A complete guide to planning a Gorilla Tracking Safari
This ultimate guide is aimed at providing guidance and tips to those wanting to partake in gorilla safari trekking in Uganda and Rwanda. The guide includes advice on gorilla trekking, gorilla families, rules, what to pack, the cost of a gorilla permit and choosing the right safari company.
No African Safari tour is complete without seeing the Mountain Gorillas
There are only 700 – 880 Mountain gorillas remaining on earth. The majority live in the Virunga Mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of the gorillas live a wild existence, far from human reach. However, a handful of groups have been habituated and can be tracked and observed by small numbers of visitors under the watchful eyes of experienced park rangers.
Going on a gorilla trekking safari takes effort, time and money. It’s more expensive than a traditional safari but ranked highly by travelers from around the world. Every year, thousands of travelers go for Gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first thing to appreciate is that visiting mountain gorillas on a group tour can be quite expensive (going solo is often even more so). Gorillas exist in extremely remote mountainous locations, which means the logistics of a gorilla safari are a challenge. In fact, the cost of a Gorilla Trekking permit can cover a wildlife-viewing safari in a top wilderness park in many parts of the world. The good news is, the gorilla trekking experience is completely worth it, it lasts a lifetime. Are you planning to go on a gorilla safari?
Here’s everything you need to know about gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda.
Where to see Gorillas in Uganda
Uganda is a larger country to explore than Rwanda, and it takes one day of driving to reach the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from Entebbe. You can break this road trip with an overnight stay halfway at Lake Mburo for a wildlife viewing tour.
Bwindi, home of the mountain gorillas
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is best known for its Mountain Gorilla populations and gorilla trekking, although it also offers some of the finest montane forest birding in Africa and is a key destination for any birder going on Safari to Uganda. Bwindi Forest is one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age and it is home to roughly half of the world’s mountain gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park also provides refuge to elephant, chimpanzee, monkeys and various small antelope and bird species.
There are seven habituated gorilla groups located in different parts of Bwindi. The groups range in size from 10 to 20 individuals, each with one or two Silverbacks.
The Mubare group (also called the M-Group) was the very first group to actually be habituated for tracking by tourists. Habituation started in 1991 and this group received its very first tracking visitors in 1993. Mubare group is actually named after the stunning Mubare Hills in which this group was discovered.
The Habinyanja Group was habituated in 1997 for tracking and received tourists in the year 1999. In the start it was a huge group, however, a family was split from it named the Rushegura Group. These two groups crisscross each other now and again and co-exist peacefully.
The Rushegura Group was habituated in 2000 for tracking and received tourists in the year 2002. It is a huge group within the Buhoma area of Bwindi Forest.
The Bitukura Group is among of the newest groups in Bwindi Forest. It roams the verdant forest within the Ruhija area of Bwindi. There are restricted moderate and high-class lodges available in this area.
Following a family dispute, the Mishaya Gorilla family split from the ‘then biggest Gorilla Group’ in Bwindi Forest, the Nshongi Gorilla Family.
This is currently the biggest habituated gorilla family in Uganda with 25 members.
The Nkuringo Group comprises of 19 members and resides in the Nkuringo Region of the Bwindi Forest. This is one of the most physically challenging gorilla tracking regions, making it the most rewarding and a favorite among the gorilla tracker’s group.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla safari trekking in Rwanda is often described as “life changing”. It’s pretty costly though. Gorillas make their homes in and amongst the bamboo-covered slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. You’ll be introduced by expert trackers and guides to one of the fully-habituated families of mountain gorillas and you can stay with them for an hour as they go about their daily lives.
Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but you are often carried along by the euphoria you feel at seeing the gorillas! There are ten gorilla families living in the Volcanoes National Park that are fully habituated and available for visits by the public (whilst others are habituated for scientific research purposes only). Each family consists of at least one Silverback (but sometimes as many and four), along with several females and a group of youngsters.
A family of 17 members, Sabyinyo is an easily accessible group led by the powerful Silverback, Guhonda.
This family is comprised of 19 gorillas, led by the calm and easy going Ubumwe. To reach Amahoro, it’s usually a fairly steep climb, but it is well worth it!
Agashwa, today has 22 members, due to the conservation efforts of the Rwanda Government.
This is a family of 23 members led by Akarevuro, originally habituated in DRC. These tend to range quite far, making it a moderately difficult trek.
Is a family of 13, who broke off from Amahoro with leader named Charles.
This group has 18 members and only fairly recently formed from former Group 13 and Sabyinyo family members. They are led by Munyinya.
What to expect on a Gorilla Trekking Safari
The gorilla safari is an active expedition with moderate to strenuous hikes. Participants must be at least 16 years old, and should be physically fit. While tracking primates, guests will trek through thick jungle at elevations ranging up to 10,000 feet, for as many as four to eight hours, depending on the location of the gorllas. Treks can be arduous, and the terrain can be steep, uneven, wet, and muddy. Gorilla trekking is not suitable for those who suffer from a cardiac, respiratory, or circulatory disorder or a disability that limits mobility.
