trekking

Where can I trek gorillas in Uganda?

There are two 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 left, 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 Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

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. 

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. 

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 Mgahinga

Close to the border with Rwanda, Mgahinga National Park is a popular option for cross-over itineraries with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. It’s also the only place in Uganda where you can trek Golden Monkeys. A popular option is to combine gorilla trekking in Nkuringo (Bwindi) with a gorilla trek at Mgahinga.

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 $700 per person.

The second reason is that Mgahinga is such a wonderful place to visit. Situated so closely to the lakes Mutanda and Bunyoni, you could spend a week in the far south-west and save the rest of Uganda for a second trip!

You can also climb the volcanoes at Mgahinga – all pretty intense hikes surpassing 4,000 metres with 8-9 hours hiking, but a very rewarding adventure.

Mgahinga accounts for around 10% of all gorilla treks in Uganda, the vast majority are done at Bwindi!

 

 

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