Comprehensive guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda
Comprehensive guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda
Coming face to face with the mountain gorillas in the deep jungles of Africa has always been everyone’s dream bucket list adventure, our experts have broken down what gorilla trekking is.
Gorilla trekking is a dream activity for many travelers; it usually starts with watching a documentary about these gentle giants, the mountain gorillas only leave in East Africa and part of the Eastern democratic republic of Congo meaning if you had to trek this endangered apes you would have to save money and make the trip all the way to the heart of Africa only to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It’s time you start planning the dream safari
After a long waited period to finally start your journey to Africa, many travelers will go on the internet and start googling information about gorillas, true they are many blogs on the internet about gorillas but to find a genuine company with full detailed information can be an issue and this is why at Wilderness explorers Africa supported by Endless plains Africa Ltd for ground operations in Africa we are proud because we provide detailed information to our potential clients.
Where to go in Africa to see Mountain Gorillas
Africa is a very continent and it offers extraordinary biodiversity in terms of wildlife, there are 4 species of gorillas in Africa and each of these species are located in different parts of Africa Mountain gorillas specific are restricted to the Virunga massive consisting of Rwanda’s volcanoes national park, DR Congo’s Virunga national park and Uganda’s Mgahinga gorilla national park alongside Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable national park are the only countries and national parks where you can trek the mountain gorillas in Africa.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of two subspecies of the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei). It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as the total population is estimated to comprise 1,004 individuals in two populations as of 2018. One population lives in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and the others live in the Virunga Mountains in three adjacent national parks, namely Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mountain gorillas are classified into three living groups in Uganda; two of 3 groups are available for tourism meanwhile the last one is known by researchers.
Habituated Mountain gorillas
Habituated mountain gorillas are the family of Mountain gorillas that are made used to human presence, this is done so after 3 years of trackers and scientists following this mountain gorilla, the first year is usually difficult as the mountain gorillas do not know human beings and sometimes they will charge but after getting used to humans then they will start to feel free in the presence of humans then tourists will be allowed to visit the Mountain gorillas and this permit cost USD 700$ per person per trek and you will spend 1 hour with the mountain gorillas.
Under habituation Mountain gorillas
After the successful habituation process in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable national park, the park decided to allow tourists and researchers who may wish to participate in the habituation process to join the trackers, this activity is paid for at the cost of USD 15OO$ which you will wake up early and join the trackers as early as 7 am and head into the forest to habituate the Gorilla group, here you will be allowed to spend 4 hours with the mountain gorilla group under habituation.
Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of gentle giants is surely the most exciting and poignant wildlife encounter that Africa has to offer, but we should not let it distract from Bwindi’s broader biodiversity, a result of its immense antiquity and an altitude span of from 1,160 to 2,607m. The National park has 90 mammal species, including 11 primates, of which the black-and-white colobus monkey, with its lovely flowing white tail, is prominent. The forest birding ranks with the best in Uganda, with 23 highly localized Albertine endemics present.
Wild mountain gorillas
Wild mountain gorillas are still wild, these gorilla groups are not used to humans and they will usually occupy deeper parts of the jungle, the statistics in Bwindi impenetrable national park still indicate that there are perhaps more wild gorillas compared to Habituated and under habituation groups, the trackers during anti-poaching patrols have seen some of these Mountain gorilla groups and they say the groups are larger and extremely shy that they will run away as soon as they see the trackers.
Where to find mountain gorillas in Uganda
Uganda has two national parks where you can find the endangered mountain gorillas, the most famous being the 321 sq km Bwindi impenetrable national park and the smaller 34 sq km Mgahinga gorilla national park situated in the Virunga massif bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga national park and all these are joined by the 5 volcanoes of Muhavura, Gahinga, Sabyinyo, Karisimbi, and Bisoke.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, covering 32,092 ha, is one of the largest areas in East Africa which still has Afro-montane lowland forest extending well within the montane forest belt. Located on the eastern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley and believed to be a Pleistocene refugium, the property is a biodiversity hotspot with possibly the greatest number of tree species for its altitude in East Africa. It is also host to a rich fauna including a number of endemic butterflies and one of the richest mammalian assemblages in Africa. Home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, the property represents a conservation frontline as an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness surrounded by an agricultural landscape supporting one of the highest rural population densities in tropical Africa. Community benefits arising from the mountain gorilla and other ecotourism may be the only hope for the future conservation of this unique site.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered Golden Monkeys.
As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivaled.
Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
The park is home to one gorilla family called the Nyakagezi and it has 9 family members with striking 4 silverback gorillas.
