Gorilla trekking is an extraordinary adventure that allows you to witness the majestic mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo are the top destinations for gorilla trekking, offering a unique opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures up close. In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with all the information you need to plan your gorilla trekking holiday, including when to go, how to acquire permits, recommended tour companies, accommodation options, costs, and much more.
When to Go for Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla trekking can be enjoyed throughout the year in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. However, the best time to go is during the months of June, July, August, September, and December. These months are characterized by drier weather and fewer rains, making it easier to hike and spot the gorillas. In Bwindi, the average temperature ranges from 11°C/52°F in the morning to 23°C/73°F in the afternoon.
Here’s a breakdown of the different seasons and their characteristics:
- January and February: Low season with fewer crowds and minimal rainfall.
- March, April, and May: Rainy season with frequent downpours, making trekking more challenging due to slippery slopes.
- June, July, and August: Peak season with a high demand for permits. The weather is generally pleasant, making it the best time for gorilla safaris in Uganda and Rwanda.
Acquiring a Gorilla Trekking Permit
To embark on a gorilla trekking adventure, you will need to acquire a permit. Gorilla trekking permits are essential, as they grant you access to the gorilla families and contribute to the conservation efforts of these endangered species. Here’s what you need to know about acquiring permits:
- Uganda: Gorilla permits in Uganda cost $700 per person. It is recommended to book your permit in advance, as they can sell out quickly, especially during peak seasons.
- Rwanda: Gorilla permits in Rwanda cost $1500 per person. Similar to Uganda, it is advisable to book your permit well in advance due to high demand.
- Congo: Gorilla permits in Congo are more affordable, costing $400 per person. However, it is important to consider the current security situation in the country before planning your trek.
It is recommended to book your permit through a reputable tour company to ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience. Tour operators often handle the permit acquisition process on your behalf, saving you time and effort.
Recommended Gorilla Tour Companies
Choosing the right tour company is crucial for a successful and enjoyable gorilla trekking experience. Here are some of the top-rated tour companies in Uganda:
- Shiri Adventures
- Kilimanjaro Hikes
- African Landscapes
These tour companies offer a range of gorilla trekking packages, ensuring a well-organized and memorable adventure. When selecting a tour company, consider factors such as price, availability of permits, online reviews, and recommendations from previous travelers.
Where to Stay During Your Gorilla Trekking Adventure
Choosing the right accommodation is essential for a comfortable and enjoyable gorilla trekking experience. The options range from budget lodges to luxurious safari lodges. Here’s an overview of the average cost of hotels and lodges in the gorilla trekking regions:
- Budget Accommodation: Budget accommodations can range from $50 to $100 per night for a double room. These options provide basic facilities and services, ideal for travelers on a tight budget.
- Mid-Range Accommodation: Mid-range accommodations typically range from $150 to $200 per night. These lodges offer more amenities and comfortable rooms, providing a balance between affordability and comfort.
- Luxury Accommodation: Luxury lodges can cost anywhere from $300 to $2500 per night. These high-end accommodations offer luxurious facilities, stunning views, and exceptional service, ensuring a truly indulgent experience.
It is advisable to book your accommodation close to the tracking point to minimize travel time and maximize convenience. Consult with your tour operator for recommendations and reservations
The Cost of Gorilla Safari
Gorilla Trekk safari can vary in cost depending on various factors, such as the duration of the tour, accommodation type, and additional activities included. Here’s a breakdown of the average costs for different gorilla trekking options in 2023:
- 1-day Gorilla Trekking in Uganda: Approximately $1100 per person.
- 2-day Gorilla Safari: Expect to spend around $1280 per person.
- 3-day Gorilla Tour: Budget around $1450 per person.
It is important to note that these costs are estimates and can vary depending on the tour operator, season, and other factors. It is recommended to book your gorilla safari during the low season to potentially get lower prices. Additionally, group discounts may be available, so consider traveling with friends or joining a group tour to reduce costs.
