If you didn’t see the mountain gorillas in their natural wild, you haven’t yet gone to Uganda. Gorilla Trekking is the most popular of all adventure activities done in Uganda. This interesting adventure can be done in two national parks; Bwindi impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The pearl of Africa is one of the gifted counties on planet earth with so many adventurous things to see. The country at times is called as the land of green covered with many forest and grass lands. Many people visit this beautiful country for bird watching safaris, game viewing, cultural but most of the tourists do visit the country for gorilla safari adventure.
Mountain gorillas of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park are Uganda’s main tourist attractions. And visiting gorillas is a great safari on which to hang your travel stories and fully comprehend the pearl of Africa Uganda’s must do wildlife experience.
Despite gorilla trekking being the main highlight of any safari to Uganda, some travelers mind about other attractions. Because there are lots of adventures to do on a safari such as chimpanzee tracking, golden monkey tracking, mountain climbing, rafting, birding, it can be hard to remember that you did not see the gorillas.
But believe it or not at the end of the gorilla trekking safari, you’ll feel like your visit to Bwindi impenetrable forest national park was much worth than the rest of trips you’ll ever take in Uganda. For all you’ll live to remember are the life changing memories of spending one hour with habituated gorillas in their natural habitat often seen feeding, playing and grooming each other.
Quite surprising to hear some tourists appreciate Uganda’s wildlife experience when one even did not see the mountain gorillas. The most excuses travelers give for missing to see gorillas is that the cost of a gorilla permit at $600 seems expensive especially during the dry/peak season in June to September and December to February. In addition, transportation and cost of accommodation and using a tour operator, travelers think a gorilla safari will be expensive. Thus for low budget or backpacking visitors will try to compromise gorillas with other affordable safari experiences.
The best advice we can give you is to plan your gorilla trekking safari during the low/rainy season when the cost of a gorilla permit is on discount at $450 in the month of April/May and October/November. Visitors can also think to arrange transportation, book a lodge and gorilla permits on their own since using a tour operator may put costs high and surpass your budget.
However, due to unfavorable rainy conditions, visitors on a gorilla safari will always be few. That means that booking a gorilla permit is easier with the help of Uganda wildlife authority. In addition to that, the lodges will also offer discounts on room rates. And the same applies to tour operator who can arrange your gorilla safari depending on your budget and interests. With all that in calculation, you’ll realize that a gorilla safari is very affordable giving you a chance to see the gorillas while still in Uganda regardless of being low budget backpacker travel.
Getting to southwestern Uganda is very cheap when you use comfortable bus or coaster that move from Kampala daily. Bwindi impenetrable forest national park has four gorilla trekking centers which include Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo. Depending on the area you are going to track the gorillas from, most buses stop in major towns like Kabala and Kisoro. So visitors require getting a boda boda or taxi that can take you to your lodge and the next you have the guarantee to see mountain gorillas on a guided trek with guides, rangers and trackers.
Gorilla Families in Uganda
Uganda has eighteen (18) gorilla families and these include the Rushegura, Habinyanja, Mubare, Nkuringo, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Mishaya, Nshogi, the new groups Busingye and Bweza, in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and one in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the Nyakagezi group. There is also the kyaguriro group in Ruhija in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which is for research only.
In the Buhoma area of Bwindi;
This is commonly known as the m-group, which is the oldest habituated group as it is the very first group to be habituated for tracking. The habituation started in 1991 and this group received its first visitors in 1993. The Mubare group was named after the stunning mubare hills where it was discovered. It started with 12 group members led by a dominant silver buck, Ruhandeza and then later increased to 18 members which engaged in a family conflict and then lost some of its members including Ruhandeza, leaving the group with 9 members containing 1 silver buck namely
The habinyanja group was habituated for tracking in 1997 and it received its first tourists in 1999 in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This was a huge group but later decreased when part of it split away and formed a family known as the Rushegura group. These two groups criss-cross each other now and again and co-exist peacefully. The name habinyanja was derived from Nyanja meaning water body, a swamp in Bwindi where the group was first seen. The group has 17 members including 2 silver bucks, where the adult females are led by a shrewd alpha female known as the Kisho.
