Rwanda and Uganda’s finest attractions
Gorilla trekking is a humbling, once-in-a-lifetime experience and a must-do activity for true nature lovers. It’s a severely restricted activity, subject to a wealth of red tape.
The only way to enjoy one of these trips is in the company of an experienced local game guard which is by arrangement via a licensed travel operator.
Why Go Gorilla Trekking?
Watching these tolerant beasts from a respectful distance as they go about their day will fill you with awe at their sheer size, yet gentle natures, and almost human-like interactions.
Nothing compares to the magnificence of a mountain gorilla up close as it scrutinizes you with soft brown eyes through the lush jungle foliage.
It’s utterly amazing how these severely endangered animals, who have everything to fear from humankind, gaze at their visitors with soft, brown eyes filled only with a cursory curiosity. A silverback gorilla could easily dispatch any intruder with one blow, yet this patriarch of the group does little more than keep a watchful eye on proceedings.
No doubt the biggest takeaway from a gorilla trekking experience is that we can learn a lot about tolerance from our close primate relatives.
Where to Go Gorilla Trekking
Mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas exist only in the wild, they cannot survive the confines of captivity.
If you want to see them, you’ll need to travel to one of their last remaining habitats in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park of Uganda.
How to Plan a Gorilla Trekking Safari
Rwanda and Uganda have tropical climates which means there’s a limited window of opportunity for game viewing in these countries. The rainy season stretches from October to June every year, so you should plan your trip outside of those months, between July and September.
The first step in planning a gorilla experience is getting hold of a reputable, licensed tour operator to help arrange your experience. They can assist you with obtaining the necessary permits and ensure you don’t inadvertently break any of the conservation rules surrounding this activity.
Both Rwanda and Uganda keep a strict watch on gorilla trekking and issue a limited number of permits every year. You must book at least six months in advance if you hope to get your hands on one of these coveted documents.
Gorilla Trekking Permits
Uganda issues 160 permits per day to view the gorillas. They split the allocations between the habituated gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
You can apply to the Ugandan Wildlife authority for your permits, but it’s much easier to arrange them via a tour operator. Many of these tour organizations include the permit and related costs as part of the package.
In Rwanda, there are only 96 permits available per day, which you can purchase online from the Rwanda Development Board or via a tour operator.
Each gorilla permit allows you to spend just one hour with a group of habituated gorillas while accompanied by a park ranger. More expensive habituation permits allow visitors to spend four hours with the gorillas as part of the habituation process.
The proceeds from the sale of permits go toward gorilla conservation and enriching the local communities who live close to the gorillas. This helps create a positive outlook toward these critically endangered creatures.
You need a passport to buy a gorilla permit, so be sure to arrange yours well in advance.
What to Expect While Gorilla Trekking
A gorilla permit offers you an almost guaranteed opportunity to see gorillas in the wild. Experienced game rangers track every move of these creatures and know exactly where to take you for viewing.
Of course, nature often marches to its own beat, and there’s always a possibility that the gorillas may move unexpectedly, so the experience isn’t guaranteed but you’ll get to see the gorillas in most cases.
You may also spot some other forest wildlife along the way such as duikers, forest hogs, golden cats, and bush pigs as well as colobus monkeys, baboons, and chimpanzees.
There are 360 species of birds resident in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, including the rare Grauer’s warbler, African green broadbill, and Short-tailed warbler.
In Volcanoes National Park, you might see Baglafecht weavers, Rwenzori double-collared sunbirds, or black-crowned waxbills.
Your guide will allow you to rest frequently, but gorilla trekking is not an activity for the unfit. You’ll need to be at least walking fit to take part in this activity which traverses steep, often muddy terrain on narrow paths.
It’s vital to wear well-worn hiking boots with ankle support and a pair of gaiters that reach up to your knees. A hat is advisable and insect repellent is a must.
Gorilla excursions depart at around 8am from designated points in the parks and your tour operator will usually arrange a transfer from your accommodation and make sure you arrive on time.
You won’t be allowed to take part if the game ranger suspects you have any communicable disease. That’s because gorillas are susceptible to all human illnesses.
Making the Most of Your Gorilla Trekking Experience
While you’re exploring these African destinations, it makes sense to maximize your experience with additional activities in the area.
Most tour companies can assist you with arranging an exciting itinerary that includes the best add-ons for your African travels.
Chimpanzee trekking is the perfect complement to your gorilla trekking itinerary, and you can enjoy this activity in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park, or at Kibale National Park in Uganda.
If you’re a Big Five safari enthusiast, don’t miss out on guided drives to:
- Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda)
- Murchison Falls National Park (Uganda)
- Lake Mburo National Park (Uganda)
- Kidepo National Park (Uganda)
- Akagera National Park (Rwanda)
Both Rwanda and Uganda offer diverse cultural experiences and hospitable locals. You can catch up with these friendly folk on cultural village tours and community visits. Other attractions include island tours and boating on Lake Kivu in Rwanda, or hiking at Mount Rwenzori & Mount Elgon in Uganda.
Get More out of Your African Experiences
Africa is awash with unique wildlife experiences, incredible sights and thrilling activities. There’s enough to keep you busy here for several lifetimes.
If you’d like to experience even a little of what this beautiful continent has to offer, browse our blog for all the best ideas and inspiration.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.