Home to over half of the world’s total population of endangered mountain gorillas, Uganda is a beauty to behold. Uganda’s prime destinations for gorilla trekking include Mgahinga gorilla and Bwindi impenetrable national parks. Hidden in the extreme south western corner of the country, at the tip of Albertine Rift, these iconic national parks form one huge conservation area, known as Bwindi-Mgahinga conservation area.
Of the two national parks, Bwindi is the largest with a total area of about 331 sq. km and divided into 4 major gorilla regions, that is Rushaga sector in the south – east of Bwindi, Ruhija sector to the east, Nkuringo in the south and Buhoma to the north. Each region presents a profusion of vibrant gorilla families which are well habituated and open for trekking every day.
Mgahinga gorilla national park on the other hand is the smallest in Uganda, and part of the larger Virunga conservation area. The park is one of the 3 national parks that make up Virunga conservation area; others include Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in D.R. Congo.
Due to its small size, Mgahinga is home to only one gorilla family, known as Nyakagezi, which is made up of 19 members well habituated for trekking. With all these huge numbers of mountain gorillas, gorilla trekking activity remains a highly restricted venture with visits controlled to only 8 individuals per group per day.
Travelers are issued with gorilla trekking permits without which one cannot access any gorilla family. Gorilla permits in Uganda are only issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority, a government body that is in charge of conservation and preservation of all protected areas in Uganda. Alternatively, a trusted tour operator can help book gorilla trekking permits on behalf of their clients.
Each gorilla permit is valid for a day, between 1-8 hours depending on the time taken to find a particular gorilla group. A gorilla permit allows one to access one gorilla family and spends with it a maximum of 1 hour. Uganda gorilla permits are highly demanded and therefore advance booking is crucial especially in high season months of June – October and December to February.
Rescheduling gorilla permits
Gorilla trekking permits can be rescheduled to any future available date; however late reschedule (7 days to the start of the trip) attracts a surcharge of 30% of the total permit cost. One can change permit details to either another gorilla region or different date.
How many gorilla permits are available per day
Bwindi national park is home to over 400 mountain gorillas, more than any other gorilla destination in the world; of these, up to 15 gorilla families are fully habituated and can be visited on a daily basis. This implies that 120 permits are available per day distributed throughout the 4 gorilla regions. Mgahinga gorilla national park on the other hand is home to only one gorilla family, and therefore 8 permits are available for sale every day.
Cost of gorilla permits in Uganda
Each gorilla trekking permit in Uganda costs a staggering 600$, way less than Rwanda’s gorilla permit which stands at 1500$ and more than D.R. Congo which is 400$, but Uganda presents the safest and most unforgettable gorilla trekking experience of all destinations.
Gorilla habituation permits
Besides gorilla trekking, Uganda awards travelers with another thrilling adventure, the gorilla habituation experience. Unlike trekking which allows trekkers to be with a gorilla family for only 1 hour, habituation on the other hand gives visitors up to 4 hours to encounter these magical apes. Gorilla habituation experience is for those intrepid travelers who need first-hand encounter with world’s most endangered apes.
During habituation, mountain gorillas are not yet fully acquainted to human presence, and therefore trekkers accompany a team of researchers, trackers and park rangers who head out to the forest and encounter an unsuspecting family of gorillas and stay with them for a period of up to 4 hours, observing how they feed, play with each other, behave, and getting to know the general lifestyle and composition of a particular gorilla family.
Gorilla habituation is only done in Bwindi national park in Rushaga region, which is located in the south – east of the park in Kisoro district. Only 4 trekkers are allowed to do gorilla habituation on a daily basis. This low number of visitors is aimed at keeping the gorilla habitat as undisturbed as possible.
Gorilla habituation experience costs 1500$ per permit and valid for 4 hours after meeting the gorillas. Habituation permits can only obtained at Uganda wildlife authority headquarters in Kampala or can be booked through a professional local tour operator.