This group was habituated for tracking in 2000 and it received tourists in 2002. It is a huge group in Buhoma with 12 members including 1 silver buck. The Rushegura group split from the Habinyanja group and these 2 groups co-exist peacefully when they cross each other. The name Rushegura was derived from Ebishegura, a tree species that was abundant in the home area.
In the Ruhija region of Bwindi.
This is among the newest groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and was habituated in 2007 with originally 24 members which split later on. It is found and roams in the forest within the Ruhija area with currently 14 members including 4 silver bucks. The Bitukura group was named after a river where they were first sighted.
This group is one of the recent families opened for visitors in Windy, situated in Ruhija and led by a dominant silver buck, Tibirikwata. The group was opened for tourism in 2011 and is one of the more popular families due to the 2 energetic juveniles and toddlers in the group. It is combined of 15 members including 2 silver bucks.
In the Rushaga region of Bwindi;
This was the biggest habituated gorilla family in Uganda launched in September 2009, with over 36 members at the time. After habituation, at the opening of the group for visitors, the group separated and 10 members left to form the new groups of Mishaya and Bweza reducing the group to 26 where other members also decided to disintegrate leaving the group with a total of 18 members. The respected and historical group was named after river Nshogi, close to where the group was first seen hence the male silver buck took over the Nshogi name, maintaining the dominancy.
The Mishaya Gorilla family group is a breakaway group that was originally apart of Nshogi Gorilla Family Group and it is believed to have been a family dispute that caused the split. The group has about seven Gorilla members including 2 silver bucks presently with Mishaya, the well known gorilla fighter as the dominant silver buck.
This group was habituated for tracking in 2011 with 13 members including 3 silver bucks which are the only named, Rumansi, the dominant silver buck, Rwigi and Ruhamuka. In less than a year, the group split creating the new group known as the Busingye group.
The Bweza Gorilla Family group is also a breakaway group that was apart of the famous Nshogi gorilla family group. It decided to split and be independent due to the many feuds in the Nshogi group by the end of 2013. The group was introduced for tracking in the Rushaga area of Bwindi in 2014 and has over 7 members including 2 silver bucks.
The Busingye gorilla family gorilla group broke away from the Kahungye gorilla group in august 2012. It comprises of 9 members including 3 infants, 2 adults, other youths and adult teens which still reside in the Rushaga area of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
In the Nkurigo region.
The Nkuringo group was launched in 2004 and comprises of 19 members including 2 silver bucks, Safari and Rafiki. It was named after the Rukiga word for round hill and was led by Nkuringo who died in 2008, leaving the group with 2 silver bucks. It later expanded after the birth of the twins, katungi and muhozi though unfortunately, katungi died. The group is also one of the friendliest with babies at most times reach out to touch the visitors.
In Mgahinga National Park.
This is the only family in Mgahinga National Park led by a male dominant silver buck known as Mark. The group has 10 members including 1 silver buck. The nyakagezi group kept on travelling and crossing borders of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda though it is trying to settle on the Ugandan side since 2012. Permits for tracking this group can only be got at local Uganda Wild Life Authority.
This group is not visited, and it is reserved for research and other studies like knowing the difference between the different gorillas in Uganda.
Is Gorilla Trekking, a Responsible Form of Tourism?
How is Gorilla Trekking Conducted?
For every gorilla group, only eight tourists per day can visit each family. With about 18 gorilla families habituated for gorilla watching, there is a total of about 144 gorilla permits to be available per day available at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Though the permits seem to be more available today in Uganda, the bad news is that in peak months (June-September) and December-January, the demand generally exceeds supply for most of the year. Gorilla permitrs can be booked tghrough a local tour operator or through the Uganda Wildlife Authority. All bookings must be made through the UWA office located at Plot 7 Kira Rd in Kampala.
Mountain Gorilla Regulations
In Uganda, there are regulations that travelers must follow while on gorilla trekking safaris in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. These include;
- the number of people allowed to track per day, the time that is allowed to stay with the gorillas, the maximum group size, all this is done to ensure the well being of the endangered mountain gorillas, these are also vulnerable to the many human diseases given how much we are also related to these apes.
