You are currently viewing Complete Guide to Experiencing a Mountain Gorilla-Tracking Safari in Uganda

Complete Guide to Experiencing a Mountain Gorilla-Tracking Safari in Uganda

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Travel Tips

Uganda is home to half the remaining Mountain Gorilla population in the world. Travelers can meet these gentle primates up close in their natural habitat through a gorilla-tracking safari in Uganda. Once you encounter them, they are very impressive wildlife creatures and, hence, most tourists consider them a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Booking a trip to visit the gorillas directly supports conservation efforts and their population growth. The overall population of Mountain gorillas in the world is about 1,000 and can only be seen in the Bwindi forest and the Virunga mastiff. Of these, less than 50% are habituated and open for tracking.

Mountain gorillas are captivating because they cannot be kept in zoos. Several attempts were made in Germany to keep them in cages but they didn’t adapt to the environment.

Many tourists yearn to see these primates at least once in their lifetime. Travelers can have an amazing wildlife safari to see the big five in Serengeti, Masai Mara, and any other African countries, but nothing is compared to a close encounter with a mountain gorilla family in its natural habitat for one hour.

There is no shortcut. You must book a flight from your country of origin to Uganda, Rwanda, or DR Congo to see mountain gorillas.

Here’s our guide to experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime gorilla tracking safari in Uganda. Here’s an overview:

What is Gorilla Tracking in Uganda?

Gorilla tracking is a guided trail by a professional ranger through the tropical rainforest of Bwindi impenetrable forest and Virunga forests of Mgahinga in search of the endangered mountain gorilla family. It involves spending time with the gorillas, ranging from one hour to four hours, depending on the amount paid for the activity.

Once you encounter your allocated gorilla family, you will observe them in their natural habitat. You will watch the infants play on the tree branches while the silverback, the head of the family, keeps a keen eye on the environment, scans the environment, and observes the visitors to ensure the proper security of his family members. During this activity, expect to walk through dense jungle, up slippery hills, and down rocky valleys.

In general, the activity is designed to offer naturalists and eco-friendly tourists a unique and respectful wildlife experience. You must obtain a permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority through a trusted tour operator and follow prescribed guidelines.

From a broader perspective, gorilla trekking is done in East and Central Africa, where the two species of gorillas, i.e., the mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) and the eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), are found. Pioneer countries for gorilla tracking are Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All countries offer mountain gorilla tracking experiences, while DR Congo is extra endowed with the lowland gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park.

In Uganda, mountain gorillas can be spotted in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, while in Rwanda, they can be seen in Volcanoes National Park. Virunga National Park is the only place in DR Congo where you can meet the mountain gorillas, though the country experiences political unrests, and the park is not always open for tourism compared to Uganda’s and Rwanda’s gorilla national parks.

Gorilla tracking safaris in Uganda offer guests unforgettable wildlife experiences and contribute to the conservation of these endangered species by generating revenue for conservation efforts and raising awareness about the importance of protecting their natural habitats through government conversation bodies and the private sector.

Related read: A Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda

Mountain Gorilla-Tracking Safari in Uganda

How Long is a Gorilla Tracking Safari in Uganda?

Many travelers ask this question before deciding whether to book a gorilla-tracking safari. We are also here to answer other questions, like how difficult gorilla tracking is and how long it takes to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda.

Much as most travelers review gorilla tracking as one of the fascinating wildlife safaris and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, it is not like the normal game drive or local zoo visits! The activity involves physical trailing through thick vegetation and hiking difficult terrain, which may be very challenging and strenuous to tourists, leaving them exhausted and, at times, injured with sore knees if they are not well prepared for the activity.

So, how long is mountain gorilla tracking?

Expect to walk for long hours, between 1 and 9 hours, depending on the movement of your allocated gorilla family. Please note that gorilla tracking is not just about hiking in well-paved and maintained tracks. You will pass through a dense forest and encounter biting insects and thorns. Rain and altitude sickness are also real worries for some tourists during the activity.

Therefore, we highly recommend tourists prepare mentally and physically before starting the activity. Just be ready for unpredictable weather conditions and rugged terrain in Uganda, which lies in the equatorial region of Africa. Though this is a tiring activity, we have seen unfit travelers successfully complete the challenge.

Past reviews from tourists who have done gorilla tracking testify that the experience of hiking through unknown territory and tropical forest, spotting several birds, encountering other smaller primates, and enjoying the beautiful scenery make the activity so rewarding and unforgettable! Some even get excited about sliding in the mud and hiking up steep cliffs just to see the mountain gorillas. 

