A Complete Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo

This guide offers plenty of information, Tips and advice (What to wear on a gorilla safari?, Cost of Gorilla permits, Tour prices, Best time of the year to go on a gorilla trek, gorilla trekking gear, gorilla trip reviews & advice, packing list) to help you understand what’s involved in a gorilla tracking safari. The images we have used are taken by clients and professional photographers on our trips.

 

Coming face-to-face with a mountain gorilla is one of the most memorable wildlife encounters in Africa, if not the world. Travellers often recount their experience as being highly emotional, moving and even life changing; seeing these incredible creatures in their natural habitat is a true privilege.

"I  wanted to write you to thank you so much for an absolutely awesome trip thanks to you And your Devine African Safaris! We truly felt that it was a trip of a lifetime & wanted to tell You that we will definitely recommend your company to many others..which we have already Told many. We felt that the price you offered us was within our budget and never did we Feel that the quality of accommodations, food, guides, or anything was compromised. Our Guide Paul was beyond awesome! He was so courteous and entertaining as well. Please feel free to Put this testimonial on your web site".

Jacqueline Dostal, USA, visited in April 2016

Tracking, admiring and photographing Mountain Gorillas is one of the world's greatest natural history travel experiences. Mountain Gorilla safaris can be expensive, exhausting and even exasperating , but also incomparably inspiring and emotional and always uniquely memorable. If you are able to obtain a permit, you have a better than 95% chance of seeing a group of Mountain Gorillas in the wild, provided you are fit enough to do the necessary gorilla tracking. Mountain gorillas range through thick forests on steep hillsides. Mountain Gorilla trackers employed to guard the animals always know generally where they can be found. Reaching them sometimes requires long hours of hiking in steep terrain, but sometimes Mountain Gorilla trackers and tourists reach their target group in just a few minutes of walking. Our guides consider the interests, ages and abilities of our clients, and then do their best to get our clients assigned to habituated gorilla groups which are most rewarding, easiest to reach, and offer the best tracking experience. In Uganda, you will improve your chance of having your choice of group by obtaining your gorilla permit early (up to 15 months before your visit). In Rwanda there is less emphasis on early gorilla permit reservations and more on early arrival for the day of tracking and the influence of your guide with park authorities.

 

Gorilla trekking A life changing experience

Many tour operators offer standard packages to see the gorillas but very few can match the experience that we at Gorilla Safaris Company have in this field. Tracking gorillas is expensive, a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you are looking to make the most out of this incredible experience then talk to us for genuine in-depth knowledge to help you plan your trip.

"We had a wonderful time in Uganda & Rwanda with Robert. He was a great guide and very dependable. Very polite, extremely knowledgeable and went out of his way to ensure we had a great time. Robert met us at the airport and stayed with us for the next 2 weeks. As a result, we spent a great deal of time with him and enjoyed his company immensely. He is passionate about the animals and shares this with you throughout the trip. Thank you Devine African Safaris...you made our Honeymoon meaningful"

Tom Duryea, USA, Visited in Nov, 2014

Gorilla Safaris Company offers a variety of customizable packages to suit all your traveling needs. Whatever you’re looking for in a vacation or trip, we can make it happen — whether it’s going on a remote camping trip or relaxing at a luxurious lodges. Read through our list of specials and see if anything catches your eye. Get in touch soon to start planning your next getaway.

We  specialize in organizing  gorilla trekking safaris, Uganda tours & Safaris, Rwanda tours & Safaris, We offer the best gorilla trekking tours and wildlife safaris in Uganda & Rwanda with tour itineraries designed around clients’ needs, interest and time. Our trips are available all year round and are the best priced to fit in every traveler’s budget. Would you desire to combine your gorilla tour or safari with a traditional Uganda safari? We have customized trips that include several adventures that include, chimpanzee trekking, wild game safaris or bird watching, mountain trekking, nature eco-tours, cycling etc. We are ready to offer you the best options and take you on a thrilling tours in Uganda & Rwanda. We will satisfactorily fulfill your holiday dream!

Gorilla trekking experience

Gorilla_ Trekkers_ in_ the_ Forest
Guests arrive for the Gorilla Trekking Safari

On your way

You’ve been up since the sun rose and it is now glowing calmly on the Virunga Volcanoes, casting

a heart-warming light over the rainforest and deep shadows into the mountains. Following the lead of your expert guide, you trudge meaningfully and carefully through dense forest, navigating trails and untrodden land.

 

Your guide pulls back one last branch, reminiscent of a compare in the theatre, and you find yourself introduced to a creature that appears so unequivocally human, your heart doesn’t know whether to skip a beat or pound twice as hard.

