Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Trips Including Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking can be done as a standalone adventure, but is usually combined with other safari experiences in the south-west. Below are some examples of what is possible. Our team can help you choose the trip that's right for you, or build a tailor-made itinerary to get the most out of your time in the country.

1. Where can I trek gorillas in Uganda?

There are two main gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Bwindi is by far the more popular choice as the park contains a greater population of gorillasis better situated for fly-in safaris, and has a greater range of accommodation options.  

Which park you visit will depend on your wider travel plans and the time you have available. There is no difference in permit prices or chances of sightings across the two parks. 

As you'll notice from the map on the right, both Bwindi and Mgahinga are in the deep southwestern pocket of Uganda, near the border with Rwanda to the south and the DRC to the west. 

Many of Uganda's safari destinations are also found in the south-west. This makes it easy to combine a savannah safari with gorilla trekking to create a single itinerary bursting with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

Uganda may be a small country, but it packs a punch. 

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi

Bwindi is Uganda's main gorilla trekking destination. Here, habituated families can be accessed from four trail heads: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.

Each trail head has its own characteristics, families and levels of difficulty.

Departing from one of the four trailheads on the perimeters of the forest, you join a group of other trekkers (maximum group size of 8 people) for a guided hike into the forest in search of one of the 11 habituated gorilla families

Led by experienced Uganda Wildlife Authority guides, you will be introduced to the ecology of the forest and the changing landscape as you trek to the gorillas. Your guides are in communication with the team of trackers who will have been shadowing the gorillas since daybreak. The trackers direct your guides to bring you to the gorillas. 

The Gorilla Treks

Two tours run daily from the base camp, usually starting at 09:00 or 14:15 and are limited to groups of eight.

The limit on group size is to keep to gorillas safe from any airborne pathogens, but also to increase the chances of sightings, as larger groups often scare off these (surprisingly) timid animals. 

From the onset, the imposing southwestern sloped hills and terraced volcanoes prove a formidable adversary. This is gorilla territory, and access requires hiking through the thick, triffid-like tangles of vegetation, up muddy hills and down into craggy valleys.

The high altitude and testing terrain make the journey tiresome, but the rewards all the more magical. 

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Making Contact

Once contact is made, there is usually a silent wait, deep within the dense foliage, as the gorilla’s edge closer. 

When they do emerge, seeing the gorillas in their natural habitat, the verdant forest providing the perfect backdrop, is a truly breathtaking experience.

Any silence is soon broken by the rustling of leaves as the gorillas wander and play, and the calls, whistles, and whoops of thousands of animal species for miles around provides the perfect sound-track. 

Once contact is made, you have up to one hour to spend with the gorillas. If you wanted to spend longer, you can take part in a gorilla habituation experience, and spend up to 4 hours with these gentle giants. 

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

The 4 Trailheads

Habituated families can be accessed from four trail heads: BuhomaRuhijaRushaga and Nkuringo. Each trail head has its own characteristics, families and levels of difficulty.

The trailheads serve as launch points for treks to 11 fully habituated (and three semi-habituated) gorilla family groups. The standard treks depart in the morning and include up to one hour observing the gorillas from a distance of about seven metres. 

The treks can be quite challenging, and you need to be prepared to trek for up to 6 hours, although most sightings take place within 2-3 hours. 

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

[Update from gorilla trek 7th May 2021]

The Nkuringo trailhead is the hardest of the 4 trailheads in the Bwindi due to the steep ascents and descents along the route. We were driven some way before we started the trek, cutting out some of the hiking, but you can't avoid the steep sections when the roads end and forest begins! 

The Nkuringo gorilla family lost their silverback to poachers in 2020, but the remaining group of 12 gorillas are stable (4 blackbacks have taken control since the death of the silverback). 

The trek was shorter than in previous years as the Nkuringo family (along with 2 other families) have been hanging out on the edge of the forest. The sightings were excellent this time around, and we're hoping this continues as travellers return post C19.  

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga

Close to the border with Rwanda, Mgahinga National Park is a popular option for cross-over itineraries with Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park.

Mgahinga is more secluded than Bwindi and the treks are not as challenging. There are fewer permits available here. Although gorilla families constantly cross the border from Rwanda to Uganda, there is only one family habituated to make contact in Mgahinga. Called the Nyakagazi group, it has five silverbacks, two adult females and three young gorillas.

Traditionally, Mgahinga was used as an ‘over-flow’ gorilla trekking destination for Bwindi, but that has changed for two reasons. The first is that the increase in the cost of Rwandan gorilla permits to $1,500 per person has prompted visitors to explore Rwanda and then nip across the border to Mgahinga where the treks cost $600 per person. The second reason is that Mgahinga is such a wonderful place to visit. Situated so closely to Mutanda and Bunyoni Lakes, you could spend a week in the far south-west and save the rest of Uganda for a second trip!