Just like I said, the time it takes to meet the gorillas depends on their movements. We have seen some tourists who get disappointed because they find them too soon, hence missing the fun of trekking for longer hours.

All in all, the time taken for gorilla tracking depends on many factors. While some gorilla groups live close to gorilla trek start points, most of them move and may go deeper into the forest. There are even some families that keep moving away each time trackers get closer to them before eventually settling for watching. This happens mostly to tourists who have a gorilla habituation experience.

The gorilla habituation experience guarantees visitors stay with gorillas (those still undergoing the habituation process) for 4 full hours upon meeting them. Tourists who opt to track twice notice a difference in the time it takes to locate their assigned gorilla families each day and in their overall behavior.

To have a seamless gorilla tracking experience, we highly recommend travelers pack the right hiking boots, a hat, clothing, rain jackets, hand gloves, insect repellents, and sunglasses, among others. We also advise guests to carry light snacks and enough drinking water to keep them hydrated before leaving their lodges.

If you are a senior citizen, book your gorilla safari months in advance to give your tour operator enough time to organize an easier trek. If you book last-minute, especially in high and peak season, you might find that the closest gorilla families are booked.

Get in touch with Africa Adventure Safaris to organize your Gorilla Tracking Safari in Uganda for you.

Related: How Fit Should You Be for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Mountain Gorilla-Tracking Safari in Uganda
Mountain Gorilla-Tracking Safari in Uganda

What Is the Cost of Gorilla Tracking Experience in Uganda?

Uganda is generally a cheaper destination for tracking gorillas in Africa than Rwanda. Uganda Wildlife Authority announced new 2024-2026 conservation tariffs. With effect from July 1, 2024, the price of a gorilla permit will increase from USD 700 to $800 per person per trek for foreign non-residents.

Please note that the price includes park entrance fees and ranger guide fees but excludes transport, accommodation, and porter fees.

The gorilla permit fee contributes to the conservation efforts of endangered mountain gorillas and the protection of their natural habitats for future generations. To elaborate further, 75% of the permit fees in Uganda are used to finance conservation programs, the government retains 15%, and 10% goes back to local communities around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park to fund local projects.

Securing a gorilla permit is mandatory for travellers aspiring to meet the mountain gorillas. Therefore, you won’t be allowed to do the activity without showing your permit to the park authorities for verification.

To book a permit to see gorillas in Uganda, we strongly recommend you use a local tour operator at least 2 months in advance and gorilla permits are only issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority at their head office in Kamwokya, Kampala. For travelers planning to trek in the peak and high seasons of June, July, August, September, December, January and February, you are advised to book at least 5 to 6 months before the trip to avoid going through the hustles of asking several tour companies if they have availability.

Read more about why responsible tourism is key to saving the mountain gorillas.

After understanding the price of a gorilla permit, you need to know other costs associated with gorilla tracking experience in Uganda;

Accommodation in Uganda

Travelers need to know where they will have an overnight stay before or after tracking. Uganda has nice accommodations inside and at the periphery of gorilla national parks. Depending on your budget:

  • Standard lodges and camps charge between $50 to $130 per person per night
  • Mid-range lodges go for between $150 to $200 per person per night
  • Luxury lodges starts from $300 to $5000 per person per night

Travelers can book the lodges and camps directly for those on self-drive; however, the majority of tourists book through a reliable tour operator.

A special note to those on self-drive, you are advised first to secure a gorilla permit assigned in a particular sector and then book your hotel to that very sector. Remember Bwindi has four sectors: Ruhija, Buhoma, Nkuringo and Rushaga. Therefore, issued permits don’t cut across all the sectors but rather work specifically to that assigned region.

If you book a lodge by yourself, make sure that it is close to the park headquarters. Booking very far away may pose a high risk of a show on briefing or even missing track.

The cost of food in Uganda

Besides lodging and gorilla permits, always consider the cost of food, drinks and water. Most lodges provide water in the rooms and offer full board arrangements; however, you need to plan for en route meals and water, to be particular.

The average cost of a decent meal in Uganda is $10 per plate with a drink; however, some places charge even $45 depending on the number of courses. If you book your trip with a tour operator, you don’t have to worry about food. Most agencies offer packages based on full board i.e. daily breakfast, hot lunches and dinner.

