There are few mountain gorillas only about 1,000 left on the planet. Most of them live in the Virunga Mountains spread across Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, though a small number make their home in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda.
Due to the threatening poachers, the forests that shelter these magnificent creatures are heavily protected. A handful of gorilla families have been habituated by wildlife experts and can be tracked and observed by small groups of visitors under the cautious eye of park rangers.
In Rwanda, the mountain gorillas live in Volcanoes National Park, which is two hours’ drive from Kigali international airport. For a gorilla trek in Rwanda, you would need a minimum of two nights’ stay. While in Uganda, the mountain gorillas reside in both the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
It takes a day of driving to reach Bwindi from Entebbe. Once at Bwindi, visitors are advised to stay at least two nights while gorilla trekking, before continuing on a safari in Uganda.
In Rwanda, most of the terrain encountered on a gorilla trek is more open and less surrounded by jungle vegetation. This can make it easier to get a good view of these magnificent creatures. The terrain is also less difficult for tracking when compared to Uganda, although altitudes can be higher which adds to the difficulty.
The vegetation can also be extremely thick, hence the name Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Slopes are steep and there are no trails, so gorilla trekking in Uganda is not for the faint of heart.
In Rwanda, travel distances are also relatively shorter given that Rwanda is simply a smaller country. While Uganda’s infrastructure is less developed and gorilla trekking here can be more challenging. It rains often in Bwindi, even in the dry season, so conditions may be slippery. Each gorilla family in Bwindi also covers large territories, and tracking time can vary widely from day to day, from 30 minutes up to eight or nine hours.
The cost of a Rwanda gorilla trekking permit is now $1500 while a Uganda gorilla trekking permit costs $700. However, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is only about 75 miles from the arrival airport in Kigali, making it much easier to access by road.
While for Uganda’s Bwindi, you need 8 hours to drive from Entebbe Airport and another 8 hours back to the airport. This would mean at least two days to complete your gorilla tour in Rwanda and 3 days for a Uganda gorilla tour.
So, even though the Uganda gorilla permits are cheaper, you would incur a transport cost of about $500-$600. Some visitors choose to arrive in Kigali and arrange to visit Bwindi from Kigali. In real practice though, it is not recommended that you rush your gorilla trekking tour due to the pressure it exerts on the trekker.
Uganda offers a slightly more developed safari experience for adventurous travelers. A Nile River cruise in Murchison Falls National Park or tracking tree-climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park are two exciting activities in Uganda that visitors can partake in before their gorilla trekking tour.
Another excellent experience is tracking chimpanzees for a day in Kibale Forest National Park. This is a great introduction to your gorilla trekking experience as it familiarizes you with the trekking experience.
Also, the recent development of Akagera National Park in Rwanda and the reintroduction of the Big Five here mean that game drives are an option, as well as guided walking safaris. Fishing, birding, and cultural experiences are also all on offer in Akagera.