How to Go Trekking with Gorillas in Uganda

Gorillas in the jungles of Uganda, AfricaThis is a guest post from Marcello Arrambide of Wandering Trader.

When I moved to eastern Africa, I had an opportunity to experience something that only a handful of people get to do every year — see some gorillas. And I wasn’t leaving the continent until I did!

Gorilla trekking is one of the most unique things you can do while traveling around Africa. Gorillas are found in eastern Africa on the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. The treks are an amazing experience, but they take some planning, so here are some points to consider when planning yours.

The Logistics of Choosing a Tour

There are two things to keep in mind when booking a gorilla trekking tour: the permit costs and the cost of the tour itself. All governments require everyone to get a permit to see the gorillas. The normal price for a permit is $500 USD. The government of the country where you will schedule your trek issues your permit. As of June 1st, 2012, Rwanda will be increasing the gorilla permit fee to $750 USD. Uganda and Rwanda occasionally have promotions during the low season (September and October) for as low as $250 USD.

In searching for a tour, I chose to stay away from the DR Congo because of its complex visa process. Rwanda has no visa cost for visitors from most western countries, while Uganda charges upwards of $50 for single-entry and $100 for multiple-entry visas.

Most gorilla families are constantly monitored and tracked so tourists can see them, and tourists almost always do, even on the shorter three-day tours. On average, tours cost between $500 and $800, depending on the tour operator and the size of the group. When you have a larger group, costs go down since you’re able to fill up the transportation vehicle.

When I started reaching out to tour operators, I tried to make sure I chose a tour that had a minimum of four people to keep my costs down. I stayed in contact with several companies that offered me the lowest prices and eventually found a date that fit my schedule perfectly and had four people on the tour.

I chose a tour that offered me the rates below:

  • $870 for one person going alone on the trip
  • $485 per person for 2 people
  • $375 per person for 3 people
  • $340 per person for 4–6 people

Stunning gorillas in the jungles of Uganda, Africa

The total cost of my gorilla trek was $840: $500 for the gorilla permit and $340 for the tour. If you’re traveling alone, you may pay an additional $50 for a private room. Breakfast and lunch were included in the tour.

You can find a list of the tour operators on the Rwanda tourism and Uganda tourism sites.

I arrived the day before my trek was scheduled just in case there were any last-minute problems and I needed to find another tour operator. But there was nothing to worry about. I paid the tour operator, and we were on our way. Tip: if paying in cash, make sure you bring larger bills that were printed after the year 2000, otherwise no one in Uganda will accept them.

Breathtaking view of the mountains in Biwindi National Park in Uganda

What Country Should You Choose?
The DR Congo was immediately crossed off my list because the visa process is extremely complex and expensive. I just heard from too many people who had significant problems at the border of the DR Congo.

There are roughly 720 mountain gorillas left in Central Africa, and half of all gorillas are found in Uganda’s Biwindi Impenetrable Forest. This alone was the main reason why I chose Uganda for my gorilla trek.

I’ve found that since Rwanda and Uganda have nearly the same process for obtaining permits and booking tours, it just comes down to price. Since the rates for Rwanda permits will be increasing in June, the complete costs of a tour and permit will be cheaper in Uganda.

If you haven’t booked your tour ahead of time, you can fly into the capital city of Kampala and find plenty of tour operators who would love to sell you a package. Remember that a special permit is needed, so it’s better if you purchase a tour as soon as possible so the tour operator can acquire the gorilla trekking permit. They do run out, as there are a limited number of permits available.

Going Trekking with Gorillas – The Tour Itself

Standing at the equator in Uganda, Africa
It takes an entire day to drive from Kampala to Bwindi National Park, including a stop at the Equator. Depending on what group your permit is assigned to, you’ll arrive in one of four cities outside the national park: Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo, or Rushaga. We arrived in Nkuringo on the southwest edge of the park.

After you spend the night, the next day will all be about gorillas! We woke up at dawn and began our journey into the park, arriving at our outpost around 7:45am. There was a quick briefing, and then we drove deep inside the Ugandan mountains, where there was a brief orientation. We were given a set of rules stating that the gorillas can approach you, but you can’t approach the gorillas. (Don’t touch wild animals!) After the orientation, the rangers prepare to search for the gorillas, and you begin your trek into the jungle.

