Gorilla trekking in Uganda versus Rwanda

Where to see Mountain Gorillas and what to expect in Uganda versus Rwanda

Gorilla trekking is a highly moving wildlife conservation experience, and available only to a handful of travellers visiting East Africa. Trekking activities can be done in any of the three countries whose protected parks straddle the Virunga Mountains – Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. 

While all countries offer a unique experience, Rwanda and Uganda are the two best options. There are a number of things to consider when thinking about gorilla trekking in Uganda versus Rwanda. Both offer distinct advantages so deciding on which destinations to visit will depend on the kind of trip you are looking for. 

What you need to know about gorilla trekking in Rwanda:

Often referred to as the “land of a thousand hills”, Rwanda is a country known for its lush mountainous terrain and complicated political past. Rwanda is arguably most famous for being one of the best remaining places on the planet where you can see the endangered mountain gorilla in its natural habitat.

The misty slopes and dense jungle terrain of Volcanoes National Park is home to approximately a third of the last remaining mountain gorilla population on earth. Volcanoes National Park is a protected area that is the heart of gorilla trekking in this country and which plays a vital role in conserving the species. 

The Volcanoes National Park (which encompasses five out of the eight volcanoes that make up the Virunga range) is only about two to three hours by car from Kigali (the capital of Rwanda), making it a very accessible destination for gorilla viewing if travelling directly from the airport (logistically, a far easier option versus Uganda) It is also thought of as the ‘easier’ trekking destination due to its thinner rainforest vegetation, which allows for easier viewing and less arduous hiking, and is, therefore, more accessible to a larger variety of visitors.

What you need to know about gorilla trekking in Uganda:

Uganda has been called the “Pearl of Africa” and it is not difficult to see why! This small, landlocked country is home to incredible wildlife destinations and beautiful scenery. In Uganda, you can enjoy both wildlife safari experiences and gorilla trekking adventures. Once in Uganda, it is easy to combine a gorilla trekking trip with a traditional safari, chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest National Park as well as an adventure to seek the source of the Nile!  

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to over half the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. Venture through the thick green foliage of the national park with your gorilla trekking guides to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Bwindi is also home to over 100 other species of mammal and 300+ species of birds making it a veritable wildlife watching haven! 

Accessing Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park can take about a day (10 – 11 hours) when driving from the capital city Kampala. Alternatively, you can catch a charter flight which is quicker but will cost more. 

There are a variety of accommodation options available in both Rwanda and Uganda; from mid-range to high-end luxury. Where you go will depend on your preferences. 

Gorilla trekking permit fees in Uganda versus Rwanda

One of the largest contributors to conservation funding is gorilla trekking permit fees, which while costly are an essential means of controlling and funding gorilla tourism. A limited number of permits are issued per day so that a gorilla family is only visited once per day, for a limited time of 1 hour each. National park officials in both Uganda and Rwanda accompany each trekking group to ensure that gorilla trekking etiquette is maintained. 

Permit fees help fund the management of the reserves, monitoring and research, and go toward the salaries of the rangers who protect them as well as towards the upliftment of local communities. 

When deciding whether to visit Rwanda or Uganda for your gorilla trekking trip, it is useful to note that a gorilla trekking permit for Uganda costs approximately half of what a Rwandan permit will cost (permits can be upwards of USD1000 per person, but can fluctuate depending on seasonality and demand)  Please chat with your Safari365 travel consultant to find out up to date information regarding permit fees. 

Ongoing gorilla conservation efforts in Uganda and Rwanda

The main threats facing the mountain gorillas are habitat loss, poaching and disease. Conservation efforts are integral to the survival of these endangered creatures. Trekking, which sees visitors hike through the forest on foot in small groups to view habituated family groups of gorillas, has become a critical contributor to tourism revenue, which in turn supports conservation efforts in each country. Conservation also raises awareness around the plight and status of the species.

Boosted by the work of individuals such as Dian Fossey, conservation efforts have been underway since the late 1960s to help rehabilitate the species. They have been widely successful in raising the numbers, which currently sit at around just over 1 000! While this increase is encouraging, the status of this species still hangs in the balance so conservation remains vital. 

What to expect on the day of your trek:

With the above being said, gorilla families move continually within their territory and your trekking will last as long as it takes to get to their current location through the mountain paths and hills. Guides will assign hikers of different strengths and fitness levels to different gorilla families (stronger hikers will be given a family that might be further away from the starting point).

Given the sensitive nature and precarious status of the species, gorilla trekking comes with certain important and specific guidelines, for the safety of guests, but most importantly the wellbeing of the gorillas themselves. The interaction with the gorillas is a strictly regulated affair lasting only an hour and is done in small and limited groups each day. Touching these animals is prohibited and a wide berth is enforced (gorillas are very susceptible to human germs and precautions are taken to ensure that no human diseases can pass to them).

We can advise on the finer points of this poignant, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and can navigate the ins and outs of crafting a trip for you to this inspiring region of Africa! 

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