It’s got to be one of those ultimate bucket list travel numbers.
A top 10 hit for sure!
At least I know it was one of mine.
And thankfully I can say gorilla trekking in Uganda, lived up to each and every expectation I had.
From the amazing images I captured to the stunning rainforest hike, to the experience of staring one of our closest relatives straight in the eye, it’s going to be hard to put into words just how incredible seeing the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was.
But I’ll give it a try!
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My Gorilla Trekking Experience
I finally got to fulfil my dream of seeing gorillas in the wild as part of the 2 month adventure overland trip I took through most of the countries of Southern and East Africa because, of course, you really can’t pass through Uganda and not take the time to do some gorilla spotting can you?!
READ MORE: How to Organise The Perfect Overland Africa Tour
So yes, as soon as we crossed the border from Rwanda into Uganda, we made a beeline for the incredible Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and its prime gorilla territory.
The gorilla trekking took a full day and I was glad we arrived in the town of Kisoro, near Bwindi, at lunchtime the day before.
This gave us plenty of time to get everything ready we needed, as well as a good night’s sleep, because it was an early start the next morning.
Driving from our accommodation to Bwindi before sunrise, we got to see daybreak as we ascended above the clouds along a bumpy dirt road.
After an hour and a half, we finally arrived at the national park and were then split into smaller groups of between 6-8 people, assigned a guide and a gorilla family – name and all!
Each guide, we found out, works with a set pair of trackers – who had already started hiking into the forest at dawn to locate the family we were going to visit.
Well that’s the hard work done we thought!
Our particular gorilla clan seemed to be the furthest away from base camp because we certainly hiked the longest of all the groups!
Telling ourselves this was because we looked like the youngest and fittest group (HA HA!) the hike, through strenuous, really added to the whole experience.
Indeed, we ended up trekking about 4 hours through the rainforest to get to the family (plus 3 hours back!) and at some point actually crossed over an invisible border into a neighbouring country, the DRC… or so the Vodafone alert on my friend’s mobile told us!
The hike was hard and humid, with plenty of fire ants and slippery mud paths to contend with, but the views, at times, were hard to beat as we ascended higher and higher and deeper and deeper into the forest.
We also had 2 scouts with us, as well as the guide, so it felt very safe and well organised – especially as the escorts had guns, namely to protect us from the more dangerous animals that live in Bwindi including buffalo and forest elephants.
Once we were getting close to the gorillas, the guide then warned us to put down our backpacks and get our cameras ready – we were about to get our precious 1 hour with these giants of the jungle.
And what an hour!
I don’t ever think 60 minutes has passed so quickly in my life.
Yes we saw a family of 10 gorillas, including a very active male silverback!
From spotting the female gorillas with their babies, to watching the youngsters play in the trees to being charged by the silverback, it’s safe to say we got the full gorilla experience!
What really struck me was how expressive these animals were, and how many “human” characteristics they displayed including farting and even thumb sucking!
It was even hard to take photos sometimes, mesmerising as it was coming so close to a family of fellow primates.
Yet remember to snap some photos I thankfully did… and you’re looking at them right here!
Without a doubt, this was one of the most magical hours of my life… and I even got a certificate to prove it!
Where to Trek with Gorillas in Uganda?
So, as I’ve said, my Uganda gorilla trekking experience took place in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – a UNESCO-listed national park located in southern Uganda.
It’s unsurprisingly one of the top 5 Uganda safaris I recommend!
It’s also one of the most popular places to see gorillas, given it ranks among the cheapest.
Of course, that’s the cheapest of just a few places on earth because gorillas’ habitats are very specific to this central area of East Africa and these animals are highly endangered as a result.
Outside of Uganda, you’re able to see these amazing primates in both Rwanda and the DRC… but that’s about it!
I’d highly recommend the service we got in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest because, although I can’t compare it to the other locations, the hike included some lovely scenery and the rangers, guides and trackers all seemed to be very well organised.
In addition, it was great to learn about the conservation policies being heavily maintained in this park and how tourism here is providing a valuable and sustainable income for locals.
I was particularly delighted to see our guide was female and to therefore know that opportunities for work in this park and industry are ostensibly open to all.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi offers value for money as well as near-guaranteed gorilla sightings.