This small national park protects the Ugandan portion of the Virungas, a chain of six extinct and three sporadically active volcanoes that follows the borders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga was proclaimed with the primary aim of providing sanctuary to the rare mountain gorillas, some 450 of which live in the Virungas, and gorilla trekking remains the most popular activity here, though it is dependent on the seasonal movements of the habituated groups.
Mgahinga supports a diverse forest and moorland fauna, notably the localized Golden monkey and at least 12 bird species endemic to the Albertine Rift, but also small populations of elephants, buffalo, leopard, and black-and-white colobus monkeys. The spectacular setting at the base of the volcanoes, the tallest of which reaches an elevation of 4,507m, is among the most stirring in East Africa.
How many Mountain gorillas are there in the wild?
Since their scientific discovery in 1902, the population of mountain gorillas has been on a steady decline and there are currently about 1000 mountain gorillas left in the world according to the 2018-2019 gorilla censuses.
Gorilla families in Bwindi impenetrable national park
Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable national park is home to incredibly 18 habituated gorilla families which include the Mucunguzi gorilla family, Rwigi gorilla family, Bikingi gorilla family, Busingye gorilla family, Kahungye gorilla family, Bweza gorilla family, Mishaya gorilla family, Nshongi gorilla family, Mukiza gorilla family, Oruzogo gorilla family, Bitukura gorilla family, Christmas gorilla family, Bushaho gorilla family, Nkuringo gorilla family, Katwe gorilla family, Rushegura gorilla family, Habinyanja gorilla family and Mubare gorilla family.
Gorilla families in Mgahinga gorilla national park
Mgahinga’s ecosystem is pretty incredible as the national park borders Rwanda and DR Congo up in the volcanoes there are boundaries but the gorillas do not have visa to cross to any of the countries and so there is currently one gorilla group that has been dominating the Mgahinga gorilla area and that is Nyakagezi gorilla Family.
How to get to Bwindi impenetrable national park
Depending on how you want to get there those wanting quick means should consider flying but those who want to discover and experience the country roads can make the transfer by car.
There are various ways to get to Bwindi impenetrable national park and the easiest being via Rwanda’s main capital Kigali which is 5 hour’s drive with border crossing included and the longer option is from Uganda’s main capital Kampala or Entebbe which takes about 10 hours but with incredible stops en route.
Flying to Bwindi from Entebbe international airport is the easiest way to get to the mountain gorillas, there are two major airstrips that connect the different gorilla trekking sectors, those with gorilla permits in the Buhoma the northern sector, and Ruhija the eastern sector will fly into Kihihi airstrip which is 1-hour drive to the forest.
And those trekking in Rushaga the southern sector of Bwindi and Nkuringo the upper south can fly into Kisoro airstrip and the two-hour transfer by 4×4.
How to get to Mgahinga gorilla national park
Depending on how you want to get there those wanting quick means should consider flying but those who want to discover and experience the country roads can take the transfer by car.
There are various ways to get to Mgahinga gorilla national park and the easiest being via Rwanda’s main capital Kigali which is 5 hour’s drive with border crossing included and the longer option is from Uganda’s main capital Kampala or Entebbe which takes about 10 hours but with incredible stops en route.
There are charted flights and scheduled flights to Kisoro airstrip where you can take a 45 minutes transfer to the park or to the Lodge.
What to expect on a gorilla trek in Uganda
A trek to see mountain gorillas requires you to be physically well and most importantly, maintain your physical fitness before embarking on the actual trek. A gorilla trek in Uganda can last you about 2-6 hours and it involves hiking through the dense vegetation and steep slopes while in search of mountain gorillas.
Please be in the know that mountain gorillas live in high elevations and because of this; you need adequate drinking water and some energy-giving snacks as energy boosters do not forget a hiking stick to help you while on a hike. Walking sticks can be got at the park headquarters or safari lodge. Besides, hiring a porter is not bad if you do have heavy luggage. They can help carry luggage and let you enjoy your adventure.
Impact of Gorilla trekking in Uganda
Uganda Wildlife Authority recognizes the failing conservation policies in protecting gorillas and other wildlife, Uganda wildlife Authority along with other conservation organizations established initiatives to make locals own the park through revenue-sharing schemes where 20 % of the gorilla permit fees go to communities.
The revenues have improved the lives of people through projects like building healthcare centers, schools, clean water, and sustainable agriculture education.
In addition, local communities around Bwindi have been encouraged to tap the market for tourists by selling crafts, foodstuff, and honey including other tourist-related services like transport and accommodation which has partly increased the benefits of gorilla conservation and tourism.