Understanding the Cost of Gorilla Permits
Gorilla permits may seem expensive, but they play a crucial role in supporting gorilla conservation efforts. In Uganda, the cost of a gorilla permit is $700, with 75% of the funds dedicated to gorilla conservation. The government receives 15% of the revenue, while 10% goes to the local communities surrounding the parks.
It is important to note that the cost of the permit includes park entrance fees, one hour of gorilla watching, advanced trackers, and ranger fees. By purchasing a permit, you are not only getting the opportunity to see these incredible creatures but also contributing to their protection and the well-being of local communities.
Additional Costs and Considerations
When planning your gorilla trekking adventure, it is important to consider additional costs and factors that may affect your overall experience. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Cost of Food: Plan for approximately $50 per day for meals and drinks. Many tour operators include meals and soft drinks in their packages.
- Transportation Costs: Airfare to and from your home country can range from $500 to $2400, depending on your location. Additionally, chartered flights from the airport to the gorilla trekking points can cost around $600. If you prefer to hire a car, expect to pay around $80 per day.
- Packing Items: Don’t forget to budget for essential items such as insect repellents, sunscreen, and other personal necessities.
- Visa and Border Crossing: If you plan to visit multiple countries in East Africa, consider the cost of an East African tourist visa, which is $100. This visa allows you to explore Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda.
- Porter Costs: Hiring a porter to assist you during the trek can cost around $20. If you require additional support, such as a sedan chair carried by porters, the cost can range from $500 to $1000.
To minimize costs, consider traveling with a companion or joining a group tour. Additionally, booking your gorilla trek during the low season can result in lower prices and fewer crowds.
Where to See Gorillas in Africa
Gorillas can be found in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. However, it is important to note that gorillas are primarily divided into two subspecies: mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas. For sightings of mountain gorillas, we recommend visiting Rwanda and Uganda. The Republic of Congo is known for its lowland gorillas. While it is possible to find mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the current instability in the country may pose challenges for tourists.
It is worth mentioning that while gorillas are not found in Tanzania, combining your gorilla trekking adventure with a safari in Tanzania can offer a diverse and enriching experience. Tanzania and Kenya are famous for the great wildebeest migration, where herds of animals cross the Mara River into the Serengeti plains.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda: The Best Destinations
Uganda offers two main destinations for gorilla trekking: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi is home to 17 gorilla groups, making it the best place to see gorillas in the wild. The park also boasts a diverse range of wildlife, including 90 mammal species and 11 primate species.
Here are the different trekking groups in Bwindi:
- Ruhija Trek: Explore gorilla families such as Mukiza, Oruzogo, Bitukura, and Kyaguliro.
- Buhoma Trek: Encounter gorilla families such as Habinyanja, Katwe, Mubare, and Rushegura.
- Nkuringo Trek: Discover gorilla families such as Christmas, Nkuringo, and Bushaho.
- Rushaga Trek: Encounter gorilla families such as Kutu, Bikingi, Mishaya, Bushigye, Kahungye, Rwigi, Bweza, Nshongi, and Mucunguzi.
In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, you can track the Nyakagezi group, surrounded by the slopes of Virunga Volcanoes, including Mt. Muhavura, Mt. Gahinga, and Mt. Sabinyo.
Luxury and Budget Gorilla Trekking Safari
Gorilla trekking safaris cater to different budget ranges. For those seeking a luxurious experience, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park offers high-end lodges such as Bisate Lodge, Singita Kwitonda Lodge, and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. The cost of a luxury gorilla permit in Rwanda is $1500 per person.
For budget travelers, Uganda and Congo provide more affordable options. In Uganda, budget accommodations in Bwindi National Park can cost as low as $100 per night. Consider staying at Bwindi Backpackers Lodge, Gorilla Valley Lodge, or Buhoma Community Rest Camp. In Rwanda, Hotel Muhabura offers affordable accommodations.
