Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla mother and baby

Mountain Gorilla Trekking

With a population of just 880 individuals, mountain gorillas are one of the most endangered animals in the world. Although our closest living relatives, it is ironically man that poses the greatest threat to their survival. Civil war, poaching, habitat loss and human diseases have all had detrimental effects to mountain gorilla populations.

However, the ever-growing number of tourists keen to see these great apes is proving to be an important factor in their conservation. Gorilla trekking is not only a wonderful experience allowing you to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat but helps contribute towards their protection. Find out more with this guide to mountain gorilla trekking.

Where to see mountain gorillas

As their name implies, mountain gorillas inhabit forests high in the mountainous regions of central Africa. Their small population is split in two, with just over half living in the Virunga Mountains, bordering Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the remainder in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

We visit Volanoes National Park in Rwanda, part of the Virunga Conservation Area, on our Gorilla Express Tour. We also offer the option of gorilla trekking in Uganda as part of our Overland Safaris. Our trek either takes place in Mgahinga Gorilla Park, also part of the Virunga Conservation Area, or Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Best time to see mountain gorillas

Mountain gorillas can be seen year-round, therefore the best time for trekking is ultimately up to you. The dry seasons, from mid-December to February and from June to September, are considered the most comfortable times for trekking and the trails are in better condition.

However, there are some advantages of trekking in the wet seasons (March to May and October to December). During these months, gorillas tend to stick to the lower slopes as food is plentiful and temperatures are milder, therefore trekking times can be much shorter.

Dominant male mountain gorilla in the grass

Gorilla permit costs

The cost and availability of gorilla permits varies by country and park, but currently ranges from USD 600-750 in Uganda and USD1500 in Rwanda. You’ll also need to budget for visa fees (costs vary), transfer and a local service fee (approx USD 120-150) and any re-entry visas. The government often increases the permit and transfer costs without notice, so budget for the highest amount to make sure you’ll be able to partake in this wonderful experience.

The reason that the permits are so costly is because each park only issues 10 permits per gorilla family per day, to ensure that the gorillas' exposure to humans is limited. 100% of the permit cost is used by the government to help finance patrols that are instrumental in protecting these apes from poachers and their lethal snares.

On our African overland safaris, gorilla trekking is an optional activity and the cost of the permit, transfer and local service fee is paid upon arrival. However on our Gorilla Express lodge accommodated safari in Rwanda, these costs are included.

On The Go Tours are not in control of permit prices and cannot be held responsible for any increase in fees. If the political situation in this region changes, there’s a chance the itinerary would be amended, and an alternative scenario advised prior to departure if possible.

Gorilla-Trek-And-Tanzania-Itinerary-Main-Overland-Journeys-Africa

What to expect

To help you prepare for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of gorilla trekking, here's more detailed information about what you can expect.

The trek itself

The trek starts in the early morning and after border formalities you are transferred to a ranger’s station where the trek commences. Your rangers will lead you through cultivated lands, then into dense rainforest and as close as is allowed to a gorilla family.

The rangers monitor the gorillas on a daily basis and have a fairly good idea of where they are. However, they are free roaming animals, and their sighting cannot be guaranteed. Trekking can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 8 hours and can be quite strenuous, so a reasonable level of fitness is required.

Time with the gorillas

To ensure the gorillas don’t get too used to human presence, and because they share many of our genes and are able to catch our diseases, the maximum time permitted to spend with them is 1 hour. This is plenty of time to watch their activity and take photographs.

The rangers will be able to provide you with a background to the family you are visiting. Then, once your hour is up, you trek back out of the rainforest to your meeting point.

Important considerations

Those considering gorilla trekking should realise the demands and unpredictability of the areas visited. Often, the trek through thick, dense jungle can be somewhat strenuous and due to the nature of the gorillas and their habits, viewing cannot be guaranteed.

Although the groups of gorilla that are seen on jungle treks have been habituated, they have not been tamed and their behaviour is not demonstrably different from that of non-habituated groups. Nobody forces them to stay for the allotted hour, and they can fade into the forest as you appear, if they wish to do so.

Further, as gorillas are extremely sensitive to human disease, the park authorities will not allow anyone they consider to be in poor health to visit the gorilla groups. Additionally, no children under 16 years of age are permitted to visit.

Male Gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

What to pack

Most people taking part in a gorilla trek take a small daypack to carry their water supply, food and camera equipment. Here are some other items we recommend packing for your gorilla trekking experience.

Comfortable hiking/walking boots: As you’ll most likely be trekking for a few hours to reach the gorillas, a good pair of boots is essential.

Trousers and a long-sleeved shirt: You’ll be ‘bushwhacking’ into a misty rainforest, so wear trousers and a long-sleeved shirt to protect yourself from the thick undergrowth and nettles.

Gloves: A pair of gloves will protect your hands when grabbing branches and vines, particularly a tough pair of gardening gloves.

Light rain jacket: Even if you’re visiting during the dry season, it’s a good idea to pack a light rain jacket. These tropical forests can be damp and there can still be rainfall.

See Also

For further help planning your gorilla trek in Uganda take a look through our handy Travel Guide resources:

Best Time to Visit - Uganda's climate and seasons
Tourist Visas - what you need to know for entering Uganda
Top Travel Tips - information about vaccinations, food and money