Everything is well organised and accessible, which makes it a great choice for your gorilla safari
What is the Best Time for Gorilla Trekking?
You can pretty much trek to see the gorillas all year round, but do remember that rain will make the hike harder and possibly spotting these amazing animals more difficult too.
As such, the best time to enjoy an Uganda gorilla safari is generally thought to be during the country’s 2 main dry seasons.
Although climate-change is invariably messing things around here, the 2 traditional dry seasons in Uganda are at the beginning of the year i.e. January and February, as well as during the northern hemisphere summer months i.e. June to September.
Any of these months would be good times to head to Bwindi for gorilla trekking as the dry season also means vegetation is lower and not as lush (due to less rainfall) and these primates are then easier to get a good view of.
The other thing that can influence when you head to see the gorillas is the price of the trekking tour.
These fluctuate throughout the year and depending on the operator you choose, you can sometimes get a good discount by booking for the low or rainy season.
If budget is a major factor for you, then heading to see the gorillas outside of the dry months might be a better idea.
What to Expect from a Gorilla Safari?
As you may have guessed from the account of my gorilla safari experience, you’re going need a reasonable level of fitness to attempt this bucket list big one!
Not only is that because the distances are long and the terrain tough, but the humidity and heat can be pretty gruelling too.
Add into that mix the altitude and the lack of amenities and you want to know what you’re getting yourself into here before it’s too late to back out!
Because it can be a long day of hiking, make sure you come prepared for gorilla trekking and have everything you might need for a full 8-9 hours in a comfortable backpack.
This includes lunch and appropriate footwear – see more in the section directly below this for full details about what to pack.
You’ll also want to have a raincoat on you as it can pretty much bucket down any time of the year here in Uganda and you should expect mud and dampness regardless of the time of year you’re gorilla trekking!
I visited in October and while we thankfully had blue skies on the way up to see the gorillas, we got pretty soaked on the way down!
It’s also important to be aware, that your whole day’s effort will amount to just one hour spent in the company of the gorillas.
Due to important conservation regulations, human time with each family is strictly limited to just 60 minutes per day. It is important to respect this and don’t badger your guide for more time.
It’s also important that you don’t go gorilla trekking if you are feeling unwell in anyway – even if you have a cold. Human germs and diseases can prove fatal to these already highly endangered animals.
And finally, before your gorilla trekking starts, you’ll be briefed on how to behave around the primates including what to do if they approach you. Pay careful attention to these instructions!
What to Pack and Wear?
Coming prepared to Africa for your gorilla trekking experience is key, as you’re going to struggle to buy many of the supplies here outside of the major cities and sometimes you’ll even have a hard time there!
Here’s a full list of the gear I think you need to enjoy trekking with the gorillas in Uganda, which I recommend putting together before you set sail on your African adventure…
- Long, Loose Trousers – These will help to keep you cool, as well as protect from plants and bugs on the hike. Columbia do a great range.
- Long, Thick Hiking Socks – You’ll need ones that you can tuck trousers/pants in, to safeguard yourself against fire ants! Also a good pair of hiking socks, like these, will restrict your chances of blisters.
- Hiking Boots – These are an absolute must when gorilla trekking Uganda due to the muddy, wet, slippery and unstable terrain. Make sure you select a pair that have good ankle support, good grip and are waterproof – I always recommend Keen Targhee II. Trainers are likely to get covered in mud in Bwindi and sandals are not allowed.
- Gardening Gloves – These are optional, but many people like to use them to help protect their hands from the potential splinters of the wooden walking sticks you’re given and / or when clinging to branches on the trek.
- Long-Sleeved Thin Top – With the climate changing quickly here in the rainforest, your body will be warming up and cooling down a lot depending on whether you’re hiking or resting and I strongly advise gorilla trekking in a long sleeved thin top as a result. Long sleeves will protect your arms from the sun, bugs and bushes and will keep you warm; the thin factor will allow your skin to breath and keep you cool too. I actually wore a thin merino top for my trekking, which was perfect and paired this with a thin singlet underneath.
- Waterproof Jacket with Hood – As I’ve said before, the chances of it raining when you hike to the gorillas is high! Come prepared with a thin, breathable, waterproof jacket that will keep you dry without overheating you. I love North Face’s excellent range.
