A complete guide to gorilla trekking, gorilla families, rules, what pack, cost of a gorilla permit and the right safari company.
Seven years ago, I founded my first Safari Company Wild Africa Explorers. I founded Mushra Travel Agency few years later. My success as a Tour Consultant has been driven by my passion for travel since childhood. Every traveler who goes to Africa never misses to see cute kids standing the road-side, smiling and waving bye bye mzungu (mzungu for white person). I grew up very close to Lake Mburo National Park in Uganda, every time I see these kids waving at our Safari cars, I see images of myself about 35 years ago.
I was a great admirer for travelers as child. I always wished I was one driving overland trucks full of tourists into the park. My love for travel has inspired me to travel widely to Africa top tourist destinations; both as tourist and a tour consultant. I have so far visited five National Parks in Uganda, four Parks in Tanzania, two in Rwanda, one in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one in South Sudan and two parks in Kenya.
I went for my first Gorilla Trekking Safari in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park four years ago. Bwindi is home almost half of the world’s endangered mountain Gorillas. I have since then been involved on planning gorilla trekking tours for hundreds of tourists going to Uganda and Rwanda.
Gorilla trekking is a life-changing Safari. It was not like any other ordinary safaris I had been to before. Meeting the endangered Gorillas, see them go on with their daily activities felt like part of me was endangered as well. It’s unfortunate that we have only a few hundreds left in the world. I think this calls for greater conservation efforts across all sections of society, from government to communities. We need to support communities that live around Gorilla Trekking locations so that they can conserve these lovely creatures.
Traveling to Africa requires a lot of preparations; physically and mentally. Being away from family, meeting strangers, what to pack, safety are some of the many concerns almost every traveler raises. Tour companies across Africa receive almost the same type of questions from travelers. I have compiled this article that I think will help address most of the issues raised by travels planning the Gorilla Trekking Safaris to Uganda and Rwanda.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
There are only 700 - 880 Mountain gorillas remaining on earth. The majority live in the Virunga Mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of the gorillas live a wild existence, far from human reach. However, a handful of groups have been habituated and can be tracked and observed by small numbers of visitors under the watchful eyes of park rangers.
Going on gorilla trekking safari takes more effort, both time and money. It’s more expense than a traditional safari but ranked highly by travelers around the world. Every year, thousands of travelers go for Gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first thing to appreciate is that visiting mountain gorillas on a group tour can be quite expensive (going solo is often even more so). Gorillas exist in extremely remote mountainous locations, which means the logistics of a gorillas safari are a challenge. In fact the cost of a Gorilla Trekking permit can cover a wildlife-viewing safari in a top wilderness park in many parts of the world. The good news is, the gorilla trekking experience is completely worth it, it lasts a lifetime. Are you planning to go trekking? Here’s everything you need to know about gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda.
WHERE TO SEE GORILLAS IN UGANDA
Uganda is a larger country to explore than Rwanda, and it takes one day of driving to reach the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from Entebbe. You can break this road trip with an overnight stay halfway at Lake Mburo National Park for a wildlife viewing tour.
BWINDI, HOME OF THE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is best known for its Mountain Gorilla populations and gorilla trekking although, it also offers some of the finest montane forest birding in Africa and is a key destination for any birder doing a Safari to Uganda. Bwindi is one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age and it is home to roughly half of the world's mountain gorillas. The forest is also home to elephant, chimpanzee, monkeys and various small antelope and bird species.
There are seven habituated gorilla groups located in different parts of Bwindi. The groups range in size from 10 to 20 individuals, each with one or two silverbacks.
• Mubare Group: this Mubare group (also called the M-Group) – was the very first group to actually be habituated for tracking by tourists. the habituation started in 1991 and this group received its very first tracking visitors in 1993. Mubare group is actually named after the stunning Mubare Hills in which this group was discovered.
