Frequently asked Questions about Gorilla Trekking Rwanda & Uganda
Frequently Asked Questions About Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda, Uganda or DR Congo: The question is, which is the best country to trek gorillas in Africa? Here we bring you the answers to frequently asked question by travellers who wish to know if gorilla trekking Rwanda is best compared to gorilla trekking in Uganda or DR-Congo.
Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla. There are two populations, one is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The other is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Some primatologists consider that Bwindi gorilla population in Uganda may be a separate subspecies, though no description has been finalized. As of December 2019, the estimated number of mountain gorillas remaining in the wild today is about 1063. This is response to the recent Bwindi-Sarambwe mountain gorilla census.
Below are some of the Frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking Rwanda, Uganda and Congo by most travellers;
1. What is Gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking is a wildlife activity that involves hiking up the tropical forests of Africa to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Gorilla trekking is only done in three East African countries in the world namely Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.
2. Uganda or Rwanda, which is the best country for gorilla trekking?
Uganda and Rwanda are best countries for Gorilla trekking because both of the two African countries inhabit similar rugged terrain and have similar habitats. Individual mountain gorilla groups vary in their accessibility. As one of the frequently asked questions about Gorilla trekking by most travelers who wish to know if Mountain Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is conducted similarly in Uganda, the answer is yes. Very few tourists choose to track Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo these days due to security concerns and services there, are not as well organized. The regulations and quality of local gorilla guides and trackers is similar in Rwanda and Uganda but there are as many factors to consider in picking your location between one of these countries.
However a large amount of your Gorilla tour experience depends on luck. The gorilla families in Rwanda and Uganda are not in a zoo but roaming free in a very large area of very dense forests and so many factors, such as the length of your trek or how open the area you end up encountering the gorillas in, cannot be planned for. There are, however, some things you can plan for like your fitness, how much you want to spend on your trip, which gorilla family you want to see, and how much time you have on your holiday. Read this article by Tracy Angus to get a clear picture.
3. What is Gorilla Habituation Experience?
Gorilla habituation experience is a tourist activity in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable national park where visitors join researchers and park rangers to train mountain gorillas to get them used to human presence.
4. How Difficult is gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda?
Gorilla trekking is relatively difficult and challanging depending on your pysical fitness. trekking gorillas in Uganda is slightly challanging than Rwanda due to hiking through the thick forest with steep terrain, valleys and crossing rivers. In both Uganda or Rwanda, however one must be fit, able and willing to hike the steep terrain in any weather to see Mountain Gorillas in the wild.
Many older people who don’t think of themselves as hikers or adventurers can successfully visit the gorillas. Personal assistants/ porters can be hired to carry your day-pack and assist you in difficult areas. The local guides will work hard to make it as easy as possible for one to track and photograph the Mountain Gorillas.
We have had numerous clients in their 70’s succeed in reaching their target Mountain Gorilla groups. But many people return very exhausted, muddy if they are not fit enough to go hiking in Rwanda and Uganda. Altitude sickness is not usually a problem, nor are insects. You will want a pair of gloves and clothing that protects your arms and legs from thorns and nettles. Good balance is helpful in Gorilla trekking as trails may be slippery. And we advise you to hit the gym for a week or two before you embark on this journey. This answers the 4th of the most frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking in East Africa.
5. How many hours can one spend with Mountain gorillas?
Visitors are required to spend a maximum of 1 hour in the presence of mountain gorillas while viewing to minimize disease transmission. A Gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda, Uganda or Congo allows you to spend only 1 hour with any habituated group of moutain Gorillas. Sometimes your guide may allow you a few more minutes, especially if you have had a long trek to reach them and the tourist group is not disturbing the gorillas. But the one hour is always worth because the experience is incomparable.
6. How close can I get to the Gorillas?
Officially you are required to keep close by a 7 meters distance from the gorillas. In practice, the mountain Gorillas often violate this rule by coming closer to you as you stand quietly observing or photographing them. It is still helpful to have a telephoto capability on your camera since some animals are shy, and the Silverback may be very protective of the young. You are not allowed to touch the gorillas, though it would be easy to do so.
