Frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking
in Rwanda & Uganda
Mountain Gorilla Information Page – Questions answered about viewing, tracking and photographing Mountain Gorillas of Uganda and Rwanda. Best Times to Track Gorillas, Obtaining Permits, Planning Mountain Gorilla safaris, Official rules and Personal fitness qualifications for tracking Mountain Gorillas.
Tracking, admiring and photographing Mountain Gorillas is one of the world's greatest natural history travel experiences. Mountain Gorilla safaris can be expensive, exhausting and even exasperating , but also incomparably inspiring and emotional and always uniquely memorable. If you are able to obtain a permit, you have a better than 95% chance of seeing a group of Mountain Gorillas in the wild, provided you are fit enough to do the necessary gorilla tracking. Mountain gorillas range through thick forests on steep hillsides. Mountain Gorilla trackers employed to guard the animals always know generally where they can be found. Reaching them sometimes requires long hours of hiking in steep terrain, but sometimes Mountain Gorilla trackers and tourists reach their target group in just a few minutes of walking. Our guides consider the interests, ages and abilities of our clients, and then do their best to get our clients assigned to habituated gorilla groups which are most rewarding, easiest to reach, and offer the best tracking experience. In Uganda, you will improve your chance of having your choice of group by obtaining your gorilla permit early (up to 15 months before your visit). In Rwanda there is less emphasis on early gorilla permit reservations and more on early arrival for the day of tracking and the influence of your guide with park authorities.
- Where and when is it possible to track Mountain Gorillas?
- How can I visit Mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda?
- How many Mountain Gorillas are there?
- Does everyone have to buy a gorilla viewing permit?
How much do gorilla viewing permits cost?
- Is gorilla tracking easier in Rwanda or Uganda?
How does gorilla tracking compare in Rwanda and Uganda?
Where is the best place to track gorillas?
- How difficult is Gorilla Trekking?
How fit must I be to track Mountain Gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda?
- How much time can I spend with the Mountain Gorillas?
- How close can I get to the Mountain Gorillas?
- Are the Mountain Gorillas dangerous?
- How old must you be to track Mountain Gorillas?
- Where can I stay near the gorillas during my safari?
- When is the best time to see and track Mountain Gorillas?
- How do different types of gorillas compare?
How do Mountain and Lowland Gorillas compare?
How can I see Lowland Gorillas?
- What else is there to see in Rwanda besides Mountain Gorillas?
- What else is there to see in Uganda besides Mountain Gorillas?
- What about Chimpanzee tracking? How does Chimpanzee Tracking work?
- Tips for a successful Mountain Gorilla Tracking Safari
Mountain Gorilla tracking in Rwanda and Uganda is done every day of the year. The number of available habituated Mountain Gorilla groups for tourist tracking safaris varies through the year depending on the location of the Mountain Gorilla family groups. Gorilla groups often travel into the Congo or beyond the range of a day trek to visit them. Sometimes Mountain Gorilla family groups travel rapidly, break up and reform, or show behaviors that makes them less attractive to visit. Other habituated Mountain Gorilla groups are dedicated to research and not open to tourist tracking.
Anyone over 15 years of age can apply for a permit to visit Mountain Gorillas. All of the remaining Mountain Gorillas in the wild reside in the volcanic mountain ranges along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and The Congo. Most tourists visit the Mountain Gorillas with the assistance of tour operators like Journeys International. Journeys arranges the necessary permits, transportation, guides and lodging required for Mountain Gorilla tracking. You are not permitted to search for Mountain Gorillas on your own or outside designated areas.
Number are variable and imprecise but estimates in 2013 range from 750-850. Not all are in habituated groups accessible to tourists.
You must purchase gorilla viewing permits in advance. Current cost of gorilla viewing permits in Rwanda is $1500 and in Uganda is $650 per person for a one hour visit in a group of eight visitors. This does not include the transportation from the registration and orientation site to the hiking departure point or trailhead. This point may be up to 25 miles away. Journeys takes care of this. You will also want to tip your park guide about $15 and trackers about $5 each.
We recommend you also hire a porter at an additional cost of $15 per trek, as they will help carry your daypack, assist you trekking when necessary, and it provides additional income to the local community.
Mountain Gorillas tracking and trekking is conducted similarly in Rwanda and Uganda. Very few tourists choose to track Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo these days due to security concerns and services there are not as well organized. The mountain gorillas of all three countries inhabit similar rugged terrain and have similar habits. Individual mountain gorilla groups vary in their accessibility. The regulations and quality of local gorilla guides and trackers is similar in Rwanda and Uganda.
You must be able and willing to hike in rough terrain and in any weather to see Mountain Gorillas in the wild. However, many older people who don't think of themselves as hikers or adventurers can successfully visit the gorillas. Personal assistants can be hired to carry your daypack and assist you in difficult areas. The local guides will work to make it as easy as possible for you to track and photograph the Mountain Gorillas. We have had numerous clients in their 70's succeed in reaching their target Mountain Gorilla groups. But many people return very exhausted, muddy and sore if they are not used to vigorous hiking. Altitude sickness is not usually a problem, nor are insects. You will want a pair of gloves and clothing that protects your arms and legs from thorns and nettles. Good balance is helpful in Gorilla trekking as trails may be slippery.
