See the closest living relatives to human beings, in the depths of their jungle home.
There are only two populations of mountain gorillas left in the entire world. The first lives in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, with groups scattered throughout Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, while the second population lives deep in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. And we have a range of different trips that visit each of these unique places. While the treks themselves can be humid and muddy (you will be in the rainforest after all!), once you’re face-to-face with a majestic silverback or watching a female gorilla play with her baby, the effort to meet these rare creatures all seems worth it.
At a glance
Uganda or Rwanda
Permits are included
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Where we trek
There are only two populations of mountain gorillas left in the world – and you can visit either of them with Intrepid. The first population lives in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and the other is in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. But, what differences can you expect between the two?
Rwanda – Volcanoes National Park
There are 12 habituated gorilla families in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The terrain you will be trekking through in Rwanda may be slightly less dense and more open than in Uganda, which means some people find it to be an easier trek. The park is also quite established and has good infrastructure, is only a three-hour drive from the international airport and has comfortable accommodation close by. The gorilla trekking permit for Rwanda is significantly more expensive than in Uganda.
Uganda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
There are 10 habituated families in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. It normally sees more rain than Rwanda, meaning the terrain can be a little slippery and the trek is considered more difficult. This park is less established and is a 12-hour drive from the international airport. However, the gorilla trekking permit for Uganda is about half the price of Rwanda, making it a more attractive option for travellers on a budget.
You'll need to be fit enough to trek to the location of your family of mountain gorillas. This may involve anywhere from one hour up to six hours of walking up and down hills, in hot and humid conditions and through tropical (and at times thick) foliage. There may be mud underfoot which will make the trekking slippery. But don’t let this put you off, because the end result is worth it.
At the pre-trek briefing, travellers will be divided into groups of eight based on their age and fitness. The rangers usually have a good idea of where each gorilla family group is and the expected trekking time for each family. The fitter groups will trek the families in more challenging locations, or longest distances away.
You'll be expected to carry your own personal items for this trek including water, a rain jacket and cameras, however, you can absolutely hire a local porter to assist you. Hiring a porter on a gorilla trek is a common practice by travellers of all ages and abilities. The porters will carry your bag, and help to you navigate some of the steeper, or trickier sections of the trek. Not only does it make the trek easier for you, but you’re also providing a valuable source of employment for locals. The minimum cost of hiring a porter on a gorilla trek in Bwindi is USD20, or USD10 in Virunga, plus any tips you may choose to provide in addition to that.
Once you track your gorilla family you have one hour with them. This is to minimise the possibility of disturbance or transmission of disease to the animals. No more than eight people per day can visit any one habituated family.
It's not 100% guaranteed that you will see gorillas, but it is highly uncommon not to. Gorilla trackers head off at dawn every day to locate gorilla families and radio the co-ordinates back to headquarters. So, that means that before you even begin your trek the trackers have a good idea of where your family is or will be.
Permits are included in the cost of Intrepid’s trips and we will secure the permit for you once you pay your trip deposit. At this time, all we require from you are your passport details. On some trips, travellers might also have the opportunity to trek to see the gorillas for a second time. These additional permits should also be organised prior to departure while you’re booking.
The cost of your permit contributes significantly to mountain gorilla conservation efforts. The mountain gorilla population living in the Virunga mountains has grown significantly over the last decade, largely due to the contribution to conservation efforts by travellers purchasing trekking permits. The rise in numbers follows the introduction of park guards, veterinary care, community support projects and regulated tourism. Combined with a separate mountain gorilla population living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, this brings the number of mountain gorillas up to more than 1,000 individuals.
On our trips there is often the chance to take an optional additional trek to see the mountain gorillas. Only a limited number of permits are issued for each gorilla family each day, so we recommend that you pre-book your trek and permit through your booking agent to avoid disappointment – especially in peak season.
It's possible to request to trek with a particular gorilla family once you’re at the briefing, but this can’t always be guaranteed.
As per national park requirements, you must be a minimum of 15 years old to trek to see the gorillas in either Uganda or Rwanda.
You can trek to see the gorillas all year-round. The dry season is June to September and December to February, while the rainy seasons is considered March to May and October to November. The rainy season can make trekking more challenging, so a lot of people opt to trek during the dry season. However, it’s important to remember that you’re trekking in tropical rain forests and it’s common to have rain throughout the year irrespective of which season it is.
There are a few basic gorilla trekking guidelines and rules your ranger will brief you on before your trek. If you are feeling unwell, or you are carrying a contagious disease, we recommend you stay behind and an alternate visit will be arranged for you. Gorillas are susceptible to the transmission of germs and diseases and you could put them at risk.
No more than eight people per day can visit any one habituated family so your Intrepid Travel group will be split into smaller trekking groups. You may even trek across two different days depending on permit availability.
Tracking gorillas in the dense forest can sometimes be wet, muddy and uncomfortable. You will need a comfortable pair of waterproof hiking boots, or shoes. Some of the foliage in the forest has sharp spikes and can be prickly. A typical gardening glove with a hard surface on the palm will make it easier to grab onto trees and bushes as you pull yourself up the hillside. It's also a good idea to pack a pair of long socks so that you can tuck your trousers into them and avoid any ants or insects getting to your ankles. Long sleeved, lightweight shirts will also protect your arms without being too hot. You can pick up a trekking pole at your local lodge or the trek headquarters. A small backpack to carry camera, personal items and a water bottle is a good idea.
Treks are only conducted within 'habituated' groups of gorillas and it takes a period of about two years for a gorilla family to become familiar with humans. To ensure that travellers are safe while trekking there are set rules and regulations that everyone must observe at all times. You will be briefed on these before you depart in search of their assigned habituated gorilla family. While on the trek, the park ranger guide who accompanies you will be there to ensure everyone follows the rules.
All gorilla treks are led by well-trained National Park guides, rangers and trackers. The ranger or head guide carries a first aid kit and will provide a comprehensive safety briefing at the start of each trek.
Why choose Intrepid
A guaranteed departure means that there is no minimum number of bookings required on a trip for it to run, so no matter how many people are booked on your gorilla trekking trip, you can be sure you're heading off on the adventure of a lifetime.
The best folk to show you the heart of a destination are the ones that live there, which is why we work exclusively with local leaders. Our leaders are not just travel experts, but they’re also your teacher, travel guru and enthusiastic purveyor of grassroots experiences.
At Intrepid, we’ve made a commitment to being a responsible business. So, when you hit the road with us, you’ll leave a lighter footprint, know your trip is carbon offset and invest your dollars in local communities while learning about different cultures along the way.
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How we're giving back
Just by trekking to see the gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda you are contributing significantly to mountain gorilla conservation efforts. The mountain gorilla population living in the Virunga mountains has grown significantly over the last decade, largely due to the contribution to conservation efforts by travellers purchasing trekking permits. The rise in numbers follows the introduction of park guards, veterinary care, community support projects and regulated tourism Combined with a separate mountain gorilla population living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, this brings the number of mountain gorillas up to more than 1,000 individuals.
Combine your trek with other African adventures
Seeing the gorillas in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but there are plenty of other amazing things to see and do in Africa too. You could head to the Serengeti or Masai Mara on a safari to spot the Big 5 or continue with the trekking and tackle the highest peak in Africa – Mt Kilimanjaro. Make your gorilla trek part of your longer African adventure with any of the trips below.
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