Gorilla trekking permit availability in Africa

Traveling to Uganda to do gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the ultimate bucket list experience. The first thing you need to do is to check the gorilla trekking permit availability months before you fly to Africa. You cannot take part in the exciting trek without a gorilla trekking permit.

When talking about mountain gorillas, many imaginative thoughts probably wander to the 2005 epic adventure film ‘King Kong’, or to the 2016 film ‘The Legend of Tarzan’. The imposing yet endangered mountain gorillas are only found in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

It has been proven that these primates can’t live in zoos across the world given that they can’t survive in detention. For this reason, your only chance of getting up, close and personal with these gentle giants is by taking part in gorilla trekking. 

What is gorilla trekking? 

Gorilla trekking is a great wildlife encounter that allows tourists to get close to gorilla families in their natural habitat. It’s a chance to trek through the dense rainforests of a national park with the main intention of coming face-to-face with the mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking offers travelers the opportunity to watch and be in the same vicinity with mountain gorillas in the wild. You’re literary a few feet from the primates.

Where do you go gorilla trekking?

Gorilla trekking offers an astounding experience. There are four national parks where you can enjoy gorilla trekking. These include Bwindi and the Mgahinga in Uganda, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and the Virunga National Park in DRC.

Therefore, mountain gorilla trekking primarily takes place the Virunga Massif, the region containing a chain of eight volcanoes that cut across the borders of DRC, Uganda and Rwanda.

According to World Atlas, a massif is a section of the earth’s crust that has been demarcated by faults. It also refers to a group of mountains that have been formed by such a structure.

Both Bwindi and Mgahinga parks are located in southwestern Uganda, a long drive from the capital Kampala.

The whole experience is truly adventurous and is an unparalleled safari. It is perhaps more popular than the classic safari in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or the legendary Big 5 safari drive in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

This is usually a bucket list experience for many people to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of encountering one of the endangered species on planet earth.

Checking gorilla trekking permit availability

As mentioned above, the first step in the preparation for the trek is getting a gorilla trekking permit. This is a pass issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority or Rwanda Development Board to allow any traveler above the age of 15 to trek in any of the three countries’ mountain gorilla habitats with the hope of encountering the primates.

You’ll only be guaranteed of gorilla trekking if you’ve got a permit, which are available at the headquarters of Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala or the Rwanda Development Board offices in Kigali.  

The easiest way of getting these permits is through authorized gorilla trekking operators in Uganda and Rwanda.

You should contact any of the tour firms and inform them of the date or month that you’re planning to go gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda. They’ll check for the availability of these permits and inform you accordingly.  

If available, they’ll send you an invoice and once you’ve made the necessary payments, they’ll purchase your permit and send you scanned copies. They’ll require your passport details to process these permits. You should also plan for accommodation once you’ve secured the permits. 

Cost of gorilla permits in Uganda and Rwanda

A gorilla trekking permit will cost $600 per person in Uganda and $1,500 per person in Rwanda. A similar permit costs $400 per person in DRC. While these costs may seem high, remember that most of the proceeds go towards the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitat.

The permit offers you one hour with the gorillas in a group of eight people. For Bwindi forest, only 80 people are allowed to see mountain gorillas each day. This is because their natural habitat is very fragile, and every time you walk in this forest you leave a footprint.

Many people do not go gorilla trekking in DRC due to security reasons since the region has a history of armed rebel groups operating from there.

You should also note that the permits do not offer 100% guarantee that you’ll encounter the gorillas, but your chances of encountering them are over 98%.   

How to prepare for gorilla trekking

Taking on the volcanic mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC in search of mountain gorillas is undoubtedly the dream of any adventurer. However, you’ll have to be fully prepared, both physically and psychologically for this incredible adventure.

The different terrains range from green vine covered jungles with challenging stinging nettles, to tall bamboo forests made of soggy clay footing. To be honest, these adventure can be unforgiving if you aren’t prepared.

It’s also important to note that the weather can change on a whim from one sunny moment to light showers and mist. To help you get the best gorilla trekking adventure you can do the following: 

1. Fitness preparation

It’s true that preparing for gorilla trekking has a lot of aspects. The clothing part of it is pretty much straightforward, designed to make your adventure a lot easier. However, you cannot overlook the need to have a certain level of fitness.

You’ll not only be trekking in climates that you aren’t used to, you’ll also have to trek across terrains and distances that may put a lot of strain on your body. You should, therefore, be fit enough to overcome any kind of challenge that might come your way.

You can boost your fitness by doing some daily exercises. These can include taking the stairs instead of elevators, and taking daily walks weeks or months before your actual visit. Morning jogging is also a good option!

Your main priority should be to ensure that you’re healthy and relatively fit because the last thing you’d want is having a health problem in the course of a challenging trek.

It’s also important to know that you’re not allowed to go gorilla trekking if you’re sick. This is to ensure that everyone is safe, secure and healthy. Just like humans, gorillas can catch colds, flus, intestinal problems and many other diseases.

