Uganda is quite a charming Destination most often referred to as “the pearl of Africa” and she humbly prides herself in the famous and seriously endangered Mountain Gorillas. There are as few as 1000 mountain gorillas remaining in the whole world. Almost half of the mountain gorillas are found in Uganda. The remaining population lives in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This makes Uganda the best destination to go mountain gorilla tracking. The country has plenty to offer and considering the fertile soils of Bwindi National Park, there is plenty of food for them which makes them really gigantic, healthy and worth seeing compared to the rest.
Mountain Gorillas share 98.3% of their genetic code with Human and that makes then man’s closest relatives in regards to wildlife. In Uganda they are only found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Their social life is quite breathtaking and fascinating since they are wild animals, they leave in groups with a silverback dominating the entire group and all females belong to him.
These great apes share much of human DNA making them a few closest relatives to humans. With only 3 countries where these unique creatures thrive, Uganda is that one magical destination not to miss out in your travel plan. The other two countries include Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Today, about 1004 mountain gorillas still thrive on earth and a trek to view is truly a lifetime primate experience.
Why gorilla tracking
Have you ever thought of taking part in that one unique and magical experience in Africa and you do not know which one exactly? Have you always wished to be part of magical encounters with mountain gorillas in Uganda but you do not know which place to visit? Well, gorilla trekking is remarkably one of the most fascinating wildlife experiences in the world that if you have any plans to embark on a holiday; it should be a must to include in your bucket list. Think of magical encounter with our closest relatives while in the wild and think about a trek to see mountain gorillas in Uganda’s jungles.
Mountain Gorillas are like us yet so different and if your love for adventure is as big as mine, your dream should be seeing them up-close in their habitat, it’s a humbling and extremely unique adventure that will leave you amazed to your fill, additionally good for birder since you penetrate the impenetrable forest exposing you to over 400 different bird species. And you can go trekking all year round.
A trek to see the rare mountain gorillas in Uganda takes you through its two spectacular parks; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park which all straddle in southwestern side along the Albertine rift just at the border with DR Congo. The two parks offer refuge to nearly half the population of these Great Apes that still live on earth today. Bwindi National Park alone is a home to about 440 mountain gorillas making it a true gorilla highland. This 331 square kilometer protected area straddles between altitude 1160 and 2607 meters and remarkably, it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gorilla treks in Bwindi National Park are conducted within the 4 main trailheads of Buhoma, Nkuringo, Ruhija, Rushaga and interestingly, each of them feature habituated families for visitors to explore more about these dramatic creatures while in their natural habitat. Buhoma sector features habituated families like Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura and Katwe; Ruhija region has Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguliro; Nkuringo area comprises of Nkuringo and Christmas family; while Rushaga comprises of Nshongi, Kahungye, Busingye, Mishaya and Bweza group.
Mgahinga National Park on the other hand covers an area of about 34 square kilometers making it the smallest national park in Uganda but rewards travel endeavors with magical experiences. This park has only one habituated gorilla family ‘Nyakagezi’ where visitors trek every day to see the rare mountain gorillas. This pristine protected area forms part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) that features about 434 square kilometers of the mighty Virunga Volcanoes.
Getting to Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park
To get to Bwindi National Park or Mgahinga National Park means you need about 8-10 hours to drive from Kampala capital city or from Entebbe to southwestern Uganda. You drive via Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara route but regardless of the long hours, en-route, you have variety of unique attractions to catch a glimpse before getting to a park of your choice. Most importantly, if you drive via Queen Elizabeth National Park, you have a chance to catch a glimpse at the unique tree climbing lions at Ishasha sector and make stopover at Equator crossing at Kayambwe. Alternatively, connect from Kigali about 3 to 4 hours’ drive via Chanika border crossing to Kisoro town or Gatuna border crossing to Kabale. In case you need to save time, you can embark on a flight from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi airfield and land into Kihihi airstrip or Kisoro airstrip where you can easily connect by road to a park of your choice using safari vehicle.
Habituated gorilla Families/groups
There are 20 habituated gorilla groups in Uganda with 11 in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and 1 in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Bwindi is divided into four tracking sectors;
- Buhoma has three Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura.
- Ruhija also has three of Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro,
- Nkuringo with just one Nkuringo
- Rushaga with the highest number of five groups: of Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza and Busingye.
Your gorilla tracking family either depends on where you want or where the permits are available. Only eight people are allowed to track a gorilla family every day. And any one 15 years and above is allowed to go experience the magic of mountain gorilla tracking.
Cost of Gorilla Trekking Permits
A gorilla trekking permit is
- USD 700 for Foreign Non Residents
- USD 600 for Foreign Residents
- 250,000 for East African Community Members
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is in the south-western part of Uganda. The park can be accessed by road or by air.
By road, the drive from Entebbe or Kampala will take about 8-10 hours with scenic views through various towns in the western region of the country with stop overs for lunch and experience at the Equator if you have decided to move with a private car. There are also public buses that ply the south western route to towns near Bwindi but the experience is found to be hectic and any time lapses can lead to missing out on your gorilla trekking. Bwindi can also be accessed from Kigali – Rwanda for the clients flying in at the international airport in Kanombe, it is actually a shorter driving route than Entebbe/Kampala to Bwindi. The drive from Kigali to Bwindi (southern sector can take about 4hrs’ drive.
It has also been possible for Fly-in gorilla trekking safaris to Bwindi; there are scheduled flights to air strips of Kihihi near Buhoma northern sector of Bwindi and Kisoro for those tracking the southern sector of Bwindi and Mgahinga. The flight time between Entebbe and Bwindi is a maximum of one and a half hours. Scheduled flights to Bwindi depart Entebbe at 07300hrs every day and leave Bwindi at 0930hrs every day as long as the weather allows.
It is very important to note that whichever means you have decided to use to access Bwindi or Mgahinga; you have to be in Bwindi a day prior to your gorilla trekking date as the adventure starts at 0800hrs in the morning.
How to Book a Gorilla Safari
You can either book your permit from Uganda Wildlife Authority or from a local tour operator at the same price, no extra fees will be asked from you. Considering the fact that you cannot have a one day gorilla safari, you will need accommodation and there are plenty of lodges to suit your standard from Luxury, Midrange and Budget depending on what you want.
How much are gorilla permits in Uganda
To take part in a gorilla safari in Uganda, you must have a gorilla permit. You can obtain one at $600 through a ground tour operator or reservation at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
In conclusion, Uganda is incredibly a magical destination of its own. It offers you two great opportunities to realize your dreams with the rare mountain gorillas while in their natural habitat. For any plans to trek these Great Apes in the pearl of Africa, consider visiting Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park a must and you will have the best of unique primate experience.