How to See Silverback Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda

How to See Silverback Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda

How to See Silverback Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda : Visiting mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda is an extra-ordinary experience a few fortunate enough travelers have got a chance to participate in. trekking through the emerald rain forests searching for one of the closest relatives to human kind is not only spectacular but also rare.

There are only about 1040 mountain gorillas left in the world making these species critically endangered, these gentle giants can only be seen in only 4 East African national parks that is Volcanoes National Parks in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.

The gorilla trek needs to be with a certified guide for your protection as the traveler as well as the gorillas.

Are planning to visit mountain gorillas, this article takes you through how to plan a gorilla trekking trip, from costs and permits to the protection of the gorillas.

How much does a gorilla trip cost?

The price of a full gorilla trip includes permits, guides, lodging and additional add-ons that can vary wildly, but expect to spend around $ 1,000 per person on the low end and $ 15,000 on the high end for a gorilla trek.

Price for a gorilla trip can vary depending on which country you are trekking in, in Uganda permits are $ 700 per person and $ 1,500 per person in Rwanda, your accommodation type, the tour provider you choose to go with and whether there are other excursions planned for the tour such as additional trek or safari will influence the price for your gorilla trip.

The price of the permit helps the respective countries with protection and conservation efforts, particularly considering the mountain gorillas are critically endangered. 15 percent of the money collected from gorilla permits goes to the government, 10 percent to the local communities and the 75% to gorilla conservation.

Most tour operators include the price of the gorilla permit in the overall price for the tour, however be sure to doble check with your tour operator. At the very least, your gorilla tour should include lodging and meals.

What is most likely not to be included in your gorilla trip is tip for the guide and the porter, for guides, $ 25 per person is recommended.

For porters- someone who carries your backpack and helps provide an extra hand when crossing tricker and muddy parts of the forest, like going up muddy hills or over large fallen trees. The going rate is minimum of $ 15, even if you are fit and aren’t carrying much, most guiding companies recommend getting a porter.

Though $ 15 may not seem like much to you, it is hugely important to the porters and greatly contributes to their well-being. It also helps the locals benefit from ecotourism which in turn shows them the value of protecting the gorillas.

Some poachers are actually former poachers who have come to realize that there is greater value in conservation.

When is the best time to see the gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda?

Though there is no bad time to come face to face with these gentle giants, certain months are better than others more specifically during the dry seasons of December through February and June through August.

Heavy rains throughout the rest of the year can make trekking trails which can make the steep slopes muddy and slippery. These are not ideal conditions for an all-day outdoor excursion, the advantage of gorilla trekking in the wet season also known as the low season, it is easy to get the gorilla permits.

If you are planning to travel during the peak season (June – August), it is good to book a few months in advance as possible.

Travel Tip: There are only eight gorilla permits issued each day for each habituated gorilla family meaning there are a total of 104 daily gorilla permits in Uganda and 80 permits in Rwanda.

How Long are Gorilla Treks?

Regardless the number of gorilla treks you can take, they are never the same. A gorilla trek can take from 30 minutes to 8 hours to find a gorilla family in the thick rain forests, once you are with the gorilla family, visitors are allowed to spend only one hour with the gorillas.

What is the difference between gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda?

While both Rwanda and Uganda offer incredible gorilla treks, there are a few small difference to consider when deciding which country to visit.

Proximity

The closeness of Volcanoes National Park to Kigali International Airport is one of the big draws to going to Rwanda for a gorilla trekking safari, it is about two-hour drive. If you are short on time, it may be the better option.

In Uganda, it is about nine hours from Entebbe International Airport to either Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. It is also possible to fly into Kigali and cross the border by land into Bwindi or Mgahinga which is about 4 hours.

Gorilla families

In Rwanda, you can only see mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park currently with 10 habituated gorilla families ranging from 11 to 33 members, the gorillas here are the close descendants of those Dian Fossey first studied specifically the Susa family which is also the largest group and one of the hardest to track.

In Uganda, mountain gorillas can be seen in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where there are 19 habituated gorilla families ranging from 9 to 26 members and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park where there is only one gorilla family with nine gorillas- though it has the highest percentage of silverbacks per family with four hours away.

Because, there are more habituated gorilla families in Bwindi, it is usually easier to get permits there.

 Trekking and difficulty

Trekking in Rwanda is considered less steep and slippery than in Uganda, but it is at a higher elevation which can be challenging.

Additional Experience

As of February 2022, guests can visit the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund before or after their trek to get a better understanding of the great apes. The campus includes three main buildings that is a research center, education center and a gallery where visitors can learn about the gorillas and Dian Fossey and housing for 30 visiting students and researchers.

What to expect on a gorilla trek

Even if you are trekking during the dry season, remember it can rain at any time in a rainforest, expect the trails to be fairly muddy and it is a good idea to wear hiking boots with ankle support and knee-high gaiters or rainboots to keep your socks dry and your feet more or less blister free. Also, be sure to pack a raincoat.

On the day of your gorilla trek, you and everyone else with a gorilla permit will meet at the park’s headquarters. Here, you will be grouped into 8 people and assigned a gorilla family to trek. If you have mobility issues, this is the time to let the guides known and they will try to appoint the most fit with the gorilla families that are the most challenging to reach, while those who may need to move at a slower pace are assigned families easier to find. This is also when you will be briefed on safety measures.

From here, you will go to the park entrance, where you will be able to hire a porter. Trekking for gorillas often means hours of hiking through dense forest on steep, narrow paths always behind your guide.

Earlier in the day, groups of trackers set out to find the various families, during the trek, the guide will be in constant communication with the trackers to assess where the gorillas may be heading and determine the best spot to try to meet them.

Once you find your gorilla family, you have one hour to spend with them. During this period of time you may observe them looking for food and eating them, playing, sleeping or grooming each other.

Though gorillas are gentle, it is important to keep a safe distance and follow the instructions of your guide. You are allowed to take as many photos as you wish as long as your flash light is off.

In this once-in-a-life-time experience that goes by all too fast, it is important to set your camera aside for at least part of this incredible encounter.

After your hour is up, you will hike back to the park’s headquarters.  

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