In case you suddenly fall sick, it’s advisable that you inform your tour operators of your condition so that they can reschedule your visit or refund you. 

2. Best time to go 

Although gorilla trekking is generally regarded a year-round activity, the best time to go gorilla trekking is between June and September and between December and February. These are dry seasons, and so you are likely to have an easy trekking experience and enjoy good weather conditions.

Nonetheless, the remaining rainy months should not put you off should you want to go gorilla trekking during these periods.

3. Where to stay 

You should keep in mind that the permit doesn’t cater for your accommodation. There are lots of safari lodges and accommodation facilities in the trekking regions. It all depends on how much you’re ready to spend.

Lodges can cost as high as $900 a night or as low as $70. You should however not make a mistake of booking accommodation that’s far away from your gorilla trekking region that’s indicated in the permit as this may inconvenience you and you may end up incurring more costs.

How hard is gorilla trekking?

Believe it or not, it’s not as hard as it has been made out to be. There are many older people who have successfully gone gorilla trekking. While it can be challenging given that some terrains are slightly taxing, it’s so rewarding and you wouldn’t want to miss it as long as you’re in good health and are relatively fit.

Gorilla trekking dos and don’ts  

gorilla trekking permit availability
A baby gorilla

Generally, it’s advisable that you seek the services of a guide and a porter at an extra cost. The guide will help you through the terrains while the porter will be at hand to help you carry your bag. These guides and porters are authorized and very knowledgeable in finding gorilla families. 

It’s advisable to avoid wearing bright-colored clothing as they might scare off the gorillas. You should consider dark colors that easily blend with the terrain.

You should also keep a distance of at least 7 meters from the gorillas as a safety precaution. In other words, do not touch or get very close to the gorillas.  

Please don’t distance yourself while gorilla trekking. Instead, you should be close to your group, especially when you approach the gorillas. 

You aren’t allowed to eat, drink or smoke when around the gorillas.

Another important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t litter the trekking route. Ensure that you take back whatever you bring with you to the forest. 

You should turn your head away and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. This will minimize any possibility of spreading any bacteria or virus to the mountain gorillas.

You shouldn’t get over-excited or act in a manner that may annoy the gorillas. You’re advised to keep your voices down when close to the gorillas.  

Is gorilla trekking better in Uganda or Rwanda? 

As noted earlier, many travelers choose not to go gorilla trekking in the DRC as the country is unstable and full of insecurity issues. The Virunga National Park – home to hundreds of mountain gorillas – recently reopened after eight months of being closed to tourists.

The park had been closed after two Britons and their Congolese driver were kidnapped, and a ranger trying to defend them was killed. It’s alleged that militiamen have turned Virunga – Africa’s oldest national park – their home. This has made it very insecure.

Therefore, let’s look at Rwanda and Uganda:

The case for Rwanda

The country is generally very organized, very clean and the roads are in good condition. Rwanda is an extremely beautiful country with proper infrastructure, but the gorilla permit costs are very high.  

The case for Uganda 

The gorilla trekking experience in Uganda is not only a little cheaper but also offers a rewarding gorilla trekking experience. Accommodation and other amenities in the country are very affordable.

Verdict

While it’s difficult to choose for you the best country to go gorilla trekking, we can only note that both countries offer an unforgettable gorilla trekking experience. No matter your country of choice, the experience will be absolutely rewarding.

Common gorilla trekking mistakes

The following gorilla trekking mistakes will end up costing you a lot of time, money and energy.

1. Forgetting your gorilla trekking date

Gorilla permits are only valid for the particular date that it has been booked. If you go there later, the permit will have expired. Please choose a highly recommended tour company that will ensure you know the date of your trek and encourage you to travel to the trekking venue a day earlier.

2. Forgetting to carry your gorilla permit

The gorilla permit is the most important requirement for taking part in this bucket list experience. Forgetting to carry one will automatically mean that you won’t be allowed to come face-to-face with these gentle giants.

3. Failing to prioritize gorilla trekking during your safari

Some tourists add gorilla trekking as the last item in their African safari. Gorilla trekking permit availability is limited, while other activities such as game drives are not. Tour companies advise tourists to plan their safari around gorilla trekking since the number of visitors is limited.

4. Failing to know what’s included in a gorilla permit

Gorilla permit fees include the ranger guide and park entry fees. However, tourists should note that other things such as transfers to and from the starting point for gorilla trekking are not included.  Please budget and plan for such extra costs.

5. Booking accommodation in the wrong area

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is divided into four regions. These are: Rushaga and Nkuringo in the south, Ruhija in the east and Buhoma in the north.

This will then help you decide on where to book your accommodation. If you book gorilla permits of the east, then you have to book accommodation in Ruhija.

Ellen DeGeneres’ contribution

Celebrated TV talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, whose commitment to the conservation of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is well known, did gorilla trekking in 2018 and was definitely thrilled.