Uganda vs. Rwanda: Which Destination is Better?
Choosing between Uganda and Rwanda for gorilla trekking can be a tough decision. Both countries offer incredible experiences, but there are some factors to consider. Uganda is known for its diverse wildlife and offers more gorilla permits, making it easier to secure one. Rwanda, on the other hand, provides a more luxurious and streamlined experience. It is important to note that gorilla permits in Rwanda are more expensive compared to Uganda.
Ultimately, the choice between Uganda and Rwanda depends on your preferences, budget, and desired experience. No matter which destination you choose, encountering these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What to Expect on a Gorilla Trekking Safari
On the day of your trek, you will start early in the morning and gather at the briefing point. After receiving important instructions and guidelines from the park rangers, you will be assigned to a gorilla family group. Led by experienced guides, you will venture into the dense forests, following the trails in search of the gorillas.
During the trek, you may encounter other wildlife species, such as monkeys and birds, adding to the overall experience. The trek can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, depending on the location of the gorilla family and their movement patterns. Once you locate the gorillas, you will have the opportunity to spend approximately one hour observing and photographing them from a safe distance.
It is important to note that gorilla trekking requires a moderate level of fitness, as the terrain can be challenging with steep slopes and dense vegetation. However, people of different ages, including those in their 60s and 70s, have successfully completed gorilla treks. Hiring a porter is highly recommended, as they can assist with carrying your belongings and provide support during the trek.
Gorilla Trekking Rules for Post-Covid Visitors
Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, additional rules and guidelines have been implemented to ensure the safety of both visitors and gorillas. Here are some of the rules to follow:
- Observe a distance of at least 7 meters from the gorillas.
- The minimum age to participate in gorilla trekking is 15 years old.
- Each gorilla encounter is limited to one hour to minimize stress on the gorillas.
- Wearing masks is mandatory to reduce the risk of transmission.
- Avoid sneezing or coughing in the presence of gorillas.
- Sanitize your hands regularly and follow other Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) provided by the park authorities.
By adhering to these rules, you can enjoy a safe and responsible gorilla trekking experience while minimizing the risk of transmitting any diseases to the gorillas.
Gorilla trekking is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that allows you to witness the incredible mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Whether you choose Uganda, Rwanda, or Congo, you will be immersed in the beauty of these destinations and have the opportunity to contribute to gorilla conservation efforts. Plan your gorilla trekking holiday carefully, considering factors such as the best time to go, acquiring permits, selecting a tour company, and choosing suitable accommodation. With proper preparation and a sense of adventure, your gorilla trekking experience will be unforgettable.
What is the Machame Route's success rate?
The success rate for climbers on the Machame Route is relatively high, typically around 85% or more. However, success depends on various factors, including proper acclimatization, individual fitness, and the guide's expertise.
How long does it take to complete the Machame Route?
The Machame Route usually takes around 6 to 7 days for the ascent and descent. This longer duration allows for better acclimatization.
Is it possible to climb Kilimanjaro without prior trekking experience?
Yes, it is possible to climb Kilimanjaro without prior trekking experience, but it's recommended to have a good fitness level and consult with experienced guides who can ensure your safety.
What permits and documents are required for the Machame Route?
You will need a Kilimanjaro climbing permit, which is typically organized by your tour operator. You'll also need a passport and an entry visa for Tanzania.
Can altitude sickness be prevented?
Altitude sickness can be mitigated through proper acclimatization, staying well-hydrated, and following your guide's advice. Medications like Diamox can also help prevent or alleviate symptoms.
What is the best time to attempt the Machame Route?
The best times to attempt the Machame Route are during the dry seasons in Tanzania: January to February and June to October. These months offer clearer skies and better visibility.
Are there age restrictions or health conditions that limit participation?
While there are no strict age restrictions, climbers should be in good health and fitness. It's advisable