Is Mountain Gorilla Trekking Worth It?
What should you expect during gorilla trekking? Is gorilla trekking worth the cost? We hope you will find answers to the two questions as you read on. Let’s start with some background information on gorillas.
Gorillas are classified into two species: western and eastern gorillas. Western gorillas can be found in West Africa’s vast forests and swamps. Eastern gorillas are found in Africa’s central and eastern regions. They are classified into two subspecies: eastern lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas. Over 250,000 western lowland gorillas are thought to roam the jungles and wetlands of West Africa.
Mountain gorillas are even rarer, with a population of just over 1,000 individuals. Mountain gorillas can only be seen in three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mountain gorillas can be found in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and in Congo’s Virunga National Park. Uganda is home to the largest number of mountain gorillas compared to Rwanda and D.R.C. They are commonly seen in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park.
The fact that mountain gorillas cannot be kept in zoos makes them fascinating. In Germany, attempts were made to keep them in cages, but they were unable to adapt. Over 10,000 tourists travel to the three countries for gorilla trekking every year, just to spend an hour with these primates. In the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, the price of a gorilla permit alone is $400, $700, and $1500, respectively. If you factor in travel, lodging, VISAs, and other unforeseen costs, the total price of a gorilla trekking safari tour may reach $5000 which might be more expensive to some travelers. Is it worthwhile to go on a gorilla trek?
IS GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA WORTH IT?
We believe that gorilla trekking in Uganda is the most thrilling wildlife adventure on the planet. A gorilla trekking permit costs $700 at the time of this writing. For this, you can spend an hour in the company of mountain gorillas in the wild, joining a very small group of people who are fortunate enough to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat. You must be willing to work for it, as the treks can last up to 6 hours before making contact, but the experience is truly unique and unlike anything you have ever experienced. Is Uganda gorilla trekking worth it? Here are 5 Reasons why Gorilla Trekking is Worth It:
- The experience is exhilarating.
The majority of animals typically fall into one of two groups: those that flee from people and those that will bite people who are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, gorillas are generally peaceful animals and will only attack people if they are seriously threatened. You will be able to enjoy the uncommon experience of viewing a powerful, wild animal from a close distance in complete safety as long as you adhere to the body language and distance rules explained to you by the park guides.
- You are directly supporting conservation efforts.
The endangered mountain gorilla is most at risk from habitat destruction due to the expansion of densely populated areas on the periphery of national parks and people’s desire to profit from logging and agriculture. However, the primary source of funding for their ongoing conservation is the revenue from gorilla trekking safari tour.
- It’s cheaper than Rwanda.
To protect the health and welfare of the gorillas, there are many rules and limitations in place, which is why the permits are so expensive and the number of visitors is so small. Permits in Uganda are still considerably less expensive at $700 than those in Rwanda, where they cost $1,500. There isn’t much of a distinction between the two because the gorillas and the terrain are essentially the same. Given the abundance of other incredible things to do in Uganda, we therefore heartily recommend undertaking the trek there.
- The scenery is spectacular.
A day of gorilla trekking entails several hours of strenuous hiking through mountainous terrain with low humidity and thick vegetation. The difficulties of hiking here, however, are part of what makes it such a rewarding adventure, provided you have a base level of fitness.
Additionally, it’s worth it for the breathtaking scenery as well as the opportunity to observe gorillas. There are numerous vantage points where you can enjoy stunning views of the heavily forested, rolling mountains. These mountains are frequently shrouded in clouds, which only serves to enhance their beauty and mystique.
- Bwindi’s flora and fauna
In the mountains of southwest Uganda, there is wildlife besides mountain gorillas. There are also blue monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys (on the lower slopes), grey-cheeked mangabey, and golden monkeys, which hang precariously from the trees of the bamboo forest regions. There are bushbuck, various duiker species, and a wide variety of bird species, including green bulls and Equatorial akalat. Elephants exist as well, though they are infrequently seen.
GORILLA TREKKING EXPERIENCE IN UGANDA AND RWANDA: WHAT TO EXPECT
You may decide to go on safari in one of the three nations once you understand the value of finding mountain gorillas in the wild. You might even have become overly enthusiastic and reserved travel arrangements such as lodging and flights. Your next major concern would be: What is the gorilla trekking experience like?
The next step after making reservations with your tour operator such as Focus East Africa Tours, Achieve Global Safaris and Explore Rwanda Tours is to arrive in your destination country, just like all previous travelers. You should be picked up by your tour operator or hotel at the airport to begin the trip to the national park or to take you to your hotel. The distance between the airport and the national park varies depending on which country you trek in. The driving time will be 2 hours if you are tracking in Rwanda. If you are tracking in Congo, you must first arrive at Kigali International Airport before being driven to the Congo-Rwanda border crossing in Goma. You will be driven from the border to the Virunga National Park, which is only a few kilometers away. If you decide to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, plan on spending eight hours on the road to either Bwindi or Mgahinga National Parks. You can avoid the long journey from Entebbe International Airport in Uganda by flying to Kigali (Rwanda) and driving for only 3 hours to Uganda’s national parks.
If you are traveling with either Focus East Africa Tours, Achieve Global Safaris and Explore Rwanda Tours, the driver or guide will meet you at the airport or a hotel and transport you to your accommodation facility near the national park. On the day of the trek, the driver will pick you up from your hotel very early in the morning and take you to the park offices for a briefing. Request that your hotel prepare a packed lunch and plenty of drinking water for you; you’ll thank us later.
