If you have ever thought about a gorilla trekking safari, then I highly urge you to read this post… my husband recently celebrated his 40th birthday and so we spent 3 days in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda! Here is the story of how he ticked gorilla trekking off his bucket list. This post will give you everything you need to know, from what to pack, how many days you’ll need through to how much you will spend.
Note: This is not an affiliate linked post. We booked and paid for our 3 days gorilla trekking holiday to Uganda in full with Volcanoes Safari. We also do not receive any commissions if you choose to book through the links provided here.
Gorilla trekking has never been on my bucket list. I guess I prefer beaches, relaxation and cocktails over holidays that require a great level of energy and exertion. I’ve recently added Cocos Keeling to my bucket-list. (If you have been there, drop me a line… I’d love to meet someone who has.) Anyhow back to Uganda and the gorillas.
This trip was incredible, and from someone who had never planned to visit the gorillas… it was a life changer. One of the most powerful experiences of my life. And just between us, I think the hubby might even have let a tear or two escape. Yes, it was really that good.
But where did we start and how did we plan for the trip. Because of course, it isn’t like most others vacations, getaways or holidays.
I needed to do my research and began asking these types of questions…
- Which country would be the best to visit, in order to see gorillas
- Who we should book with
- How much would the trip and gorilla trekking actually cost in Uganda
- How to get to there
- What to pack – gorilla trekking gear
- What measures were taken ethically to support the gorillas in their habitat
- And generally speaking, what to expect
I break down each of these elements below, and I’ll treat you with some of our favourite photos along the way.
Which Country is Best for Gorilla Trekking?
While I can’t tell you which country is the best for gorilla trekking, I can tell you what I discovered through my research and experience.
There are three countries that offer gorilla trekking activities. Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Trekking
The most popular and most expensive country for gorilla trekking is Rwanda. From what I can tell, the reason for this relates to accessibility.
Rwanda has relatively easy points of access to the Virunga National Park where approximately half the worlds population of mountain gorillas live. The park is located close to Kigali international airport, so providing an easier access for tourists. With, a large number of people preferring the easier option, but because of the restricted number of daily permits, this makes the whole process more expensive.
Democratic Republic of the Congo Gorilla Trekking
This is certainly the less frequently visited of the three destinations. The gorilla trekking also takes place in the Virunga National Park, shared in part by Rwanda.
To be honest finding information on gorilla trekking here was a challenge in itself. It seemed to be less set up for tourists, and a slightly greater risk with the unpredictable political nature of the country. Naturally, we scratched it off the list very early on in the planning stage. But if you have been gorilla trekking here, then I ‘d love to here all about it.
Uganda Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a little more difficult to get to and a trickier trek (from what i have read), but the permits are considerably cheaper. There is also a large number of gorilla families within this smaller National Park, therefore giving a higher density of gorillas.
This was our destination of choice. Yes partly because of the lesser fee, but also because we wanted to feel like we had truly earned our visit to the gorillas. We wanted the more challenging hike because mountain gorillas are worth it. But more on our experience further below.
Recommended Tour Provider
Before I explain the cost you need to know about what you are getting with Volcanoes Safaris. They are the luxury, all inclusive tour provider that we chose for our adventure.
When booking gorilla trekking with Volcanoes Safaris, it is likely that you will trek within the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. In this case, you will stay at the Bwindi Lodge which is nestled in jungle opposite the National Park. Each of the lodge’s nine rooms, or bandas as they are called, overlook the dramatic valley and directly up at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This view is what you have come to trek, and boy does it look steep from this vantage point. But don’t worry it’s not quite as scary as it looks from the banda balcony.
The food served at the main lodge is outstanding, with three main meals provided each day. Snacks are provided as and when you need them, served to your room or on the lodge balcony. The drinks are free flowing, and your personal butler will take care of your every need.
There is plenty to explore in the small town including the Lodge’s very own community Bwindi Bar. And if you are feeling up for it, there is a nature walk, a tea plantation tour, and a river walk, or if you’d prefer to take it easy a spa for two.
If you rather visit the gorillas in Rwanda, Volcanoes Safaris also have a lodge there. If you are familiar with the Bucket List Family, you might also know that they stayed with Volcanoes Safaris on their Rwandan gorilla trekking experience. You can see a little bit about them and their trip here.
What is exciting is that, Uganda is also home to the chimpanzee. If you’d like to add this to your trip, then this can also be booked with Volcanoes Safaris. Their Kyambura Gorge Lodge in Uganda looks equally as gorgeous. In fact, some of the travellers that we met, were continuing on to see the chimpanzees after their stay at the Bwindi Lodge.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking Cost
The prices shared here were accurate for 2019 and may have now changed. So this is merely to give you an idea.
