Preparation Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi National Park

gorilla at Bwindi national park
Image via Flickr by Rod Waddington

Sheltering the largest population of the world’s mountain gorillas, Bwindi impenetrable forest is the best location to meet man’s closest cousins face to face. With about 950 mountain gorillas still surviving in the rain forests of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, Bwindi forest hosts over 500 mountain gorillas spread over 4 different sectors of the forest. Bwindi is one of Africa’s unique ecosystems with numerous animal, plant and bird species.

Bwindi impenetrable forest
Image via Flickr by Laurent de Walick

Bwindi impenetrable forest is rated as a number one destination for gorilla trekking safaris by majority travelers because of the numerous mountain gorilla groups which allow for more gorilla permits assigned to visitors. The forest has a total number of 13 mountain gorilla families and can issue a total number of 104 gorilla trekking permits daily. The forest also offers a unique option of gorilla habituation experience. This is where one is given 4 hours of time with the gorillas instead of the usual to. This arrangement is only possible in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable forest and nowhere else. Two gorilla families are open for gorilla habituation experience with 8 gorilla permits available daily. Bwindi forest is distributed into four sectors each with its distinct gorilla families;

  • The Buhoma sector comprises Habinyanja gorilla family, Mubare gorilla family and Rushegura gorilla family,
  • Ruhija region with Bitukura gorilla family, Kyaguriro gorilla family and Oruzogo gorilla family
  • Rusahaga sector hosts the Busingye gorilla family, Bweza gorilla family, Kahungye gorilla family, Mishaya gorilla family and Nshongi gorilla family
  • Nkuringo sector is home to Nkuringo family with only one gorilla group

All tourists visiting Bwindi impenetrable forest can chose to track any of the available sectors and gorilla permits are available on first come, first serve basis. As you buy your gorilla permit, be aware which sector you will be trekking gorillas and book the right accommodation within the sector where the mountain gorilla family lives.

What is Gorilla Trekking like in Bwindi Forest

All gorilla treks start off at 7:00 am with a briefing to prepare trekkers mentally and physically on what to expect and how to behave while with the gorillas. Gorilla tourism is a conservation tool which funds conservation efforts directly, and hence trekkers must follow the guides rules to the letter, otherwise the gorillas risk being affected.

A maximum number of 8 tourists can trek an individual gorilla family. Bwindi offers a total number of 13 gorilla families and 103 visitors can track gorillas in a single day! This limit is intended to reduce chances of disease transmission from humans. A large number of people can threaten the gorillas.

gorilla trekking at bwindi forest
Image via Flickr by Laurent de Walick

Gorilla trekkers are accompanied by two park guides and a guard to ensure security in the jungle. Your guides normally create way for you through the jungle using their machetes as you trek to find where your gorilla family is located. The guides normally use radio calls to communicate with their colleagues who go to the forest early in advance to find the gorilla locations.

Finally, meeting the gorillas is amazing and humbling experience. You will experience a range of emotions as you stare into their dark brown eyes or see the babies breast feed and play about with their mothers. They share similar characteristics with humans – This is perhaps because mountain gorillas share 95% of their DNA with humans. Being with mountain gorillas lasts for one hour and your guide will escort you back to the tracking point.

When to go

Gorilla permits are sold all year round and one can go any time of the year! However since you will be trekking through misty jungle rain forests, the dry season – December to March, June to October is much preferred as its less likely to rain. Trails are much easy to hike on sunny and bright days with the sun penetrated through the canopy offering you a great chance to take very good pictures. The rainy season – April, May and November makes pathways slippery and difficult to locate because of overgrown vegetation.

mountain gorillas in bwindi
Image via Flickr by Laurent de Walick

However with the right gear, trackers have no problem locating the gorillas even in the rainy season. One advantage of the rainy season is that gorilla families are much closer as the forest is all green and food nearby – Expect to find gorilla groups nearby.  In the dry season, the gorilla groups go further into the forest in search of food.

Average Cost of a Gorilla Tour

It’s best to confirm and pay for your gorilla permits ahead of your planned safari as they are sold at first come first serve basis. Uganda gorilla permits are sold at $600 and there are discounts during the low season. Uganda’s permits are less expensive than the Rwandan permit which is sold at $1500. Visitors can easily cross the border to Bwindi forest to trek gorillas on the Ugandan side.

Mountain Gorilla
Image via Flickr by Rod Waddington

You should factor in the cost of transportation to and from the park. You should also plan to include small tips to the locals at the park. Overall, a 3 days gorilla tour in Bwindi on average cost about $1200 Per Person.  The chance of seeing the gorillas is guaranteed regardless of which time of the year and is worth all the money spent.

Is Gorilla Trekking Worth It?

Absolutely worth every penny – and you have a guarantee to see the gorillas for 1 hour! The largest part of your permit money goes toward mountain gorilla conservation and habitat protection, paying staff, doctors and research. Evidently the cost of seeing gorillas for just an hour in the jungle is high, but bear in mind that you are directly  protecting the remaining endangered mountain gorilla species in the world.

gorilla at Bwindi national park
Image via Flickr by Rod Waddington

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