Guide To Gorilla Trekking In Uganda
Where can I trek gorillas in Uganda?
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are the two places in Uganda where one can do gorilla trekking. Due to its larger gorilla population, superior location for fly-in safaris, and wider selection of lodging alternatives, Bwindi is by far the more popular option.
The park you choose to visit will depend on your overall trip itinerary and the amount of time you have. The two parks’ permit costs and sighting probabilities are identical. The most beautiful place in the world is Bwindi.
Both Bwindi and Mgahinga are located in deep southwest Uganda, close to the borders with Rwanda to the south and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, as you can see from the map to the left.
The southwest of Uganda is home to many safari locations. This makes it simple to combine a gorilla climb with a savannah safari to create a single itinerary packed with unforgettable encounters. Uganda is a tiny nation, yet it has a lot to offer.
The Mountain Gorilla in Uganda.
German army commander Captain Friedrich Robert von Beringe shot two gorillas in 1903 on the slopes of Mt. Sabyinyo in what is now Rwanda, introducing the mountain gorilla to zoologists.
Currently, a tiny but steady population lives in the jungles of southwest Uganda and the Virunga Volcanoes in the DRC and Rwanda.
The mountain gorilla is a huge, very black, barrel-chested ape with a broad face that is densely furred (to ward off the cold). They thrive in dense tangles of herbaceous growth in valley bottoms, old clearings, and next to landslides. They are found in mountain and sub-alpine habitats.
Due to its constrained environment, the mountain gorilla has a more limited diet than its lowland cousin. In addition to bamboo, it also consumes vines, wild celery, and the leaves, shoots, and stems of over 140 other species.
They live in groups of between 5 and 50 people and are quite gregarious. A mature male above the age of 13 (when silver hairs start to grow in the saddle of the back) will be the group’s dominant “silverback,” occasionally aided by inferior silverbacks. Gorillas spend more time on the ground than the other great apes because the silverback eats first and is also in charge of the group’s defense. The silverback’s gang will divide after he passes away.
While foraging, groups do not defend their home range. In order to lower the possibility of conflict, two groups will stay away from one another when they become close to one another. They relax for the majority of the day, which is a fantastic opportunity for trackers to join and study the group.
Slowly occurring reproduction results in adult females over the age of eight giving birth to an average of one child every four years and frequently no more than six in their lifetime. The young have a lengthy childhood and are tenderly cared for and tenaciously guarded by both the dominant females and the silverback. A dominant silverback is usually defended by the females when threatened because if one dies or is expelled from the group, the new dominant male will frequently kill any young gorillas.
The tourists that come to see the gorillas are responsible in large part for their protection and modest population growth. Without this vital funding, there would be far fewer incentives to maintain the gorillas’ habitat, and there may not be any gorillas in their natural habitats today.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The primary location for gorilla trekking in Uganda is Bwindi. Four trailheads here provide access to habituated families: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo.
There are distinct qualities, families, and levels of difficulty at each trailhead.
You join a group of trekkers (maximum group size of 8 persons) at one of the four trailheads on the forest’s edge for a guided trip into the forest in search of one of the 11 habituated gorilla families.
As you hike to the gorillas under the direction of knowledgeable Uganda Wildlife Authority guides, you will learn about the ecology of the forest and the shifting environment. The group of trackers who have been following the gorillas since dawn are in contact with your guides. Your guides are instructed by the trackers to take you to the gorillas.
The Gorilla Treks.
Two trips are available daily from the base camp, with parties of no more than eight allowed, and they typically begin at 9:00 or 14:15.
The maximum group size is set to protect gorillas from airborne infections and to maximize the likelihood of sightings because these (surprisingly) timid animals are frequently scared away by bigger groups.
The towering southwest inclined slopes and terraced volcanoes present an intimidating opponent right away. It takes trudging through the dense, triffid-like flora, through muddy hills, and down into rocky valleys to reach to this gorilla region.
The difficult terrain and high altitude make the journey exhausting, but the rewards are even more magical.
As the gorillas approach after making contact, there is typically a silent pause in the middle of the thick vegetation.
When the gorillas finally emerge, it is a genuinely breathtaking experience to observe them in their natural home, with the lush forest serving as the ideal backdrop.
The rustling of leaves as the gorillas play and roam quickly breaks any silence, and the calls, whistles, and whoops of countless of animal species for miles around create the ideal soundtrack.
You have up to an hour with the gorillas after making contact. If you wanted to spend more time with the gentle giants, you could sign up for a gorilla habituation experience and stay with them for up to 4 hours.
The 4 Sectors In Bwindi Forest
There are four trailheads where habituated families can be reached: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. There are distinct qualities, families, and levels of difficulty at each trailhead.
Treks to 11 completely habituated (and three semi-habituated) gorilla family groups can be started from the trailheads. The typical walks start early in the morning and last up to an hour, during which time you can observe gorillas from a distance of roughly seven meters.
Though most sightings happen within 2-3 hours, the hikes can be rather difficult, and you should be prepared to trek for up to 6 hours
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is a well-liked alternative for cross-over itineraries with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park because it is close to the Rwandan border. In addition, it’s the only location in Uganda where you can go golden monkey trekking. Combining a gorilla hike at Mgahinga with a trip in Nkuringo (Bwindi) is a popular choice.
Compared to Bwindi, Mgahinga is more remote, and the hikes there are easier. Here, fewer permits are available. There is only one family that has been accustomed to making contact in Mgahinga, despite the fact that gorilla families frequently cross the border from Rwanda to Uganda. The group, known as the Nyakagazi group, consists of three baby gorillas, two adult females, and five silverbacks.
Mgahinga was once utilized as a “overflow” location for gorilla trekking in Bwindi, but this has altered for two reasons. The first is that because Rwandan gorilla permits now cost $1,500 per person, more people are visiting Rwanda and then scurrying across the border to Mgahinga, where treks are only $700 per person.
The beauty of Mgahinga as a destination is the second justification. You could spend a week in the far south-west of Uganda and save the rest of the country for a subsequent trip because it is so near to the lakes Mutanda and Bunyonyi.
The volcanoes at Mgahinga can also be climbed; these climbs are extremely challenging, exceeding 4,000 meters and taking 8 to 9 hours, but they are also quite rewarding. Only 10% of all gorilla treks in Uganda take place in Mgahinga; the rest majority take place in Bwindi.
When is the best time to visit Mgahinga national park?
The equatorial environment of Uganda ensures that temperatures are fairly stable throughout the year. The only factor separating the seasons is rainfall. The long rainy season lasts from March to May, and the short rainy season lasts from October to November. Anytime of the year is a good time to visit the gorillas.
Sadly, this no longer applies; in the past, the cost of gorilla permits varied according to the season. The choice of when to come should be made based on your availability, the availability of permits, and your vacation plans outside of gorilla trekking since permit rates are set year-round.
Securing a Gorilla Permit
At the moment, gorilla permits cost $700 USD per person. Although the permits are no longer cheaper during the wetter months, they are still simpler to obtain on short notice if you are traveling in Uganda during either the short or long wet season (March to May) (October to November)
Permits can sell out up to a year in advance during the busiest travel seasons (January through February and June through August). The number of permits is strictly limited, thus we strongly advise making early plans.
One benefit of seeing gorillas in Uganda is the relatively low cost of permits compared to Rwanda, which is neighboring and where permits currently cost an eye-watering $1500 USD per person.
You can also join the habituation team in the Rushaga area in southern Bwindi if an hour of contact is simply not enough, if you are a wildlife photographer, or if you are simply fascinated by the behavior of these incredible animals. Costing $1,500 per person, this experience includes spending up to four hours with the family and observing the members as well as their interactions.
Although gorilla permits are non-refundable, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund half of the fee if you trek and fail to spot a gorilla. This hardly ever occurs.
How difficult is the trek itself?
You should be prepared to walk through a challenging terrain of steep ridges and valleys, following animal paths through tangled undergrowth for about 3 hours, although sometimes contact can be made after 45 minutes, and other times 6 hours.
The trekking routes can become exceedingly slick and quite difficult during the wet season. You should be ready to go for up to 6 hours in any scenario, but sometimes the rains will move the gorillas to lower ground and reduce the walk.
The walk is more difficult because there are times when the terrain is steep because gorillas normally favor the highlands.
What To Wear On a Gorilla Trekking Day?
Both at Bwindi and Mgahinga, charging through the thickets of woodland demand a carefully calculated get-up. No matter what time of year you travel, you must be ready for rain because you are on the equator. For the 2 to 6 hours of trekking, you’ll need to stay cool, so you’ll need clothing that protects you from the weather while yet being lightweight and comfortable.
To safeguard yourself against forest animals (especially fire ants) and spiky plant life, it’s important to keep your skin covered. You’ll want to stay comfy and cool while also staying dry.
The essential Clothes.
- Good hiking boots or shoes that are durable and waterproof.
- lightweight, waterproof trekking pants.
- windbreaker, raincoat, and waterproof jacket.
- A long-sleeved T-shirt for hiking (ideally Dri-FIT or similar).
Outdoor/gardening gloves to shield you from thorns and allow you to navigate the more challenging sections of the course without thinking about what you’re holding onto!
Additionally, we advise bringing some sachets of rehydration salts. Although water is provided for the treks, after a long day of hiking, it’s common to become dehydrated, and the salts can offer immediate relief. There are walking sticks available for you.
The Rules Around Gorilla Trekking
Your guide will give you a briefing about the guidelines to follow while gorilla-tracking before you embark on any trek. It is crucial that you pay close attention to this briefing and follow the guidelines provided.
Some of the headlines include.
After initial encounter, you’ll get an hour to spend with the gorillas. Although one hour might not seem like much time, most individuals feel that it is more than enough time to fully appreciate the event. Joining the gorilla habituation team will allow you to spend up to 4 hours with the gorillas if you choose a longer experience. The practice of taking two separate gorilla hikes through the park is another popular choice. Find out more by asking.
- At all times, you must maintain a distance of at least 7 meters.
- You are not allowed to use cameras with flash lights at any time.
- If you become ill before the expedition, you are unable to participate in the gorilla trek.
Are gorilla sightings guaranteed?
Despite the fact that we can never promise sightings, encounters are frequently had in Bwindi or Mgahinga due to the growth of the gorilla populations in Uganda and the expertise of your trekking guide.
However, you must be willing to put up the effort because it may take 6 hours of trekking to discover a habituated troop.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority will reimburse 50% of your permit fee if you don’t see the gorillas. We have never had a visitor who didn’t see the gorillas during our entire time working in Uganda.
What are the accommodation options?
Accommodations in Bwindi impenetrable national park.
The region of Buhoma is home to the vast majority of the lodges in the Bwindi area. You can trek the Buhoma routes and the Ruhija routes from your base in Buhoma.
Simpler locations like Engagi Lodge and Haven Lodge have amassed devoted followings over time. Gorilla Forest Camp and Bwindi Volcanoes Lodge are two of the top options available, while Mahogany Springs and Buhoma Lodge are dependable favorites in the mid-range.
Although there are properties in Rushaga and Ruhija, they are less frequently used. Despite being closer to the trailheads, reviews about the quality of the lodging and service are frequently inconsistent.
The stunning Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge offers chic, opulent lodging in the deep south, while Nkuringo Lodge offers a slightly more basic—but quickly improving—alternative.
Accommodation in Mgahinga gorilla national park.
In Mgahinga, only the opulent Mount Gahinga Lodge is currently open to tourists.
The lodge, which is a stylish and cozy alternative close to the park gate, is a sister property of Volcanoes Bwindi and Kyambura Gorge. Beautiful gardens attract wildlife to your door.
Additionally, the lodge has done amazing work helping the local Batwa population, which was driven out of the jungles when the park was gazetted. To help the Batwa integrate with the surrounding populations, they have erected a village, started a vocational training center, started a dancing troupe, and developed a cultural center.
Mgahinga is reachable via lodges on Lake Bunyonyi, like Birds Nest, and Lake Mutanda, like Chameleon Hill.