Gorilla trekking gives you the ultimate opportunity to trek through the lush green forests of Virunga and Bwindi to encounter the endangered gorillas in their natural habitat.
Gorilla trekking is hiking through the lush green forests for close encounters with gorillas in their natural environment. This is a once-in-a-lifetime safari experience you should embark on. During your gorilla trek, you are assigned a gorilla family and you will get to spend an hour observing them as they go about their day.
The price of gorilla trekking varies from one country to another. Gorilla trekking is only done in the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. In Uganda, gorilla trekking costs $700 for foreign non-residents and $600 for foreign residents. In Rwanda, gorilla trekking costs $1500. In DR Congo, Gorilla trekking costs $500 in Virunga national park and $450 in Kahuzi Biega National park. These fees include park entry fees and the trek into the forest.
Gorilla trekking permits are legal documents that allow you to trek through the forest to encounter the gorillas. While Rwanda offers 96 gorillas permits per day, Uganda has around 160 permits per day, and 64 permits in Congo’s Virunga national park. These permits have to be obtained before the trek. We at Laba Africa secure your permits from Uganda Wildlife Authority, Rwanda Development Board in Rwanda and Virunga park offices in DR Congo. They are limited in number and are often sold out months in advance.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable forest is an experience like no other. The forest has a thick undergrowth and your ranges will clear a path as you move along. Although it can make the trek a little more strenuous, it adds to the adventure. The terrain is hilly adding more character to the forest. In Rwanda, the hike is more gentle with less undergrowth. In DR Congo, trekking in the Virunga national park is much easier as the mountain has less vegetation. It’s important to know that the difficulty depends on the gorilla family you are allocated for your trek and their location on the day of your hike. Of course, the price factor comes in. Uganda’s permits cost $700, Rwanda’s at $1500, and $500 in DR Congo.
Mountain gorillas are the most common gorillas to trek on your Africa safari. They are found in Uganda in Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks. In Rwanda, they can be seen in Volcanoes national park. In DR Congo, mountain gorillas are found in the Virunga National park. The eastern lowland gorillas are found in the Kahuzi Biega National park.
Gorilla trekking in the Buhoma sector was opened in 1993. This sector has the most accommodation options and acts as the park’s headquarters. If you come to Bwindi from the north, you will almost certainly stay at Buhoma. Because of the Rushegura family’s proximity to the headquarters, the terrain around Buhoma may allow for some of the more accessible gorilla treks. Buhoma is also home to incredible non-governmental groups like Bike 4 a Woman and the Batwa Development Project, as well as local artisans that offer unique and usually uplifting experiences outside of the forest.
Ruhija sector is located 45 kilometers from Buhoma sector. Buhoma is regarded as one of the most appealing gorilla tracking sectors. At a height of 2,340 meters, it is also one of the most challenging. The local roads have now been renovated to the point that visitors usually stay in Buhoma, where they can choose from a greater range of accommodation options but go trekking in Ruhija. Buhoma and Ruhija sections serve the park’s northern boundary. Buhoma is typically the sector of choice for those commuting down from the north due to its larger hotel options.
The setting is more open here, giving trekkers stunning views of the highlands rather than immersing them in the forest. There are eight gorilla groups at Rushaga, with 64 permits available daily. There are also six permits available for gorilla habituation. While there are options for local accommodation, hikers staying in Nkuringo can stay near Lake Mutanda or the Rushaga sector.
The Nkuringo sector is located in the southern part of Bwindi on the Nteko Ridge at an elevation of 2,100 meters, 600 meters above the Kashasha River valley, which is frequented by the Nkuringo gorilla troop. As a result, there is a steep incline at the beginning of the ascent and a challenging return trek. Nkuringo is unquestionably the most difficult hiking destination among the four sectors. Still, it’s stunning, with breathtaking views of the Virunga Mountains. A safari here also includes visits to local agricultural communities, a Batwa experience, and the lovely lakes of Mutanda Bunyonyi.