• Habinyanja Group: This Habinyanja Group was in 1997 habituated for tracking and received tourists in the year 1999. In the start it was a huge group, however a family was split from it named the Rushegura Group. These two groups crisscross each other now and again and co-exist peacefully.
• Rushegura Group: This Rushegura Group was in 2000 habituated for tracking and received tourists in the year 2002. It is a huge group within the Buhoma area of Bwindi Forest.
• Bitukura Group: This Bitukura Group is among of the newest groups in Bwindi Forest- it is found and roams the verdant forest within the Ruhija area. There is restricted lodging in this area – although that available is offered in moderate plus high-class lodges.
• Mishaya Group: following a family dispute- the Mishaya Gorilla family Split from the then biggest Gorilla Group in Bwindi Forest – the Nshongi Gorilla Family – which two still live within the Rushaga region in Southern Bwindi Forest.
• Nshongi Group: This currently is the biggest habituated gorilla family in Uganda with 25 members , at the opening of the group for visitors after Habituation it comprised of 25, and 10 left to form another family called the Mishaya Group.
• Nkuringo Region of Bwindi Forest – which is among the more physically challenging although rewarding regions in the of forest to enjoy Gorilla Tracking – habitat to the Nkuringo Gorilla Family. The Nkurungiro region of Bwindi is home to the Nkuringo Group. The Group comprises of 19 members and is a favorite to people who have tracked over one group.
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is often described as "life changing". It’s pretty costly though! Gorillas make their homes in and amongst the bamboo-covered slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. You’ll be introduced by expert trackers and guides to one of the fully-habituated families of mountain gorillas and you can stay with them for an hour as they go about their daily lives.
Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours + depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but you are often carried along by the euphoria you feel at seeing the gorillas!
There are ten Gorilla families living in the Volcanoes National Park that are fully habituated and available for visits by the public (whilst others are habituated for scientific research purposes only) . Each family consists of at least one Silverback (but sometimes as many and four), along with several females and a group of youngsters.
• Susa Family: This is the largest group with 38 gorillas. They’re hardest to trek as they tend to range high into the mountains. They have rare 5 year old twins named Byishimo and Impano.
• Sabinyo Family: A family of 17 members, Sabyinyo is an easily accessible group led by the powerful silverback Guhonda.
• Amahoro Family: 19 gorillas, led by the calm and easy going Ubumwe. To reach Amahoro it’s usually a fairly steep climb but it is well worth it!
• Agashya Family (former Group 13): Because of conservation efforts by the Rwanda Government, Agashwa today has 22 members
• Kwitonda Family: This is a family 23 members led by Akarevuro, originally habituated in DRC. These tend to range quite far making it a moderately difficult trek.
• Umubano Family: Is a family of 13, who broke off from Amahoro with leader named Charles.
• Hirwa Family: This group has 18 members and only fairly recently formed from former Group 13 and Sabyinyo family members. They are led by Munyinya.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Gorilla trekking is an active expedition with moderate to strenuous hikes. Participants must be at least 15 years old, and should be physically fit. While tracking primates, guests will trek through thick jungle at elevations ranging up to 10,000 feet, for as many as four to eight hours, depending on the location of the primates. Treks can be arduous; and the terrain can be steep, uneven, wet, and muddy. This trip is not suitable for those who suffer from a cardiac, respiratory, or circulatory disorder or a disability that limits mobility.
Most important to note is that you need a good Safari company to organize your Gorilla Trekking Safari. There are hundreds of Tour Operator Companies in Uganda, which include Mushra Travel Agency. This leading Safari Company organizes Gorilla Trekking Safaris to Uganda and Rwanda. Their 3 day gorilla safari tour includes a Gorilla Safari, Cultural tours, birding and guided village walks.
WHAT TO PACK FOR GORILLA TREKKING
- Boots - Essential. A good quality pair of hiking boots will serve you well. A cheap pair of sneakers can’t work.