She was in Rwanda not just to go gorilla trekking but also to kick off the building of a gorilla research center dubbed The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

DeGeneres, a life-long admirer of Dr Dian Fossey and her work in the conservation of mountain gorillas wanted to help further Dian’s legacy and great work in the conservation of mountain gorillas. 

The campus was a 60th birthday gift to DeGeneres by her long-term partner Portia De Rossi. It’s known as the Ellen Fund.

After gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, DeGeneres wrote: “Spending time with the gorillas changed my life. Thank you everyone who’s helping Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. I can’t properly describe this experience and how much it means to me. I’m so grateful.”

Conclusion

Gorilla trekking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’ll give you the chance to encounter the majestic mountain gorillas. As an adventurer, this will be a dream come true as it’s a challenging yet truly thrilling endeavor.

18 thoughts on “Gorilla trekking permit availability in Africa”

  1. I absolutely love this. I know the costs are high, but as you said, the money contributes to conservation. If only 80 people a day get to enter the preserve, what should the cost really be. This is definitely going on the life wish list.

  2. When I was in Rwanda last year, I really wanted to do the gorilla trekking, but it was so much more expensive in Rwanda than in Uganda, so I’d like to go back and do the gorilla trekking in Uganda next time. Even though it’s a hassle to get the permits far in advance, I’m glad they have that rule in place so as to prevent overtourism and destruction of the gorillas’ natural habitat. So cool that you got to experience this!

  3. This has been high on my bucket list for so long. I had heard the fees were quite high, but it’s reassuring to know the money goes back into the conservation of their habitat. It must have been a truly incredible experience! I am very envious!

  4. I like how they limit the number of people per day for the trekking. It shows that they put the gorillas first. I don’t realize how expensive it is to do the trekking, but I think it makes sense. Somehow this is reminded me more of the movie Gorilla in the Mist starring Sigourney Weaver as the naturalist Dian Fossey.

  5. I have this in my bucket list as well. I have ticked witnessing wildebeest migration in the Mara already off the list last year in Kenya. But since I have been to Africa, I really want to go back and considering doing gorilla trekking. Thanks for providing helpful insights about the program. I still am confused between Uganda and Rwanda. If I save anough money, probably I will go with Rwanda.

  6. I had read about Gorilla trekking, but this gave me quite an in-depth insight, about the costs of the permit and other things. Never knew that the permit cost was this high, that too just for an hour. But then again, all the proceeds go towards the upliftment of the nation’s tourists wouldn’t really have a problem, with shelling out so much, budgeting a once in a lifetime experience as well.

  7. Gorilla trekking is one of the experiences I’ve dreamed about for decades but I don’t think I have the level of fitness required, even if I am assigned the closer and easier to reach groups.. but I love reading about others’ experiences. Great tips on being able to pick up a permit for Uganda or Rwanda, it would be awful to get there and be unable to get one!

  8. Didn’t even know properly about gorilla trekking before your post. Sounds so thrilling! And if you say it is not as hard as it is said to be, I am gonna take your word for it! Great tips around getting the right permits. Even though the permits and stays are quite expensive, it seems like a once in a lifetime experience 😀

  9. A friend of mine went gorilla trekking in Rwanda and she was so amazed with the experience, couldn’t stop talking about it. However, I did not realise that you require a special permit for it and that costs quite a lot! She did also say it was recommended to take a guide along and I guess its the best way to go for such experiences. You’ve given great tips and recommendations, very detailed!

  10. Thanks for such a thorough post – answered questions I didn’t even know I had. And I had no ideas that gorillas could catch colds. Such a fantastic experience to get to take part in.

  11. This looks like an amazing experience but so expensive! But you’re right, this is so special that there should be a premium. If this was too cheap, you would end up with a mass tourism situation and that would be awful. I went to see elephants in the wild in Sri Lanka and I really like the fact that we weren’t allowed too close to the animals. It’s the only way to go! I think if I was to book a gorilla trekking experience, I certainly wouldn’t forget the date though!

  12. I’ve never heard of gorilla trekking and it sounds like such a unique experience. The cost is a little high, but it’s great to hear that the proceeds go toward conservation. I definitely would have to get back into shape to do this trek 🙂

  13. Gorilla trekking is indeed an experience of a lifetime. Have done it in Rwanda and the experience is unforgettable. Your post provides valuable information about the Gorilla trekking permit and the do’s and don’ts which will stand in good stead for those looking to have this unique experience in Africa.

  14. Wow, I am just shocked by how expensive it is. Does the 400, 600, or 1500 dollars only cover the one hour for the one day that you book? I do think it’s a good thing that most of the proceeds go towards conservation efforts, though. I’m sure this would be an amazing experience for those who can afford it. That is also cool that Ellen helped fund some assistance as well as bring it to more people’s attention!

  15. Going to Uganda to do gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park must be very interesting. I have seen gorillas in movies but it must be a lifetime experience to see them in real.

  16. What an ultimate adventure! I cannot even imagine how cool it would be to see the gorillas in their natural environment. Animal encounters make up most of my bucket lists. 😉

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