Mountain gorillas cannot survive outside their natural habitat. They thrive in tropical forests where there is plenty of food. In Uganda, they can be found in the impenetrable forest of Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park. In Rwanda, they are found in Volcanoes national park. In DR Congo, they can be seen in the Virunga national park.
During your gorilla trek, you have a 95% chance of encountering the gorillas. Trackers are sent ahead of your hike to track them from their nest for the previous night. Or else, you would probably hike through the forest for the whole day searching for them.
The age limit for gorilla trekking cuts across the 3 countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. You have to be 15 years and above. It’s believed that one needs a sense of maturity to handle the excitement, follow the guidelines and respond appropriately in the unlikely event that the gorillas charge.
Yes. In fact, most of the travelers to Africa who are interested in gorillas proceed to Masai Mara, Serengeti, South Africa, and South Sudan for wildlife and cultural encounters. You can choose to take a flight or drive across borders enjoying the stunning beauty of the East African states. An East African Visa will allow the process of crossing state lines much easier.
Only up to 8 people are allowed to trek a particular gorilla family. This small group is manageable in the forest. More to that, big numbers could agitate the gorillas and lead to aggressive behavior.
Gorilla treks can last from 3-6 hours. This includes the hour you spend with the gorillas. Encounters with the gorillas may occur 30 minutes into the hike. Others could take up to 2 hours before encountering them. This time depends on a couple of reasons. Firstly, the location of the gorilla family. Some gorilla families are located further from the starting point. This makes the hike longer. More to that, since these gorillas are in their natural habitat, they freely move as they are feeding. In following them, you may end up taking you further from your starting point. The physical fitness of the tourists also comes into play. The terrain in this environment is largely hilly and if one isn’t in good shape could slow the group down. In case you encounter forest elephants, you will make a detour since they are aggressive. All the above reasons could make your trek longer.
We have already covered what gorilla trekking is at the beginning of the article. Gorilla habituation is the process of getting the gorillas accustomed to humans. Researchers and rangers visit these wild gorillas every day for 2 years until they are sure the family is used to being around humans. The difference between gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation is basically time. While you are only allowed an hour with the gorillas, gorilla habituation allows you 4 hours. Gorilla habituation costs $1500 as compared to the $700 for gorilla trekking but is worth every penny. This experience is only available in Uganda in the Rushaga sector.
Gorillas are generally gentle primates hence the name gentle giants. All of the gorilla families visited by tourists have undergone the habituation process. However, like all wild animals, they can charge. The rangers are with you the entire time and will instruct you on what to do. The briefing before the trek will come in handy. Avoid prolonged eye contact, disable the flash mode of your camera, and keep a distance of around 10 meters away from the gorillas. Stay in one group and avoid finding yourself in the middle of the gorilla family.
Yes. All the destinations where gorilla trekking takes place have heavy security. This is to ensure your safety. On your trek, you are escorted by armed rangers not only for any security threats but because other wildlife like forest elephants are found in these tropical forests.
For a comfortable safari, you need to pack right. Imagine leaving your binoculars back home and missing out on the beautiful birds. On a gorilla trek, one needs sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes, gloves to protect your hands from thickets, a wide-brimmed hat, a rain jacket, a backpack, a long-sleeved t-shirt/shirt, trousers, sunscreen, and an adventurous spirit.
Gorillas are an endangered species and a lot of effort goes into the conservation process. The money paid on your gorilla treks goes into paying the rangers, guides, and infrastructure of conservation. These rangers patrol the forest to protect these primates from poachers. Researchers and vets are facilitated in treating the injured animals. A portion of the permit fees is invested in community projects like water projects, education, and health. When the parks were gazetted, the local inhabitants were relocated to the boundaries of the park. They lived and thrived off the forest. These projects help them cope with life outside their ancestral homes. A cultural tour is included on many itineraries as a way of giving back to these communities.
