Back in 2020 my wife Henrieke and I fulfilled a lifelong dream when we flew to Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. This was one of the few things that was on my animal bucket list for a long time – and if it is on yours too, keep on reading!
A great quote I found while writing this is from Dian Fossey, the zoologist who devoted her life to the protection of these gentle giants. To put it in the words of Dian Fossey:
“The more you learn about the dignity of the gorilla, the more you want to avoid people.”Dian Fossey, Zoologist
And yes, she is right! After our hike, we were just amazed by how powerful yet gentle the mountain gorillas are. Below you can jump to any section of this 11-step-article:
1. Key Facts on Mountain Gorilla Trekking
|Biggest Threats to Gorillas||Poaching, Ebola virus, habitat destruction through deforestation and mining.|
|Current Conservation Status||All four gorilla subspecies are endangered. Some subspecies have only a few hundred individuals left.|
|Current Population (2022)||The mountain gorilla population in the wild is over 1,000. (Around 1,063 stated by the WWF.) Increase due to park staff efforts, the introduction of park guards, veterinary care, community support projects, and regulated tourism.|
|Habitats||Two separate populations: 1) Virunga Mountains, Central Africa (440km² area) across Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. 2) Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda (330km² area).|
|Mountain Gorilla Trekking||Year-round activity, peak season is July and August. Costs range from $1,100 to $6,000 depending on budget, including permits, accommodation, equipment, and travel expenses (excluding flights).|
|Country Choices for Trekking||Uganda, Rwanda, DRC. Varying prices, safety levels, and nature/country demographics.|
|Gorilla Permits||Required for trekking, limited availability to ensure minimal disturbance to gorillas. Includes park entry, guides, and protection. Prices: Uganda – $700, Rwanda – $1,500, DRC – $600 for mountain gorillas, $400 for eastern lowland gorillas.|
2. Endangerment of Mountain Gorillas (or why they may go extinct during our lifetime)
Poaching, the Ebola virus, and the destruction of habitats have brought the gorillas to the brink of extinction.
All four gorilla subspecies have long been on the Red List. In one subspecies, there are only a few hundred animals left. So the risk that our children may not be able to see gorillas in the wild might come true during our lifetime.
Gorillas are among the most endangered animal species of all. The reasons are the destruction of their habitats in Africa through deforestation and mining as well as the Ebola virus. In addition, poachers achieve high prices for gorilla meat.
The number of mountain gorillas living in the wild has again risen above 1000, according to reports from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Congolese Virunga National Park.
During the census, in which the WWF was also involved, researchers documented 1063 animals.. Therefore the Red List changed its status to endangered.
|Year||Bwindi National Park (Uganda)||Virunga National Park (Congo, Rwanda, Uganda)|
In addition to field research in 2015 and 2016, genetic analyses provided the scientists with information on the mountain gorilla population. The increase is the result of hard work by park staff on-site to protect the great apes. However, the species remains threatened by poaching and disease.
There are only two separate populations of mountain gorillas left in the world:
- Virunga Mountains, Central Africa (440km² area)
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda (330km² area)
The first population, in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, is scattered between the Democratic Republic of Congo (Virunga National Park), Uganda (Mgahinga National Park), and Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park), with a total population size of 350 in 2021. Famous for its gorilla safaris and gorilla tours.
The second population lives in Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park), where gorilla safaris and tours are also popular. The total size is estimated to be around 459 as of 2021.
3. Best Time To See Mountain Gorillas
Mountain Gorilla trekking or safari is a year-round activity in Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC. Peak season is July and August, with “long rains” from March to May and “short rains” in November.
- Dry season from June to September; mid-December to early February
- Rain Season from March to May and from August to November
We visited the gorillas in Uganda in February. Most tourists are visiting from June to September (maybe May and October), or December to February.
4. Mountain Gorilla Trekking Tour Costs
Depending on your budget and comfort, there are multiple price ranges for mountain gorilla trekking and safaris. Various tour operators will give you quotes, ranging from $ 1,100 (budget option) to $ 6,000 (luxury) depending on the number of people and amenities of your gorilla trek.