[Update from gorilla trek 7th May 2021]

The usual starting point for the Mgahinga gorilla trek is near the UWA HQ by Volcanoes Gahinga Lodge. For our trek, we had to drive for around 40 minutes to the base of Mount Muhuvura where there's a second UWA HQ. Which base you go to depends on which side of the mountains the gorillas are at the time. 

The trails were not too difficult, and the vegetation is less dense than on the trails in Bwindi. The trek starts at around 2,200 metres, so you do feel the impact of the altitude early on (much more so than in Bwindi). 

There is only one family of habituated gorillas in Mgahinga (the Nyakagezi family). They used to roam into Rwanda and Congo quite often, but we were told that this hasn't happened for quite some time - looks like they've settled down within Ugandan borders, at least for now. 

The Nyakagezi family are very tolerant of human presence, and the thinner vegetation made for some amazing photos. Unlike most of the families in the Bwindi, the Nyakagezi family is unique in having 3 silverbacks (and 6 other family members, including a small baby).

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

2. When is the best time to go?

Uganda's equatorial climate means temperatures remain quite consistent year-round. Rainfall is all that separates the seasons. March to May is the long rainy season, and October to November is the short rainy season.

The gorillas can be visited at any time of year. 

The price for the gorilla permits used to change with the season, but this is unfortunately no longer the case. Permit prices are fixed year-round, so the decision on when to visit should be guided by your availability and travel plans outside the gorilla trekking. 

For more information, see our page on when to visit the gorillas in Uganda

3. Securing a Gorilla Permit

Gorilla permits are currently fixed at 700 USD per person

The permits are no longer discounted during the rainy season, but they are easier to secure at short notice if you are travelling during Uganda's long rainy season (March to May) or in the short rainy season (October to November).

For peak travel months (January - February and June - August), permits can sell out as early as a year in advance. The permit numbers are strictly limited, so we strongly recommend planning early. 

The permits represent an additional cost on top of your travel arrangements, but we do not put any mark-up on these permits. One advantage of visiting the gorillas in Uganda is the relatively cheap permit costs compared to neighbouring Rwanda where permit prices sit at 1500 USD per person at time of writing. 

If one hour of contact is just not enough, if you are a wildlife photographer, or simply fascinated by the behaviour of these incredible animals, then it is also possible to join the habituation team as they complete the process with a family group in the southern Rushaga section of the Bwindi Forest. This experience includes up to four hours with the family, observing the individuals and their interactions, and costs $1,500 per person.

Gorilla permits are non-refundable, but if you trek and do not see a gorilla the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund 50% of the permit cost. This happens very rarely.

4. How difficult is the trek itself?

You should be prepared to walk through a challenging terrain of steep ridges and valleys, following animal paths through tangled undergrowth for about three hours, although sometimes contact can be made after 45 minutes and other times 6 hours

During the rainy season, the trekking routes can become very slippery and much more challenging. The rains can sometimes bring the gorillas to lower ground which can shorten the length of the trek, but you should be prepared to trek for up to 6 hours in any case. 

The gorillas typically prefer the highlands, so the trek is made more challenging due to periods of steep gradients. 

You can learn more on our gorilla trekking difficulty page. 

5. What to wear on a gorilla trek?

Charging through the dense forest thickets at both Bwindi or Mgahinga require a well-considered get up. Since you're on the equator, you will need to be prepared for rains no matter what time of year you are travelling. While you want clothing that protects you from the elements, you also need to keep cool for the 2-6 hour trekking, so you'll want light and comfortable clothing. 

The name of the game is keeping your skin covered up to protect yourself from the forest critters (particularly fire ants) and thorny plant life. You'll want to keep dry whilst also staying comfortable and cool. 

The essential clothing: 

  • Good quality, robust, waterproof trekking shoes/boots. 
  • Light waterproof trekking pants/trousers. 
  • Long socks to pull up over your pants/trousers to keep your skin protected. Waterproof Gaters are an even better option.
  • Waterproof jacket/rain coat/wind breaker
  • Long sleeve trekking T-shirt (ideally Dri-FIT or similar)
  • Gardening/outdoor gloves to protect against thorns and allow you to push through the more difficult parts of the trail without worrying about what you're grabbing on to! 

We also recommend bringing a few sachets of re-hydration salts. Water is of course provided for the treks, but you can often find yourself dehydrated after a full day of trekking and the salts can provide quick relief. 

Walking sticks are provided for you. 

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

6. The rules around gorilla trekking

Before you start any gorilla trek you will be given a brief from your guide about the rules to follow throughout your time tracking the gorillas. It is extremely important you listen closely to this briefing and respect the rules laid out. 