7. Are the Mountain Gorillas dangerous?
Habituated Mountain Gorillas are not dangerous or prone to be angered by tourists if not disturbed because they have been trained to be in the presence of humans. All wild animals in Africa are best considered potentially dangerous and treated as such, Many people are surprised that the Mountain Gorillas seem to ignore the tourists in their midst completely but there’re a couple of rules that ought to be followed. One should not get between a mother and a baby or tease animals, use a flash, make distracting noises or move quickly.
8. What else is there to see in Rwanda besides Gorillas?
In Rwanda besides gorillas, one can see wildlife in Akagera national park, Chimpanzee in Nyungwe forest, Dian fossey Museum, Kigali genocide memorial and local markets. Rwanda is a beautiful, green, thriving country besides mountain gorillas the genocide of 1994 attract many visitors other wildlife viewing in Akagera national park and in Nyungwe forest. Rwanda is well known as the land of a Thousand Hills. The volcanic soil is very rich and subsistence agriculture produces food year around. The genocide of 1994 is powerfully memorialized in Kigali Genocide memorial centre and at other sites around the country. Visitors are encouraged to partake in these experiences and learn from them. Currently there is no apparent ethnic conflict or significant insurgent or militant activity. There is a dynamic re-building of the social fabric and a commitment to the youth of the country. You might wish to hike to Karisoke where Diane Fossey conducted her pioneering research, or take a trek to see Golden Monkeys in Volcanoes National park. This park has the greatest diversity. Other wildlife parks of Rwanda generally do not compare in diversity of species or quality of management with the parks and reserves of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
9. What about Chimpanzee trekking, is that a like?
Trekking chimpanzee in Rwanda and Uganda is done similarly to mountain gorilla trekking because chimps and gorillas are closely related to humans by sharing their 95-98% of DNA Genes to humans. There are more Chimpanzees than Mountain Gorillas left in the wild and they survive over a much broader range. The parks authorities of Uganda and Rwanda also monitor Chimpanzee populations and the groups which have been habituated for tourist visitors also require advance purchased permits to visit. Two main sites for viewing chimpanzees in Uganda are Kibale Forest and Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National park. You will hike in groups of 6-12 visitors accompanied by a park guide. Close encounters with Chimpanzees seem to be less predictable than with Mountain Gorillas, though less hiking may be involved. In the experience of Journeys International groups, visits to the Chimps of Kibale Forest have been more successful than visits to Kyambura Gorge.
10. What else is there to see in Uganda besides Gorillas?
Besides gorillas there are many things to see such as Wildlife including tree climbing lions, elephants, Rhinos, leopard, buffaloes chimpanzee, Culture, Birds such as a shoebill stork, beautiful lakes and rivers. We always advise our travelers to couple a wildlife safari with a mountain gorilla trekking safari in Uganda for the best Africa Safari Adventure. Uganda is endowed with the most beautiful flora and fauna, culture and people. From the source of the Nile, to the wide Savannah planes, to the birds and Africa’s big 5 game, Uganda will remain with you everywhere you go after a Uganda gorilla Safari.
Uganda may be the best safari country in Africa for a large variety of bird species and great birding safari habitats. Determined birders often see more than 400 species on a 12-14 day Uganda birding safari. There are also many other species of primates you are likely to see on a Mountain Gorilla trekking safari or a pure birding safari trip. The Rwenzori Mountains invite more extended hiking. Wetland habitats and Lake Victoria also hold cultural and natural history safari attractions.
11. What is the best time to trek gorillas?
Gorilla trekking in Africa is at its best whole year round but the best time to trek gorillas is during the two dry seasons, December to February and June to September.
Mountain gorillas live on a high altitude in the mountains which requires you to hike up in order to reach them and these places can be slippery and hard to reach during rainy seasons.
12. Where and when is it possible to visit Gorillas?
Gorilla trekking in East Africa can be done in only three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo and it’s an all year-round tourist activity. The best time to go on a gorilla trekking tour in Uganda and Rwanda is during the short dry season from mid-December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions and the lowest malaria risk.