- trekking permits
- travel expenses (excl. flights)
Mountain Gorillas live in very remote locations. These countries are not known for their great infrastructure and visitors are asked to come prepared.
Things you want to consider to get the best price:
- booking safari during the low season
- look for mid-range, not budget but affordable
Like most wildlife encounters in Africa, the experience is completely worth it, and we’re yet to hear anyone come back from a gorilla trek visit underwhelmed.
There are different criteria you want to consider when choosing the best country for your trip. For example:
- Nature/ Country Demographics
Prices between the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC vary widely. Each gorilla safari destination has its own price tag.
- A gorilla permit in Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park) will cost US $700 from July 2020. The price has been increased from US$ 600 to 700 per permit.
- A gorilla permit in Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) costs US $1,500, which was recently increased from $750.
- Gorilla permits in the DR Congo cost US $600 for mountain gorillas and $ 400 for the eastern lowland gorillas, which makes it the DRC to be the cheapest of the three options.
A gorilla permit in Congo starts at $ 600, while Uganda and Rwanda are US $700 and $1,500 respectively. The first thing that gorilla trekkers should do, is to choose their destination wisely to fit their own budget and expectation.
As can be seen by the prices, Rwanda is considered to be a luxury gorilla trekking destination. Uganda and Congo are fine unless you strictly prefer to trek in Volcanoes National Park.
Ever thought about going to Central Africa? Have a look at The annual Wildebeest Migration.
Some countries did offer discounts to the permits in the off-season or low-demand periods in the past.
#2 Nature/ Country Demographics
This is quite a tricky question since all mountain gorillas live in similar habitats.
- The DR Congo (2,345,409 km2) is the biggest of all 3 countries in size, with the capital of Kinshasa and a population of 81.34 million (2017).
- Second comes Uganda with a population of 42.86 million (2017) and 241,038 km2. Kampala is the capital city.
- Rwanda is the smallest country when it comes to size (26,338 km2). The capital is Kigali. The population in 2017 is estimated to be 12.21 million.
Based on the Human Development Index (HDI) Rwanda (158 out of 189 countries and territories) comes first, Uganda (162 out of 189) second, and DR Congo third (176 out of 189).
The countries of Uganda and Rwanda are usually considered to be safe places to visit by several Western governmental agencies. However, there are different rules for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Different sources indicate major concerns when visiting the DRC. The US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs puts the DRC on a level 3 warning with the status of:
“Reconsider travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) due to crime and civil unrest. Some areas have increased risk.”
Due to an increased rate of civil unrest, it may be recommended to avoid any type of traveling to the DRC. Ebola is another disease you need to be aware of and need to inform yourself before you travel.
Presently, gorilla safaris to Congo are done peacefully and all travelers are assured of their safety and enjoyable stay in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Great thanks go to the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature (ICCN), the management of Virunga National Park and local people who have worked for hand in hand to restore peace and promote gorilla tourism in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The good news is that the population of mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park is increasing day by day and the park is now home to a quarter of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas.
Just like in other gorilla destinations, (Uganda and Rwanda), gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is done every day.
Travelers are required to carefully follow all the trekking rules and regulations such as keeping a distance of seven meters from the gorillas and turning back their faces when coughing /sneezing to avoid direct transmission of airborne human-wildlife diseases hence ensuring the safety of both the gorillas and trekkers.
If you still consider travelling to the DRC please inform yourself of the situation at all times. Recommendation by the UK Government:
- follow local media for news of any planned protests
- avoid traveling around Kinshasa and other large cities on and around days of planned protests including travel to and from N’Djili airport, areas where demonstrations may take place, large sporting or music events, universities, political party headquarters, the parliament and the offices of the electoral commission.
First of all, there are strict requirements for the total number of people allowed to see gorillas.
The maximum of people allowed is 8 per day. Therefore gorilla permit booking can be quite competitive and should be done in advance. It is recommended to book some months (3-6) in advance to ensure smooth trekking on the requested time and date (especially for large groups and peak season).
