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How does Gorilla trekking in Uganda work?

gorilla trekking Uganda
Are you wondering “How does Gorilla trekking in Uganda work”? Here we tell you all about how the gorilla trekking works in a 6 step guide to Gorilla trekking in Uganda. Or jump straight to frequently asked questions about how gorilla trekking in Uganda works to get the answer to your specific question.

How Gorilla trekking in Uganda works

– explained in 6 steps:

 

1. Secure your Gorilla trekking permit

The first step of making the dream of Mountain Gorilla trekking come true is to secure a Gorilla trekking permit. If you are booking a safari with a tour operator the Gorilla permit is usually included in the price and arranged by the tour operator. Uganda Wildlife Authority has as of May 2022 changed the rules so that gorilla permits have to be bought through Tour Operators registered with Uganda Tourism Board if you are a foreign resident (i.e. not living in Uganda). This means that if you arrange the safari independently you need to purchase the permit through a registered Tour Operator. The exception from this rule is for Ugandans, East African citizens and foreign residents in Uganda who can buy a limited number of permits for their own use directly from Uganda Wildlife Authority. We are registered with Uganda Tourism Board so can arrange the Gorilla Permit for you.

While we are on the subject of securing the gorilla permit we should mention that it actually happens during the peak of the high-season that the gorilla permits sell out. This means that if you are planning to travel around end of December to January or July to August it is needed to plan ahead and book several months in advance to be sure to get Gorilla permits. If you are travelling at other times during the high-season the pressure isn’t as high and during low-season (October, November, March, April and May) you can normally secure a Gorilla permit with short notice.

In Uganda there are five locations where gorilla trekking is done. Four of these are in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. The fifth location is Mgahinga Gorilla National Park where there is one habituated gorilla group. These locations are in different areas of the mountains so it is needed to plan your accommodation based on where the gorilla permit is. The gorilla permit is bought for a location, so not for a specific group (more about this below).

 

2. Prepare for the gorilla trek

Ones you have all booked and ready for your tour it is time to start planning for the gorilla trek. In theory it is just to show up at the gorilla trekking starting point and make sure you have a gorilla permit (unless you travel with a tour operator who takes care of it) and passport to identify yourself but there are a few things that it is good to prepare for before the gorilla trek.

It can be slippery, rainy and annoying insects in the jungle so there are some things you should plan to pack to make your trek go as smooth as possible.

• Comfortable hiking boots – it can be slippery in the jungle so good shoes will make it easier for you.
• Backpack – a backpack to carry along for the trek that is comfortable to carry.
• Rain gear – to be prepared if rain comes while in the jungle.
• Light long sleeved shirt and long pants – to protect from insects and scratching branches.
• Socks long enough to tuck in your pants – to avoid getting bitten by safari ants.
• Warm sweater or a jacket – to keep you warm at the lodge in the evening. The height and the mist makes the evenings chilly in the mountains.

 

3. The morning of the gorilla trek – registration & briefing

Enjoy breakfast at the lodge and then head over to the gorilla trekking starting point at 8 am. Note that you should make sure to get a packed lunch with you from the lodge. If you are travelling with a tour operator the safari guide will plan this for you. But if not you should talk to the lodge the day before so they arrange a packed lunch for you. It is also important to bring along the water you plan to drink during the trek.

When you get to the Gorilla trekking starting point you register by showing your gorilla permit and passport, if travelling with a tour operator your guide takes care of this. At this point it is decided which gorilla group you will actually trek. If you have a specific wish like shorter trek due to health issues or a wish to spend as long as possible in the jungle you can come with that wish at this point. How well your wish can be taken into account depends on the situation on ground that day (where the gorilla groups are, how many visitors trekking there are etc).

Before you are then allowed to head into the jungle there is a briefing about how you should behave during the Gorilla trek. It is important to pay attention at this point so you know how to act while around the Mountain Gorillas. Worthy to note here is also the fact that the Mountain Gorillas are closely related to humans so if you have a contagious decease like cough for example the rangers have the right to refuse you from participating in the gorilla trek due to the risk of infecting the Gorillas.

 

4. Heading into the jungle – trekking to where the Gorillas are

We have now reached the point when it is time to head into the jungle. We recommend grabbing a walking stick for the trek, since it can help to keep balance in the jungle. You trek in a group with up to eight other visitors lead by a specialised guide and rangers. Depending on where the Gorilla group you are trekking is that morning you either start trekking straight from the briefing point or are driven a bit to get closer to the location where the Gorillas are.

Your specialised guide has a good idea of where the Gorillas are since Uganda Wildlife Authority early in the morning sends out a group of trackers to locate the gorillas based on where they spent the night. The trackers then keep following the Gorillas and communicate to the specialised guide about the best route to lead the Gorilla trekkers to the Gorillas.

How long you trek before reaching the Gorillas depend on where the Gorillas are that day. It can be as short as 30 minutes or several hours of trekking. There are trails within the jungle that the specialised guide will lead you along when possible.