One of the main threats to the gorillas is habitat loss. With the growing population, encroachment on the forests is an imminent threat. Cutting down of these trees for agricultural land has encroached on the gorilla’s natural habitat and food source. Poaching is another threat to the gorillas. Black market bush meat and ornaments attract some shady characters into the poaching trade.
In Uganda, the four gorilla trekking sectors have a variety of lodging options. These range from luxurious resorts to simple but comfortable bandas. In Bwindi, Clouds, Buhoma Lodge, Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge, Nkuringo Bwindi lodge, and Sanctuary Gorilla Lodge. Mid-range options include; Chameleon hill Lodge, Bweza gorilla Lodge, Mutanda Lake Resort, Bakiga Lodge, and more. Rwanda is more on the upper end. Virunga Lodge, Bisate lodge, Gorilla mountain view lodge, and Sabinyo silverback lodge. Mid-range options are; My Hill Eco Lodge, Fraven Eco resort, Le Bambou gorilla lodge, Mountain gorillas nest lodge, and more. Accommodation in Virunga national park includes; Kibumba Camp, Mikeno lodge, Bukimia tented camp, Lulimbi tented camp, and more.
Yes, you can. In fact, it is encouraged. The hike can be strenuous and a helping hand to go over a fallen log or jump over a paddle. During your trek, you are advised to carry enough water, a packed lunch, a rain jacket, and a walking stick. With all that luggage, you will surely need help. Furthermore, the small fee will help them earn a living making them able to provide for their families.
The trek through the forest itself is something short of magical. The mist hovering over the forest canopy is breathtaking. As you walk through the forest, the sounds of the crickets and birds are soothing. During the gorilla trek, you will the chance of seeing some of the Albertine endemics like the Rwenzori turaco. Embark on a full birding excursion in the forest. A forest walk will further accord you more time in the jungle. The cultural tour of the Batwa people, the indigenous dwellers and learn about their way of life passed down from their forefathers. You can relax by the scenic lakes of Mutanda and Bunyonyi.
On any African safari, tipping is optional. However, it is much appreciated. It not only supplements their income but is also a sign of appreciation. There is no standard fee for tipping. Tips range from $10-$50 depending on the service received.
Gorilla trekking involves hiking through rough terrain and steep slopes, some level of physical fitness is essential for an enjoyable safari experience. It is recommended to exercise regularly before embarking on your trek. The Nkuringo sector is generally known as a tough hike.
Gorillas are wild animals, and there are certain safety guidelines that must be followed while trekking. These guidelines will be provided by your tour guide, who will be with you throughout the trek. They include; keeping a distance of at least 7 meters away from the gorillas, disabling the flash mode of your camera, and staying in one group while viewing the gorillas.
Wrong attire greatly contributes to your overall enjoyment of your Africa safari including gorilla trekking. Wear comfortable, lightweight clothes that wick moisture away from your body. Hiking boots or sturdy shoes with good grip soles are recommended.
Bring a backpack to carry water, snacks, and other essentials. A waterproof bag for your camera is recommended in case of rain. These tropical forests are at a high elevation and create their own weather patterns. It’s not uncommon for it to rain in the dry months of June-August and December-January. The climate in gorilla trekking areas can be unpredictable, so It is important to be prepared for rain and colder temperatures.
Gorillas are endangered and protected species, and it is important to respect their habitat by not littering or disturbing wildlife. Collect your rubbish and dispose of it back at the park headquarters. If you want to ease yourself, talk to your head guide. He will guide you off the trail, and dig a hole in the ground where you will do your business.
Gorillas are susceptible to human diseases, and it is important to stay at least 7 meters away from them. We share 95% of our DNA with these primates and we can transmit the communicable disease to them. If you have a cold or any respiratory disease, please do not enter the forest.
Part of any safari activity is capturing the moment and sharing it with your loved ones. The same goes for gorilla trekking. Taking pictures is allowed during gorilla trekking, but a flash is prohibited. The flash might scare the gorillas which could lead to some aggressive behind. For those interested in photography, we recommend the gorilla habituation experience. Here, you will have enough time to take pictures and videos.
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