Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

- This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure.

uganda gorilla trekking
Uganda gorilla trekking is an experience that will change your view of humanity.

The most memorable travel experiences are often the ones that push you beyond your comfort zone. For me, my Uganda gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is likely to become a staple dinner party tale for years to come. What a bucket list experience!

Advertisement

silver backed gorillas
You can get very close to silver backed gorillas while gorilla trekking in Uganda

Is Uganda gorilla trekking difficult?

Before arriving at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, I was unsure if I was fit enough to handle the Uganda gorilla trekking experience.

While travelling through Africa, I met other travellers who had done gorilla trekking under varying conditions and the advice of every single traveller I met was the same.

For a person of average fitness, Uganda gorilla trekking is challenging but doable. The degree of difficulty of your gorilla trek is a bit of a lucky draw as it depends on where the gorillas family you are trekking have wandered off to on that particular day.

We were extremely lucky, as we only had to trek for a bit over an hour.

A two or three-hour trek is not uncommon and you might have to trek for longer and in the rain.

In our group, we met a couple from New York who had trekked with another group the previous day following the gorillas for five hours up and down three mountains. In the end, they only managed to catch glimpses of the gorillas swinging from tree to tree.

My Uganda gorilla trekking experience

Watch the video of our search for gorillas in Uganda above.

To see the gorillas, you need to buy a gorilla trekking permit (book ahead if you’re visiting during peak season), which will allow you one trek as part of a guided group.

The permit doesn’t guarantee you’ll see gorillas but your chances are pretty good. However, you can increase the odds by arranging permits for two days.

Our morning briefing with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority started at 730 am.

After a thorough group briefing, our group of eight set of in search of the Rushegura gorilla family, which consists of 15 gorillas. The Rushegura gorillas is a family of habituated gorillas, which means they are comfortable with human contact.

I soon discovered why trekking gorillas in Uganda is quite an experience.

Our Uganda gorilla safari was a challenging march uphill, often through dense jungle. But although it was challenging – and the guides pushed us to keep up the pace – it wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated.

I had imagined it to be a hellishly difficult hike that only super fit and highly experienced bushwalkers could tackle.

After an hour, I was panting in the heat while our porters didn’t even seem to break a sweat! My husband, Roger, and I had hired porters ($15 a day plus tip) to carry our tripods and heavy backpacks bulging with camera equipment.

As this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get close to the gorillas, we wanted to make sure we had everything we needed.

It was a relief to reach the top of the first mountain and an even bigger relief to find the gorillas just beyond the crest.

Close encounters with the gorillas in Uganda

gorillas in uganda
A Uganda gorilla safari is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

As gorillas share 98% of genes with humans, seeing the mountain gorillas in Uganda in their natural habitat was a riveting experience.

Male gorillas are twice the size of females and can be over 1.8m (6 ft). Both male and female gorillas have long muscular arms and are strong. A large male gorilla weighs between 160 to 220 kgs (350 to 500 pounds).

The males are called silver backs because as a male gorilla matures, the hair on their backs turns silver.

Gorillas in zoos are mostly lowland gorillas. The difference between a lowland gorilla and mountain gorillas is the mountain gorillas have longer and darker hair to keep warm. Read more about the different kind of gorillas in the Gorilla fact file below.

Uganda gorilla safari photography

trekking gorillas in uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the main place to go gorilla trekking in Uganda.

We spent an hour filming and photographing.

Photography conditions were a challenge, as the gorillas were often partly shielded by the dense forest foliage.

With eight people and an army of guides, it wasn’t easy to find a spot to set up a tripod.

We were told to keep our distance, ignore the gorillas if they come close and avoid looking a gorilla in the eye (especially the silver back).

The silver back and adult gorillas ignored us so it was easy to follow those instructions with the adult gorillas but it was more difficult to stay clear of the curious juvenile and baby gorillas.

At one point, one of the teenage gorillas sauntered up to Roger, who was trying to film the silver back. The young gorilla looked Roger straight in the eye and then the cheeky gorilla sat down heavily on Roger’s foot.

The safety distance is to minimise the opportunities for the gorillas to feel threatened as well as avoid transferring human disease to the gorillas.

We were so close to the gorillas I had to put away my long lenses!

I used my Canon EF 24 – 70mm 2.8 lens most of the time for photographs and our video cameras rolled non stop.

We were close enough to see their teeth and hear the crunching sounds as the gorillas sat in the forest munching on roots, branches and leaves.

Close enough to see the insects jumping off their coats.

