How to carefully plan your Uganda gorilla safari
How to carefully plan your Uganda gorilla safari? Uganda’s gorillas are located in only two national parks that is Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga Gorilla Park. Both national parks are located in the southwestern part of the country on the borders of DR Congo and Uganda. Gorilla trekking is one of the reasons why thousands of tourists visit Uganda and, in this article, we shall give you some of the information that we think might help you in planning a gorilla safari in Uganda.
Bwindi impenetrable forest national park protects more than half of the remaining total population of mountain gorillas. The Park is home to over 19 habituated gorilla families located in 4 different sectors of the park- Ruhija, Nkuringo, Rushaga, and Buhoma. Bwindi is also home to 2 gorilla families that are undergoing habituation in Nkuringo and Rushaga sectors. Mgahinga gorilla national park has over 80 mountain gorillas but has got only 1 habituated family that is believed to be having the highest number of silverbacks in all gorilla parks of Africa.
Uganda has the best primate viewing opportunities done in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park or Mgahinga gorilla park and for the case of chimpanzees, it’s best done in Kibale forest national park. A gorilla trekking safari in Uganda consists of a day of gorilla trekking, another day of chimpanzee trekking may be in Kibale forest national park, birding or game drives in any of the savannah parks in the country such as Queen Elizabeth national park, Lake Mburo national park or Murchison falls national park.
Where can you see the mountain gorillas in Uganda?
Uganda has 2 national parks where people can find mountain gorillas. The parks where you can find mountain gorillas in Uganda are Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla park both located in the southwestern part of the country on the borders with Rwanda‘s volcanoes national park and Virunga national park of DR Congo.
The best place to meet mountain gorillas eye to eye in Uganda is Bwindi impenetrable forest national park which has more than half of the remaining total population of mountain gorillas surviving in the world. There are over 19 habituated gorilla families in the park and all these are open for trekking at any time of the year. The Park is also home to 2 habituated gorilla families in Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors.
Mountain gorillas for Bwindi impenetrable forest national park stay in 4 different sectors of the park namely Rushaga in the southwest, Buhoma in the north, Nkuringo in the south, and Ruhija in the east. Trekking mountain gorillas in Mgahinga or Bwindi impenetrable forest national park requires one to be having a valid gorilla permit and it allows you to be around mountain g0orillas for 1 hour while observing their behaviors and taking pictures. Gorilla trekking is done by a maximum of 8 people per group per day.
For people intending to visit Bwindi impenetrable forest national park, there are four sectors and the sector you choose is the permit they give you. the gorilla families to trek are chosen by the UWA guides in the park on the day of trekking basing on age and physical ability of trekkers.
There is only one gorilla family in Mgahinga national park called Nyakagezi and this means only 8 permits are available for trekking in this park. The gorilla permits for Mgahinga Gorilla Park can be obtained from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or a trusted tour operator. Mgahinga national park is located in the Virunga conservation area and hosts 3 of the Virunga Mountains namely Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo. Mgahinga Gorilla Park is also the only place to find golden monkeys in Uganda.
How best can you prepare a gorilla safari in Uganda?
Planning a gorilla tour in Uganda involves looking for a trusted tour operator that will help you in organizing the entire trip. The tour operator helps you in booking a gorilla permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, accommodation, other park activities, and transport. The safari also involves getting a travel date, booking the air tickets, and looking for what to pack for the safari.
Where and how can you the gorilla permit in Uganda
Securing a gorilla permit in Uganda is one of the most challenging things when planning a gorilla tour. Gorilla permits are hard to get most especially when you are intending to visit the country in the dry season. For this reason, you are advised to book your gorilla permit in advance in order to avoid inconvenience.
There are 20 gorilla families in Uganda of which 19 are found in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and 1 is in Mgahinga gorilla park.4 people are allowed to habituate a single gorilla family per day for 4 hours while 8 people visit an already habituated gorilla family a day for a maximum of 1 hour.
We recommend our clients to book their gorilla permits in advance of 3-4 months before coming into the country in order to avoid disappointments the fact that more people plan to visit the country in the dry season due to little or no rainfall. When it comes to Bwindi impenetrable forest national park, booking early helps you to get an opportunity to trek gorillas in the sector of your choice as well as sleeping in the accommodation facilities of your choice.
What is the cost of seeing the endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda?
A gorilla habituation permit in Uganda costs $1500 per person per trek, gorilla trekking permits cost $700 for foreign nonresidents, $600 for foreign residents, and UGX250,000 East African citizens. Gorilla permits are bought from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or can be got through a trusted tour operator and are only sold to persons aged 15 years and above.
What to bring for a gorilla tour?
There are so many things you can bring for a gorilla safari and these include waterproof hiking boots, long-sleeved clothes, waterproof backpack, insect repellents, rain jacket, rain gloves, energy-giving snacks, camera and extra batteries, hat, sunscreen, a pair of gaiters, a pair of binoculars, face mask and sanitizer. On the day of gorilla trekking, you will be tasked to show your gorilla permit and other necessary documents.
What to expect on a gorilla tour?
