Have you ever wondered what it is like to stand next to a fully grown silverback gorilla with a weight of nearly 200 kg? Seeing these gentle giants in their natural habitat is one thing no one should miss. We collected everything you need to know about mountain gorilla trekking and safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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.”
It often comes second on a travel Bucket Lists to a traditional Big 5 animal game drive safari in Kruger or Serengeti National Park. Which makes sense – getting to the gorillas takes more effort, more time and more expense than a classic safari. However, you get something, that not many have seen before.
Jump ahead to any of the sections below to learn about gorilla safaris, trekking or tours:
- Endangerment of mountain gorillas
- Where do mountain gorillas live?
- When is the best time to go for mountain gorilla trekking in africa?
- How much does a mountain gorilla tour cost?
- Which country to choose for your gorilla safari?
- What are Gorilla permits?
- How does a gorilla trekking tour look like?
- What are the requirements and what to bring
- Best tour operators to see mountain gorillas
- Budget options for gorilla tracking
We collected everything you need to know about mountain gorilla trekking and safari in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic Congo. Where can you go, how the trips look like and what you need to prepare in advance for your gorilla trekking and safari!
Are you a fan of the african continent? If you want to read more. Have a look on the top 10 African Safari Parks in Africa were we collected everything about the most famous parks in africa for your gorilla safari.
Poaching, Ebola virus and the destruction of their 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.
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 (Gorilla beringei beringei) 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 1004 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, with a total population of over 1,000 gorillas in the wild:
- 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 604 in 2018. Famous for it’s 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 400 as of 2018.
Gorilla numbers are increasing
According to results released by the Max-Planck-Institut in May 2018, the mountain gorilla population living in the Virunga mountains has grown— from 480 in 2010 to 604. Combined with a separate mountain gorilla population living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, this brings the number of mountain gorillas to more than 1,000 individuals.
The rise in numbers follows the introduction of park guards, veterinary care, community support projects and regulated tourism. Which also leads to increasing numbers in gorilla safaris, gorilla tours and gorilla tracking.
Nevertheless, that still puts them on the critically endangered list (two classifications away from completely Extinct).
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
Due to the somewhat damp seasons experienced by the national parks in which these gorillas stay, the majority of tourists prefer visiting from June to September as well as from December up to February for gorilla tours.
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 (as the name said) exist in remote locations, in countries not known for their tourist infrastructure, which means the logistics of a gorillas visit are a challenge in themselves.
Tour groups must also pay permits for expert guides to lead them through Virunga, Bwindi or Volcanoes National Park to see gorillas on the trek.
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 criterias 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) cost 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 do offer discounts to the permits in off-season or low demand periods. However, Uganda Wildlife Authority 2018 to 2019 has not offered discounted rates on gorilla trekking permits and chimpanzee tracking permits, the prices will be maintained at $600 and $150 respectively. UWA has always been reviewing its prices and tariffs every year to $450 during low seasons, April and November but not this time for gorilla trekking.
2) Nature/ Country Demographics
This is quite a tricky question since all mountain gorillas living 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. Armed groups in North and South Kivu, Orientale provinces, northern and central regions of the Katanga province, and the eastern section of Maniema, have been known to pillage, steal automobiles, take hostages, sexually assault, murder, and carry out violent operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted.
Moreover, there has been several Ebola outbreaks in the country since 2010. In 2019 the disease also spreads to the major city of Goma, wherefore the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Travellers should seek medical advice before travel for gorilla safaris.
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, the number of people allowed to go gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda is limited on a particular day, to ensure least behavioral disturbance to the mountain gorillas as well as reduce the risk of them catching human illnesses.
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 at least 3 months 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 new gorilla families are 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 to get the permits yourself, book accommodation close to your entry gate and look for transfer to the park.
For those interested in tracing the footsteps of Dian Fossey, her tomb is a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters and then two or three hours hike through the forest, to above 3,000m altitude.
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 in terms of names, passport number, and nationality as Uganda Wildlife Authority requires them in order to issue your gorilla permit.The minimum age limit to track gorillas is 15 years old.