Transport in Uganda

The focus here is on ground transport upon arrival in Uganda and international air tickets. The price of international air tickets varies based on the country of origin and season; however, return fares range between $600 to $2500 depending on available classes and choice of airline.

For those who prefer to fly within Uganda, scheduled and chartered domestic flights are available at an average cost of $400 per way. If internal flights are too expensive or you wish to explore more of the Ugandan countryside, traveling by road is highly recommended.

The cost of renting a car in Uganda is between $70 to $150 a day, excluding fuel and a driver’s guide. Expect to drive for long hours if you are doing gorilla tracking as a stand-alone activity in Uganda. The drive from Entebbe airport / Kampala city is 8 to 10 hours to Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks.

However, most tourists book multiple-day trips in Uganda, and you find that the journey is broken with a stopover and overnight stay somewhere, which makes the entire experience exciting without driving for so long. Many tourists think that safari to Uganda is about mountain gorillas; however, there is a lot to see in the country, ranging from the African Big 5, unique cultures, several bird species, and magnificent sceneries, among others.

Related read: The Biggest Tourist Attractions in Uganda

Gorilla sitting in the rainforest of Uganda
Gorilla sitting in the rainforest of Uganda

Like in any other developing country, arranging a holiday in Uganda is unfamiliar and can be complicated. Hence, most travelers book transport, gorilla permits, and accommodation with local tour operators. It is also important to know that few tour companies in Uganda book international air tickets for their clients. Therefore, always seek guidance on whether your preferred tour operator can help you book flights to and from your country of origin.

Other costs attached to gorilla tracking experience in Uganda include: items on the gorilla trekking packing list, Visas and border crossing, Visas and border crossing, porters especially for the elderly travelers, tips for the driver guides, Park Rangers and hotel staff.

Mountain Gorilla in Uganda
Mountain Gorilla in Uganda

Join a Two-Day Uganda Gorilla Safari

This concise 2-day Uganda gorilla safari offers a compact yet immersive experience in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, tailored for those with limited time in Uganda but a keen interest in gorilla tracking. The journey begins and concludes in either Entebbe airport/Kampala city or, upon request, Kigali city/airport, making it flexible for travelers’ arrangements.

Day 1 starts with a pickup from a hotel in Kampala/Entebbe or the Entebbe airport, marking the start of the trip to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The drive southwest across Uganda includes a notable stop at Kayabwe Equator point for a fascinating water experiment, showcasing the forces at the equatorial line. Travelers will pass through Ankole villages, observing local farms and long-horned cattle amidst savanna landscapes, with a lunch stop in Mbarara city before arriving at the park.

Accommodation options vary from budget (Gorilla Mist Camp), mid-range (Silverback Lodge), to luxury (Buhoma Gorilla Lodge), with lunch and dinner provided.

Day 2 begins with breakfast and a prepared packed lunch for the gorilla tracking adventure. Participants will receive a briefing at the park information center before embarking on the guided trek to locate a mountain gorilla family, a journey that can last between 2 to 8 hours depending on the gorillas’ location. Besides the gorillas, trackers might see other wildlife, including various bird species and black-and-white colobus monkeys. Upon finding a gorilla family, there’s an hour to observe and photograph these magnificent creatures.

The expedition concludes with a return to the information center for certificate collection, followed by a drive back to Kampala or Entebbe airport, including breakfast and lunch.

This tour is an exceptional opportunity to experience the rare and exhilarating encounter with mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, all condensed into a manageable two-day schedule for those short on time.

The package includes:

  • 1 mountain gorilla tracking safari permit per person
  • Accommodation on full board meal plan (Breakfast, Lunch and dinner) for 1 nights (Extra nights can be arranged on request)
  • 2 days transport in a tour vehicle safari van/Land cruiser (Air-conditioned full time, 4WD and Wi-Fi)
  • En-route stop at the Equator
  • Professional English-speaking driver guide (other languages on request and at an extra fee $100 USD per day)
  •  All en-route meals
  • Mineral water throughout your tour
  • Return airport transfers

The package excludes:

  • Personal travel visa
  • Personal travel insurance
  • Others personal requirements that are not included on the list of inclusions
  • Personal travel air ticket

Best Time To Track Mountain Gorillas in Uganda

Mountain gorilla tracking in Uganda can be done throughout the year because the movement of any family is not affected by the changing seasons. However, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of visiting the gorillas in a particular time of the year to give tourists a better understanding when choosing their respective month of travel to Uganda.

