Forest so thick you can’t see the person walking less than a meter in front of you, ground as slippery as ice and at a minimum angle of 30 degrees – the mountain gorilla trekking adventure in Uganda begins! It is as unforgettable an experience as indescribable. There is something about staring into the eyes of so human a creature and seeing recognition and acknowledgement that makes it impossible to leave without a very different attitude to all our fellow inhabitants of earth.
The mountain gorillas are approximately 900 remaining in the world and they have two populations: almost half of that population is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and other in the Virunga volcanic mountains in south-west Uganda to Volcanoes National Park; in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The Mountain gorillas live in forests high in the mountains. They are primarily herbivores, eat leaves, shoots and stems, also bark, roots, flowers and fruits. They are very social and live in groups. The mountain gorillas have thicker and longer fur then other gorillas as they live in colder temperatures. They also tend to be a bit larger than other gorillas. Mountain gorillas are usually active from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Most of their day is spent in play, climbing trees and chasing one another.
Rwanda or Uganda?
You can read many pieces discussing whether it is better to do your gorilla adventure in Rwanda, Uganda or the Congo but these often miss the fact that not all gorilla trekking experiences in a particular country are the same. We offer tailor-made gorilla trekking tours to also Rwanda or Congo but mostly in Uganda and in different locations, we can confirm that each experience is always completely different. There are as many factors to consider in picking your location within one of these countries as between them especially the price of the gorilla permit (Uganda Gorilla Permit is 600 USD vs Rwanda Gorilla Permit is 1500 USD), and ease of finding the gorillas.
However a large amount of your experience depends on luck. The gorilla families in Uganda or those in Rwanda are not in a zoo but roaming free in a very large area of very dense forest and so many factors, such as the length of your trek or how open the area you end up encountering the gorillas in, cannot be planned for. There are, however, some things you can plan for like assessing your fitness levels, what you want to see and scheduling your time carefully..
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Rwanda’s tourist attractions include wildlife, lakes, mountains, and cultural and historical sites. Although Rwanda offers a lot of attractions, there is one that is the most sought after and that is the mountain gorillas in the Virunga region at Volcanoes National Park.
Rwanda has habituated about ten families of gorillas for tourists to enjoy. We offer variety of gorilla tours in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda for tourists to see these mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. The price of gorilla permit is what mostly constitutes the price of of a gorilla tour and in Rwanda, the gorilla permit costs 1500 USD
Mountain gorilla trekking involves hiking through the bamboo forest of the Virunga volcanoes to find these gorillas. You can stay with the gentle giants for one-hour maximum and are allowed to take photos and videos. It is an amazing experience to get up close to these peaceful beasts.
Many tourists give fantastic reviews about the gorilla trekking experience and many come back to track these primates again. They have unforgettable and everlasting memories about meeting the gorillas and we think it’s fair to say that whoever has come to Rwanda has never regretted their stay here.
Gorilla Trekking Uganda
If you are short on time go to Rwanda, if you want to see more of a country and go somewhere a bit off the beaten path go to Uganda, if you are an experienced Africa traveler and want some serious bragging rights go to the Congo.
Nicknamed the “Pearl of Africa,” Uganda shines with stunning greenery, deep lakes, soaring mountains and perhaps the greatest natural treasure of all – half of the world’s last remaining mountain gorilla population. On a Primate World Uganda gorilla safari, travel deep into the heart of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and see these incredible, endangered creatures from closer than you ever thought possible.
While other tour operators may get you to Uganda, Primate World delivers you into gorilla country. Beyond the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, visit Kibale Forest National Park, known for having the highest primate density of any other region on earth. In Queen Elizabeth National Park, spot plains game, including the rare Uganda kob, Cape buffalo and lions.
Let Primate World Safaris show you a different kind of gorilla trekking safari in Uganda.
Gorilla Trekking Regulations
Tourists are permitted to spend no longer than an hour with the gorilla, and it is forbidden to eat or smoke in their presence. It is also forbidden to approach within less then 5m of the gorillas, a rule that is difficult to enforce with curious youngsters [and some adults] who often approach human visitors. Gorillas are susceptible to many human diseases, and it has long been feared by researchers that one ill tourist might infect a gorilla; resulting in the possible death of the whole troop should they have no immunity to that disease. For this reason, you should not go gorilla tracking with a potentially airborne infection such as flu or a cold, and are asked to turn away from the gorillas should you need to sneeze in the presence. To the best of our knowledge, no tourist has ever been seriously hurt by habituated gorillas. An adult gorilla is much stronger than a person, and will act in accordance with its own social codes. Therefore, it is vital that you listen to your guide at all times regarding correct protocol in the presence of gorillas.
What You Should Know
- Permits cost 1500 USD in Rwanda and 600/450 USD in Uganda for one hour with the mountain gorillas and should be booked well in advance, especially during high season. When you travel with Primate World Safaris, however, the purchase of the permit will be handled for you.
- When to go: April, May and November are the rainy season months, which can make hiking muddier and therefore more demanding. Having said that, when you trek in November you may not see a drop of rain all morning. Gorilla trekking is most popular during the dry season: December-February and June-September.
- Uganda & Rwanda are both a yellow fever and malaria zone. Be sure to get your vaccination and medication.
- What to bring: your passport, worn-in hiking boots, long-sleeve shirt and pants (a short-sleeve shirt and shorts will expose your skin to ants and the prickly nettle), gardening gloves to protect your hands as you push the nettle away and grasp at branches during steep climbs (not a must but they came in handy), insect repellent, water and a bagged lunch (if you stay in a lodge, ask the staff to pack one for you).
- Consider waterproof gear during the rainy season: hiking boots (it can get very muddy), jacket, pants and backpack cover. An additional advantage of a waterproof jacket and pants is that they will provide a strong barrier between you and the sharp nettle.
- It’s advisable to tuck your pants into your boots or thick socks to prevent ants from crawling up your legs. Alternatively, a pair of gaiters will do the job.
- Fitness level: Depending on where they are in the forest, you may find the gorillas after one hour of hiking or three. It’s a crapshoot, so it’s best to prepare for a long climb with sharp inclines. The pace, however, is moderate and broken up with breaks.
- You should not trek if you have a cold or flu. Because they are so closely related to humans but do not have the same immune system we do, gorillas can easily contract a human infection that could put their lives in danger.
- To make the trek easier, walking sticks are made available at no additional cost before the journey. For a fee of 10 USD, you can also hire a porter to carry your belongings and help you up the hills. Not only is their service worth the money, hiring a porter directly contributes to the local economy.
- During your hour with the gorillas: No eating or drinking is allowed; a distance of 23 ft. must be kept between you and the gorillas (although they may approach you); while the gorillas are habituated to human observers, they are still wild — keep your voice low and do not make sudden movements that might be interpreted as a sign of aggression.
- Photography: Capture clear close-ups with a fast telephoto lens, which is important in a dense, heavily shaded forest where flash photography is not permitted. Increasing your ISO will also help you get your shots in the poor light, especially when the gorillas are on the move. Remember to bring something rainproof like a dry bag to protect your gear (note: Rwanda has implemented a country-wide ban on plastic bags).
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