Gorilla permits can also be obtained from Uganda Wildlife Authority Head Offices in Kampala just after Uganda Museum on Kiira Road. Every day, UWA sells gorilla permits for all gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga.
Offices are always open from 9:00am to 5:00pm in the evening.
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.
There are four locations for tracking gorillas in BINP these are Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. The four locations have a total of about 18 families as of December 2018.
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 direct with Virunga tourism office in Goma or contact a tour advisor. Booking is advised at least 4 months to the trekking date to ensure timely planning and 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 how a usual tour in Rwanda looks like.
Visitors meet at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters in Kinigi at 7:00am (similar to Bwindi), and are allocated a family group on the day according to fitness levels, as well as being briefed on rules for visiting the gorillas.
The families are: Susa, Igisha, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Hirwa, Bwenge, Ugyenda and Muhoza.
Hikes up to their various locations can last anything from 30 minutes to four or more hours, reaching an altitude of between 2,500m and 4,000m. Porters are available to carry backpacks and cameras, as well as to offer a helping hand along the route.
As a result, 10% of the revenue from the permits is distributed towards local communities, to build schools and health centres, as well as roads. There is a compensation fund for local farmers should any gorillas damage their crops, which helps to ensure peaceful co-existence.
Gorilla tracking also provides employment for many locals, from rangers and trackers to porters, drivers and staff at tourist lodges.
Not the easiest hike
Visitors who fail to track gorillas (VNP) the whole day as a result of the Gorilla group’s movement shall be given another chance or receive full refund on their permit. However, those who would have tracked the whole day and failed to make contact with a gorilla family for one reason or another will be refunded 75% of the tracking fee.
No Refund is made in case of late arrivals or flight delay, absence or cancellation of trip for any other reason.
Due to the humid weather and high terrain visitor thoughtfulness is advised. Recommended clothing is long trousers and shirts when in the forest to avoid nettle 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
Eating, drinking and smoking near the gorillas is forbidden. Porters are available to help you carry your daypack for a small charge.
First of all, Mountain gorillas live at high altitude and this may cause difficulties for some visitors. You should walk slowly and drink plenty of water. No one should feel deterred from making this trip.
- To minimize possible transmission of human diseases, visitors are asked to Maintain a distance of 7 meters (about 22 feet) from the gorillas. If you are sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness, please do not visit the gorillas.
- Viewing time is limited to one hour.
- Maximum of 8 visitors per group.
- Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited.
- Should you need to cough, cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas.
- When with the gorillas, keep your voice low.
- Try not to make rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.
- If a gorilla should load or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed, stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions.
- Do not litter.
- Tracking can be done by persons of age 15 and above.
Multiple operators are offering Mountain Gorilla Trekking. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):
Mountain Gorilla Trekking Uganda
- Intare Safaris
- Gorilla Safaris Uganda
- Safaris with Jon
- Prime Uganda Safaris
- East African Jungle Safaris
- Insight Safari Holidays
- Wild Whispers Africa
- Kori Safaris
Mountain Gorilla Trekking Rwanda
- Go Gorilla Trekking
- Birds Nest Safaris
- 1000 Hills Safari
- Gorilla Safari Rwanda
- Rwanda Safari Africa
- Lets Go Tours Rwanda
- Insight Safari Rwanda
- Gorilla Trek Africa
You want to track gorillas on a small budget?
The Animals Around The Globe crew traveled to Uganda in February 2020 to try what the best budget travel options are. We share everything we learned and can recommend from our travel.
In order to get the best flight deals you can have a look 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
- Ethopian Airlines
- Qatar Airways
To find the cheapest flights, we just used services 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 a sufficient public transport to almost of parts of the country. Their are many private companies like Jaguar Bus, Baby Coach, Modern Coast Busses. Most of the busses 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 or Kabale.
- Private transport: Is very useful if your 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 travelling 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 either 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
- Accomondation $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.
In conclusion, Mountain Gorilla Trekking, Gorilla Safaris or Gorilla Tours are awesome experiences!
It can be done in 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 life time.
Do you want to read more about primates? Visit our Orang Utan article to see the best places to visit Orang Utans in the wild.