Your Mountain Gorilla viewing permit allows you to spend one hour with a habituated group of Mountain Gorillas. Sometimes your guide may allow you a few more minutes, especially if you have had a long trek to reach them and the tourist group is not disturbing to the gorillas. Journeys clients who reach the Mountain Gorillas are thrilled with the experience. Even with the one-hour limit, all Journeys clients are thrilled and report that the effort was worth it.
Officially you are required to keep a 27-foot distance from the gorillas. In practice, the Mountain Gorillas often violate this rule by coming closer to you as you stand quietly observing or photographing them. It is still helpful to have a telephoto capability on your camera since some animals are shy, and the Silverback may be very protective of the young. You are not allowed to touch the gorillas, though it would be easy to do so.
All wild animals are best considered potentially dangerous and treated as such, but Mountain Gorillas are not aggressive or prone to be angered by tourists. Many people are surprised that the Mountain Gorillas seem to ignore the tourists in their midst completely. You should not get between a mother and a baby or tease animals, use a flash, make distracting noises or move quickly.
There is a minimum age of 15 years for anyone obtaining a permit to track Mountian Gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda. Park Authorities will check the age of all permit holders against the birthdate in your passport.
There are many lodges in Rwanda and Uganda offering a range of accommodations, vehicles, airport transfers and other safari services. Journeys uses a variety of accommodations in the higher comfort ranges.
The most comfortable times for gorilla trekking are the dry seasons July-September and December-February. It can and does rain in every month and the effects of climate change are quite evident in this area of East Africa with seasonal rains being much less predictable and sometimes more intense. All gorilla tracking parties leave around 8 AM when there is least likelihood of heavy rain. If you happen to be assigned a distant gorilla group requiring four or more hours of tracking your chances of returning in the rain increase.
Mountain Gorillas and Lowland Gorillas are separate species Gorillas. Their current ranges do not overlap. There are few, if any, Lowland Gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda, though this species is widespread in the rainforests of central Africa. Few Lowland Gorilla groups are habituated for tourists and, in general, they are difficult to see and observe. Lowland gorillas are widely hunted for bushmeat in unprotected areas of their range. Some opportunities exist to see Lowland Gorillas in Gabon and Central African Republic.
Rwanda is a beautiful, green, thriving country, known as the land of a Thousand Hills. The volcanic soil is very rich and subsistence agriculture produces food year around. The genocide of 1994 is powerfully memorialized in a museum in Kigali and at other sites around the country. Visitors are encouraged to partake in these experiences and learn from them. Currently there is no apparent ethnic conflict or significant insurgent or militant activity. There is a dynamic re-building of the social fabric and a commitment to the youth of the country. You might wish to hike to Karisoke where Diane Fossey conducted her pioneering research, or take a trek to see Golden Monkeys of Parc des Volcanes. This park has the greatest diversity. Other wildlife parks of Rwanda generally do not compare in diversity of species or quality of management with the parks and reserves of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Travel to Uganda for wonderful cultures, large wildlife parks with few other tourists, and spectacular birding. Uganda may be the best safari country in Africa for a large variety of bird species and great birding safari habitats. Determined birders often see more than 400 species on a 12-14 day Uganda birding safari. There are also many other species of primates you are likely to see on a Mountain Gorilla safari or a pure birding safari trip. The Ruhenzori Mountains invite more extended hiking. Wetland habitats and Lake Victoria also hold cultural and natural history safari attractions.
There are more Chimpanzees than Mountain Gorillas left in the wild and they survive over a much broader range. The parks authorities of Uganda and Rwanda also monitor Chimpanzee populations and the groups which have been habituated for tourist visitors also require advance purchased permits to visit. Two main sites for viewing chimpanzees in Uganda are Kibale Forest and Kyambura Gorge. You will hike in groups of 6-12 visitors accompanied by a park guide. Close encounters with Chimpanzees seem to be less predictable than with Mountain Gorillas, though less hiking may be involved. In the experience of Journeys International groups, visits to the Chimps of Kibale Forest have been more successful than visits to Kyambura Gorge.
- Purchase your permits as far in advance as possible for priority assignment to a choice group and to be sure you obtain a permit at all.
- You will be with a group and guide. Also, consider hiring a local person as a porter assistant, even if you are very fit. This adds a great cultural dimension to the experience and is not really expensive.
- If you have the choice, visit the largest group available to you to maximize the photo opportunities and the different behaviors you will see.
- Prepare for the possibility of rain at any time of year.
- Wear long sleeves and slacks and bring glove to protect against thistles nettles and thorns.
- Wear durable hiking shoes, you will be off trail in rough terrain.
- Expect you might have a long hike. Be in the best physical shape you can be.
- Understand your camera well, Cameras with built-in video are very good. Telephoto ability helps.
- Consider traveling with a companion or friend with whom you will share the lifelong memory of the encounter.
- Listen to the advice of your guide. Trust that he or she really wants you to get great photos and have the best possible experience.