While the parks remain completely out of bounds for local communities, the other hand, locals have been employed as guides, porters, community conservation leaders, and rangers. Employment benefits coupled with community-based projects are a means to change the negative attitude people have toward gorillas. Hence people can co-exist with gorillas.
Why you should not miss the experience with mountain Gorillas in Uganda
Sitting in silence on the cold ground of a Ugandan forest for 60 minutes might be one of life’s greatest privileges. There are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas in existence, and gorilla trekking provides a rare opportunity to observe the everyday interactions of these gentle, mysterious primates.
Mountain gorillas only live in the dense vegetation of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and along with the dormant volcanic Virunga mountain range that stretches across Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 1981, environmentalists estimated there were only 254 mountain gorillas left in the world, but the small population is rising slowly thanks to intense international conservation efforts. Since these critically endangered creatures can’t survive in captivity, the only way to see them is by trekking up to their natural habitat: misty cloud forests that can reach altitudes of 14,763 feet.
The actual encounter with mountain gorillas of Uganda
Sharing time with the mountain gorillas in the wild in Africa’s dense rain forest is utterly magical; nothing is intense like preparing you for the sheer beauty and Braun, those soulfully brown eyes, they’re astonishing human-like expressions for their extraordinary gentle demeanor.
The special encounter normally just lasts precious one hour but the Uganda wildlife authority has offered a new gorilla habituation experience where you can actively participate in habituating semi- wild gorilla family during the process you will spend 4 hours.
How long is the mountain gorilla trek in Uganda?
This is pretty unpredictable to tell how long you will take during your gorilla trekking adventure but according to starts the best and the shortest experience is usually two hours (2 hours) meaning you hike for only 30 minutes view the gorillas for one hour and make your way back in 30 minutes and the real trek and harder experience is about nine (9 hours) meaning you will hike for four hours (4 hours) view the gorillas for one hour ( 1 hour) and trek back four hours (4 hours).
Gorilla Permits in Uganda
Besides the Democratic Republic of Congo Uganda has the second cheapest gorilla permit prices at USD 700 per gorilla permit per person that’s including the park entrance fees for that day.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking Prices
Usually, gorilla trekking prices are determined by the means of transport and the accommodation level if you are flying and staying in luxury lodges you may pay from USD 2000-4000 per person and if you’re driving and staying in medium-range accommodation you may pay anything from USD 1500-2500 per person over a period of 3-4 days safari
Refunds/ Cancellations of Gorilla Permits in Uganda
Due to avoidable circumstances, the following incidences may be considered for a refund, withdraw for a gorilla trekking experience from between 46 and 90 days to the scheduled tracking Date, you will be refunded 50% of the total tracking fee and UWA shall hold the remaining 50%. Cancellations from 91 days and above call for a 75% refund and UWA holds 25% of the gorilla permit fee paid. However, all this is subject to changes over time please contact Wilderness Explorers Africa for up-to-date information before making a decision to cancel a gorilla safari.
Age Restrictions for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Uganda’s gorilla trekking age limit is currently at 15 years and any child below the age of 15 may be prohibited from visiting gorillas in their natural habitat as it is for Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park.
What to pack for a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda
Packing the right equipment is one of the great achievements that one will need to complete before traveling to Uganda for your gorilla trekking experience
Photographing Mountain gorillas in Uganda
Photographing mountain gorillas in Uganda was definitely not an easy task. The foliage in the jungle was extremely dense and made moving in the area quite difficult. Trying to get a solid foothold was impossible at times and I was constantly being attacked by fire-ants and other insects. As the Gorillas moved around quite often, we always had to follow them, and at times this became quite dangerous at the end of the day I came away with many cuts, bruises, and insect bites.
The lighting conditions went from bright sunlight to dark shadows depending on where they were at the moment. I chose to shoot this entire experience with a 50mm prime, at or as close to an aperture of f/1.8 (on an APS-C size sensor). This allowed me to get a fast shutter speed to capture their expressions in high, sharp detail, and create a shallow depth of field to make them the focal point, and make them really stand out against their surroundings. While I only had access to a 50mm at the time, I would recommend going into such an environment with a lens range from 50mm to 200mm for the best opportunities.
Where to stay in Bwindi impenetrable national park
- Clouds mountain gorilla lodge
- Sanctuary Gorilla forest camp
- Buhoma lodge
- Gorilla heights lodge
- Bwindi lodge
- Chameleon hill lodge
- 4 gorillas lodge
Where to stay in Mgahinga gorilla national park
- MT Gahinga Lodge
- Chameleon hill lodge
Best time to visit Uganda for Gorilla Trekking
Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Uganda for gorilla trekking is during the country’s two dry seasons: January and February and from June to September.