At the moment there are over eight groups of gorillas that can be viewed in Uganda and Rwanda, the status of new gorilla families is pending to be opened to tourists.
What’s included in the Ticket Price?
The ticket price for mountain gorilla trekking in all countries includes entry to the park, guides to track you to the gorillas, and protection in case it’s needed (not from the gorillas, more from poachers, etc.).
It’s your choice if you book a guided tour in advance or stick with the permits yourself. If you want to keep the budget as low as possible, we recommend getting the permits yourself, booking accommodation close to your entry gate, and looking for a transfer to the park.
Start your gorilla adventure
Once a permit is purchased, you are eligible for one hour with the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat in a group of 8 people. The price can be seen as very high but goes directly into the protection and conservation of these incredible animals.
Just 96 people are allowed to see the mountain gorillas each day in Rwanda. Remember that you leave a footprint in the forest every time you visit.
Booking procedures for gorilla permits in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking permits can be purchased through a tour guide or the official website of the Rwanda Development Board.
You will need to send details like name, passport number, and nationality to the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The minimum age limit to track gorillas is 15 years old.
You can get your permits during business hours (9:00 AM to 5:00 PM) at the Uganda Wildlife Authority main office. Just Google: Uganda Wildlife Authority, near the Uganda Museum on Kiira Road in Kampala.
Booking procedures for gorilla permits in Uganda
First of all, trekking permits need to be bought prior to tracking by booking directly with the reservations office at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Headquarters or through a reputable tour agent. Permits can be paid for up to two years in advance.
Only 8 visitors are allowed to view the gorillas for one hour per day, participants must be aged 15 or over. and they will be accompanied by UWA guides while with the Gorillas.
Tracking the gorillas can last from a few hours to a whole day, depending on how far the group has moved since it was observed nesting up the previous evening.
Booking procedures for gorilla permits in D.R. Congo
You can either book directly with the Virunga tourism office in Goma or contact a tour advisor. Booking is advised at least 4 months before the trekking date to ensure timely planning and a smooth flow of operations.
- Virunga National Park
The gorilla trekking permits of the Virunga National Park are the most affordable at 400 USD however, lately, the park sells the package along with the accommodations and transport.
A gorilla trekking tour is not the same as a zoo visit – however, you definitely get what you pay for. Take a look what a usual tour in Rwanda looks like.
When you start your trip you are allocated to a group based on your health and fitness. As we were some of the youngest people there, we had the longest hike. Usually, the tour starts at around 7:00 AM.
Due to the humid weather and high terrain, visitor thoughtfulness is advised. Long clothes are recommended to avoid any stings. As a result, steady walking shoes or hiking boots are essential. Rainwear is useful.
It is recommended to pack:
- warm clothes for the evenings and mornings (>2,000m sea level)
- hiking shoes
- water and snacks
- camera (photographs are permitted, you may not use flash)
- rain protection
- small day backpack
- mosquito repellent
Be aware of the high altitude and drink enough water. If you witnessed altitude sickness before, you may want to ask your doctor before going.
- Usually, visitor groups consist of 8 people.
- Do not spit in the park or leave any other body fluids. (Ask for help if you need to go to the toilet)
- 22 feet (or 7 meters) distance from any gorilla group or individual. This is due to keeping the gorillas safe from any human diseases. If you are sick please don’t visit the park.
- Every tour has 1 hour they can spend with their gorilla group. Times may vary depending on interactions.
- Cover your mouth if you feel any symptoms or need to cough.
- Keep a very low noise level when at the gorillas. And don’t make fast movements.
- Follow your guide if a gorilla is approaching you.
- Strictly no littering.
Multiple operators are offering Mountain Gorilla Trekking.
If you want to find the most reliable one, reach out to us via E-Mail. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor).
10. Budget options for gorilla tracking
Do you want to track gorillas on a small budget?
The Animals Around The Globe crew traveled to Uganda in February 2020 to try the best budget travel options. We share everything we learned and can recommend from our travel.
