Gorilla trekking in Uganda is one of the world’s greatest wildlife experiences. If you want to connect with your wild side there is nowhere better.
This article uses personal experience to explain how to plan an independent gorilla trek in Uganda. It covers the different sectors and troops, permits, accommodation and practical information.
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi: How To Guide
Home to more than half of the total mountain gorilla population, Bwindi forest is one of the best places for mountain gorilla trekking.
Situated in southwestern Uganda, Bwindi national park can be accessed via Kampala by road, which is an 8 – 10 hours drive south of Uganda with stopovers; and from Entebbe by charter flight – just 1hour 45 minutes.
Impenetrable indeed, Bwindi offers tourists a real jungle adventure with a chance to visit the near groups (simple trek), medium hike and tough hike. However, you don’t always get a choice of the trek you go on.
For that you should visit Rwanda for gorilla trekking. Visiting gorillas in Bwindi forest also cater for the disabled and those with health issues.
Bwindi Forest – Four Different Destinations
Bwindi offers a total of 13 habituated gorilla families and two other groups open to tourists interested in taking part in the new gorilla habituation experience. Gorilla groups in Bwindi forest are distributed over four distinct locations, known as sectors.
You must purchase a permit for a specific sector and these sectors are located on different sides of the park. Each is two or three hours from the next, so you must think carefully about how the location fits into your travel plans.
Buhoma (northwest) – three habituated troops, 24 permits per day.
Nkuringo (southwest) – one troop, 8 permits per day.
Rushaga (south) – five troops, 40 permits per day.
Ruhija (east) – four troops, 32 permits per day.
The most popularly visited sector – this was the first sector with a habituated gorilla family – the Mubare group, and hence the first region open to tourists in 1993. It’s no wonder Buhoma has the highest number of hotels, and the most sought after sector by the majority of tourists.
Today, the region offers 3 habituated gorilla groups with many accommodation options. It’s also the nearest and easiest to reach sector when traveling overland from Kampala.
Note that gorilla permits here are usually booked a year in advance since it is so popular. Buhoma is a beautiful yet remote area but it is surprisingly accessible. I’d recommend it if you are combining Bwindi with the other best safari destinations in Uganda, such as Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kibale Forest.
Situated in the eastern part of Bwindi forest, this is the sector of the part nearest to Rwanda. The quickest way to get here is to fly to Rwanda and then cross the border in Uganda. Visitors planning to see gorillas in Bwindi from Kigali can access Ruhija on a 3 hours drive from Kigali.
The Ruhija region comprises of 4 habituated gorilla groups available for trekking. Only mid range and budget hotels are available so Ruhija qualifies as the best place for budget tourists. It’s relatively easy to get permits here, so I’d only recommend booking a month in advance.
Situated on the southern side of Bwindi national park, Rushaga, just like Nkuringo is located in Kisoro district. From Rwanda, tourists access Rushaga from Ruhengeri Volcanoes National Park via the Cyanika border. Rushaga is hilly, and gorilla tours here are tough.
Rushaga sector has 5 habituated gorilla groups and 2 more gorilla groups open for gorilla habituation experience.
Rushaga is the easiest place to get a permit, so a good choice for last minute trekkers. When an Africa Freak contributor visited in 2015 he reported a lack of accommodation options, however that is sure to change now that there are 40 permits available for each day.
With just 1 gorilla family, Nkuringo is a hiker’s paradise with the toughest hiking gorilla family group. Nkuringo is mountainous and offers some of the best views in Bwindi national park, from here, you can view neighboring extinct Gahinga volcano, Sabyinyo and Muhabura.
This is the hardcore option. Nkuringo is the hardest sector to reach and the trek can be upwards of three or four hours.
Frequently Asked Questions on Bwindi Gorilla Trekking
What would be the best time of year to go visit gorillas?
Visiting gorillas in Bwindi forest can be done all year round but is most preferably done in the dry seasons of December – March and June – October. With Bwindi being a tropical forest, rain is expected to come all year round and you cannot guarantee it won’t rain even during the dry seasons.
April – May and November are rainy seasons. If you prefer to trek gorillas in the dry season, it’s most advisable to book your gorilla permits at least 8 months ahead of your trekking date, as many tourists prefer to travel during the dry season.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority formerly offered discounted gorilla permits for $450 in the rainy season to encourage tourists to trek gorillas. Uganda gorilla permits cost $600 Per Person all year round.
What are the rules regarding interacting with the gorillas?
- Trekkers are supposed to keep a distance of 7 meters away from the gorillas, beyond that, you are not allowed.
- Trekkers must wear a mask in the Virunga (Congo). This is not compulsory in Bwindi forest, Mgahinga and Volcanoes national park.
- Don’t look straight in the eyes of a gorilla; the gorilla can perceive it as a challenge and a threat.
- Do not make noise in the presence of gorillas.
- Do not run when a gorilla charges or comes near you – stand still and be calm.
- Follow your guide’s instructions at all times.
- Flash photography is not allowed.
How long can you spend with the gorillas?
You are only allowed one hour in the presence of gorillas but the actual trek locating your gorilla family may take longer depending on the location of your gorilla family.
Which accommodation to choose for gorilla trekking?
Numerous accommodation options are available in the different sectors of Bwindi national park, and which ever sector you choose to visit guarantees accommodations ranging from camping, budget, deluxe and luxury facilities.
Here are some planning ideas:
Luxury hotels include – Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Mahogany Springs Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Volcanoes Safari Bwindi Lodge, Gorilla Resort Lodge.
Deluxe include – Silverback Lodge, Haven Lodge Buhoma Community and Rest Camp, Engagi Lodge.
Budget – Bwindi View Bandas, Bwindi Guest House, Gorilla Friends Lodge, Buhoma Community and Rest Camp.
Luxury hotels include – Ruhija Gorilla Resort.
Deluxe – Bakiga Lodge, Gorilla Mist Camp.
Budget – Gift of Nature Lodge, Ruhija Community Camp.
Luxury accommodations include Chameleon Hill Lodge and Gorilla Forest Lodge.
Deluxe options – Bwindi Jungle Lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Lodge, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge.
Luxury options – Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge.
Gorilla Habituation Experience
A new gorilla encounter is now possible in Bwindi – gorilla habituation. Although no Africa Freak contributor is yet to try it out, we have received reports from various visitors.
With gorilla habituation you get to spend four hours with a troop. It’s part of the habituation process, joining researchers in getting a gorilla family accustomed to human presence.
Reports suggest you don’t get as close. The gorillas are unsure of human presence so you must keep a very respectful distance. Researchers find a quiet hiding space and you spend the four hours identifying and analyzing their behavior.
You must have patience and a desire to really understand the gorillas’ world, rather than just want to get some good photos. The current price for gorilla habituation is USD 1500 and there are only eight permits per day, so you must book long in advance.
Other Top Tips for Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Forest Uganda
- Wear long trousers and sleeves to combat the insects
- Wear good solid footwear, ideally walking boots.
- Discover more of Uganda on your travels.
- Choose accommodation based on proximity to the trailhead.
- Don’t worry if it is raining – gorillas in the mist or rain is the ultimate experience!