 

Eye Contact

Face to face encounters with gorillas are humbling, emotional and a real privilege. There is a feeling of mutual understanding as you watch them in their own home, going about their daily business. Youngsters will often show off to forest new-comers, literally jumping for joy at having someone fresh to demonstrate their motor skills to. Silverbacks may beat their chests as a sign of dominance or even charge, an exhilerating experience! They may sit peacefully as a family, chomping on bamboo and grooming each other, watching you with the same intrigue you are showing them. Gorilla trekking is often referred to as ‘the most memorable experience in the world’ and we can honestly say you’ll understand why.

Starting_ the_ Gorilla_ Trek
Gorilla Trekking team

Time to leave

You have one hour with the gorillas each time you track them and it never feels enough. This is why we always recommend two treks. A second time allows you to put the camera down. You can track a different family, trek a different area of the park or cross the border and track them in a different country. No two gorilla experiences are ever the same.

 

Time to leave comes too early, and you follow the trail back to your cosy mountain lodge. Evenings in the mountains can be spent sharing your stories and photos of the day in front of a camp-fire, drink in hand. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket to protect yourself from the cool mountain air and settle into your seat. No other wildlife encounter can match the awe-inspiring experience that is mountain gorilla tracking and now that you know this, you’ll want nothing more than to talk about it.

 

Gorilla_ Trekking_ in_ Bwindi
Mountain Gorilla in Bwindi National Park

Unique to you

The gorillas are wild animals; their behaviour is not predictable or controlled in any way. By tracking them, you are opening the doorway into their home and seeing them in their natural environment. You may witness knuckle walking, eating, playing, grunting, sleeping and it will be totally unique to your trip.

 

These animals are sadly quite literally on the brink of extinction, gorilla tracking is for sure a life-changing and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

Mountain_ Gorilla _Silverback
mountain gorilla Silverback

Where is the best place to see the gorillas? Uganda vs Rwanda vs Congo

Gorilla tracking is a niche activity that can be done only in Uganda, Rwanda and the Republic of Congo at present. Each area is unique and you are guaranteed to have an incredible experience in any of these destinations. They are all different so we have listed out some of the best bits and the downsides for each to help give you an idea of where is best for you.

Rwanda

The Best bits

Terrain here is less steep and dense, and treks are generally shorter, making it an easier destination than Uganda.

• Known to lend itself to slightly clearer conditions for photography.

• Combine gorilla tracking with golden monkey tracking.

• Dramatic backdrops include the stunning Virunga Volcano chain drifting off into the distance.

• Great for short gorilla tracking safaris, for those with limited time.

 

 

Downside

• Gorilla permits are more expensive than in neighbouring Uganda (US$750 per person)

 

• The tracking can be a little too easy depending on where the gorillas are.

 

• Not much opportunity to see traditional African wildlife and game.

 

Uganda

The Best bits

• Two national parks in which you can track the gorillas.

• Longer treks can mean you see more of the national parks by foot.

• Combine your gorilla tracking with chimpanzee tracking.

• See the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.

• Embark on game drives and see more African wildlife.

• Excellent accommodation options.

• Can easily be combined with other African destinations for more wildlife, or beach options.

• Real sense of adventure during your trek.

 

Downside

• Slightly harder trekking than in neighbouring Rwanda. The terrain can be steep and the vegetation thick. Be prepared to work for your gorillas, but once you are there, it is even more satisfying!

 

• Can involve very long drives, depending on the park in which you are tracking.

Congo

The Best bits

Opportunity to track lowland gorillas and wild chimpanzees.

• May be able to photograph the gorillas with forest elephants and sitatunga.

• A real ‘into the wild’ experience on relatively unchartered territory.

• Can also meet the Ba’Aka tribes and learn how they hunt.

• Visit local villages and learn their way of life.

• Chance to spot unusual primates including galagos and pottos.

• Enjoy pirogue rides.

• Not a popular tourist destination, so you are unlikely to meet any crowds.

 

Downside

Lowland gorillas, unlike their mountain cousins, will often keep moving throughout the day, meaning treks can be long, and through dense vegetation.

• Not much choice when it comes to accommodation (luckily both the camps are really nice).

• Access is via long and sometimes uncomfortable

 


Best time to go Gorilla trekking

Blackback_ in_ Susa_ Group
Blackback in Susa Group

Uganda & Rwanda

You can track gorillas at any time of the year, especially in Uganda and Rwanda. The rainy seasons of March to May, and October to November, do make it slightly harder work under foot as conditions get muddy. These times, however, are often great for photography as the overcast conditions provide better lighting and the vegetation is more vibrant.