- A Good Camera – There’s no doubt gorilla trekking can provide the photo opp of the year, so don’t think your mobile phone will cut it! Instead invest in some decent camera equipment, including a zoom lens, spare battery, cleaning cloth and waterproof case. I love my mirrorless Sony A6000, which is light, compact and sturdy – perfect for the wilds of Africa travel. The 55-210mm lens was ideal for snapping the gorillas and the 16-50mm lens gave me some great wider shots of the stunning landscape.
- Sunscreen – Goes without saying when you’re this close to the equator!
- Insect Repellent – This is the tropical jungle people so be prepared!
- Toilet Paper and / or Baby Wipes
- 2 Litres of Drinking Water
- Packed Lunch
- Day Pack to Carry Everything – This one from Hikpro would be ideal!
Costs of Gorilla Trekking
There’s no doubt that gorilla tours in Uganda are an expensive undertaking wherever you do it.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest however ranks as one of the cheapest places, even more so if you visit during the low season like I did.
I paid around £500 GBP for a permit – which is definitely not a budget travel ideal price, but I couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity and am ultimately super glad I splurged.
It’s also important to remember that some of this payment goes to helping local villages, conservation support and sustainable job creation.
In addition, when you compare this to the price of gorilla trekking in Rwanda – now priced at over $1000 USD, it’s a bargain!
Visiting the gorillas in the DRC’s Virunga National Park is cheaper than Rwanda and you get the added benefit of seeing a live lava show at one of the volcanoes here too, so you may want to investigate this option!
Do bear in mind that wherever you decide to undertake your gorilla trekking, permits needed to be booked well in advance.
I actually got mine through Absolute Africa at least 3 months before I actually made it into Uganda.
Please do not rock up and expect to get a gorilla permit for the next day – you will be disappointed!
Indeed it was through Absolute Africa that I arranged my whole gorilla trekking excursion and I really recommend these guys both in terms of price and service.
What’s more, I’m currently offering my readers an exclusive discount off all Absolute Africa tours, meaning you can travel even more in this amazing continent for even less!
Simply send them an email to [email protected], quoting the discount code BWSP, and start planning your incredible overland trip with them today!
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Where to Stay?
If you’re heading to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to see the gorillas, then it is possible although pricey, to stay very near the park.
My recommendation for budget travellers however is to base yourself in the nearby town of Kisoro instead.
Just across the border from Rwanda and very near the DRC, there’s tons of things to do around this little town, which means you could easily spend a few days here, especially given its dreamy volcano backdrop!
Yes this safe, friendly, one street town offers travellers loads of hiking and wildlife activities including chimpanzee and golden monkey treks as well as gorillas.
It’s possible to change money here, which is great if you’ve just come across the border, and there’s a small supermarket to stock up on supplies or grab packed lunch material if needed.
Otherwise, the best eating options in town are the Coffee Pot Café – a good expat choice and Miami Hotel – which offers cheap, local fare.
Within Kisoro, I highly recommend staying at Rafiki Guest House, which has private rooms, as well as dorms and a cute little garden space.
Read my full review of Rafiki Guest House here.
Rafiki Guest House also have a tour company – Iringa Adventure Tours – who can organise gorilla trekking for you.
They can also arrange coffee tours, orphanage visits and treks to Lake Mutanda – 3 other popular activities to do in Kisoro.
Mini Travel Guide to Uganda
How Long to Spend There?
I’d suggest at least 7 days in Uganda to ensure you have the chance to trek to see the gorillas and chimpanzees, plus explore at least one of this country’s top other national parks.
How to Get to Uganda?
If you’re flying to Uganda, then look for flights which arrive at Entebbe International Airport.
As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best prices.
Alternatively, you can cross into Uganda overland from Kenya and Tanzania.
Top Uganda Tours
I’m currently offering my readers an exclusive discount on all Absolute Africa tours (who I visited Uganda with), meaning you can now travel even more in this amazing country for even less!
Simply send this top African overland tour company an email to [email protected], quoting the discount code BWSP, and start planning your incredible trip with them today!
Otherwise, why not check out these comfortable and well-rated options.
Travel Money in Uganda
When it comes to paying for things in Uganda, it’s great to know that accommodation and tours can generally be paid for by card.
ATMs are also available in most major towns.