There is so much to expect on a gorilla tour in Uganda. When you use road transport to the parks you will see the countryside, different natural attractions, smiling people and different hills and mountains. In the park, you will meet the endangered mountain gorillas, different park animals, and different bird species.
Accessing gorilla parks in Uganda
Both Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga national park are located in the southwestern part of Uganda. They can both be accessed by air transport from Entebbe international airport or Kajjansi airstrip using Aerolink Uganda or fly Uganda to Kisoro or Kihihi airstrip when ground transport means are used to reach the park. The parks can also be accessed using road transport from Entebbe or Kampala via Masaka – Mbarara- Kabale – Kisoro Road taking you about 9-10 hours.
Accommodation on a gorilla safari in Uganda
Both Mgahinga Gorilla Park and Bwindi impenetrable forest national park have accommodation facilities ranging from budget to mid-range to luxury options. The hotels are scattered in different parts of the park and others are found outside the park.
Accommodation facilities in Mgahinga Gorilla Park include Mount Gahinga lodge, Virunga hotel and campsite, Lake Chahafi resort, Travellers Rest Hotel, and Mount Gahinga Rest Camp. Some of the accommodation facilities outside Mgahinga Gorilla Park include Kisoro Traveler’s Rest, Muhabo Hotel, Sky Blue, Virunga Hotel, Montana Guesthouse, Mgahinga Safari Lodge, and Mucha hotel among others.
Accommodation facilities in all 4 sectors of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park include Buhoma lodge, Clouds Mountain Lodge, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Gorilla Valley Lodge, Bwindi Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge, Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge, Cuckooland Lodge, Mutanda Lake Resort, Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge, Mahogany Springs Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Gorilla Safari Lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Camp, Silverback Lodge, Buhoma Community Lodge, Bwindi View Bandas, and Buhoma Community Rest Camp.
The process of trekking mountain gorillas
Mountain gorilla trekking requires trekkers to wake up early in the morning head to the different briefing stations of the parks. At the briefing points, you are asked to present valid passports and also taught the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking activity. After the briefing, you are grouped into 8 and a ranger guide leads you to the jungle to search for the gorilla family allocated to you.
While locating the gorilla family assigned to you, you will meet different park mammals, primates, birds, and different vegetation types. After several hours of searching for these endangered mountain gorillas, you will finally locate them and 1 hour will be given to you to observe their behaviors and also take pictures. After spending an hour with mountain gorillas, you will trek back to the starting points and collect your gorilla trekking certificates.
How long does gorilla trekking activity take?
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park or Mgahinga national park takes 1-7 hours to locate a gorilla family. Finding mountain gorillas in the rainy season is easy because there is plenty of food anywhere in the jungle so mountain gorillas don’t go far to look for food.
Possibility of seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda?
There are 98% chances of seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda because some of the park rangers head into the forest very early in the morning before the trekkers and locate where mountain gorillas slept the previous day. After finding the place they use radio calls and tell the rangers at the briefing centers of which trails to use and locate the mountain gorillas faster. This means there are higher chances of seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda at any time of the year.
After locating mountain gorillas, you will need to leave your equipment behind about 50 meters and move to the mountain gorillas for observation of their behaviors and taking photos. Photographing mountain gorillas is done using flashless cameras. You will also be advised to keep your voices low.
How difficult is mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda can be done by anyone but due to the nature of the terrain of the country, trekking is sometimes difficult and for this reason, trekkers are advised to do exercises so as to keep physically fit. Mountain gorillas most of the time move to higher elevations to look for food making it difficult to locate them. Despite that the gorilla trekking activity in Uganda is challenging, everyone who takes part in the activity completes it and makes the dream true of trekking mountain gorillas.
Why do you need to hire a porter during gorilla trekking?
People with heavy luggage or old people are encouraged to hire porters to help them on carrying their luggage through the trekking process in the jungle. The porters in the different national parks have got experience and knowledge of the terrain in the park and can help you to carry your luggage. Hiring a porter for the whole activity costs $15-$20 but at the end of the day, you can still tip them. You can hire porters from different briefing stations in the parks. The money porters get is used to feed their families and the studying people use it to pay school fees.
Gorilla trekking rules
Before heading out into the jungle to search for mountain gorillas, the park rangers teach you about the rules and regulations which you need to follow in order to protect yourself and mountain gorillas as well. Some of the rules and regulations include washing hands before heading into the jungle, wearing the face mask, avoiding littering in the park, avoiding to eat around mountain gorillas, use of fleshless cameras, keeping voices around mountain gorillas, keeping 7 meters away from mountain gorillas, and not touching or provoking mountain gorillas.
Time spent with mountain gorillas
One of the gorilla trekking rules issued out by Uganda wildlife authority indicates 1 hour as the time allowed to stay with mountain gorillas. This 1 hour starts counting when you meet the gorillas. This time allows trekkers to observe mountain gorillas and take pictures. To the people that would love to spend more than 1 hour with mountain gorillas, you are advised to book gorilla habituation permits which allow trekkers to stay around mountain gorillas for up to 4 hours. You should note that gorilla habituation is only done in Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park.
