Gorilla trekking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that every traveler should do. Seeing these intelligent primates up close as they tend to their families and play with each other just like us humans play with our children, is a surreal moment. It was like looking into a mirror. There are not many wild mountain gorillas left in the world and only in certain countries in Africa will you be able to see these animals roam freely while allowing you to observe them sustainably from afar. Within this guide, you will find all the information you need to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, one of the most affordable places to see these wild mountain gorillas roam free. Without further ado, here’s a complete travel guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda.

Out of all 3 countries, Uganda having affordable permits to go gorilla trekking with the gorilla trekking permit costing around 700 USD per person. Congo, despite having the cheapest gorilla trekking permit costing only 400 USD per person, traveling there can be more expensive due to how remote it is, safety and the ongoing conflicts which makes it more difficult and expensive to travel to. Other rates include 600 USD per person for foreign residents and 250,000 Ugandan shillings for East African citizens

If you are wondering which country you want to do gorilla trekking in, Uganda would be highly recommended. The country has a relatively good tourist infrastructure. There are also more things to do in the country like Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Lake Bunyonyi, Murchison Falls, and many other tourist attractions that are easily accessible and provide you with a more variety of things to do after your gorilla trekking trip. Lodges and Hotels are also available depending on budget and your preferences.

They are 2 possibilities to start your Gorilla Trekking experience to Uganda;

  1. Landing at Kigali International Airport. Your Guide would meet and greet at the airport and drive to Kisoro or Bwindi. This is a 3 hours drive from Kigali International Airport and easier one to connect if you’re more interested to Gorilla trekking experiences. Things to do on the way includes Kigali city tour, cultural experience or a visit to the Batwa.
  2. Your journey to go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest begins with an early morning pick up at your accommodation in Entebbe and you will be traveling on a 9-hour journey to the western border of the country where the gorillas are. On your way, you will be stopping at the Equator Monument where the equator line runs through. It is a great stop for a few photos and enjoys a little interesting demonstration of the equator magnetic field that affects how the water flows depending on which side you are on at the equator. After the equator, you will continue west to Bwindi for another 8 – 9 hours. It is a long drive but the sceneries you will be seeing along the way should help make the trip a little more interesting.

Where can you see Gorillas in Uganda?

The first question you probably have is where you can actually see gorillas. There are a number of gorilla species, but most people travel to see the mountain gorilla. This is a sub-species of the eastern gorilla species, and there are only around 800 – 1,100 mountain gorillas currently in the wild. They are listed as a critically endangered species. Mountain gorillas, as the name suggests, live in mountainous regions, and can only be found living in the wild in three countries in Africa.

These are Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are only two wild populations of mountain gorillas left in the world. The first group lives in the Virunga mountains, a chain of volcanic mountains in East Africa. In this population the gorillas are scattered in groups across Uganda (Mgahinga Gorilla National Park), Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Virunga National Park).

The second population lives within the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park). Due to current safety issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, most travelers visit the mountain gorillas in either Rwanda or Uganda.

Note that while we are specifically going to focus on gorilla trekking in Uganda in this article, much of the information such as preparation, packing, and the actual hiking experience is going to be fairly similar if you do gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Congo. There are two national parks in Uganda where you can see mountain gorillas.

These are Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the Virunga Mountains, and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Parks are located next to each other in southwestern Uganda, and both offer the opportunity to see mountain gorillas in the wild. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to around 80 mountain gorillas, of which two gorilla families have been habituated for visitors. It’s a 13 square mile national park in the larger Virunga Mountains.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is home to around 400 mountain gorillas, nearly half the world’s population. Fourteen gorilla families have been habituated for visitors. This park covers 128 square miles, and there are four gorilla trekking regions:

  • Buhoma Gorilla Region, home to 3 habituated gorilla families
  • Ruhija Gorilla Region, home to 3 habituated gorilla families
  • Rushaga Gorilla Region, home to 5 habituated gorilla families
  • Nkuringo Gorilla Region, home to 3 habituated gorilla families

However, be aware that the gorillas aren’t aware of things like park or country boundaries, and so the number of families that can be visited can vary if they migrate. Most visitors to Uganda go to Bwindi for gorilla trekking as there are more families that can be visited and therefore more permits available. If you book a tour through an operator, they will likely pick the area and region for you based on your itinerary and lodging options.

Gorilla Trekking Experience

After passing a night closer to the park, after a night in Bwindi, it’s time to go gorilla trekking. First, you will be taken to the ranger headquarter where you will be welcomed by the local communities with welcome performances. After the performance, you will be briefed by the ranger on what to expect during the gorilla trek. He will first introduce to you the gorilla family you will be encountering today, all labeled with really cool badass names like Rukumu and Mugisha. How do they know where the gorillas will reside? Well, they base their information on the last sighting the previous day and estimate where they will likely reside. They will then manage your expectation by telling you that it can take between 2 to 7 hours to trek into the forest and find the gorillas depending on how far they travel during the night.