Whether you use ATMs or pay by card however, you’ll want to ensure you’re not being charged overseas transaction fees or getting poor exchange rates, which is why I always take my Wise card away with me wherever I travel.
The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card here, and it links easily with Google and Apple pay. Get yours here.
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So there you have it, my ultimate guide to gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Did I miss anything out?
Have you trekked to see the gorillas in Africa?
Where did you experience it?
29 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Gorilla Trekking Uganda”
Hi! This is a very informative interesting article. Nice to read your blog post first time ever. I really appreciate this post.
Thanks Amelie, glad you enjoyed it. Best, Steph 🙂
Loved your post and will be using your suggestions. A friend and I are headed to Bwindi, start of March. After 6 days in Uganda we are headed to Botswana, and then to Zambia. As first timers to Africa, and woman, can you give some advice to woman travelling in Africa. Maybe you have a post already, I just haven’t come across it yet. 😉
Hi there, delighted to hear of your travels. If you search my posts about female travel in Africa, or safety in Africa, you should find some useful tips. Otherwise, just the usuals, be sensible, don’t go out alone after dark, watch your drinks and your stuff. Take out good travel insurance and go to see a travel doctor before your trip. Get a menstrual cup and carry a lot of tissues and wet wipes! You’ll be fine! Enjoy, Steph 🙂
Wow! what a complete guide. Glad you enjoyed your experience.
Thanks Gava, it was amazing. Best, Steph 🙂
HI, thanks for your great article. My boyfriend and I are looking to do the gorilla trekking in late march/early april and I have a few questions. You mentioned you got a permit. Is that separate from actually booking a trekking tour?
You mentioned Afiki Guest House, who also have a tour company – Iringa Adventure Tours. So would we go and get our permits from Absolute Africa for example, and then separately organize trekking with Ingira Adventure Tours? Or is it all one thing?
Also, when buying a one day permit, do we need to select a specific date already when we get it or is it for a certain time period?
Is it the same process for chimpanzee trekking? Or is that different?
Thanks so much for your help.
Hi Linka, glad you enjoyed the guide and here’s the answer to your questions:
#1 Yes a permit is separate to a trekking tour
#2 I would suggest doing one thing i.e. going with one company. If you’re short on time and want to organise in advance I recommend Absolute as they will sort everything for you easily. I’ve actually got a special promotion running with them at the moment, so if you email them with the code BWSP you can get a discount off your tour.
#3 Yes, you need to specify a day / date for the permit, which is why it helps to organise all through one company as you can be certain of your itinerary etc.
#4 No chimp trekking is more relaxed I believe in terms of permits etc, but I actually haven’t done it. Absolute Africa can help you with this question.
Wishing you all the best
Hey James, Mountain Gorilla Trekking is an awesome activity. Definitely worth the money! I have trekked in all sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Virunga. Rwanda seems so expensive for me
Couldn’t agree more Kolo, gorilla trekking is definitely one of the top travel experiences I’ve had. Uganda and DRC are certainly cheaper than Rwanda when it comes to seeing these amazing creatures. Thanks for leaving a comment. Best, Steph 🙂
This is a very informative interesting article i should call it definitive guide thanks
so much for sharing please
Super to hear that, I’m so pleased! Thanks, Steph 🙂
What an amazing article ! Have bookmarked this blog for more informative articles !
Great to hear Emmanuel, thanks for stopping by 🙂
Wow, now I feel knowledgeable about mountain gorillas. This bnlog is very educative yet a lil entertaining. Keep the good work, keep traveling and keep telling awesome stories
Thanks so much guys, will do 🙂
Very informative Article worth reading again and again
Appreciate that Chris! Best wishes, Steph 🙂
Great article, I think Uganda is one the best gorilla trekking destination.
wow everything literaly about gorilla trekking is embeded here ilove , very informative
Thanks Boris 🙂
This article is really interesting. I enjoyed reading your blog post about Uganda a lot. The geographical makeup of Uganda is similar to that of Asia.
Thanks for your thoughts Chandra. And thanks for reading. Best, Steph 🙂
Very interesting article to read
Great to hear this Gerald. Thanks for reading. Best, Steph 🙂
very nice article thaanks for sharing it with us
Thanks for reading! Best wishes, Steph 🙂