What, when and where is best for gorilla tracking:
Nobody ever forgets the first time they met a mountain gorilla face to face. The world’s largest primate is massively powerful yet amazingly gentle and caring, and remarkably we share more than 97% of our DNA with them. Even old safari hands, who have seen every country, and enough lions to last a lifetime, tell us that this is the best, most memorable adventure of all their African travels.
Where can you find them?
Current estimates suggest that there are approximately 880 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild. The gorillas live in family groups in the Virunga Mountains which straddle Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Visitors wishing to track these magnificent animals can do so in either Uganda or Rwanda. Both destinations offer an excellent opportunity to see the gorillas with track success rates of almost 100%.
Uganda: The thickly forested slopes of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park are home to Uganda’s mountain gorillas. There are around 400 known to be living here, divided into a number of family groups. Local trackers record the rough location of the habituated families so that visitors can have some idea of the likely length of track. Particularly useful in this park as tracking in Bwindi can be difficult with sometimes steep and slippery paths – where possible rangers will allocate gorilla family groups according to the fitness of visitors.
Rwanda: Rwanda’s gorillas live on the volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains. The terrain is slightly gentler here than in neighbouring Uganda and the bamboo forests of the lower slopes offer lighter photographic conditions than those in Bwindi’s forests. It’s where Dian Fossey – whose research is widely credited with saving gorillas from extinction by highlighting their plight in the mid-1960s – carried out her research. Today’s travellers can visit the Karisoke Centre she established.
For more details on gorilla tracking in Rwanda and Uganda read Richard’s blog
When is best?
Generally, high season in Rwanda and Uganda coincides with the dryer winter months of June to mid-September, but both can be visited year round. The rainy seasons tend to run from March to May and then again between October and November, but like anywhere, it is hard to predict exactly and it can vary in different areas. Rainfall in the mountains is generally greater than in other, lower areas.
Tracking in the wet is still possible but it is harder going than in the dry season. It is also worth noting that the lush rainforest vegetation in Bwindi is denser than the bamboo forests in Rwanda which can make walking arduous at certain times of the year.
What is a gorilla tracking permit?
A gorilla permit grants permission to track the mountain gorillas and everyone planning to track needs to purchase one of these. Visitor numbers are strictly controlled so that a habituated gorilla group will have a maximum of eight visitors a day to minimise disturbance. We recommend booking early and that you buy two permits. Each allows you to spend an hour with the gorillas – use one for photos, the other to just enjoy the moment.
Until June 2017, permit prices were broadly similar: $750 per gorilla track in Rwanda and $600 per track in Uganda. However, in June 2017, the Rwanda Development Board decided to raise their gorilla tracking permit price to $1,500 per track. This was on the basis of funding conservation and supporting people living in gorilla areas. The Uganda Wildlife Authority immediately responded to say they were keeping their permit prices at $600 per gorilla track throughout 2017 and 2018 at least. However, it does significantly affect the cost, particularly when two gorilla tracking permits are recommended for most clients to make the best of their holiday.
Other things to note:
Chimpanzees – If you are travelling with a family and children are too young to track gorillas you might consider chimp tracking which is open to anyone over 12 years. Western Tanzania and Uganda are the best places to see chimpanzees, where research and habituation programmes have been under way for many years.
Lemurs – Lemurs are another option. Madagascar is home to 33 species of lemur, ranging in size from the tiny pygmy mouse lemur to the indri indri which stands about 60 to 80 cm tall. They are all endemic to Madagascar and new species are still being discovered.
A longer safari – Don’t forget that you can include a primate safari in a longer trip combining with other safari areas, the beach, or even scaling a mighty mountain summit. Please just ask us for ideas that fit in with your dates and plans.
We would be delighted to help you plan a holiday, or answer any questions about visiting gorillas. Our team of experts have travelled widely throughout Africa. They can offer expert advice on every type of safari from gorillas and chimpanzees to lemurs and other primate safaris. If you would like to talk to someone who has been there and done it, please just send us an email or give us a call.