- Gloves - During the trek you might be grabbing trees, branches and vines, and your hands can get a bit scratched and generally beaten up if you’re not careful. Gloves a must-carry item.
- Light rain jacket - Bwindi and Virunga are both tropical rainforests, and there’s a good chance of rain almost the year-round. Pack a light-weight rain jacket that you can roll up in your bag and bring out if necessary.
- Energy snacks - The trek to the mountain gorillas isn’t impossible, but it is tough. Energy snacks like nuts, dried fruit, chocolate or power bars are a great idea. Just remember to take any rubbish with you as you go.
- Water –Bring a reusable canteen or a pack of filtration tablets. You’ll need to drink a lot during the trek.
- Long pants and shirts – It’s best not to expose too much skin during the jungle trek. Long pants, shirts and your rain jacket will cover you up.
COST OF GORILLA TREKKING SAFARI IN UGANDA AND RWANDA
A Gorilla trekking permit in Uganda is cheaper compared to Rwanda. You need $600 for a Gorilla trekking permit and $450 in the months of April, May and November (2016-2017). Uganda will not increase its gorilla trekking permits during the 2018/2019 period.
Rwanda recently announced an increase from $750 to $1500 per person for all visitors. Rwanda also offers ‘Exclusive Visits’ which cost $15000, for personalized mountain gorilla visits for a targeted Gorilla family and $30000 for a minimum of 3 visitors for 3 consecutive days (Behind the scenes)
GORILLA SAFARI FAQS
- Do I need to be fit to trek/find gorillas?
Gorillas live in montane forest, so treks to see them are at altitude and pass through varied vegetation and terrain. You will need a reasonable level of fitness and a willingness to climb up muddy slopes and through thick growth.
- What time of year should I try to visit the gorillas?
You can visit the gorillas year-round, and because of the rainforest climate, it can rain any day of the year, so there is not any time of year to particularly avoid travel here. April and May are the rainiest months.
- Are you guaranteed to see gorillas when you set out?
It's not possible to 100% guarantee sightings of the mountain gorillas. However, there have never been an instance where a tourist group did not get to see a gorilla group during their trek. To help ensure this, trackers set off at dawn to locate the gorilla groups and radio their GPS co-ordinates to the park headquarters, so when you set off on your trek with your guide, you know where you are headed. The trackers stay with the gorillas even if they are moving.
- Is there a minimum or maximum age to visit the gorillas?
Yes, you must be at least 16 years old and there's no flexibility to this rule. This is the same for both Rwanda and Uganda and it's enforced by the national parks. There is no upper age limit!
- Will I need a permit?
Yes, permits must be obtained to visit the gorillas and, as only eight are granted per gorilla group each day, they are extremely limited.
We will secure permits for you as far in advance as possible. Your permit entitles you to one hour with the mountain gorillas. This money goes toward conservation of the habitat, anti-poaching efforts and education of the local communities.
- Will this be covered by my travel insurance?
It's definitely worth checking that your travel insurance does cover you for gorilla trekking as they may require an additional premium to be paid. But we only give a ‘Health Cover’ which only covers Malaria. Our Team and Doctor will take care of you if your get Malaria during your Safari period.
- Is there anything else I can do after a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda or Rwanda?
Most tourists combine Wildlife Viewing Tours with Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda. Some love to go rafting on River Nile before they go back home. You can go for wildlife viewing safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda or Akagera National Park in Rwanda. Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. It is the home of the famous tree climbing lion as well as the Uganda Kob, other antelope species, elephant, baboons, hippos, buffalo and chimpanzees. Over 600 species of birds have been recorded, making the park a magnet for bird watchers. A safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park includes Game drives to see wildlife, exclusive birding tours, launch cruises on the park’s lakes and cultural tours.
Do you have more questions, inquiries or you want to book your Gorilla Trekking Safari? Please contact your trusted Tour Operator Company or Mushra Travel Agency at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit them, http://www.mushratravelagency.com