The baby gorillas entertained us with their antics as they swung among the trees. The experience turned into a real bucket list wow one.

It took us 45 minutes to get down the mountain and by 1.30 pm, we were the first group back at camp.

Gorillas of Uganda return to camp

trekking gorillas
There are several Uganda gorilla tours where everything is organised for you.

Before my trip, I had seen the amazing footage of traveller, John King, who walked out of his tent at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp into the arms of gorillas that had decided to visit the camp. One gorilla proceeded to groom the man while the silverback gorilla watched with interest just meters away.

Although we were staying at the same camp, in our wildest dreams we didn’t believe the gorillas would decide to check into my camp too.

Neither did anyone else at the camp, including the staff!

Even more unusual, the gorillas were looking for a place to sleep for the night and made their bed between my cottage and the next cottage!

Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a bucket experience and one that I would definitely do again. I’d love to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda too.

Gorilla Facts

Where to gorillas live?

Gorillas live in natural habitats in Central and East Africa. The two main species of gorillas are Eastern Gorilla and Western Gorilla. Eastern gorillas live to the east of the Congo River in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Western gorillas live mostly in Angola, Cameroon, Congo, DRC, Gabon and DRC while the region between Nigeria and Cameroon is home to cross-river gorillas.

Why are gorillas endangered?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), gorillas are critically endangered, which means there is a very high risk of extinction.

Gorillas are endangered due to loss of habitat (caused by logging, mining and farming), diseases (such as Ebola) and conflict with farming communities. But hunting is one of the biggest threats to the survival of gorillas.

Gorillas are hunted for survival food by militia in Virungas National Park and gorilla meat is sought after in the cities. Trophy hunting of gorillas still exists; gorillas are also captured for use in traditional medicine and baby gorillas are traded as pets.

How many gorillas are left in the world?

Although there may be over 350,000 Western Lowland gorillas in the wild, there are less than 5000 Eastern gorillas and only 1000 mountain gorillas. About half the population of mountain gorillas are in Uganda (the rest are in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo). Most of Uganda’s gorillas are in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. However, there is a small population of mountain gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla Park.

How much is a Uganda gorilla permit?

Uganda gorilla permits cost USD 600 a person from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority while permits in Rwanda are USD 1500. These permits allow visitors one hour with the mountain gorillas on a group trek. Permits to trek gorillas are high because there’s a cap on the number of people allowed to trek each day.

How much does it cost to go gorilla trekking in Uganda?

When you add the cost of a gorilla trekking permit with accommodation in a safari lodge, transport and the cost of the gorilla trekking guide, a three-day gorilla tour in Uganda costs from USD 1250. Fully organized gorilla tours in Uganda are a more convenient option. 

Book your gorilla safari lodge here

When is the best time to go trekking gorillas?

Trekking gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda can be done at any time of the year. However, it’s more comfortable to stay away from the rainy season as the ground can get very soggy. June to September and December to February are good times to go. If you’re on a budget, gorilla permits are cheaper during low season.

Uganda gorilla safari packing list

2 x sturdy pairs of hiking boots, preferably already broken in

3 x long-sleeved quick drying safari shirts

1 x wide-brimmed hat

Light backpack

Mosquito repellent

High SPF sunscreen

Camera and extra batteries

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

27 COMMENTS

  1. I am truly envious about your gorilla experience, This is at the top of our must do bucket list, for sure. We just met a girl in Borneo who has been there for the last 5-6 years running a voluntourism project for a UK based company. Her stories are amazing, including her having caught malaria from her efforts. But what a life she has had working with the local communities, as well as having the opportunity to see the gorillas on so many occasions. A dream job!

    • It’s definitely an experience for your bucket list. Your Fitbit will get a big workout. I wish I had mine when I did that walk! I’m not sure how many steps it would have recorded…probably a whole week’s worth of what I’m doing right now!

  2. A great read and reminder of the wonderful experience offered by visiting Bwindi to see the gorillas. Such hard work working through the impenetrable forest but the rewards of spending an hour up close and personal with the gorillas is something you will never forget.

  3. Oh wow, trekking uphill through dense jungle? That really sounds like a workout. But I am super it’ super worth it. What an experience to see the gorillas up close. Even though you said the gorillas hid behind the leaves, your photos are great!

  4. Gorilla trekking in Uganda would definitely push me beyond my comfort zone. Before reading this, I assume you would go to the gorillas in some kind of safari vehicle. Now I know that it is real trekking! And that I want to hire a porter. But the trekking certainly let you capture some great pics of the gorillas.