When you arrive at the park, you will be asked to present your passport and gorilla trekking permit. To avoid problems, always travel with your passport. You’ll be surprised to see tourists from almost every continent in the park offices. Some would have come for other reasons, such as tracking golden monkeys or hiking one of the Virunga Volcanoes. You will be briefed on the gorilla trekking rules and requirements between 7:30 and 8 a.m. These briefings are typically led by the park warden and cover topics such as smoking, keeping a safe distance from gorillas, and not fleeing if a gorilla charges. The Rangers will also provide you with background information on each of the gorilla groups as well as the specific park.
The park guides will also advise you on what you should bring to make your trek more comfortable. Following the briefing, you will be assigned to a gorilla family based on your favorite gorilla and overall fitness. Rangers frequently assign gorilla groups based on travelers’ ages. If you are unfit or ill, notify the rangers so that you can be assigned to a nearby gorilla group. You will be assigned another gorilla group if you are tracking a gorilla group for the second time. Visitors are only permitted to spend one hour with the gorillas per day. If the primates become restless, the activity can be cut short at any time. A specific gorilla family may only have eight visitors per day. Following the briefing and assignment of gorilla groups, you will be given the option to hire a porter, as the journey may become exhausting and take several hours. Porters assist in carrying heavy luggage and navigating difficult sections of the trek. A porter’s services cost $15.
The hike begins at a different location for each gorilla group. Most of the time, you will be driven a few kilometers to the starting point. Most of the parks’ roads are in poor condition, especially during the rainy season. When you arrive at the starting point, the Rangers will be in constant radio contact with an advance group of trackers to determine which direction to take to reach the gorilla families. These early-morning trackers get up before sunrise to look for the gorilla group and confirm their location. As a result, the chances of seeing mountain gorillas are extremely high. It’s also worth noting that the rangers are extremely knowledgeable about the park and the gorilla groups. They know each person’s name and personality. If you ask questions, you will be safe and will learn a lot about the primates.
If we consider going and returning, gorilla trekking can take more than 7 hours. Make sure you have enough water and snacks to avoid becoming dehydrated or hungry. If you need to relieve yourself or make a long phone call, ask the rangers to dig a temporary toilet for you. Expect to see beautiful scenery and landscape as you begin your journey to the forest. The Rangers will use machetes to help you cut your way through the dense jungle.
When you come across mountain gorillas, you must follow the guide’s instructions. Before approaching the primates, the ranger will ask everyone to leave their less necessary belongings behind. Only start taking photos when the rangers tell you to. The group will be grooming, farting, breastfeeding, making love, and even sleeping. The toddlers and adolescents are the most active members of the group. They enjoy climbing trees due to their light weight and will keep you entertained with their wrestling matches. Gorillas will sometimes charge tourists just for fun. Don’t act scared or flee. Simply remain quiet and submissive. One amusing aspect of mountain gorillas is that they sometimes act as if they are unaware of your presence. A large silverback may decide to walk right through your group. By the end of your one hour with the gorillas, you will have agreed with countless others that watching gorillas in the wild is indeed a fascinating experience.
After successfully completing your trek, you will return to the starting point and be given a gorilla trekking certificate along the way or at the park headquarters. The certificate certifies that you successfully completed the trek and are one of the few people who have seen mountain gorillas in their lifetime. If you enjoyed the entire experience, you are welcome to tip the rangers for a job well done. After receiving your certificate, the company guide will meet you and drive you back to your lodge.
WHERE CAN ANYONE GO FOR AN EXCELLENT GORILLA TREKKING EXPERIENCE?
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda, near the borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, offers the best gorilla trekking opportunities. Gorilla trekking is financially worthwhile because Bwindi has more than19 gorilla groups that have been habituated for tourism and protects more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas. There are four trailheads in the park, located at the eastern, northern, and southern entrances. Each trailhead has amazing lodging options.
Through the capital of Kigali, one could also go gorilla trekking in the neighboring country of Rwanda. If you’re looking for a quick, easy experience and are a less experienced hiker, I’d suggest Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
IS GORILLA TREKKING SAFE?
It’s terrifying to approach such a sizable wild animal up close. Contrary to popular belief, it’s pretty safe to trek through the Ugandan jungles, get as close as 30 feet, and enjoy your Mountain gorilla trekking experience. The $700 fee you pay for a gorilla trekking permit covers the gorilla family’s health, three (or more) years of habituation (getting used to human presence), and armed game rangers on duty around the clock for your protection.
WHAT SHOULD I PACK FOR THE GORILLA TREKKING TRIP?
- For coronavirus protection, carry two masks, hand sanitizer, and your negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate with you.
- Pack a decent waterproof jacket.
- Long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and long socks
- A pair of outdoor gloves
- Trekking boots are your best friend.
- Pack a tin of insect repellent.
- Biodegradable tissue or toilet paper
- Waterproof backpack and extra batteries
- Trekking poles or hiking staff
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME FOR A GORILLA TREKKING TRIP?
The best months to visit gorillas are from June to August and December to February, even though gorilla trekking is considered a year-round activity. The forest trails are less slick during these times because it is drier. Additionally, these months are more likely to provide you with a dry gorilla viewing experience. The experience might be improved, and taking pictures will be simpler. I would strongly advise against going on a safari in Uganda in April or May due to the intense rains.
CAN I COMBINE GORILLA TREKKING WITH KENYA’S MASAI MARA?
You certainly can! The majority of tourists who come to see gorillas travel overland from Kenya, Tanzania, or South Africa. Because there are flights connecting to Entebbe from Masai Mara and other destinations, your tour operator can make this possible. Alternatively, Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks provide comparable savanna wildlife experiences. You can avoid paying overland fees if you spend your entire safari in Uganda.