of Congo (Virunga National Park). Each of these countries cater to different travelers but offer the same gorilla trekking experience.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda is ideal for travelers who are flexible with time, want to do additional safaris, and are looking for a good balance between price and safety. Uganda is home to almost half of the remaining mountain gorillas in the world, with most of the families residing in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This means Uganda offers more gorilla permits than either Rwanda or the DR Congo at $700 per permit.
For people wanting more than just 1 hour with the gorillas, Uganda also offers a habituation trek where you can observe the gorillas for 4 hours at the same price as the one-hour Rwanda gorilla permit, i.e. $1,500. Because Uganda is a complete African wildlife safari destination, you can include other activities such as trekking for golden monkeys and chimpanzees, a Big 5 African safari, and cultural activities in your itinerary.
Uganda tends to be the chosen destination to go gorilla trekking over Rwanda and DR Congo, because it offers a happy medium by being safe and not too expensive while still offering an all around wildlife safari experience for those who seek it.
Gorilla trekking in the DR Congo is ideal for budget and adventure travelers who prefer to travel off the beaten path. At $400 per permit ($250 during low season), the DR Congo is by for the cheapest gorilla trekking experience one can have.
However, due to political unrest, the country has been very unstable and dangerous in the past few years. Since fighting takes place on the eastern side of the country around the Virunga National Park where the gorillas live, many park rangers and trekkers have lost their lives. In 2018, after two British tourists were kidnapped and released, the park closed in an effort to evaluate and enhance safety measures. The park reopened in Feb. 2019.
The gorillas share about 98% DNA with us so they are very susceptible to human disease and sickness. Something as small as the common cold or flu could wipe out an entire gorilla family. So if you find yourself sick the day of the trek, please let the rangers know and reschedule your trek for the sake of the gorillas!
In Uganda, gorilla trekking permits are issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), and are marketed primarily through the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) to the public. There are 3 ways to get your gorilla trekking permit in Uganda: