Gorilla Trekking In Uganda
Your Uganda safari is incomplete if you don’t consider visiting Uganda specifically to have a close look at the endangered mountain gorillas right in their natural habitat. Gorilla trekking involves heading to the jungle in search of mans closest relative- mountain gorillas with the help of highly trained guides and rangers through the trails that do exist within the park. The activity is done in two areas in Uganda that is- Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park with Bwindi a better choice because of a huge number it hosts compared to Mgahinga.
Both parks have 20 habituated gorilla families available for trekking per day to tourists and of that number, Bwindi has a total of families that are found here.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi impenetrable national park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a top tourist destination in Uganda popularly known to host the endangered mountain gorillas. The park is located in south western part of Uganda bordering Rwanda in the south, the DRC to the west and Kabale in the east. This UNESCO jungle covers an area of 331 square kilometers that’s made up of both lowland forest and montane hosting an incredible amount of biodiversity with many species calling the park home.
Bwindi is known to host almost half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorillas with over 600 gorillas in this place. These gorillas are grouped into families found in the four different trekking sectors of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. The above sectors have different characteristics and level of difficulty while trekking.
Buhoma gorilla trekking sector
Buhoma is located in the northwestern part of Bwindi impenetrable national park in Kanungu district. It is the most preferred location by tourists because it can easily be accessed compared to the other sectors. This is where gorilla trekking was first carried out right after Bwindi impenetrable national park was in 1993. This implies that Buhoma hosts the oldest habituated group of gorillas known to be the Mubare family.
Initially the Mubare family consisted of 18 members led by a male silverback Ruhondeza but due to his old age, he couldn’t bring the group together which later led to separation of some members to different. By the time Ruhondeza kicked the bucket, the group had only 4 members but with the introduction of a new silverback this has helped capture some gorillas from different families and this has contributed to a rising number of members in the family. The family comprises of 9 members today and the number is likely to increase with time.
Habinyanja is yet another oldest habituated gorilla family in Buhoma. The group was habituated in 1997 and has 18 members with two male silverbacks.
Another family that can be found within Buhoma is the Rushegura group that was habituated in 2002 and consists of 19 family members that are led by a male silverback known as Mwirima.
Katwe group is the recent family to be habituated in Buhoma and its led by a male silverback and has 7 members.
Ruhija gorilla trekking sector
Ruhija still remains one of the best areas for one to do gorilla trekking while in Bwindi impenetrable national park. this sector is located in the north eastern part of the park and can be accessed from either Kabale or Buhoma. 30% of the total number of mountain gorillas- estimated to be over 400, call this sector their home.
This sector has 4 habituated gorilla families with different members and always ranging from 4-20 individuals that are led by a male silverback. Gorilla families in Ruhija include: Oruzogo group, Bitukura group, Kyaguriro group and Mukiza group. Because it has a few gorilla groups, Ruhija is less congested compared to Buhoma. Another advantage of gorilla trekking in Ruhija is that its terrain is less hilly compared to the southern sectors of Rushaga and Nkuringo.
There only 24 gorilla trekking permits availed each day to tourists interested in gorilla trekking in this particular sector.
Rushaga gorilla trekking sector
Rushaga which is located in the southern part of Bwindi impenetrable national park in Kisoro district is considered to be among the best areas one can go for gorilla trekking. The sector has the highest concentration gorilla numbers grouped into 8 families compared to other sectors that do have three or less families and it’s the only sector where gorilla habituation takes place.
Gorilla families found in this sector include; Nshongi, Busigye, Kahungye, Bweza, Bikyingi, Mishaya, Rwigi and Mucunguzi. Because of a variety of gorilla families here, there 65 gorilla trekking permits available on the daily basis.
Nkuringo gorilla trekking sector
Nkuringo sector is yet another area within Bwindi impenetrable national park where gorilla trekking does take place. It is located in the south of the park and was the second to be established and made available for gorilla trekking after Buhoma. This is the perfect location for tourists who prefer private trekking since the location is the least visited compared to the other 3 locations.
There three mountain gorilla families that are habituated in Nkuringo and they include: Nkuringo, Christmas and Bishaho and one other group that’s going though habituation.
Nkuringo: initially this group comprised 20 members and had three silverbacks that is safari, Rafiki and Christmas. Safari was the first male silverback to lead the family but following a big family with the wild Bushaho group, he disappeared and until today his where abouts are still unknown. After his disappearance, Rafiki did replace him as the new silverback but unfortunately his life was cut short by poachers who killed him in June 2020. Currently the group is led by a teenage silverback and consists of 12 members.
Bushaho: This group was initially part of the Nkuringo group and is led by silverback Bahati. Bushaho is easier to track and entertaining and travelers who have visited this group say the male silverback Bahati usually shows off his chest-thumping demeanor which is quite entertaining. Currently the group is made up of 11 members that are available to tourists for trekking.
Christmas group: this is yet another exciting group to trek in Nkuringo. This group is led by a male silverback known as Christmas named following his birth on Christmas day. The family today is made up of 6 members and it’s the only group in Bwindi that didn’t go through habituation since all the members here initially where in a single family.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga national park
Mgahinga national park situated in south western Uganda in the great Virunga ranges is Uganda’s smallest national park. The park covers an area of 33.7 square kilometers within three extinct volcanoes of Mt. Muhavura, Mt sabinyo and Mt. Gahinga and operates under the supervision of Uganda wildlife authority.
Established in 1991 to protect mountain gorillas, Mgahinga is one of the few areas in the world where gorilla trekking is carried out. The park easily be accessed from Kigali which is a 5hr drive.
Over 80 gorillas live here but only two groups are habituated in this place: Nyakagezi and the Hirwa groups. Initially Mgahinga used to harbor only one gorilla group (Nyakagezi) but following the migration of the Hirwa group from volcanoes national park in October 2019, they are now two.
Gorilla trekking in the two areas usually takes 1hr-8hrs and begins as 6:30am in the morning. Tourists are encouraged to rest so early the day prior to the activity. At 5:30am you will need to wake up and take breakfast provided by your lodge. Later after the breakfast, together with the driver, tourists leave their lodges to the gorilla trekking sector’s headquarters for briefing on the Dos and Don’ts while in the jungle and close to apes. At the time , gorilla trackers are already in the dense jungle searching for whether the gorillas could be located and on spotting them, the trackers will send a signal to the headquarters detailing the location of the gorillas and the paths to follow. In a group that is made up of 8 people, tourists head into the jungle with a guide who’ll lead you to the exact location where the gorillas are. On spotting the gorillas, you will be allowed to spend with the apes time not longer than 1hr. it’s also possible to spend more time in the wild with the apes which is called gorilla habituation and here a tourist is allowed for up to 4hrs.
Price of gorilla trekking permits and how to get them
Gorilla trekking is one of the top tourist activities in Uganda and with the help of highly trained guides and trackers, you will be able to get close to the great mountain gorillas. But to do so, you need a gorilla trekking permit from the wildlife managing body, the Uganda wildlife authority.
The prices of gorilla trekking permits haven’t changed and currently they go for; foreign nonresidents pay $700, per person, foreign residents pay $600 while tourists from within East Africa pay Ugx 250,000/=.
Anyone interested in gorilla habituation which allows them to spend up to 4hrs with the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat will have to pay $1500 for foreign nonresidents, $1000 for foreign residents and Ugx 750,000/= for East African citizens.
You are advised to book your permit before your safari to Uganda either directly through Uganda wildlife authority or using a registered and trusted tour operator like us. Booking your permit with Vizuri Africa Safaris comes at a cheaper commission compared to the rest simply because there a few administrative costs involved the drive Uganda wildlife authority and more.
What to carry along with you for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is completely filled with memories especially when you get to see these endangered species from deep in the jungle. While it is extremely worth spending on, there are a number of things you need to first observe or carry along before that trip into the dense impenetrable forest to search for man’s closest relative.
Both Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park are tropical rain forests implying that they do receive heavy rainfall through the year. During the drier season its safe to go for trekking however the season has never been completely dry. Going for gorilla trekking here you’ll need a rain coat/wind breaker, water proof hiking boots to help resist the pressure from the slippery trails and garden gloves to keep you safe from the thorns. Other items you need to carry along with you include lunch, drinking water, long sleeve trekking shirt, long stockings. Walking sticks are always provided
Guidelines to follow before and during the gorilla trekking
Before going for gorilla trekking in the park, there set rules and guidelines that one is always briefed about to keep them safe and the primates as well. Here they are;
A tourist is only allowed to spend with the gorillas time of up to 1hr on spotting them unless if they had opted for gorilla habituation which gives them time of up to 4hrs with endangered in the wild.
You must keep a distance of 7 meters from the gorillas in their natural habitats
Do not use flash photographs while with the gorillas.
Do not litter in the forest
If you’re feeling unwell, please don’t go for trekking like humans, gorillas are vulnerable to disease. So, to lower the chances of exposing the species with any illness, you will stay behind.
While in the forest, try by all means to keep quiet as this may give you an opportunity to see so much species in their habitats.
Don’t get close to gorillas. However, they might want to get close to you especially the young ones. Once that happens don’t try to fight it and once the silverback approaches, don’t sprint just stay calm and it will leave.
You are not allowed to defecate in the forest but once it’s so urgent, move a few meters from the trail, ease yourself and then bury the waste 30cm down the ground.
Once contact is made, you have to be masked up all time to protect yourself and the gorilla itself.
Best time to go for gorilla trekking in Uganda
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is an all-year success however, there favorable times within the year one can choose to go for the activity and this is usually referred as the peak season. This season happens during the drier season which is during the months of June to September and December to February and this is the time when trails are less slippery easing the access to the gorillas.
Being tropical rain forests, Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park receive heavier rainfall during the wet season that happens during the months of March to May and October and November.
How difficult is gorilla trekking in Uganda
While it’s considered an entertaining activity, gorilla trekking can be challenging especially when it comes to searching for the great mountain gorillas via the trails through challenging terrains of steep ridges and valleys and passing through tangled undergrowth.
During the rainy season the trails tend to be slippery and quite challenging to navigate through. During this season, trekking is usually cut short because these endangered species usually move to lower grounds.
Accommodation available in both Bwindi and Mgahinga
Over the years accommodation services in both parks are greatly improving and more and more lodges and hotels are being established. Accommodation services range from luxury, midrange and budget.
Accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
There a number of accommodation options found in Bwindi with majority of them found in Buhoma gorilla trekking sector. You are always advised to book close to your tracking section.
In Buhoma, you will be able to look out for resting places like Engagi lodge, haven lodge, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Buhoma lodge, Lake kitandara Bwindi camp, silverback lodge, Mahogany springs camp and more.
In Ruhija area, lodges like Ruhija gorilla safari lodge, Trekkers tavern cottages, Ruhija gorilla mist camp, Ruhija gorilla resort, Ruhija community rest camp and more.
In Rushaga, choose to stay in gorilla safari lodge, Ichumbi gorilla lodge, Chameleon hill lodge, Rushaga gorilla camp, mutanda lake resort and more
Nkuringo area of the park also tourists with a some of the accommodation options like; Gorilla heights lodges, Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla lodge, clouds mountain gorilla lodge and Bwindi backpackers lodge.
Accommodation options in Mgahinga national park
Like Bwindi, Mgahinga national park too offers accommodation services that range from luxury, midrange and budget. They include; Mgahinga gorilla triangle lodge, Mount Gahinga rest camp, Mount Gahinga lodge, Kyambura gorge and more others.
How to get to Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park
Growing trekking in both Bwindi and Mgahinga is considered to be an extremely memorable experience. Its an activity worth the money and time.
Majority of travelers get into Uganda through Entebbe international airport and while here you can choose which transport means you will use depending on your budget. The two gorilla sanctuaries can be accessed by road or air.
Driving straight from Entebbe, will take you 8-10hrs to get to the various gorilla trekking trailheads. A drive from lake Mburo national park found along the Masaka-Mbarara highway, will take you 5-6hrs to reach these destinations.
Meanwhile you can also opt to use a chartered plane from Entebbe or Kajjansi airstrip to Kihihi airstrip for Buhoma and Ruhija or Kisoro airstrip for the southern trail heads of Nkuringo and Rushaga. Mgahinga national park can also be accessed through Kisoro airstrip as well.
Getting to these locations its advisable to be with at least a 4×4 drive especially during the rainy season when the roads to the parks are muddy.
Gorilla trekking in general is one of the many activities a tourist shouldn’t miss out while on a safari to Uganda.