After that, you will be briefed on how to behave around the silverback gorillas, which are the largest primates in the world and they can attack you if you do not follow the ranger’s guidelines. Usually, they are quite habituated but it’s always good to know how to behave if the gorillas approach you. Once they are done briefing, you will be taken to the place where they found them last and start trekking into the forest to see them in person.

You will be given the opportunity to hire a porter for 15 USD per person before you begin the trek, and a bamboo trekking pole will be provided to you to help you navigate the trails. Once you find the gorilla, you will be allowed to take photos and be with them for a maximum of one hour only and then the ranger will be obligated to take you back so as not to overstress the mountain gorillas. That is how you do sustainable travel!

Is Bwindi or Mgahinga a Better Place to See the Gorillas in Uganda?

You have about the same chances of seeing the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Now, there are a lot more gorillas in Bwindi, so you are more likely to get a permit and do a gorilla trek in Bwindi than at Mgahinga. However, no matter which park, or which section of Bwindi you trek, the chances are about the same as each group will be assigned to trek a specific gorilla family on the day. In terms of the actual hiking experience, they may vary a bit depending on which region; however, they are all relatively similar. Some people say hiking can be a bit easier at Mgahinga, but again this just depends on the day and the location of the gorillas.

Do you Need a Permit to go Gorilla Trekking?

Yes, you do need a permit to go gorilla trekking in Uganda (as well as in Rwanda or Congo). Mountain gorillas are very rare, and they live in a remote and difficult to access part of the world. Visiting them is also a very popular activity. As such, you can’t just wander into the forest on your own and seek out the gorillas. Even if it was allowed, it would be very difficult and rather dangerous. Instead, the only way to see gorillas in the wild is to get a permit and take an official gorilla trek. In Uganda these are all arranged by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and you need to book a permit in advance. Be sure that you arrange your gorilla trek before you travel to Uganda. If booking through a tour operator, they will likely arrange this on your behalf.

The permit includes the cost of the rangers who accompany you as well as bush trackers who track the gorilla family’s movement so you have a better chance of seeing the gorillas. Note that while it is possible that you could happen to see the mountain gorillas without trekking (e.g., our guide once saw them near the road) this is very rare as the gorillas rarely leave the forest. So if you want to see the gorillas, you will need to book a permit (or have your tour operator do so) to do a guided trek.

How Many People Go on a Gorilla Trek?

In order to protect the mountain gorillas and limit the amount of time humans interact with the gorillas, the numbers of people allowed to visit each gorilla family is controlled. Each group is limited to a maximum of eight visitors, plus the rangers, trackers, and any porters. So, I would go with the expectation of 8 people in your group as it is a popular activity. But the number will just depend on the number of people who purchased permits for that particular day and the way that the rangers divide the groups.

How Likely Are you to See Gorillas in Uganda?

We spoke to the rangers on our trip and also our guide in Uganda about how often people see the gorillas when trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The overall consensus was that the chances are very good, most estimating that over 90% of the time visitors will get to see the gorillas.

The main reason that some people don’t see the gorillas is not that the gorillas can’t be found, but that travelers decide to return before they reach the gorillas. The trek to see the gorillas can be challenging, especially if the gorilla family being visited is further away, and some travelers may find that the trek is more arduous then they imagined and return. Of course, as these are wild animals, there are no guarantees. Whilst the park has bush trackers who go out very early each day to find the gorillas, they do not have GPS tags or anything like that, so there is always a small possibility that they will be unable to locate them. But this is unusual.

What is the Gorilla Habituation Experience?

As well as the standard trekking experience, it is possible to book onto a Gorilla Habituation experience. The gorilla habituation experience has you visiting a gorilla family which has not yet been approved for normal tours to visit. Gorillas are wild animals, and it takes a while for them to become used to humans. This process is known as habituation, and the Gorilla Habituation experience has you visiting a gorilla family which has begun this process. Whilst the experience is more expensive, it does give you a lot longer with the gorilla family.

In fact, you get to spend four hours with the gorilla family, instead of the usual one hour. There are also stricter limits on the group size, with only four people per family instead of eight. Despite the higher price, the habituation experience is still popular, and if this is something you are interested in doing we recommend booking as far in advance as popular due to the limited number of spaces available.

When is the Best Time to Go Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?

Whilst you can go gorilla trekking at any time of year in Uganda, we would suggest during one of the two dry seasons would be best if you are flexible in when you visit. Whilst there is always a possibility of rain in this mountainous region, it is less likely at this time of year, meaning you are less likely to get soaked during your trek. There are two dry seasons in Uganda, one that lasts from about December to February, and one from approximately June to September. This is also a generally good time to visit Uganda for wildlife viewing. But gorilla trekking can still be good in the wet season, but you do need to be prepared for the much greater probability of rain and mud which can make the hike more challenging and can impact how well you can see and photograph the gorillas.

Is there a Minimum Age for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?

The minimum age for anyone wanting to go gorilla trekking is 15. Ages are verified using the date of birth in the applicant’s passport. If you are wanting to go gorilla trekking and are traveling with children under the age of 15, be sure to make arrangements for their care in advance. It is likely you will be trekking for several hours and possibly for most of the day.