In order to get the best flight deals you can have a look at what kind of airlines are available to fly to Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. You can not fly to the capital Kampala directly, but can easily get a bus or private transport from the airport in Entebbe.
Airlines that fly to Entebbe International Airport:
- Turkish Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Qatar Airways
To find the cheapest flights, we just used services such as Google Flights or Skyscanner.
If you do not book a travel package with one of the big tour operators, you have to order your Gorilla permit with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Kampala and pick it up from their office in the capital.
Watch out for the opening hours. It is recommended to get your permits at least 3 days before your start of the Gorilla tracking!
Most of your journey can easily be done with public or private transport. You can also drive yourself if you like.
Recommended travel options:
- Public transport: Uganda has sufficient public transport to almost of parts of the country. There are many private companies like Jaguar Bus, Baby Coach, and Modern Coast Busses. Most of the buses are very cheap, but it can take over 10 hours to travel from Kampala to Bwindi National Park. Good stops on the way are the cities of Kisoro and Kabale.
- Private transport: Is very useful if you are short on time and want to go to your destination quickly. Most Hotels/ Hostels etc. can arrange private drivers to get you to the Airport in Entebbe, to the UWA in Kampala, or to any bus station. It is also very useful for traveling form the cities of Kisoro or Kabale to the Bwindi National Park.
- Self Drive: Roads and signs are mostly well maintained in all parts of the country. But you definitely need a 4×4 allroad car rental. Recommended companies are Self Drive Uganda or Roadtrip Africa.
Uganda has to offer plenty of cheap accommodation. You can book a hotel, hostel, B&B, or Airbnb in pretty much every city in Uganda. There are several budget options close to the National Park, like Nshongi Camp.
#5 Total Budget
Our total budget for a 3-week Uganda tour, including visits to Rwanda and the Queen Elizabeth National Park was less than $2000 per Person.
- Gorilla Permit $600
- Flights $400
- Accommodation $600
- Food $200
- Transport $200
If you simply want to go and see the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda, you can definitely plan for less than $1500.
11. Pros and Cons of Gorilla Tours
|Unique Experience: Mountain gorilla trekking offers an opportunity to witness gorillas in their natural habitat, a sight only a few thousand people get to see every year.||Cost: Mountain gorilla trekking can be quite expensive, with costs ranging from $1,100 to $6,000, depending on the package. This includes permits, accommodation, equipment, and travel expenses.|
|Supports Conservation: Funds from the permits and tours go towards the protection and conservation of the mountain gorillas, contributing to the ongoing efforts to save them from extinction.||Physical Demand: Trekking can be physically demanding, requiring a reasonable level of fitness. The terrain can be challenging, and treks can last several hours.|
|Cultural Exchange: Gorilla trekking often involves interaction with local communities, providing an opportunity to learn about their culture and way of life.||Limited Availability: The number of permits is restricted to minimize disturbance to the gorillas. Therefore, permits need to be booked well in advance, especially during peak season.|
|Educational: Learning about the behavior and conservation of mountain gorillas can be highly educational and interesting.||Potential Risks: There are health and safety risks associated with trekking, including potential disease transmission between humans and gorillas, and potential civil unrest or security issues, especially in regions like the DRC.|
|Wildlife and Nature Exploration: Apart from gorillas, trekkers can enjoy the rich biodiversity of the region, including other wildlife and plant species.||Potential Ethical Concerns: Some may argue that human presence, even when regulated, could disrupt the gorillas’ natural behaviors and environment.|
12. Summary of Mountain Gorilla Trekking (with Video)
In conclusion, Mountain Gorilla Trekking, Gorilla Safaris, or Gorilla Tours are awesome experiences!
It can be done on a very luxurious safari adventure or on a budget when organizing your trip yourself. Seeing the diminishing numbers of mountain gorillas this animal is something you really want to witness during your (and their) remaining lifetime.
Are you a fan of the African continent? If you want to read more. Have a look at the top 10 African Safari Parks in Africa where we collected everything about the most famous parks in Africa for your gorilla safari.
Personal Note: If you have any questions about your trip reach out to me via email. Thanks, Jan.
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