- Visiting hours: the activity takes place during day time hours; this is between 8:00 am to 7:00pm.
- Gorilla tracking is conducted in small groups: it’s only a maximum of eight people who are allowed per day in order to reduce the disturbance and to reduce severe exposure of human diseases.
- There is maximum time for gorilla watching; it’s only 1 hour that is allowed to spend with the mountain gorillas
- The Age restriction; its 15 or 16 years only.
The dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking (the rules of gorilla trekking)
The protection of the gorillas;
- And in case you are sick and have an infectious disease, you are not accepted to go for the trek, more so if you are not feeling well, you are advised to stay at the lodge thereby helping in safe guarding the well being of the endangered animals;
- Maintaining good manners, in case you sneeze or cough, always turn away and cover the nose and the mouth in order to reduce the chances of transmitting the viruses and the bacteria to the mountain gorillas.
- You are not allowed to over stay with the gorillas. Expect to spend only one hour with the gorillas departing when the time is up.
- Keep a distance; you must stay 5-7 meters away from the gorillas. This is because they are dangerous since they are wild animals, keep distance to always avoid transmitting diseases to them.
- Always try to behave yourself; keep your voices down and don’t point or use a flash when taking photos.
- Always be prepared; always take warm and water proof gear for the cool mountain conditions in the wet forests and also wear the comfortable walking shoes.
- Don’t smoke or snack near the mountain gorillas, you are not allowed to drink or eat or even smoke around the mountain gorillas.
- Always keep clean; visitors are encouraged to wash their hands before goring for the trek.
- Always keep hands to yourself; you are not allowed to touch the gorillas even when they come close to you.
- Don’t litter trash. The tourists are not allowed to throw rubbish around in the jungle.
- Always remain calm and maintain your good toilet etiquettes.
Looking for Last Minute Deals
It is not easy to secure a last minute deal except through a local tour operator who at times get cancellations and readvertise the permits within their fellow contacts. At times cancellations can also be advertised at backpacker places within Kampala and Jinja. Though sometines travelers turn up at the park headquarters and see if there are any no-shows, this is very risky and you may end wasting your money and time without tracking the gorillas!
Costs and Prices
Gorilla-trekking permits cost US$700, including the park entry fee, payable in US
dollars cash only. At times, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) offers discount gorilla permits for some offpeak months (April – May) and November. The permits are reduced to US$350 and thus you will get a big discount on your gorilla safari within Uganda.
On the D-Day for gorilla trekking, the trips leave at 8.30am daily, but aim to report to park headquarters by 8am and start with the brieding from the destination guides who will lead you on the gorilla trek within the impenetrable forest. Please note that children under 15 years old are not permitted to trek to the gorillas, and anyone with a cold or other illness is
likewise excluded. Do not try to feign good health if you are unwell! Visiting the gorillas when you are sick could be endangering these rare creatures’ lives given that the diseases that affect humans can also be spread to the mountain gorillas. A full refund on the gorilla permit is given to anyone who withdraws due to ill health.
Once you finally join a tracking group, the chances of finding the gorillas are excellent. The terrain in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is mountainous and heavily forested; if the gorillas are a fair distance from Buhoma, it can be quite a challenge reaching them.
On a lucky day it might be less than one hour to reach them, but if you are unlucky, it could take four hours or more. Make sure you are in good enough shape. The time you actually spend with the gorillas once you find them is limited to one hour, and not a minute more. It is pretty dark in the forest of Bwindi, so photo opportunities are limited without fast film.
For more information on the mountain gorillas, their habitat, where to see them and responsible tracking there are several travel resources that we recommend for further reading.
Beyond doubt every gorilla tracking tourist enjoys a trip to Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo as long as its dedicated to any famous gorilla trekking park. Volcanoes National Park, Virunga National Park, Kahuzi Biega National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National park and Bwindi forest national park are the top gorilla trekking places in Africa that attract thousands every year. If you are planning a gorilla tracking safari to Africa, all gorilla parks have rules and regulations that tourists follow as a way of cubing down risks, diseases and disturbance of primates. Take a look at them and consider them very important during your trip to see gorillas.