Mountain gorillas like humans, live in groups of families and the the groups have to be tamed or habituated for tourism. The number of available habituated Mountain Gorilla groups for tourist tracking safaris varies through the year depending on the location of the Mountain Gorilla family groups. Gorilla groups often travel into the Congo or beyond the range of a day trek to visit them. Sometimes Mountain Gorilla family groups travel rapidly, break up and reform, or show behaviors that makes them less attractive to visit. Other habituated Mountain Gorilla groups are dedicated to research and not open to tourist tracking.
13. How old do you have to be to see gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda?
The minimum age limit for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo is 15 years. Any perosn of this age and above can apply for a gorilla permit to visit Mountain Gorillas. The Mountain Gorillas in the wild reside only in Bwindi forest and the volcanic mountain ranges along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. Tourists must visit the Mountain Gorillas with the assistance of tour operators like Adventures To Gorilla Africa Ltd. We arrange the necessary gorilla permits, transportation, safari guides and lodging required for Mountain Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. You are not permitted to trek Mountain Gorillas on your own or outside designated areas, you must be accompanied by the ranger guide from the park.
14. How long is a trek to see gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda?
Gorilla trekking takes 30 minutes to 6 hours or a full day depending on location and movements of the gorillas on a particular day. Gorillas though habituated are still wild animals and so they keep moving from one place to another looking for food.
The time taken for gorilla trekking involves the time taken walking to where the habituated gorilla family is, one hour spent with gorillas once found and the time taken to trek back to the park headquarters which is the starting point. So depending on where the gorillas are, visitors spend different time doing gorilla trekking.
15. Is it possible to trek gorillas in Uganda via Rwanda?
Yes, it is possible to trek gorillas in Uganda via Rwanda. However you must check if land boarders are open to allow you across. Visitors can either fly from Kigali to Entebbe then take charter flights to Bwindi or Mgahinga national park or they can use road transport which takes about 4 hours from Kigali to Uganda gorilla parks. Therefore, Visitors can fly through Kigali International Airport and then connect to Uganda by road.
16. Does Rwanda have discounted gorilla permits?
In Rwanda the Cost of a gorilla permit is $1500 per person and per day for all International visitors. The minmum age limit to apply and book a gorilla permit is 15 years. Currently there is no Discounted gorilla permit in Rwanda but special offers are available to Rwandans and Residents in East african community.
17. When should I book Rwanda gorilla permits?
Gorilla permits should and need to be booked in advance that is 3-5 months before the trekking date. The gorilla permits are very competitive especially in the high season June to September and December to February. This is one of the most frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking Uganda and Rwanda.
18. What are the chances of seeing mountain gorillas?
There are 99% chances of seeing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat in Uganda and Rwanda. Part of the gorilla permit fees are used to hire gorilla trackers who go into the forest to keep monitoring the movements of the mountain gorillas.
These trackers keep track of where the gorillas laid their nests the day before and follow them the next day from there. The trackers provide information to the park guides about the location of the gorillas. Therefore, the visitors are guaranteed that they will see gorillas.
19. How many Mountain Gorillas are there in the world?
The overall global population is now believed to be 1,063 mountain gorillas in the wild. Conservation efforts have led to an increase in overall population of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Virunga and at Bwindi.
20. Help me understand Bwindi Impenetrable forest
Bwindi impenetrable forest is a tropical rain forest found in south western Uganda and a home to half of the remaining population of mountain gorillas in the world. Bwindi is popularly known for gorilla trekking worldwide and it has four gorilla sectors where gorilla trekking takes place that is Ruhiija, Rushaga, Nkuringo and Buhoma.
There are over 22 gorilla habituated families that are open for trekking in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park.
21. How do i get a gorilla permit?
Travelers must book and get a gorilla permit in advance from trusted tour company or from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) if you intend to trek gorillas in Uganda. For travelers to Rwanda you should book and get a gorilla permit from a trusted tour operator or Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in advance. Trusted tour company will assist you to book and get your gorilla permit to visit gorillas in the Virunga national park in Congo.