General Rules for Gorilla Trekking

Prior to setting out on your trek you will be given a briefing which covers all the main rules of gorilla trekking. However, to give you some idea of what to expect, here’s a quick overview of the main rules you need to know.

  • Group sizes are set to a maximum of 8 people
  • Once you find the gorillas, you have a maximum of one hour with the group
  • Photography and video is allowed throughout, without flash
  • No rubbish is allowed to be left. Everything must be carried out
  • Eating, smoking and drinking near the gorillas is forbidden
  • You should speak in a low voice and avoid making sudden movements or loud sounds

You are allowed to pee off the trail during the hike to and from the gorillas, as long as it is away from water. For solid waste, be aware that human waste needs to be buried in a hole at least 30cm deep. The ranger will have a small shovel, so just let them know if you need it.

  • You must keep a safe distance from the gorillas and on no account attempt to interact with them by making sounds or attempt to touch them.
  • As gorillas are susceptible to catching human diseases, protecting them from catching them is important. Whilst mask wearing became common during the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, it has often been a requirement when visiting the gorillas since before then to keep them safe. So be sure to check any pandemic or other related measures that might be in place to protect the gorillas before your visit.

Things to Pack while planning a gorilla trekking trip

Now that you know what you expect, here is a quick overview of a suggested packing list specifically for gorilla trekking.

  • Hiking shoes/ boots. Hiking shoes/ boots are an absolute must for gorilla trekking. The terrain is very challenging, and good ankle support and water protection are going to make for a much more comfortable hike. Just make sure you have fully broken in your boots before your hike.
  • Hiking pants / Hiking shirt. A comfortable pair of hiking pants and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt will make for a much more pleasant trekking experience and will help protect your arms and legs from sun, branches, and insects
  • Waterproof Clothing or Rain Protection. Even when visiting in the dry season, there is a possibility of rain, so you’ll want to be prepared for the possibility of rain on your hike. Waterproof clothing is one option, but the downside is that given how hot it can be, you might end up being really hot and sweaty.
  • Sun Protection (Hat/Sunglasses/Sunscreen). No matter when you go trekking, you’ll want to make sure you are fully protected from the sun. We recommend a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen along with wearing long-sleeved shirt and trousers. Many people may also want to bring along their sunglasses.
  • Daypack with rain cover. You are definitely going to need a day pack to carry your various items, including your camera, water bottles, extra clothing, and snacks. A day pack with a rain cover is a good idea in case of rain. We’d recommend one with a rain cover that attaches to the backpack in some way so it’s not ripped off by branches in the jungle.
  • You will of course want to bring along your camera. I’d also recommend bringing along a lens cloth as well as extra batteries and memory cards.
  • Dry bag. The chances are you will be bringing a camera with you, and you will want a way to keep it dry should you experience a tropical downpour. If it’s a smaller camera, then something like a Ziplock bag will work. Otherwise, you might consider a dry bag or backpack liner that you can put inside your daypack which will keep all your belongings dry.
  • Snacks / Lunch. Whilst the gorilla trek will normally start around 8.30am, there is a good chance that it will go on for more than half the day. In this case, you are going to get hungry and will want to carry some food with you. We’d suggest packing some high energy items like nuts, dried fruit, jerky, or granola bars.
  • Rehydration Salts. Hiking in humid conditions will cause you to sweat a lot, and when you sweat you lose both water and salts.
  • Water bottle / water bladder. You are definitely going to need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated so you will want to make sure you fill up your water bottles before leaving your hotel that morning.
  • Gardening Gloves. This might seem like an odd suggestion, but it is recommended by the park service.
  • Gaiters offer protection from mud and dirt and can also keep stones and dirt from getting into your hiking boots. They can also offer some protection from biting insects. These are not a must-have but they are recommended
  • Insect repellent. The jungle is obviously a place where you are going to find insects, and while gorilla trekking in Uganda you may encounter insects such as safari ants, stinging caterpillars, and leeches. You will want to wear insect repellant to protect yourself from bites. It is recommended that you choose an insect repellent that includes at least 20% DEET as the active ingredient. While you are unlikely to encounter mosquitoes while gorilla trekking (altitude is too high) mosquitoes are present in other areas of Uganda and can carry malaria.
  • Local currency or USD for tips. Tipping is a fact of life in Uganda, and despite the high price of the gorilla trek, tipping is still going to be expected. Carrying money on you is a good idea as the trackers you meet in the jungle might not accompany you back, and so you might want to tip them before you depart. Local Ugandan shillings are the easiest option, but U.S. dollars are also widely accepted.
  • Toilet paper. On a longer trek the chances of needing to go to the toilet increase, so packing some toilet paper just in case is a good idea

Tour Packages to consider for your trip to Uganda;

8 Days Best of Uganda Gorilla Trekking Safari

8 Days Best of Uganda Safari

7 days Rwanda-Uganda tour with Gorilla Habituation experience










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