The Volcanoes Safari package that we paid included four nights accomodation with full board. Return flights from Entebbe to Kihihi. Our designated driver and safari vehicle that took us wherever we needed to be (including the two-three hour drive from Kihihi airport to Bwindi lodge.) All park entry, permits and community fees for two days of trekking each. In other words, we simply needed to get ourselves to Entebbe and the rest was taken care of.
To give you an idea of the cost for the gorilla trekking permits in Uganda, it’s USD $600 per person, per day. And this fee allows you to be with the gorillas for one hour, before trekking your way back out of the forest. But I’ll explain this further in the ethics section.
In total we paid just short of USD $10,000. For a luxury stay, in what is one of the best bucket list destinations in the world, I’m going to say that this is a very reasonable price to pay for what we experienced.
It’s pretty incredible. And if I could do it all over again, I would book it exactly the same. I wouldn’t change a thing!
Getting To Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
I have discussed the logistics of getting to Bwindi Lodge in Uganda already a little above, such that if you have booked with Vocanoes Safaris, they will take care of everything from Entebbe onwards.
Entebbe is the international airport in Uganda and there are many airline carrier options to get here. Including direct flights with Emirates or Fly Dubai if you are coming from the Middle East.
When you have arrived in Entebbe there is a small internal flight to Kihihi, which is a small runway closest to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. If like us, you might make a detour at another small runaway to drop a couple of passengers off (going to see the Chimpanzees.) And just so you are prepared, these planes are small… like eight people small! The flight itself is quite beautiful as you fly over the Ugandan countryside, villages, rivers and wild animals.
When you have arrived in Kihihi, there is a two-three hour drive to the lodge. And by the time you’ve got to the lodge, you’ll be ready for a shower and a cocktail I’m sure. Time to start preparing yourself mentally for what is to follow the next day.
Gorilla Trekking Gear
Like me you’ll want to do your research on what gear you’ll need. Honestly it doesn’t need to be complicated.
Gorilla Trekking Clothing
The most important thing you’ll need is moisture wicking clothes. North Face, Lululemon or Kathmandu are some good brands that you could explore. Preferably good quality clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined. A light sweater and light waterproof jacket are good. Remember you are trekking in a rainforest, so one minute you will be cold and damp, the next you’re hot and physically exhausted.
We decided to purchase gators, but long socks pulled up over your hiking pants or trousers also work. This protects your ankles from the thorns waiting to rip you to pieces.
Gardening gloves were a great recommendation. Don’t spend a fortune on specialised gloves, just a cheap pair of gardening gloves will keep you hands protected. Not surprisingly you’ll spend a fair bit of time on your behind, as you make way through tight jungle spaces.
A good pair of hiking boots, but not too good. By the end of the second day of trekking the soles of my reputable branded hiking boots had completely separated from the shoe. Granted they were a few years old, but they hadn’t done a lot of trekking in their time.
Other Gorilla Trekking Gear
Walking sticks are very important and you’ll use them. You will actually really rely on them after you’ve spent eight hours trekking up and down the various ridges and valleys. The lodge and driver will make sure you get good sturdy walking sticks, so you won’t need to bring them with you.
Cameras, plenty of batteries and memory space – digital memory space that is. You’ll likely never get to do this again. So make sure you capture it well forever.
We always travel with our own water bottles, so we recommend that you bring one with you to reduce plastic where possible. The lodge has a refillable water dispenser to fill your bottle from as you need it.
Oh! And also… make sure you don’t wear any bright colours. Gorillas apparently are not fond of red. And I’m pretty sure you won’t want to be getting on the wrong side of a silver back mountain gorilla.
Ethical Measures Taken to Protect the Gorillas
Now I am very particular about preserving our planet for the future generations. Nothing upsets me more than travellers who ignorantly and selfishly abuse their privilege while exploring this world. (That probably sounds harsh, but I think it’s fair given some of the disrespect I have seen).
So I needed to understand the steps taken to protect the gorillas in their natural habitat before taking this journey. So let me share what I know and have learnt about how Uganda Tourism has made gorilla trekking sustainable and respectful.
Protecting the Gorillas…
To start with the number of visitors each day is capped. One group of trekkers to one gorilla family… no more. There are no more than eight tourists per group. On the first day, we were in a group of four, and on the second day a group of seven.
As soon as you have arrived with this family of gorillas, your time starts and you get one hour with them. You cannot come within three metres of a gorilla, unless they come to you. If they do, you are advised to lower your eyes, turn your back and show that you are submissive. The guides were fantastic at adhering to and following these rules.
There is a thorough briefing about the community and government efforts before the trek begins. This goes into detail explaining measures taken to protect the gorillas. They also discuss how the number of gorillas is on the increase with the protection that they now receive against threats such as poachers.
