Gorilla Trekking. Uganda and Rwanda provide similar, yet slightly different, gorilla trekking experiences.
Besides gorilla trekking permit cost, the main distinction between Uganda and Rwanda is that mountain gorillas in Uganda live in a rainforest with various trees and plants, while those in Rwanda live in the Virunga hills, where bamboo is the predominant form of vegetation.
- Uganda Permits – US$ 700 per person, per trek
- Rwanda Permits – US$ 1,500 per person, per trek
In Rwanda, the bamboo forest zone of Volcanoes National Park is where the gorillas are commonly seen, providing a stunning backdrop to observe these big primates.
In Uganda, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest is a tropical rainforest. Although it is a beautiful site, as the name says, the thicker vegetation occasionally makes it challenging to view the gorillas.
We always recommend to guests to book 2 gorilla treks. This recommendation is because you only have 1 hour (very strict) with the gorillas, once you have located them. On the first trek, people are usually so busy taking photos and video, to stand back and take in the moment. Being able to stand back and take it in often happens on the second trek. Not only this, but you ultimately will trek 2 different groups of gorillas and so are likely to have two very different experiences in terms of the walk, weather, number of gorillas, baby gorillas vs silverbacks, etc.
Many people believe Rwanda is a better alternative than Uganda for gorilla tracking. Arguments favour this claim include that it is an 8 to 9-hour drive from Entebbe to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is only 2- to 3-hour from Kigali.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking
People used to steer clear of gorilla trekking in Uganda due to the lengthy drive, but now there are alternatives:
(i) Access via Kigali. It is only a 4-5 hour drive. For this reason, you can now access Bwindi Impenetrable Forest via Kigali. With this option, you can arrive in Kigali and visit both Rwanda and Uganda thanks to the East African Visa.
(ii) Flights to/from Bwindi are now available.
There are approximately 14 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi National Park, and each group is only permitted a maximum of 8 visitors per day. It is challenging to focus on just one area to track the gorillas because they are continually moving. This means that the entire amount of time you spend gorilla trekking can range from thirty minutes to nine hours.
The topography in Bwindi National Park is a bit more up and down. The lack of routes and frequently steep slopes give Bwindi National Park its reputation as being impenetrable. Even in the dry season, the weather can change suddenly, so rain might make the ground slick.
Nevertheless, overcoming difficult circumstances is frequently worthwhile because Bwindi National Park is home to 79 mammal species, 160 tree species, and 100 fern species.
Rwanda Gorilla Trekking
Rwanda’s top gorilla viewing location is Volcanoes National Park, where there are 10 habituated gorilla groups, which welcomes all kinds of tourists with its moderate slopes and open jungle.
The late Dian Fossey spent 20 years observing the endangered mountain gorillas on the bamboo-covered slopes of Rwanda’s Virunga Volcanoes, and the filmmakers who captured Gorillas in the Mist also spent time there. Gorilla trekking and interacting with local scientists in their cutting-edge research facilities allow you to directly contribute in the massive efforts to rescue the species, in addition to having one of the most remarkable wildlife encounters on Earth.
Five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga massif are located in Volcanoes National Park, hence its name. The landscapes of Volcanoes National Park, including rainforest, open grassland, and small lakes, are worth seeing on their own.
The decision – whether to trek in Uganda or Rwanda?
Most people include a gorilla trekking as part of a longer safari. Uganda has more alternatives than Rwanda in this regard. Two popular parks are Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks. The most common wildlife, such as elephants, lions, buffalo, and giraffes, can be found in these parks, however, it is important to note that you cannot compare these to the likes of Serengeti National Park or the Masai Mara National Reserve. Uganda is also a popular destination for chimpanzee trekking.
Although Rwanda is less well known as a standalone safari destination, there are excellent off-the-beaten-path jewels there that you can add to your gorilla trip. For example, Nyungwe National Park, is home to 13 primate species, including chimpanzees. Akagera National Park, a picturesque Big Five savannah park. And, the Congo Nile Trail, a hiking and biking trail along the shores of Lake Kivu.
It is very easy to spend 10+ days in either country. You can even combine the Uganda and Rwanda together, by starting in Kigali and ending in Entebbe. Or, starting in Entebbe and ending in Kigali. Doing this lets you trek Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.