Most important to note is that you need a good Safari company to organize your Gorilla Trekking Safari. There are many tour operator companies in Uganda, which include Mushra Travel Agency. This leading safari company organizes Gorilla Safari Treks to Uganda and Rwanda. Their 3-day Gorilla Trekking Tour includes a gorilla safari, cultural tours, birding and guided village walks.
What to pack for a Gorilla Safari
Boots – A good quality pair of hiking boots will serve you well.
Gloves – During the trek you might be grabbing trees, branches and vines, and your hands can get a bit scratched. Carry a good pair of durable gloves.
Light rain jacket – Bwindi and Virunga are both tropical rainforests, and there’s a good chance of rain almost the year-round. Pack a light-weight rain jacket that you can roll up in your bag and bring out if necessary.
Energy snacks – The trek to the mountain gorillas isn’t impossible, but it’s tough. Energy snacks like nuts, dried fruit, chocolate or power bars are a great idea. Just remember to take any rubbish with you as you go.
Water – Bring a pack of water filtration tablets or a water bottle. You’ll need to drink a lot during the trek.
Long pants and shirts – It’s best not to expose too much skin during the jungle trek. Long pants, shirts and your rain jacket will cover you up.
Cost of Gorilla trekking Safari in Uganda and Rwanda
A Gorilla trekking permit in Uganda is cheaper compared to Rwanda. You need $600 USD for a gorilla trekking permit and $450 USD in the months of April, May and November (prices as of 2016-2017). Uganda will not increase its gorilla trekking permits during the 2018/2019 period.
Rwanda recently announced an increase from $750 to $1500 per person for all visitors. Rwanda also offers ‘Exclusive Visits’ which cost $15,000 for personalized mountain gorilla visits for a targeted Gorilla family and $30,000 for a minimum of 3 visitors for 3 consecutive days (Behind the scenes).
Gorilla Safari FAQs
Do I need to be fit to trek/find gorillas?
Gorillas live in montane forest, so treks to see them are at high altitude and pass through varied vegetation and terrain. You will need a reasonable level of fitness and a willingness to climb up muddy slopes and through thick growth.
What time of year should I try to visit the gorillas?
You can visit the gorillas year-round, and because of the rainforest climate, it can rain any day of the year, so there is not any time of year to particularly avoid travel. April and May are the rainiest months in Uganda and Rwanda.
Are you guaranteed to see gorillas when you set out?
It’s not possible to 100% guarantee sightings of the mountain gorillas. However, there has never been an instance where a tourist group did not get to see a gorilla group during their trek with Mushra Travel Agency. To help ensure this, trackers set off at dawn to locate the gorilla groups and radio their GPS co-ordinates to the park headquarters. When you set off on your trek with your guide, you know where you are headed. The trackers stay with the gorillas even if they are moving.
Is there a minimum or maximum age to visit the gorillas?
Yes, you must be at least 16 years old and there’s no flexibility to this rule. This is the same for both Rwanda and Uganda and it’s enforced by the national parks. There is no upper age limit!
Will I need a permit?
Yes, permits must be obtained to visit the gorillas and, as only eight are granted per gorilla group each day, they are extremely limited. Mashra Travel Agency will secure permits for you as far in advance as possible. Your permit entitles you to one hour with the mountain gorillas. This money goes toward conservation of the habitat, anti-poaching efforts and education of the local communities.
Will this be covered by my travel insurance?
It’s definitely worth checking that your travel insurance does cover you for gorilla trekking as they may require an additional premium to be paid. Tour Operators like Mushra Travel Agency only give a ‘Health Cover’ which only covers Malaria. Their team and doctor take care of any travelers who catch Malaria during the gorilla safari trekking.
Is there anything else I can do after a gorilla safari trek in Uganda or Rwanda?
Most tourists combine wildlife viewing tours with gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda. Some love to go rafting on the river Nile before they go back home. You can also go for a wildlife viewing safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda or Akagera National Park in Rwanda. Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. It is the home of the famous tree climbing lion as well as the Uganda Kob, other antelope species, elephant, baboons, hippos, buffalo and chimpanzees. Over 600 species of birds have been recorded at the Queen Elizabeth National Park, making the land a magnet for bird watchers. A safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park includes drives to see wildlife, exclusive birding tours, launch cruises on the park’s lakes and cultural tours.
Do you have more questions, inquiries or you want to book your Gorilla Trekking Safari?
Please contact your trusted Tour Operator Company or Mushra Travel Agency at [email protected] or visit their website for further information.
About Mushra Travel Agency
Mushra Travel Agency is an East Africa based tours and safari operator company headquartered in Kampala, Uganda. The company organizes and executes gorilla safaris, wildlife tours, chimpanzee tracking mountaineering, rafting on river Nile, cultural tours and birding tours to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Malawi. Whether you are going on your first trip to Africa or you have been here so many times, when you need unsurpassed experience in organizing your ideal African safari holiday, travel with Mushra Travel Agency – the Africa Safari experts.