Finding the actual gorillas can take anywhere from one to five hours. It all depends on the gorillas’ movements, and they’re constantly moving. Once the rangers locate the gorillas, you’ll spend roughly an hour or two watching and possibly interacting with them (if you’re lucky), before you head back to the hotel. (If you chose a longer tour, you’ll get to go back again the next day to find more gorillas.)

Gorgeous gorillas playing in the jungle trees of Uganda

We were lucky as we found them within 45 minutes. They weren’t hard to spot either, as they were feeding and playing on the edge of the forest near the ranger camp.

I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be inches away from such unique creatures. The gorillas, especially the silverbacks, are incredibly strong and could easily injure a human in seconds. They didn’t fear us at all — they’ll walk right up to you if you’re in their way. (Tip: move out of the way!) There were several times that we walked around to see different silverbacks, and no matter where we were or how we positioned ourselves, they completely ignored us. They were just going about their daily routines while we were busy snapping pictures and video.

Gorillas are beautiful creatures and can be found in the jungles of Uganda

Gorilla trekking in Uganda was one of the most unique and memorable things I’ve done while traveling around the world. If I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I won’t hesitate for a second. And if you get the chance, take it.

Marcello Arrambide is a professional day trader who travels around the world. He runs the blog Wandering Trader, which is focused on everyone who loves to travel the world and offers a unique look at how to finance it: day trading. You can find Marcello on Facebook & Twitter.

  1. Wow – Quite pricey, but it sounds like a fantastic experience.

    But good god, $870 + $500? Isn’t that like … Twice the annual wage of the average Ugandan?

    Still, props to the experience – I’m not sure I’d make the investment, but I’m glad to live the experience vicariously :)

  2. Looks like a great experience!

    Just watched the episode of ‘An Idiot Abroad’ where Karl goes trekking to find Gorillas (I think also in Uganda).

  3. I think the price is justified, otherwise there would be thousands of tourists disturbing the wildlife. This way tourism is more controllable and less harmful for the animals. Have you ever heard of gorillas attacking any tourists? I’d love to go on a trip like this, but can’t help but feeling immense respect of the silverbacks. It must be quite scary when they approach you, mustn’t it?

  4. Steve Smith

    I have worked in Uganda for 3 years and have just opened a branch of my company here -safe country with great people! Do the Gorillas before it’s too late, something to tell the grandchildren! Just a small point-Uganda’s airport is in Entebbe and a lot of tours start from here. Kampala is about 35 kms away, but can take you an hour or more to get to if the jams are bad. Entebbe is a much better option to choose as your starting point (I always stay at the Boma-home from home after a long day!)
    Steve Smith, Cape Town

  5. tom f

    I had a chance to see a family of 13 gorillas in the DRC back in 2005! I would love to return there one day… unfortunately, Congo is experiencing civil unrest, so Uganda seems like the next best choice;)

  6. I had no idea it was so expensive. I’m a big believer in having experiences on my travels and this is something that shouldn’t be missed. Nice post Marcello!

  7. I agree with Matt, Gorilla tracking is the most incredible activity to do and it feels like a dream come true. Am a Ugandan but and i tracked gorillas in April 2013, but it was so amazing.
    This is what everyone should try.

    Please note that effective 1st January 2014, A Gorilla permit will go for $600, from $500. And other park tariffs will hike too. So you need to consult with your travel agent before hand.

  8. Definitely a top 10 highlight in our trip around the world. We only paid 500 for the permits and did the trip independently without paying a tour group. We got the permits just by phoning one day in advance to Mgahinga Park. We saw the gorillas very quick in our trek. We then crossed the border to Rwanda to continue our journey.

  9. Bradley

    Sounds awesome. I’ve wanted to see gorillas for a long time. I would like to go to the Congo though if feasible. Only because the inspiration to see gorillas comes from reading Congo by Michael Crichton lol. Sounds like an awesome experience!

  10. Great info, thanks for sharing! It’s good you mentioned prices… Everyone thinks that travelling to Africa is cheap, but unfortunately it’s not! A 4-day safari in Kenya or Tanzania will leave you at least 2,000USD poorer and visiting Zanzibar (as a muzungu, or white tourist) will also be fairly costly.

  11. Jodie Moffatt

    Many thanks. This is really helpful as i’m planning a trip to Mombasa in March and I’d like to do a gorilla trek on my way home :-) Reading this has just made me ridiculously excited! I won’t have much time so I really hope I can fit it in!