  5. Gosh, I thnk I’d have to go into training before even thinking about this one. Thank you for letting me live a little vicariously – your photos are amazing. Good tip about the porter – if I am ever fit enough I’ll definitely be doing just that (even if my backpack is closer to 5kg!)

  6. For me, actually, traveling is all about pushing myself beyond comfort zone. And certainly this gorilla trekking is bucket list worthy, no doubt about this. Would love to take this trekking some day and would love to see Gorillas in natural setting. Didn’t know about mountain gorrilas. Thanks for this inspiring article.

  7. With 2.8 lens you got excellent capture. Getting that close to Gorillas to be able to see insects fly off their coats is scary. And funny how it decided to rest between 2 camps. Great tour, worthy enough for 600$!

  8. Stunning photos! This has been on my bucketlist for ages. It’s tragic to think that there re only 780 mountain gorillas left. Good to know the differnce in the costs between Rwanda and Uganda as well.

  9. How lucky to find the gorillas just after reaching the top of the first mountain, that must have been a great relief. I had no idea that the mountain gorillas in Uganda share 98% of their genes with humans, that is quite amazing.

    Clever to hire the porters to carry the camera gear. What amazing photos, what an amazing experience. I can see why it will be a dinner story for years to come.

  10. Africa is high on the list for the wildlife Safari but if we plan a visit we wouldn’t want to miss an encounter with the silverbacks. We had no idea that spotting gorillas needed lots of hiking through jungles. Thanks for the details information on costs and stay options.

  11. A friend of mine recently also did this experience and she couldn’t stop talking about how amazing it was. You did the sensible thing by hiring porters to carry your heavy luggage and you managed to get some really good pictures of the gorillas. It sounds like quite a challenging hike, more because of the ‘chase’ taking time rather than the terrain itself.. Nevertheless, one that definitely deserves a place in the bucket list.

  12. Wow this is so cool! would definitly be up for this even if I have to hike for 5 hours. But yeah 1 is a little easier. Thank you for sharing you used your Canon EF 24 – 70mm 2.8 lens. I love your pictures and always wonder if my camera could make the same haha. Its awesome!

  13. Ever since watching Gorillas in the Mist, I’ve wanted to see Gorillas in the wild. Your photos are so beautiful, and really capture how like humans these beautiful animals are. Thanks for the tips on the permits – definitely great for planning.

  14. Beautiful experience. How lucky you are. I loved hearing (virtually) the gorillas chomping on the brush through your description. Should the opportunity come I hope to be fit enough to manage this excursion. Hopefully, the gorillas will thrive.

  15. Uganda gorilla trekking sounds so appealing. Wow you were so lucky that you could see them so early, I read a piece about a group they went to see gorillas but they hiked more than 4 hours and the weather was not really great.

  16. Oh my what a wonderful experience! This is something I’d definitely want to take part in the future. I would definitely do the whole trek and not complain as long as I get to see these gorillas at the end of the trip. Wonderful blog post!

  17. Oh wow, that’s really impressive and so interesting to see a gorilla. You also are giving us the most informative post for this excursion. Unfortunately, that USD 1500 and USD 600 are crazily expensive 🙁

  18. Yes a 2 day permit would be good. No point not being able to see and gorilla and return disappointed. How exciting to watch a gorilla so close… seeing their teeth and hearing the crunching sounds!!!! You got me interested.

  19. This is quite an experience. To see these cousins of ours so close – it must have been amazing. And you got to even see the babies. I definitely am game for this. However, the prices do seem a little steep.

  20. This is quite an experience. To see these cousins of ours so close – it must have been amazing. And you got to even see the babies. I definitely am game for this. However, the prices do seem a little steep.

  21. A friend of mine recently went for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda as well and she said almost everything the same as you – it is quite an experience. I am not extremely fit so I know the experience will be a bit of a challenge but I guess that’s not a bad thing – some times when you are able to complete challenges, the feeling of having done it is overpowering! For sure it cannot be easy to be climbing tough terrain in the heat and searching for the gorillas but I believe it’s totally worth it, isn’t it?

    • Hi Medha, The hikers in our group were if different levels of fitness. There were a couple of super fit trekkers who were up the front of the group and a couple who were pretty unfit and even an asthmatic. So no, you don’t have to be super fit to do gorilla trekking in Uganda, however, it would help make your hike more comfortable if you do some training before you go. The experience is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to put on your bucket list!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

comments