Gorilla Trekking Uganda or Rwanda
Are you contemplating a gorilla trek and unsure of where is best to go? We have written this article to help explain the differences.
What species of Gorilla do you wish to see?
Firstly, what gorillas are you wanting to see because there are different types? The most impressive in our opinion and highly habituated are the mountain gorillas that you can see from parts of Uganda and Rwanda. Eastern lowland gorillas are found in the Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. More on the Congos here.
Gorilla Trekking Uganda or Rwanda
How fit do you consider yourself?
Fitness should be a factor when considering where to go for a gorilla trek.
A common misconception is that Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is less strenuous than if tackling a trek in Uganda. One cannot determine the difficulty of the trek without knowing the location of the gorilla family you are allocated on the day. So let’s look at the terrain of the trekking.
Bwindi National Park (Uganda) is massive in size and split into different regions to access the Gorillas. The regions are:
- Buhoma the most commonly visited in the north
- Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushega all in the South.
Southern Bwindi boasts a rugged landscape and gorilla treks often involve more challenging climbs over rocks, along narrow paths and incredibly steep inclines and declines.
Buhoma on the other hand is surrounded by community farmland, villages and stunningly picturesque mountainside. Treks here are known to be a little ‘easier’ than in the South.
Volcanoes National Park on the Rwanda side has some farmland on the lower slopes of the mountains before you climb over the brick wall that marks the park boundary. Once over the wall, the forest is quite dense yet easily traversed (good shoes and garden gloves always recommended regardless of where you climb) and the gorilla families seem to congregate lower on the mountain than in Uganda. This is due to bamboo shoots in more abundance and milder weather conditions.
The Gorilla Headquarters in Rwanda and Uganda operate the same. On arrival, you are briefed by the guides and rangers and your fitness and health levels are assessed. This determines which gorilla family you are allocated based on their location and the difficulty of the required trekking route. It is therefore essential for you to advise your preference to our private driver/guide who picks you up after breakfast and takes you to headquarters. Our team can then help to ensure you get the trek of choice, be that an easier one or a more challenging one.
How long do you trek?
Whether you trek in Rwanda or Uganda, gorilla families can be reached usually within 2 hours (for the less fit guests) to 6 – 7 hours (for those seeking a challenge). Again this is determined not by you or your guide, rather the location of the gorilla family you have been allocated.
How much is a Gorilla permit?
Price is one of the primary points to consider when Gorilla trekking Uganda or Rwanda.
A gorilla permit in Rwanda is USD$1,500 per person and this entitles you to the trek, 1 hour with the gorillas, a guide and rangers. Tipping is the ‘norm’ and not included in this price. Plus if you want a porter, you can organize and pay for that locally, approximately USD10.
A gorilla permit in Uganda is currently USD$600 per person and this entitles you to the trek, 1 hour with the gorillas, a guide and rangers. Again, tipping is the ‘norm’ and not included.
How do you access the gorilla trekking location and how much time do I need?
To access the mountains where the gorillas call home, you fly into either Kigale, Rwanda or Entebbe, Uganda.
Rwanda’s Volcanos National Park is more accessible and an easy two-hour drive from Kigali on surprisingly good quality bitumen roads. We recommend three nights so it is not a rushed experience, the first in Kigali as most international flights arrive in the afternoon. Then next morning you will head up to the mountains and have 2 nights before returning to Kigali and flying out.
Uganda’s Bwindi is either a full day of driving (8 hours on poor roads – so bumpy it’s called the African massage route) or 4 hours of travelling if you combine a scheduled light aircraft flight (keep in mind this means 15 kilograms luggage limit) and road transfer. If time is limited 3 nights in Bwindi would provide a wonderful insight into Uganda and its warm friendly people plus the mountain gorilla trekking We would only recommend fly in if time is this short just to ensure a comfortable experience.
Due to the sheer size and offering in Uganda, you can easily combine a safari with gorilla trekking and factor in a visit to Murchison Falls. Our most popular Uganda itinerary is based on 10 – 12 days.
Gorilla Trekking Uganda or Rwanda
What else can I do?
In Rwanda, there are at least three other locations you can visit to extend your stay and experience. Lake Kivu is ideal for down time whilst Nyungwe Forest allows the opportunity to see more primates, namely chimpanzees, golden monkeys and experience the canopy walkway. Akagera National Park in the east offers a variety of habitats abundant with wildlife, an emerging safari destination now with the Big Five and a luxury lodge due to open in the coming year. An itinerary of 8 – 10 days would allow you to explore Rwanda taking in a gorilla trek or two, the golden monkeys, a guided community walk, trek to Dian Fossey’s Grave and Research Centre plus visit the lake and Akagera.
Uganda is perhaps more of a destination in its own right deserving of a two-week holiday. This would allow you to take in a great variety of experiences from the magic of Murchison Falls with an abundance of birdlife including the rare shoebill, stunning volcanic and crater lakes, Kibale Forest for chimpanzee trekking and Queen Elizabeth National Park for the traditional 4×4 safari. Buhoma offers authentic cultural experiences with the ancient Batwa tribe or community empowerment programs like ‘A day with a woman’. It is also rewarding simply wandering down Buhoma’s one quaint street and observing village life first hand, be it vibrant drumming and singing as the locals celebrate the weekend, kids playing and laughing at the funny ‘Muzungus’, women having their daily meetings chasing away the men that try to join in and farmers going about their daily business.
Accommodation close to gorilla trekking
Rwanda has budget hotel accommodation available in the town closest to the national park or you can stay at the affordable Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, a full board experience in the mountains and one of our personal favourites if you’re watching your pennies. It is just moments from the park headquarters and meeting point for a gorilla trek.
For those seeking more creature comforts or touches of luxury, Rwanda proudly boasts the stunning Virunga Lodge, Sabinyo Silverback Lodge and Bisate Lodge (a Wilderness Safaris property). Very soon, Singita will open their luxury lodge. Each of these properties has outstanding luxury accommodation and incredible views overlooking the 3 volcanos; Bisoke, Karisimbi and Mikeno.
Uganda has a healthy diversity of accommodation options for those going gorilla trekking and with Gen just back, get in touch and have a chat. You’ll soon be advised all the options and able to determine what suits your needs best.