What Country is Best to Visit for a Gorilla Trekking Trip?
Gorilla Trekking is a highlight of a trip to East Africa. Mountain gorillas are the rarest type of gorilla in the world with an estimated 800 left in the wild. People have the opportunity to trek through the rainforests of Uganda and Rwanda to spend time watching these majestic creatures. A gorilla trek is said to be a magical and moving encounter.
A question many travelers will ask is “where is the best place to see the mountain gorillas?”
Rwanda and Uganda are both prime destinations for mountain gorilla viewing. Both offer the opportunity to encounter the animals so it is important to understand the differences between the two before deciding which one to visit. Once you list the pros and cons of the two destinations, you can pick whichever one best suits your needs and wants (or choose to visit both!).
To get to the mountain gorillas, first you have to travel to Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) or Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda).
In Uganda, the travel time from Kampala Airport to Bwindi takes approximately 9 to 10 hours by car and often requires an overnight stay at Lake Mburo National Park en route (charter flights are available and will take about 1.5 hours). In most cases, a visit to Uganda exclusively for the gorillas will require an extra 1 to 2 days on the itinerary, depending on flight arrival/departure times. This isn’t necessarily a negative as it gives travelers the opportunity to spend a few extra days exploring Uganda’s wilderness and wildlife.
By contrast, Kigali (Rwanda's capital) is approximately 2 to 3 hours by car from Volcanoes National Park; making Rwanda far more accessible for gorilla viewing when travelling directly from the airport.
After arriving at the parks comes time for trekking!
On the day of the trek, guides will sort travelers into small groups (usually averaging between 6-8 people) and each group will be assigned a gorilla group to visit. Travelers will then need to embark on a hike to reach their group of gorillas. Hikes can range from 30 minutes to a full day depending on the groups’ fitness level and where the gorillas are on that particular day. After arriving at the gorilla group's location, travelers are allowed to spend exactly one hour with the animals. While the gorillas are habituated to be around humans, it is only for small amounts of time.
Rwanda is traditionally thought of as the easier gorilla trekking destination due to the rainforest vegetation being thinner allowing for easier viewing and hiking. In Uganda the gorillas live in thick rainforests which can make for a tougher hike.
Gorilla Trekking in both countries can be done year round as both countries sit near the equator and don’t really experience distinct seasons. However, the hikes become more strenuous when it rains as the tracks become muddier.
Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda are more expensive. Currently it costs USD1500 for a permit in Rwanda while it is USD600 in Uganda. As of 1 July 2020 Uganada gorilla trekking permits will cost $700 (both subject to change). There are a limited number of permits given out per day in both countries so booking in advance is vital.
Uganda also gives you the opportunity to pre-book the gorilla family you will be seeing, whereas in Rwanda the decision is made on the morning of the trek. Both permits entitle you to one hour with your chosen gorilla family. No permits are given to children aged 15 and under.
Uganda is more of a “complete” safari destination than Rwanda, offering much more than mountain gorillas. Should you want a fully inclusive wildlife safari of one country, Uganda comes out tops.