Mountain gorillas don’t survive in captivity. With only about 1,000 endangered mountain gorillas left in the wild, trekking into their native forest habitats is the only way to encounter these fascinating creatures.
Seeing gorillas in their natural habitat and busy with their daily routines is an overwhelming experience and a great privilege. Watching a gorilla mother lovingly caring for her baby, or meeting the composed gaze of a 200kg silverback as he looms protectively over his family, is one of the most profound wildlife experiences you can have.
Which, of course, leads to the question – what are the best places to go mountain gorilla trekking in Africa?
Southwestern Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is an excellent place to start. With altitudes ranging from 1,160 to 2,607 metres above sea level, this World Heritage Site and primaeval forest lies about a 10-hour drive from Kampala, Uganda’s capital. (Charter flights for a quicker trip are available, but obviously, cost more.)
Strict regulations control these excursions to ensure these precious creatures remain safe and healthy. Only limited daily viewings of each gorilla group are permitted, so we recommend you reserve your gorilla trek in Uganda at least a year ahead. With Uganda’s trekking permits being amongst the most reasonably priced, it’s the best option for travellers on a limited budget.
And you won’t only see gorillas! Bwindi forest is a dense and tangled biodiversity hotspot, with one of the highest diversities of trees, ferns, forest butterflies and bird species on earth. No fewer than 120 mammal species, including rare colobus monkeys and chimpanzees, live here.
When is the best time to see gorillas in Uganda?
Uganda’s gorilla trekking excursions are offered all year round. However, more travellers opt to undertake them in one of the country’s two dry seasons: December – February and June – September, when trekking is easier.
But, as Uganda’s parks are less crowded and accommodation is cheaper during the low seasons – March to May, and October to November – travellers on a limited budget might want to choose those months.
What do gorilla trekking permits cost?
A permit to spend an hour with the gorillas will cost you 700 US dollars per person in Uganda. A habituation permit, which lets you go out with researchers and spend up to four hours with the gorillas, costs $1,500.
Africa’s most accessible gorilla trekking is available in Rwanda, a country small in size, but rich in natural beauty. Volcanoes National Park is its premier reserve for gorilla viewing, as about half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas live here. The Park is only a 3-hour road trip, or 80km/50m, from Kigali International Airport.
Volcanoes National Park is located in the northwest of Rwanda, and is also home to a plethora of birds, as well as golden monkeys. Famously, it was the base for the ground-breaking work of primatologist Dian Fossey. This is authentic ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ territory, where you can even visit her grave.
The Park provides a dramatic, indeed mystical, backdrop to the most awesome and unforgettable wildlife experience – observing these rare primates in their natural habitat in a truly immersive experience.
As these highly sociable primates generally forage for food on the ground in a small area, they are easily tracked. An experienced gorilla tracker will guide you through the Park’s giant African redwoods, climbing vines, and dense bamboo for a moving personal encounter with these iconic great apes.
When is the best time to see gorillas in Rwanda?
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is offered all year round, but the dry seasons provide easier hiking conditions and a lower risk of malaria.
- Rwanda’s longest rainy season lasts from March to May, and the longest dry season begins in June and lasts until September.
- The shorter rainy season lasts from October to November, followed by another brief dry season from December to February. These are also good gorilla-trekking months, although it is more humid than mid-year.
What do gorilla trekking permits cost?
A permit allowing you to spend an hour with the gorillas will cost you $1,500 USD per person. However, these are often sold out a year in advance (for the June – September period), so we recommend you book well ahead of time!
So – all set to start arranging your gorilla trekking expedition?
Whichever of the destinations you opt for, you’ll need to prepare well for your adventure. Hiking through the steep rainforest (in hot, humid, often very wet conditions) will be hard and muddy work! Research and get suitable clothes, good hiking boots, and trekking poles.
Getting close to gorillas in the wild might require a fair bit of effort – but it will definitely be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!