Gorilla permits in Uganda cost $700 for Foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and 250,000 Uganda shillings for east African citizens.
Gorilla habituation permits cost $1500 for foreign non-residents, $1000 for foreign residents and 750,000 Uganda shillings for East African residents.
This does not include the transportation from the registration and orientation site to the hiking departure point or trail head. This point may be up to 25 miles away. Your travel agency takes care of this. You may also want to tip your tour guide to keep them motivated.
We recommend you also hire a porter at an additional cost of $15 per trek, as they will help carry your day pack, carry you or assist you trekking when necessary. That’s how the local community makes a little income from the park. Visitors with plans to undertake gorilla trekking tours in Africa always look at frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking before they make up their minds in choosing which place to go for their gorilla tour experience.
22. When should I book a gorilla permit?
The gorilla permits can be booked 2 years to 1 month in advance. Book early enough If you are to get the best gorilla trekking sector especially for those interested in Bwindi gorilla treks. Any visitor planning for a gorilla trip needs to book the permit in advance that is about 3-5 months before the trekking date. Gorilla permits are highly competitive given that most people are interested in seeing these endangered primates so booking in advance helps you avoid last minute rush or even missing out.
Gorilla permits are served on first come first serve basis depending on the sector you choose to track.
23. What is included on a gorilla permit?
The gorilla permit includes;
- 1 hour viewing gorillas once found
- Park entry fees for the day of trekking
- Park ranger/ guide fees
- Gorilla trackers fees
- Visitors security in the forest
In this regard, one of the frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is to let visitors know What a gorilla permit is? Gorilla permit is document that allows a visitor to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
24. What is the minimum age limit for gorilla trekking?
The minimum age limit for gorilla trekking is 15 years in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. A few exceptions are available in Uganda where a child below 15 years can be allowed to track gorillas after seeking written permission to the authorities.
The age limit is 15 because children below that age may find it hard to positively deal with gorilla reactions like staying calm if gorillas charge and following the guidelines from park guides. Children below 15 years may not be emotionally and physically prepared to do gorilla trekking. These children are easily infected with diseases which may be passed on to gorillas.
25. How many people are allowed to trek a gorilla family?
Only 8 people are allowed to trek a habituated gorilla family per day. A number of gorilla families have been habituated both in Uganda and Rwanda. The number is limited for a number of reasons like reducing the behavioral disturbance to the gorillas, minimizing the exposure of gorillas to human borne disease and to reduce damage to the forest which are homes to these endangered species.
26. What should i pack for a gorilla trekking trip?
Our last point on the most frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking Uganda or Rwanda is here! Going for a gorilla trip can be exciting but it’s always more enjoyable when you carry everything needed with you. Some of the items to pack for a gorilla trekking trip include;
- Comfortable clothes that is long sleeved shirts and long trousers
- Strong hiking shoes
- Rain jacket or sweater
- Hand gloves
- Sun glasses, sun screen, hat
- Energy giving snacks and enough drinking water
- Camera and enough batteries
Simple Tips for a great Gorilla Safari
- Purchase your permits as far in advance as possible for priority assignment to a choice group and to be sure you obtain a permit at all.
- You will be with a group and guide. Also, consider hiring a local person as a porter assistant, even if you are very fit. This adds a great cultural dimension to the experience and is not really expensive.
- If you have the choice, visit the largest group available to you to maximize the photo opportunities and the different behaviors you will see.
- Prepare for the possibility of rain at any time of year.
- Wear long sleeves and slacks and bring glove to protect against thistles nettles and thorns.
- Wear durable hiking shoes, you will be off trail in rough terrain.
- Expect you might have a long hike. Be in the best physical shape you can be.
- Understand your camera well, Cameras with built-in video are very good. Telephoto ability helps.
- Consider traveling with a companion or friend with whom you will share the lifelong memory of the encounter.
- Listen to the advice of your guide. Trust that he or she really wants you to get great photos and have the best possible experience.