Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda, comparing the two experiences; Mountain gorillas are one of the two subspecies of eastern gorillas that is listed on IUCN red list estimated to a population of 1063 individuals. Uganda is a home to half of this world’s population with the rest living in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Uganda mountain gorillas are found in Bwindi Impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park with almost half of the world’s population residing in the forest jungle of Bwindi. In Rwanda mountain gorillas are found in Volcanoes national park. One can choose to track these mountain gorillas in either Uganda or Rwanda or can do both depending on some factors such as;
The cost of permits, Uganda gorilla trekking permit costs USD 700 and Rwanda gorilla permit costs USD 1500, for foreign non-resident Visitors. This Makes Uganda’s gorilla tracking permits cheaper for visitors on a budget safari and for tourists who plan to take a luxury safari, Rwanda gorilla trekking permit can be a choice for them. The cost of 2 gorilla permits in Uganda are equal to one gorilla permit in Rwanda yet you get one hour with the gorillas in both countries. Rwanda does not offer special rates for residents unlike Uganda that offers special resident rates as per 2020 – 2022 UWA tariff. Foreign non-resident pays $700, Foreign residents pay $600 and residents plus East African residents pay $70 or UGX: 250,000/=
Photographing Rwanda gorillas in Bamboo
The terrain of the parks, gorilla trekking requires physical fitness as it involves hiking up and down the hills in search of gorillas, therefore it is somehow easier to trek gorillas in Rwanda as it’s not so hilly and thick than in Bwindi forest in Uganda which requires you to be physically fit to trek through the thick forest in search of gorillas.
The number of gorilla families Uganda has 22 gorilla families with 21 in Bwindi and 1 family in Mgahinga whereas Rwanda has 10 gorilla families. Each family is visited by 8 people per day, meaning 176 people track in Uganda per day and 80 people track in Rwanda giving a high chance to get a gorilla permit in Uganda than in Rwanda. Uganda also has many habituated gorillas of which one spends 4 hours participating in the gorilla habituation process, this costs USD 1500.and specifically done in the southern sector which is called Rushaga.
Ease of access (time and travel); Rwanda’s volcanoes national park is a 3-hour drive from Kigali, the capital city on a well-maintained tarmac road. Therefore making it easy to access the park from the Airport, whereas in Uganda to access Bwindi Impenetrable forest it requires a 9 -10 hour drive from the main entry at Entebbe airport, giving you time to discover more along the way. But one can charter a flight to Bwindi forest at an added cost. Bwindi can also be accessed from Kigali with a minimum of 4-5 hour drive, so someone with tight program needs at least a 2 day safari in Rwanda and 3 day tour in Uganda to track the gorillas on short trip.
Other activities done alongside gorilla trekking: Both countries offer other adventure activities other than gorilla trekking which you can add on your trip but Rwanda offers a limited range of activities like chimpanzee tracking, golden monkey tracking and birding. On the other hand, Uganda has numerous activities that one can combine with Gorilla tracking to make an adventurous safari. For instance taking a waterfall nature walk in Buhoma sector after the trek, visiting Queen Elizabeth national park for the tree climbing lions, Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale, visiting Murchison falls national park, white water rafting on River Nile, Boat cruise at Kazinga channel and Lake Mburo, cultural visits to the Batwa and many more that Uganda can offer.
Accommodation and lodging; Uganda has many accommodation options in the 4 sectors of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and NKuringo giving all kinds of people different choices. The Top lodges include; Sanctuary Gorilla forest camp, Buhoma lodge, Volcanoes Bwindi lodge, Nkuringo Bwindi gorilla lodge and Clouds mountain Gorilla lodge. Each of the 4 sectors of Bwindi forest offer all forms of accommodation ranging from budget to luxury. In Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park there are limited lodges of which they are usually filled to capacity and very expensive. But you can access places to spend a night in both countries depending on your budget.
Comparing gorilla trekking Photography and Views; In Volcanoes national park mostly the vegetation is bamboo with short grass giving you a bit clear views of the gorillas and good pictures especially if no rain because in rain it again becomes foggy to the extent that you can’t see gorillas clearly and see a person next to you easily. In Bwindi, being an Impenetrable forest it means the vegetation is so thick making it a bit difficult to have good views through the vines and better photography in some sectors but great photos can also be taken depending on the location of the gorillas and the quality of your camera.
Gorilla Trekking and viewing in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Allocations of the mountain gorilla family; In Uganda permits are allocated and sold on the basis of first come first serve without considering physical fitness of Visitors, therefore one must be able to track any family allocated to them in any of the 4 sectors of the park. Gorilla families in Rwanda are allocated depending on age, physical fitness and personal interests of the tourist. In order to get easy to track gorilla family in Uganda for example for weak, elderly and less physically fit people, you need to inform your tour driver/ guide the night before the trekking day to request for you an easy to track group.
Community development; Uganda gives 20% of the gorilla permit revenue to community development and Rwanda gives only 10% of the gorilla tracking permit revenue to community development.
Ease of communication, Communication in Uganda is easier with English language commonly spoken every where in the country, but in Rwanda many locals speak Kinyarwanda and French with less English making it hard to communicate if you are not with your guide.
With all the above said, the choice still lies in your hands with each country having its good and bad side, both countries are safe for travels. Though Uganda is still considered the best destination for mountain gorilla trekking comparing it with other parks in the world. Therefore, choose a destination that best suits your budget and travel goals.