 

For our favourite times, stick to the shoulder seasons of February and September. During these months you are out of the peak season which makes it quieter and you can also combine a fantastic extension to Kenya or Tanzania for the migration, again avoiding the peak holiday months making for much better quality sightings.

 

Republic of Congo

Our safaris to track lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo depart between May and December. The long dry season is May to August which generally brings light skies and easier terrain, but is perhaps more difficult for photography with bright overhead light. The short dry season, January to February, is similar. The long wet season and short wet season (September to December and March to April respectively), bring more challenging and unpredictable terrain, alongside some incredible photo opportunities under cloudy skies and impressive thunderstorms.

 

The Congo is never ‘busy’ so you don’t have to avoid the peak travel times. You will need to discuss with us the best time for you to travel to the R.O.C.

 

Baby_ gorilla_ in_ Bwindi _National Park
Mother & Baby gorilla in Bwindi National Park

Permits

What they are

To track the mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, or the lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo, you need a permit. These permits are purchased on a per person, per trek basis and a percentage of each permit goes back into the local community and park infrastructure.

 

How to get them

We can organise your gorilla permits for you as doing it direct with the park can be hard work. We do not charge a commission on this, permit costs are the same whether through us or direct with the national park.

How many to get

We recommend you track the gorillas twice and hence buy two permits. This is for a number of reasons:

 

• The first time you will often spend most of your time behind the lens of your camera, so the second time you can relax and enjoy the experience.

 

• You can track two families.

 

• As a backup just in-case you do not see the gorillas on one of your attempts.

 

• You can even track once in Uganda and once in Rwanda to compare the two.

 

• No tracking experience is ever the same.

 

Costs

Costs are per person, per permit.

In Uganda

 Permits cost US$600, apart from May and November when the cost is cut to $450 per permit.

 In Rwanda

 Permits cost US$750 year round.

 In the Congo

 The cost of your permit is included with your accommodation and overall safari cost.

 

on:  Afternoon visit to the Batwa -Pygmies- after- gorilla- trekking- in- Bwindi- National- Park
Afternoon visit to the Batwa Pygmies' village in Bwindi after gorilla trekking

Gorilla trekking rules

It is important that all gorilla tracking participants familiarise themselves with the following regulations and rules of conduct:

 

• Only a specific number of gorilla tracking permits are available each day and therefore they must be booked well in advance.

• You must take the appropriate clothing and equipment for tracking the gorillas. We will send you a packing list.

• Gorilla tracking is limited to people aged 15 or above.

 

• Only visitors in good health at time of tracking will be permitted.

 

• Tracking of gorillas can be denied at short notice due to security.

 

• You are tracking wild animals and therefore the purchase of a gorilla permit does not guarantee seeing them.

• Keep a minimum distance of 7 metres at all times from the gorillas.

 

• Flash photography is not allowed. Personal video recorders are permitted. Avoid taking an excessive number of photos.

• You must, at all times, follow the instructions of your guide. He is in contact with the gorillas every day and understands them well. Always remain in a quiet, compact group behind the guide, who will attempt to position you in such a way that the dominant male of the group can see you at all times.

• If the dominant male gorilla (usually a silverback) approaches very closely, or if he charges, it is very important that you do not move backwards. Remain exactly where you are, look downward, and adopt a submissive, crouched posture.

 

• Never make any sudden moves or loud noises.

 

• If a young gorilla approaches, never make any move to touch it. Your guide, in certain instances, may take steps to discourage a youngster from trying to touch you, as this could create a threatening situation with the dominant male.

 

• If a gorilla stares at you, look away or down.

 

• Each gorilla family may be visited only once each day, during the morning hours.

• All gorilla visits are limited to a maximum number of eight people per gorilla family for a maximum length of one hour. Due to the already-limited number of individuals allowed to visit the gorillas each day it is not possible to do gorilla tracking on a private basis.

 

• Smoking, eating, and/or drinking are not permitted within 200 metres of a gorilla family. Please avoid smoking at any time.

• It is prohibited to destroy any vegetation unnecessarily and to make open fires in the national parks and reserves. The flora and fauna of national parks and reserves are strictly protected.

• All visitors must carry their own litter with them out of the park or reserve, leaving nothing behind.

 

Mountain_Gorilla_ In_Volcanoes_National Park
Mountain Gorilla In Volcanoes National Park

Photography Tips

Photographing the gorillas can be difficult due to light conditions and proximity, as well as your limited time with them. The likelihood is that you will not have shot in these conditions before so it is important to be as prepared as possible to get the best photos and memories from your experience. Make sure you enjoy it too, focus on the experience and your images will be great. Don’t be a photo-trophy hunter!