From our point of view, the best time to go gorilla tracking is just after the rainy season has ended because the countryside tends to still look green and fertile, giving a great scenic view that is perfect for photography. By the way, it is not easy to get this time right because of increasing global warming, which has affected weather patterns in Uganda and the rest of Africa, making it difficult to forecast the beginning and end of the wet and dry seasons.

But in the end, the traveler makes the final decision when to visit Uganda for gorilla tracking activity. Our part is to give travelers insightful discussion on why they should choose a particular season based on their conclusions after reading this article.

Like any other country that lies astride the Equator, Uganda experiences two seasons: the dry and wet seasons. The dry season happens between December and February and again between June and September.

Tracking gorillas in the dry season has several advantages.

It is the time to go on wildlife safaris in major East African safari destinations such Masai Mara National Park in Kenya, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the various savanna national parks in Uganda. Most travelers to Uganda combine gorilla trekking experiences with the great wildebeest migration in either Kenya or Tanzania and wildlife safaris in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park and Lake Mburo National Park. Therefore, during this time, visitors take good and clear photos of Uganda’s countryside, physical features and mountain gorillas because of limited obstructions like mist or overgrown vegetation.

The disadvantage of considering traveling in dry season is that travel tends to be expensive due to the higher demand for the activity, which increases the price of safaris. More still, gorilla permits are always scarce and very difficult to secure at the last minute.

For travelers hoping for an easier trek or being allocated to a nearby gorilla family, the dry season can not be the best time to visit because park authorities accommodate such requests on a first come, first serve basis. So, tourists with such requests are advised to book their trip months in advance with a tour operator plan to enable them plan accordingly.

The rainy or wet season happens in March, April & May, as well as October to November.

These months are also considered low seasons in Uganda and across the East African region. During this time, forest cover tends to be very muddy and slippery, making mountain gorilla tracking challenging. However, we don’t rule out that during dry season, you may not encounter muddy landscapes because mountain gorilla national parks lie astride the tropics, and rains are expected any time of the day.

Please note that rains in Uganda do not go on throughout the day like it is in Europe and North America. It normally rains for 30 minutes to 2 hours before the sun reappears, hence enabling continuous execution of the activity regardless of whether it is raining or not. Tourists who opt to do gorilla tracking during this season always carry their rain jackets to cover themselves if at all rain finds them. The activity can never be canceled because of too much rain. As a matter of fact, visitors find it more interesting and adventurous tracking during rains despite of the muddy and slippery environment.

Also, during this season, the park is less crowded, and the fewer trackers are divided into much smaller groups to visit each family, which offers a more personalized experience. Visitors can also book last-minute gorilla permits due to permit availability.

The rainy season is also a perfect time for birders who wish to combine birdwatching and gorilla tracking experiences because this is a breeding season for most species. The country also hosts a number of migratory bird species from North Africa and Europe, which makes the overall experience more rewarding.

Travelers on a gorilla-tracking safari in Uganda
Gorilla tracking in the forests of Uganda

What to Wear For a Gorilla Trek?

Hiking through the thick forest thickets of Bwindi and Mgahinga requires a well-prepared tourist. Uganda generally experiences an Equatorial climate; therefore, you must be ready for rain regardless of your travel time. While you require garments that protect you from all sorts of elements, you need to keep cool for the 2-9 hour of hiking, so require light and comfortable clothing to enjoy this activity.

The overall objective is to keep your skin covered in order to protect you from the forest fire ants and thorny plant life while staying comfortable and cool throughout your trail. Hence, we bring a list of essential clothing:

  • Sturdy shoes or boots that can handle rough terrain and keep your feet dry.
  • Light, waterproof pants.
  • Long socks to protect your legs. Waterproof gaiters are even better.
  • A waterproof jacket to keep you dry in rain or wind.
  • A long-sleeve shirt that wicks away sweat.
  • Gloves for gardening or outdoor activities to protect your hands.
  • Bring rehydration salts in case you get dehydrated.
  • Walking sticks to support you during hiking sloppy terrain

Rules and Regulations for Mountain Gorilla Tracking in Uganda

It is important to know the rules governing mountain gorilla tracking before arriving in Uganda however, tourists will always be briefed by their ranger guides before starting a trek. Therefore, you must listen carefully during briefing sessions and respect the rules laid out by park authorities. Here are the main rules:

