Go-To Guide: Track Gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda & DR Congo

Better late than never! Because we tend to emphasise the intriguing human side of our region, we have never had one dedicated source that brings together all the facts that matter to a gorilla enthusiast. Here it is, and we shall update it and improve it over time! If you fancy more in-depth coverage by numerous writers, check out all our gorilla articles.

First Things First: What Gorillas Will You Choose?

You are about to click on our first video, so an explanation could be handy: The text below follows the video script but includes links and possibly additional detail (it’s easier to add to a writeup than to a video). Consume in a way that best suits you!

We are blessed with two kinds of gorillas in the Gorilla Highlands, both endangered subspecies of the eastern gorilla. The much better known mountain gorillas, popularised through the efforts of Dian Fossey, have over the decades grown in number from a couple of hundreds to over a thousand individuals. This is purely a result of conservation and tourism working hand in hand. Grauer’s or eastern lowland gorillas are endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country suffering from years of turmoil. Their numbers have dropped by almost 80% — to about 3,500 — over a similar period. As a comparison, western lowland gorillas number about 200,000.

Your gorilla tracking won’t differ if you opt for mountain or Grauer’s gorillas, and in fact both subspecies are rather similar. Grauer’s is the biggest of all gorillas, with males growing to almost 2 metres (6 feet and 5 inches). The tallest mountain gorillas are shorter by some 20 centimetres (8 inches). They do, however, have longer hair than Grauer’s gorillas.

While a gorilla group of any subspecies is led by a silverback, a mature male whose back has greyed, there are some differences. Mountain gorilla groups can have two or more silverbacks, Grauer’s only one. Grauer’s gorillas also have wider home ranges and nest high in the trees while mountain gorillas overnight exclusively on the ground.

Secondly: What Is Gorilla Tracking, in Real Life?

Before we go any further, let’s get something out of the way:

to trek = to hike
to track = follow the movements of a person/animal

The official term is gorilla tracking not gorilla trekking. Gorilla movements are followed daily by dedicated teams of trackers and an unsuccessful visitation is therefore almost unheard of. Still, following gorilla movements can indeed include plentiful hiking!

Gorilla tracking is a bucket list experience that entails entering a national park in the heights of tropical Africa and spending one hour with our majestic relatives. To take it in, you need to be older than 15 and able to pay good money:

DR CONGO

USD 400 for foreign visitors
USD 200 for foreign students
USD 150 for foreign minors
USD 200 for foreign residents (including East African Community)
USD 100 for foreign students (including East African Community)
USD 80 for foreign minors (including East African Community)

RWANDA

USD 1,500 for foreign visitors
USD 500 for residents of Africa/African citizens
USD 200 for East Africans

UGANDA

gorilla tracking:
USD 800 for foreign visitors
USD 700 for foreign residents
USD 500 for residents of Africa/African citizens
UGX 300,000 for East Africans

old prices still valid for tracking gorillas before 1 July 2024:
USD 700 for foreign visitors
USD 600 for foreign residents
UGX 250,000 for East Africans


gorilla habituation experience (more or less just a 4-hour version of gorilla tracking):
USD 1,500 for foreign visitors
USD 1,000 for foreign residents
USD 1,000 for residents of Africa
UGX 750,000 for East Africans

There is no upper age limit, and it’s quite common for older or disabled people to be carried to the gorillas or pushed up the slopes by porters. Such services cost extra money, so let us first clarify what the gorilla tracking fees listed above do include: park entrance, rangers’ interpretation, and security detail.

In addition to the park ranger team accompanying you, there are also trackers involved. These experienced scouts enter the forest earlier in the morning and locate the gorillas, and direct your search.

It will eventually take you anything between 30 minutes to as many hours as the silverback decides, to discover his harem and the curious little ones. And when you round that corner and the gorilla family appears in the clearing, it’s a jaw dropping moment you will never forget.

Trackers, porters, souvenir sellers and other community members all benefit from gorilla tourism, and that motivates people around the park to protect their wildlife. By purchasing the permit and other services you directly contribute to the survival of a fabulous fellow primate.

Thirdly: Where to Go for Gorillas?

If you wish to visit the mountain gorillas, you can do it in Uganda, Rwanda or DR Congo. The three countries divide gorillas’ Virunga volcanoes into Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Congo’s Virunga National Park.

Here, tracking is likely to take place in the mountain gorilla’s beloved bamboo environment, not far away from the park boundaries. In Rwanda, the tarmac extends straight to the national park headquarters, and because it is situated merely a couple of hours away from Kigali Airport, this is the most convenient — and pricey — tracking site.

For information on how to reach these locations please consult our regional page.

Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the most adventurous gorilla tracking location, with the last hours of driving often quite rough. This old-growth very dense rainforest laid over pretty tough terrain provides refuge to about a half of the world’s mountain gorillas, and they can be accessed through four park gates.

These are Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. (The gate called Ndego on the map below is for vehicle access, not gorilla tracking.)

The distance between some access points is such that a day of rough driving may be needed. In short, knowing that you will track your gorillas “in Bwindi” does not give a very full picture. The Buhoma gate, the park headquarters, is the oldest among them and hence best known and touristically developed. Buhoma gorillas are often easily accessible and sporadically even venture into lodge compounds. However, it would be wrong to ignore the other three gate options. If nothing else, they are closer to towns that offer a wider selection of more modestly priced accommodation. Note: Nkuringo high above the forest tends to be the most physically challenging gorilla tracking location.

The only place to see Grauer’s gorillas is Kahuzi-Biega National Park in Congo. Even though the alternative name is “Eastern Lowland” gorillas, these are the highlands as well — and the environment resembles Bwindi. Together with Virunga National Park, this is the most affordable gorilla tracking solution of them all.

Fourthly: What if I Don’t Want ANY Tour Company Involved?

As much as we would love you to start dreaming about tour itineraries built around the gorilla permits we shall arrange, we won’t hide the fact that you can independently buy yourself a gorilla tracking permit. This applies to Rwanda only, however. For DR Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park can be contacted online (official website) and they package gorilla tracking with a two-week tourist visa, but the process is unlikely to be easy or quick. Uganda, finally, does not allow anything like that; you are forced to go through a local tour operator.

It is wise to make any arrangements months in advance. Between June and September obtaining a permit can become challenging — tour companies will purchase them in advance, before they even get customers for their trips. If they fail to get tourists, they will later advertise permit availability.

Fifthly: What Other Practical Advice Do You Have?

The gorilla tracking permit is a frantically sought-after “ticket”, as only eight visitors are allowed to track each gorilla group per day. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park with one habituated family can be particularly tricky to get. It may also not be easy to get a slot at Bwindi’s Buhoma. Do not fret: if you are a small group of people with some date flexibility, you will normally be able to track somewhere, no matter what month it is.

Because of the high dollar amounts involved, it can be difficult to process the fact that nothing outside of the national park is included: you will need to pay separately to get there and get accommodated. But you do not require a tour guide for the activity; everything in the park is handled by skilled and talkative rangers.

During the Covid pandemic, it became compulsory to put a face mask on when close to gorillas but you don’t need to bring one — you will get a mask provided or available at a very low price. For what to put into your luggage instead, allow us to direct you to our general What to Pack article …

Finally, some food for thought: Is Tracking Gorillas Ethical?

featured photo by Marcus Westberg

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