A mountain gorilla safari is a truly special experience that becomes all the more magical when done within the confines of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Located in South-Western Uganda, Bwindi is a UNESCO World Heritage site and boasts some of the highest numbers of endangered mountain gorillas in the world.
Great measures have been taken to revive populations of mountain gorillas which were once on the brink of extinction. Today, you can also find mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the price tag of gorilla safaris are much higher in Rwanda and the populations of mountain gorillas are much lower in the Congo.
The time to see mountain gorillas on a Uganda gorilla safaris is now!
Gorilla Trekking Uganda
Uganda is the second most popular destination for Mountain Gorilla trekking in the world. It’s safe, it’s affordable and as a destination, it offers a variety of activities, aside from gorilla trekking.
There are 15 habituated mountain gorilla groups in Bwindi National Park in Uganda, spread across three different sections of the park. Five habituated groups are located in the Rushaga sector, three in the Buhoma sector, two in the Ruhija sector, and one group can be found in Nkuringo.
Gorillas in the Buhoma sector are the most accessible, making this the best destination for Uganda gorilla tours for those who don’t fancy hiking for hours. Buhoma also offers some nature walks to nearby waterfalls, and an opportunity to visit the Batwa community.
Rushaga is home to the most gorilla groups, but to get to them you must be prepared for some hiking through the forest. The last two only have a couple of gorilla groups and thus are less popular with visitors.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking Permits
Gorilla trekking permits in Uganda cost $600/person and although in previous years, it was possible to score a low season discount (50% off), this discount was eliminated in 2018.
Similar to Rwanda, permits for gorilla trekking in Uganda need to be arranged well in advance, especially now that the price increase in Rwanda is expected to bring a significant increase in the number of visitors to Bwindi. Keep that in mind if you are thinking about Uganda gorilla safaris plans.
How Difficult Is It to Track Gorillas in Uganda?
There are no hard and fast rules for how difficult it will be for you to track gorillas in Uganda. The difficulty of the trek is determined by how deep within the park your assigned gorilla family is and the terrain in which you have to pass over to get there.
That being said sometimes habituated Uganda gorillas can be found hanging out at the park’s edge. In which case, it takes no time at all to find them.
On the other hand, a group that is deep within the forest could take upwards of 4 hours to reach. Although more often than not, participants spend an hour or two trekking before finally coming across these beautiful mammals.
Uganda gorilla safaris are no Everest but they do require participants to be in decent shape. The group moves only as fast as its slowest walker along the worn paths of the National Park. There is no off-path action on the trek towards the gorillas but the park definitely lives up to it’s ‘impenetrable’ description.
In Uganda, if you do not want to carry your daypack on one of the gorilla safaris you can hire a local porter to carry it for you. Porters are former animal poachers so by hiring a porter you are supporting ongoing conservation efforts inside the park.
Aside from carrying your pack the local porters have been known to help navigate or lend a hand to people during swathes of difficult terrain.
What to Expect: Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Typical Uganda gorilla safaris begin at 7 or 8 in the morning. All safari-goes will gather with the park ranger within Bwindi National Park.
The ranger will give everyone an initial briefing on how the trek is supposed to progress, as well as the rules, then split everyone into smaller groups and assign their gorilla families. Groups are no larger than 8 people because anything bigger might agitate the gorilla families.
The rangers usually have a general idea of how far within the park the gorilla families are. So if you prefer a particular length of trek, this is the time to ask. Of course, nothing is guaranteed and all the groups may be deep within the forest that day.
The rangers also have knowledge of how many silverbacks or babies are amongst the individual clans. The babies are always a joy to watch!
Ensure you follow the rules which are designed for your safety and the safety of the gorilla group. They are enforced by your Uganda gorilla safaris guide.
- Gorillas are curious animals, especially the little ones, and they may approach you. However, you must keep a 7-metre distance between the gorilla group and yourself at all times.
- 1 hour will fly by but for the sake of the gorilla group that is the maximum time Uganda gorilla tours can observe the animals
- Do not participate in Uganda gorilla safaris if you are ill. To protect them from human diseases, do not cough, sneeze, or spit next to the gorillas
- You are free to have a snack along the way but no drinking, eating, or smoking is permitted near the animal groups.
- You must disable your flash on your camera or video.
How To Prepare For Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
To make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible, we recommend planning this trip no less than 6 months out. This will give you plenty of time to set up lodging and secure permits.
Where to Stay
Most travelers include gorilla tracking in their Uganda itinerary organized by one of the many safari companies in the region. If you do it this way, then lodgings and permits will be taken care of for you, and it will be a weight off your shoulders.
If you are looking for a good safari operator in Uganda, we recommend Crystal Safaris (ask for Jonna as your driver/guide).
If you would prefer to organize the trek yourself, that’s an option, too. If that’s the case, your planning needs to start with the lodges. There are numerous lodges conveniently located outside of Bwindi National Park in Uganda, but this is our recommendation:
Gorilla Safari Lodge, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
Gorilla Safari Lodge is one of the first lodges in Rushaga Sector of Bwindi National Park and is conveniently located just a 5-min walk away from the trailhead. It’s a great place to stay if you want to be close to the park and save on transport time on the day of your gorilla tracking.
The lodge offers full board accommodation starting at $200/night in lovely eco-style cabins. There is no pool on-site, but the cabins are set up to help you fully immerse in the lush environment.
Since the lodge is located just outside of Bwindi National Park, the Wi-Fi connection is limited but enough to stay in touch with friends and relatives. The lodge staff can help you organize gorilla trekking permits, hikes in Bwindi National Park, community visits and other activities in the area.
What to Bring on Your Gorilla Trekking Experience
Your gorilla trekking in Uganda is first and foremost a hiking trip, so dress the part. We suggest wearing lightweight and breathable hiking pants and a long sleeve shirt. Complemented by good hiking boots and gators for comfort and protection.
We always bring our collapsible hiking sticks, on hiking trips like this one, and found them very useful for the terrain within the park. However, if you forget yours at home you can purchase a pair or rent hiking poles from the park ranger.
Of course, you will want to remember this experience so bring a camera along. Not only will you see mountain gorillas but you will more than likely see smaller primates, a variety of birds, and interesting flora en route to your assigned family.
It took us a long time and lots of trial and effort before settling on the cameras we use in our travels, so we compiled a list of the best travel cameras based on our experiences here.
While everything we’ve said so far is important, it’s just as important to remember this: you can’t fully prepare for this wildlife experience.
No matter how prepared you are, seeing these incredible creatures in their natural habitat will take your breath away.
Would you like to experience one of the Uganda gorilla safaris? Who would you take with you?
Disclaimer: Our trip to Bwindi National Park and our stay at Gorilla Safari Lodge was provided courtesy of Crystal Safaris, but all opinions expressed in this article are our own.