  • Upon finding the gorilla family, you will stay with them for a full hour. The time allocated to be with gorillas might look little, but it is usually enough to enjoy the experience. Travelers wishing to stay longer with the gorillas are advised to book a gorilla habituation experience, which allows them to stay with them for 4 hours, or book double, triple or quadruple gorilla tracking in different parts of the park.
  • Travelers who are sick with contagious illnesses like diarrhea or the flu, are advised not to go near the gorillas.
  • Always stay close to your group, but don’t encircle the gorillas.
  • Keep at least 7 meters away from the gorillas.
  • Avoid using flash when taking pictures.
  • Avoid eating or smoking within 200 meters of the gorillas.
  • For those who need to sneeze or cough, turn away from the gorillas and cover your mouth and nose with your palms or handkerchief.
  • If you need to go for a long call, talk to your ranger guide, dig a hole of about 30cm deep, ease yourself and after cover it up well.
  • Avoid spitting on plants or the ground in the national park.
  • Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to track gorillas.
  • Always observe silence and avoid sudden movements around the gorillas.
  • Take all your trash with you when leaving the park.
A female mountain gorilla with baby in Uganda
A female mountain gorilla with baby in Uganda

Booking Gorilla Permits in Uganda and Cancellation policy

Uganda’s mountain gorillas can only be tracked in Bwindi’s impenetrable forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks, and every tourist must have a valid gorilla permit that grants him or her to trek and see the gorillas.

Currently, Uganda has a total of 23 fully habituated gorilla groups ready for tourism; 22 families are in Bwindi, while Mgahinga has one large gorilla group. The current UWA tariff for 2024 – 2026 increased the price of the permit from $700 to $800 per trek per day.

Please note that Uganda gorilla permit is still cheaper than Rwanda, hence why the destination receives more visitors than her neighbours. Yes, DR Congo has the cheapest gorilla permit. Still, the country is not politically stable, and tracking is not guaranteed compared to Rwanda and Uganda due to unrest, uprisings and bloodshed of the locals.

Uganda gorilla permits are issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), which prints over 184 permits per day.

Bwindi impenetrable forest park has a total of four sectors, therefore, permit will determine which gorilla family to track and where to stay for an overnight. Mgahinga gorilla national park has only one family, and it is generally not busy during the low season of March, April, May and November, but securing a gorilla permit for Mgahinga during the peak season is very difficult because all tour operators go for its permits when none is remaining in Bwindi.

Also, it is important to know that Uganda is the only country offering a mountain gorilla habituation experience, which allows tourists to spend more time with the gorillas under the guidance of experienced Researchers and Trackers. The cost is $1500 per person per trek. A limited number of 4 tourists are allowed to book for this activity per day.

Tour operators normally ask travellers to send their passport biodata page at the time of booking their trip to determine if they are eligible to trek gorillas based on their age or if they need a porter while in the park.

Caution: Don’t allow to pay for gorilla permits at a price different from that sold by Uganda Wildlife Authority, be it lower or higher than the normal price. Even if it is peak season, we recommend waiting or booking for another month. There is no need to panic because you will eventually see the gorillas if it is on your to-do list.

Never transfer money to a personal account while booking your gorilla permit or a gorilla safari. All licensed tour companies have bank accounts under their registered company name. This helps you follow up in case things don’t go as expected. Most agents facilitate credit card payment and normally use the Pesapal online system to enable this form of transaction or something similar.

Visitors who wish to cancel their gorilla safari after booking a gorilla permit, take note of the following;

  • The Uganda Wildlife Authority doesn’t refund anything if you cancel your tour from 0 to 8 days prior to tracking.
  • Uganda Wildlife Authority refunds only 25% of the permit cost for those who cancel from 9 to 45 days tracking.
  • Cancelling your gorilla tour 46 to 90 days prior to tracking attracts a refund of 50% of the cost of the permit.
  • Should you cancel 91 days beforehand, Uganda wildlife authority refunds 75% the cost of the permit. These cancellation policies apply to those who paid the whole amount for the gorilla permit and those who make deposits don’t qualify for a refund.
  • Please note that those cancellation policies apply to Uganda Wildlife Authority however, tour operators have their own policies and vary depending on company booking terms and conditions.

That’s everything you need to know when booking your Gorilla-tracking safari in Uganda! We hope to see you soon.

  • Africa Adventure Vacations

    Africa Adventure Vacations is a one-stop center for the best and most memorable African safaris. We are a renowned safari operator based in Uganda, offering exceptional tours throughout the East African region, ranging from wildlife adventures, culture, birding, luxury gorilla safaris to Kilimanjaro trekking tours. All our tours can be customized to best suit your travel needs, budget and time.

Source link