The headlines are: 

  • You will be given one hour to spend with the gorillas once first contact has been made. This may not seem like a long period of time, but most people find that one hour is more than enough time to soak up the experience. If you want a lengthier experience, you can join the gorilla habituation team and spend up to 4 hours with the gorillas.
  • You must keep a distance of at least 7 metres at all time. 
  • No flash photography under any circumstances. 
  • You cannot join the gorilla trek if you find yourself unwell prior to the trek. 
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

7. Are Gorilla sightings guaranteed?

While we can never guarantee sightings, the rise of the gorilla populations in Uganda combined with the experience of your trekking guide means that encounters are almost always made in Bwindi or Mgahinga.

That said, you have to be prepared to work for it as you might have to trek for 6 hours before finding a habituated group. 

If you do end up not seeing the gorillas, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund 50% of your permit cost. In all of our years of working in Uganda, we've never had anyone not see the gorillas. 

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

8. What are the accommodation options?

Accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The majority of the lodges around Bwindi are found in the region Buhoma. From your base at Buhoma, you can trek both the Buhoma routes and the Ruhija routes.

Over the years, simpler places like Engagi Lodge and Haven Lodge have developed loyal followings. In the mid-range Mahogany Springs and Buhoma Lodge are reliable favourites, while Gorilla Forest Camp and Bwindi Volcanoes Lodge are two of the best options available.

Properties in Ruhija and Rushaga are available, but are used less often. While they are closer to the trail heads, feedback on the quality of accommodation and service is often mixed. 

In the far south, the beautiful Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge provides stylish, luxury accommodation, with Nkuringo Lodge providing a slightly simpler, but swiftly improving, alternative.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

There is only one tourist lodge currently available in Mgahinga, the luxurious Mount Gahinga Lodge.

Sister property to Volcanoes Bwindi and Kyambura Gorge, the lodge is a stylish and comfortable options located just a few hundred metres from the park gate. Lovely gardens brings the wildlife to your door.

The lodge has also done incredible work supporting the local Batwa community evicted from the forests when the park was gazetted. They have built a village, established a cultural centre, helped run a dance group - with the aim of aiding the integration of the Batwa with the other local communities - and begun a vocational training centre.

Further afield, Mgahinga is accessible from lodges on Lake Mutanda like Chameleon Hill and on Lake Bunyonyi like Birds Nest

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

9. The Mountain Gorilla in Uganda

In 1903, on the slopes of Mt Sabyinyo in what is now Rwanda, German army officer Captain Friedrich Robert von Beringe shot two gorillas, thereby introducing zoologists to the Mountain Gorilla

Today, a small but stable population exists, split between the Virunga Volcanoes of the DRC and Rwanda and the forests of southwestern Uganda.

The mountain gorilla is a very large, very black, barrel-chested ape, densely-furred (to protect against the cold) with a broad face. They are found in mountain and sub-alpine environments, enjoying dense tangles of herbaceous growth in valley bottoms, old clearings and around landslides.

The restricted environment means that the mountain gorilla has a more restricted diet than its lowland counterpart, feeding mainly on bamboo, but also the leaves, shoots and stems of over 140 other species, plus vines and wild celery. 

They are highly sociable and exist in groups of between 5 and 50 individuals. The group will have one dominant ‘silverback’, an adult male above the age of 13 (when silver hairs begin to grow in the saddle of the back), sometimes assisted by subordinate silverbacks. The silverback eats first, but is also responsible for the defence of the group, a trait that enables gorillas to spend more time on the ground than the other great apes. When the silverback dies, his group will split.

Groups forage throughout their home range, but do not defend it. When two groups move close to one another, they will avoid contact in order to reduce the risk of conflict. They spend much of the day resting, which provides such a great opportunity for trackers to join and observe the group.

Reproduction occurs slowly, with adult females over the age of eight producing on average one young every four years and often no more than six in a lifetime. The young have an extended childhood and are carefully cared for and fiercely protected by both the females and the dominant silverback. If a silverback dies or is pushed from the group, then the incoming dominant male will often kill any young gorillas, which means that a dominant silverback is always protected by the females when threatened.

The protection and slow population growth of the Gorillas can be credited in no small part to the travellers who come to visit them. Without this crucial finance, the incentives to protect the gorillas' environment would be drastically reduced, and we might not have any gorillas left in their natural habitats today. 

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Meet the Mountain Gorillas

Gorilla trekking can be done as a standalone adventure, but is usually combined with other safari experiences in the southwest. Below are some examples of what is possible. Our team can help you choose the trip that's right for you, or build a tailor-made itinerary to get the most out of your time in the country.

Watch Our Guide to Uganda

Thinking about visiting Uganda?

Get in touch and we can help you understand your options, design an itinerary that's right for you, and then get you set up and ready to go. 

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