 

5. Meet the mountain Gorillas!

The magic moment of seeing your first Mountain Gorilla has arrived. The rules are that you are allowed to spend one hour in the area of the Mountain Gorillas. During this time you still move together as a group with the specialised guide who will direct you on how to behave.

You are visiting the Gorillas as they are going about their daily life and hopefully get sightings of different members like the leading Silverback, adult females, adolescents and babies.

 

6. Finalizing the Gorilla trekking

When the hour has passed you trek back through the jungle. Depending on the time you might take a short break to have your packed lunch to get energy to finalize the trek. Ones you are out of the jungle you gather together with the group for a ceremony to finalize the trek. During this ceremony each visitor is rewarded a diploma for trekking the Mountain Gorillas of Uganda as a souvenir to remember this special day of meeting the Mountain Gorillas.

How does gorilla trekking work
What is gorilla trekking
Mountain Gorilla in Uganda
Foot of a mountain gorilla

Frequently asked questions about How does Gorilla trekking in Uganda work?

• What is the age limit for Gorilla trekking in Uganda?

The age limit for gorilla trekking in Uganda is 15 years old according to Uganda Wildlife Authorities regulations.

 

• How much does Gorilla trekking in Uganda cost?

A Gorilla trekking permit in Uganda costs 700 us dollar. Uganda Wildlife Authority’s current tariffs are valid until June 2024, so the gorilla trekking price in Uganda is set until then.

 

• Am I sure to see the Mountain Gorillas during the Gorilla trek?

We usually say that you are 99% sure to get a good sighting of the Mountain Gorillas during the Gorilla trek (they are still wild animals so we can honestly not say 100%). Even though the Mountain Gorillas are habituated to humans and trackers keep a check on their location they are wild animals and circumstances like the Gorillas being on the move during your trek can affect the experience of the sighting. With that said it is very rare that visitors return from a Gorilla trek without seeing them.

 

• How do I get to the Gorilla trekking?

It is possible to get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park either by road or by domestic flight. To get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park it is around a nine hour drive from Entebbe/Kampala and to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is around a 10-11 hour drive. By domestic flight you fly from Entebbe to arrive in towns near to the mountains (Kihihi or Kisoro depending on where you are trekking) and then you are driven the last bit up into the mountains.

 

• How many days do I need for Gorilla trekking?

The Gorilla trekking itself takes from half a day to a day depending on how long you need to trek to reach the point where the Mountain Gorillas are. When planning how many days you need for a Gorilla trekking safari you need to count at least three days to include travel time. Even if you chose to fly in it is needed to count three days for the Gorilla trekking safari since the flight times for the domestic flights make it difficult to fly in or out the same day as you do the Gorilla trekking.

Note that Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, has so much more than Mountain Gorillas to offer. So once here take the chance to discover more of Uganda as a safari destination.

 

• When is the best time for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?

Our answer to when is the best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda is that you can go Gorilla trekking in Uganda any time during the year. During wet season (Oct, Nov, Mar, Apr & May) it can be more slippery in the jungle so it is extra important to have good shoes and grab a walking stick by the starting point of the trek.

In Uganda the wet season equals the low season so the big plus you get when travelling during this time of the year is that there aren’t as many tourists (giving you a more close to nature experience). Another plus is that during the low season it is possible to book gorilla permits and accommodation with short notice. Don’t be scared of the word “wet season”, it normally doesn’t rain more than an hour a day and you get to see a beautifully green landscape while travelling through Uganda.

 

• How difficult is Gorilla Trekking?

If you are reasonably fit you should have no problem to manage a gorilla trek. The specialised guide adapts the pace of the trek to the group’s fitness. During the trek you are most likely walking up and down some mountain sides which you can prepare for at home by being active. To keep in mind when talking about how difficult a gorilla trek is is that the height can affect some more than others so don’t push your-self too much.

 

• Can I go Gorilla trekking if I am disabled?

Yes, there is a possibility to be carried in a special chair during the Gorilla trek. Currently the fee for this is 300 us dollar.

 

• How close to the Mountain Gorillas do I get during a trek?

According to Uganda Wildlife Authorities regulations visitors should keep a distance of 7 meters to the Mountain Gorillas. The videos you might have seen on You Tube of visitors getting closer than that are in situations when the Mountain Gorillas them self have approached the visitors. If a situation like that occurs during your visit with the Mountain Gorillas the specialised guide will give instructions on how to act.

 

• Can I spend more than one hour with the Mountain Gorillas?

Yes, in Uganda there is a possibility to participate in habituation of Mountain Gorillas and you then get to spend four hours with the Gorilla group that is being habituated to humans. This is an exclusive activity with few available permits per day and a cost per permit of 1500 us dollar. Uganda Wildlife Authority’s current tariffs are valid until June 2024.

• Is Gorilla trekking worth the money?

Yes, Gorilla trekking is worth the money! It is truly an amazing and unforgettable experience to spend one hour around the Mountain Gorillas. We are of course partial in this since we make a living of selling safaris with gorilla trekking, but the fact is that we haven’t heard any of the visitors we have taken on safari say that they regret going for the gorilla trek.

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