 

Use a porter. Porters are a small cost and will help carry your equipment and assist you on your trek. This makes your trek more enjoyable and gives them work.

 

Be watertight. Make sure you have waterproof bags or covers for your camera. It may rain which would result in amazing photos, if you can keep your equipment dry!

 

Which camera? The body of your camera is totally up to you. We recommend a digital SLR that can shoot at a high ISO as you will probably have to shoot in quite low light at times. 800 or above is good, similar to what you would use if you were shooting indoors without a flash. A bonus point is having inbuilt stability as you cannot bring tripods or monopods.

 

Which lens? You will be at least 7 metres from the gorillas at all

times. We recommend a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm lens, as well

as a 200-400mm if possible. A 100-400mm would also be a good option with a tele-converter (1.4).

 

Flash. Do not use flash.

 

Accessorise. Bring your chargers and plenty of spare batteries. Keep everything as charged as possible throughout the trip. Make sure you have additional storage cards to what you think you need.

 

Downloading images. Leave a laptop back at the lodge so you can download and enjoy your images after your trek.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I track the gorillas if I am feeling unwell?

No. Gorillas are susceptible to human disease and even

something minor to us can be fatal to them. Take care of your health prior to your safari to try and avoid getting sick. You must warn your guide if you are feeling unwell.

 

How big are the gorilla tracking groups?

There is a maximum of 8 people per gorilla tracking group in Rwanda and Uganda.

How far is my accommodation to the gorilla park headquarters?

You will be located within easy access of the park headquarters, but the distance will depend on which accommodation you opt for. The distance to the headquarters will vary from a one minute walk to an hour’s drive.

 

How fit do I need to be to track the gorillas?

Gorilla tracking excursions can vary in length and difficulty. It is possible that you will spend anything from 40 minutes to 7 hours tracking through the rainforest and you can reach altitudes of up to 6,500 feet above sea level. Anyone with a reasonable fitness level should be okay, but you must remember that paths can be slippery and steep and the foliage thick.

 

The terrain is a little more difficult in Uganda than it is in Rwanda. You can take your time, and don’t worry if your group is slow, you will still have a full hour with the gorillas.

 

How long can I spend with the gorillas?

Upon seeing the gorillas you will have just one hour with them. We recommend you track them at least twice. The second time you often feel you can put the camera down and really enjoy the experience.

 

What is the minimum age for tracking gorillas?

15 years. It may be possible for a younger child to be cared for at your lodge whilst you are tracking gorillas.

Will I definitely see the gorillas?

These are wild animals so there are no guarantees, but it is highly unlikely you won’t see them. In all our years of operating in these

 

regions, we have had just one client unsuccessful, and she tracked them twice, getting some amazing sightings the second time.

 

Guides are trained in locating the gorillas and will know where they were the day before, as well as their movement habits.

 

What do I need to wear?

We will provide you with a packing list on booking. A few essentials include gardening gloves to help with spikey vegetation, worn

in sturdy hiking boots and a waterproof, windproof, breathable jacket. Whilst out tracking gorillas you will want to wear natural / khaki coloured clothing, preferably quick drying and moisture wicking.

 

Bring a smaller backpack for trekking that you can fit extra layers in, as well as you camera equipment etc.

 

Gorilla Conservation & Tourism

There are four subspecies of gorilla; mountain gorillas, western lowland gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas (Grauer’s gorillas) and cross river gorillas.

 

There are just 880 mountain gorillas left living in the wild now, spread between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) within the Virunga Volcanoes Massif. Western lowland gorillas are the most populous, with a population of possibly 100,000 thought to be living throughout the low, tropical forests of central Africa. Eastern lowland gorillas have a dwindling population of fewer than 8,500 throughout the DRC and the least known sub-species, the cross river gorilla, which is found only in western Cameroon and south-eastern Nigeria, has approximately 250 remaining in the wild.

 

With the land around the homes of these animals being densely populated, their threats for survival are real and include poaching, disease and habitat loss.

 

Tourism

By visiting these areas and purchasing gorilla tracking permits, you are helping fund an increase in gorilla populations. By hiring a porter for your trek or buying from local communities you are also helping locals to earn honest living. It is without doubt that it is the Gorilla Doctors as well as wildlife tourism that has contributed to the increase in gorilla populations throughout this Central African region. Donations no matter how large or small go a long way to assisting the protection of some of our closest relatives.