Trekking early in the morning helps trekkers to find mountain gorillas fresh from their sleeping places and looking for fresh food and this means that there is less movement so you might sit around mountain gorillas and watch them eat food. After a full hour around mountain gorillas, your ranger guide will lead you back to the starting point where you will be awarded trekking certificates.
What is the best time for gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga Gorilla Park can be done at any time of the year but the best time to visit these national parks would be the dry season when there is little or no rainfall. The drier months of Uganda are June, July, August, September, December, January, and February. During the dry months, the roads leading to the parks are passable, the vegetation is thin and the trekking trails are less slippery or muddy.
When you are planning to trek mountain gorillas in the dry season you are advised to book your gorilla permits and book the lodges in advance of 3-4 months in order to avoid inconvenience because during these months a lot of people are intending to visit the country. Even though you are to visit the country in the dry season, you are advised to carry your warm clothes and rain jackets.
Uganda can also be visited during the rainy season but there is too much rainfall, roads leading to the parks are impassable, the vegetation is thick, the trekking trails are muddy and slippery. The advantage of trekking mountain gorillas in the rainy season is that trekking takes little time the fact that mountain gorillas don’t move far in the jungle to look for since its plenty everywhere, and the accommodation facilities give huge discounts since a few people are coming to the country.
Other activities to do in Uganda apart from gorilla trekking
Uganda stands out to the most blessed country in Africa with different destinations, to see different animals such as mammals, primates as well as birds.
Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda is best done in Kibale forest national park located in the western part of the country. Other places where chimpanzee trekking is done include Kyambura gorge of Queen Elizabeth national park, Toro Semuliki wildlife reserve, Kaniyo Pabidi, and Kalinzu forest.
During chimpanzee trekking in these places, you have opportunities of seeing other primates most especially in Kibale forest national park which has over 13 primates among which include grey checked mangabey, L’hoet’s monkeys, blue monkeys, red checked mangabeys, black and white colobuses, pottos, olive baboons, demidoff galago, and Uganda red colobus to mention but a few.
After a successful gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi or Mgahinga national park you can add on a game drive safari in any of the savannah parks but the nearest would-be Lake Mburo national park and Queen Elizabeth national park in the western part of Uganda.
Game drives in these national parks give you an opportunity to see some of the park animals such as lions, zebras, tree-climbing lions is Ishasha, buffaloes, elephants, hyenas, leopards, impalas, bushbucks, Uganda kobs, reedbucks, hyenas, topis, olive baboons, warthogs, bushbucks, hippos, crocodiles, and waterbucks among others.
After the game drives you can as well do a boat cruise on Lake Mburo or kazinga channel in Queen Elizabeth national park for about 2 hours with opportunities of seeing a number of hippos and crocodiles, water birds such as African skimmers, malachite kingfishers, open billed stork, African spoonbills, African fish eagle, tabora cisticola, saddle bill stork, papyrus gonolek, martial eagle, and African finfoot.
Birding in Bwindi exposes you to over 346 bird species that have been so far recorded in the park. Some of the bird species in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park include African green broadbill, fine banded woodpecker, grauer’s rush warbler, emerald cuckoo, Angolan swallow, chestnut throated apalis, montane oriole, shinning African blue, western green tinker bird, western green tinker bird, Shelley’s crimson wing, short-tailed warbler, regal sunbird, kivu ground thrush, montane oriole, white-headed saw wing, impressed African emerald, black bee-eater, white-tailed blue fly, African citril, bar-tailed trogon, and handsome spurfowl among others.
Golden monkey tracking/experience
Golden monkey trekking is the second most done activity in Mgahinga national park located in southwestern Uganda. Golden monkeys are a species of old-world monkey and in Uganda, it’s found in Mgahinga national park. Just like mountain gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking requires one to possess a golden monkey permit which is bought from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or through a trusted tour operator. A golden monkey tracking permit in Mgahinga gorilla park costs 60 both foreign nonresidents and foreign residents while East African citizens pay UGX40,000. A golden monkey experience permit costs $100 for both foreign nonresidents and foreign residents while East African citizens pay UGX100,000. A gorilla tracking permit allows you to stay around golden monkeys for a maximum of 1 hour while the experience permit allows you to 4 hours.
There are so many cultures in Uganda and among these include the Batwa pygmies in southwestern Uganda. The Batwa group of people were initially hunters, and fruit gathers but were evicted from the forests of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park when the government wanted to gazette the land to protect the remaining animals especially the mountain gorillas which were about to get to extinction. The Batwa were forced to move out of the parks and they now live outside the park in districts of Kabale, Kisoro, and Kanungu.
The Batwa trail or experience in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park or Mgahinga gorilla park gives you an opportunity to understand the way of life and history of these people. The experience is led by the Batwa people who take you around different communities, tell you different stories of how they lived in the forest, how they used plants as local medicine, how they used to make fire using sticks, and how they used to hunt small animals for meat. The money collected from visiting the Batwa helps them to increase their income and have a better life.