Sustainability Beyond the Gorillas
What we also liked was that money from the gorilla trekking permits went into supporting the people of the community. Likewise, Volcanoes Safaris are very proactive about setting up community projects within which they are based, such as the Bwindi Bar. With the support of the lodge chefs, members of the community run and manage this small bar and restaurant. A definite must see in Bwindi. Also within Bwindi Lodge, there is an effort to source food and supplies locally.
The Gorilla Trek and What to Expect
This section goes through the questions that we are commonly asked by friends and other travellers who have thought about visiting the gorillas. We also give you our tips on how to get the best out of a 3 days gorilla trekking safari in Uganda.
What are the gorillas like with people?
If you think about it, for one hour every day the gorillas experience human presence. They are neither interested nor aggressive, they simply are. They’ll acknowledge you with a look, a growl, a fist stamp at the ground if they feel like it. But largely they are not bothered that we are there. The younger gorillas are perhaps more curious and this might make the adult gorillas a bit nervous at times.
We were fortunate to visit a small family of five gorillas with a new baby, and it was magic. When mama gorilla had enough she moved away with her baby. I just happened to be in her path as she walked past, which had my heart racing as you can probably imagine.
How does the trekking work?
The park has three entrances which are approximately two – three hours drive between (or around as the roads don’t go through the park.) Your permit dictates your entrance point. Each entry point has its own gorilla families associated with the area.
On the morning of the trek and after the briefing, groups are divided between gorilla families. This also dictates your guide, as the same guide visits the same family every day. The other point this dictates is where you start your trek, with some groups following paths directly from the briefing point and others driving to points closer to where the family were last seen.
What is the trekking really like?
We trekked on two days and each was a completely different experience. At completely different entrances to the park, the terrains were vastly different from each other. If you enter from Buhoma entrance, the trek is straight up and it’s steep. When you get to the top of the mountain range, the terrain levels out somewhat, though the jungle thickens and the walk becomes slower.
The second entrance at Rujhija is at a higher altitude. From Bwindi Lodge it will be an early start as it takes a good couple of hours to drive there by safari vehicle. You’ll enter the trek down the mountain and when you have finished with the gorillas you will be walking out up hill. We found this trek much harder, but also more picturesque. We trekked up and down several ridges, through valleys, stream and river crossings so naturally it was wet, slippery, muddy and through thick overgrown jungle.
How do the trekkers find the gorillas and how long does it take?
It can take anywhere from two to ten hours to find the gorillas. And as I said above, when you have arrived you are with them for no more than one hour. In Buhoma we had finished trekking after five hours, and with Ruhija it was about seven.
Each morning trekkers enter the jungle and trek back to where they left the gorillas the night before. They begin radioing to the second set of trekkers, this is the group that you’ll be travelling in with. While you have a fairly good chance of seeing gorillas, they do say it isn’t a definite.
Is a bag porter really necessary?
There are two ways of looking at this. No they are probably not necessary and you’d manage without I’m sure. But these guys from the community greatly benefit from your business if you get me. It doesn’t cost much and they’ll gratefully cart that bag and lunch of your’s up and down the mountain.
They’ll offer you a hand when the mountain gets too steep and slippery. They’ll catch you as you come dangerously close to taking out the whole party by human landslide. They will literally give that butt of your’s a shove up the hill when you most need it. And by the end of the second day of gorilla trekking, you’ll love him for it. You’ll end up tipping him extra, and giving him your gardening gloves (because he hasn’t had any on the whole time).
What medication will you need to take?
You will need to take the yellow fever vaccination before you leave, and bring the booklet with you. You may also choose to take malaria medication. But do consult your GP before taking a trip like this to see what they recommend.
Our recommendations for Uganda… the perfect 3 days gorilla trekking safari.
If I was to give any advice that shouldn’t be ignored… its that if you do go to Uganda for a gorilla safari, then make it 3 full days.
Stay four nights, trek for two and have a rest day in between. This is exactly what we did. We met many people who only trekked one day, and wish they’d done two. Others who had trekked two days, back to back. Others that had booked two days back to back but couldn’t do the second as their bodies wouldn’t let them (they were older couples and did have rather long treks.) In reality after the first day of trekking you will be sore and exhausted, the rest day really helped (and its a great opportunity to enjoy the complimentary massage.)
To finish up… this safari is like no other, it is out of this world. Nothing can prepare you for the moment you first hear and then see the gorillas in their natural environment. It is a seriously emotional trip, and one that should be reserved for very special occasions.
Please share your gorilla trekking stories below. I realise that everyone’s experience is different and I’d love to know about yours. If you haven’t been… perhaps a 3 days gorilla trekking safari in Uganda is now on your bucket list?
Looking for a place to chill after a few days of trekking? Check this post on Zanzibar for a laid back African treat.