Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking in Uganda is an excellent option for those looking for a comprehensive wildlife experience and have some flexibility on time and budget. 

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the only place you can see gorillas in Uganda, but this is an old rainforest so the trekking can be a little tougher than in Rwanda. However, the diversity of wildlife and the actual forest itself is more dramatic given that it is much older. The park is slightly harder to get to by road, requiring an overnight stop from the capital, Entebbe. If you prefer to make better use of your time here, there is a new excellent domestic flight service available. Like Rwanda, the trekking in Uganda is done on steep, muddy paths, but it is NOT humid due to the altitude. In addition to the gorillas in Uganda there are also excellent opportunities for chimpanzee trekking, Big 5 game viewing, boat safaris and some of Africa’s best birding in a relatively short amount of time. It also has the added benefit of cheaper gorilla permits than Rwanda at U$600 per permit per person.

Pros

  • The age of the rainforest and the look of the park provides an incredible sense of adventure
  • Combines very well with chimpanzees and other big game for a longer trip
  • Permits are a little cheaper

Cons

  • The park can be steep in places so you have to work for the sightings.
  • Can require longer drives given distances involved
  • The thicker vegetation means other forest wildlife harder to spot

When to Go

  • Jan to Feb – Short dry season, clear skies, lush scenery. Great for photography
  • Mar May – Long rains, days of heavy showers. Reduced rates
  • June to October – Long dry season, sunny skies, popular time
  • Nov to Dec – Short rains, possible showers. Great for photography. Reduced rates

Alternatively, if you are short on time and budget, gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an excellent option or if you have a sense of adventure and up for the unusual, then gorilla trekking in Republic of Congo is a must.  

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GORILLA TREKKING

How do I get to Uganda?

There are direct flights to Entebbe (the capital) with BA, to date the only airline offering direct flights from the UK (but these are not every day) or Kenya Airways (via Nairobi) which are. There are numerous others, including KLM (via Amsterdam), Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul) or Qatar (via Doha) to name but a few. The arrival and departure times need to be considered when planning a trip as you sometimes need to overnight in Entebbe at the start or end of your holiday, so the cheapest option is not always the most convenient. We are of course, happy to recommend places to stay. 

When is the best time to go to Uganda?

The best time to go is from June through to September and then December to February. This is when the skies are blue and there is little or no rain.  July and August is good but flights can be very expensive due to holidays. The short rains run from October to November and whilst it will be wetter, you can still trek and do many of the other activities, it will just be muddier. The gorillas are not affected by the rain. Sometimes there are discounts to be had on the permits in November. If you are keen on photography, then just after the rains in December / Jan or May / June are great times to go as everything is fresh and green, the skies are blue and the air incredibly clear, so the views across the countryside are spectacular.

How fit do I have to be for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?

Good question and one we are asked a lot. Anyone can do the trek as long as they prepare for it beforehand. By its very nature, walking in a mountain rainforest, where paths are steep and muddy at heights in excess of 2,500 metres, is a challenge, but doing some light exercise prior to your holiday, (walks, jogging, swimming or any other cardiovascular activity) will allow you to enjoy the trip that much more. The guides are also very good at setting the pace of the trek so that it is comfortable for everyone and the walk itself through the forest is part of the experience and not a route-march. The guide will be stopping en-route to point out things of interest, take on water and allow you to enjoy the view. Like anything however, the more you prepare, the more you will enjoy it so don't worry.  You will also be given the choice to hire porters before each trek who are there to help carry bags and steady you as you go – they are brilliant. We are also here to help prepare you as much as possible, so if you have any concerns or questions, please do call but we have taken thousands of people of all ages and abilities and they have all enjoyed it.

What should I take when I go Gorilla Trekking in Uganda?

Contrary to many peoples opinion, gorilla trekking in Uganda is not humid and Bwindi Forest (where you trek) is a mountain rain forest so is therefore cool and damp, getting VERY cold in the early mornings and late evenings. As you begin your trek, you need to wrap up warm but as the trekking progresses, you will start to get hot so it is best to have lots of light layers that can be taken off and put back on as required. We also recommend strong walking boots or shoes, sturdy trousers, sunglasses, sun lotion (it is equatorial so whilst not hot, the sun can be intense), a sun hat, and waterproof jacket. It is also worth considering taking gardening gloves with you, as you will be pulling at and climbing over thick vegetation on the walks. Some clients take energy bars/supplements with them, which can be eaten whilst walking to help keep their energy levels up. You will also be given a packed lunch (water, sandwiches, fruit) so you won't go hungry. Also, don't forget the camera (and spare memory cards!)

How long are the gorilla treks in Uganda? 

It is impossible to say how long your trek will take as the length of the trek itself depends on the location and the movement of the gorillas on the day on which you will be trekking as they are always moving around. Trekking can take anything from between 1 – 8 hours although you are usually back at the lodge around lunchtime, leaving the lodge early in the morning around 06:00am to make your way to the park HQ for your pre-trek briefing. If you then finish early, our guides will discuss options with you as to what else you would like to do for the rest of the day. This could be the chance to explore a local market, enjoy a gentle walk through traditional villages, another forest walk if feeling brave or the chance to visit some fascinating community projects nearby, such as schools or local hospitals. You can of course just relax at the lodge if you prefer. Our guides are very flexible and will be happy to discuss ideas.

What gorilla groups can I see in Uganda?

You can visit one of 3 habituated families in Buhoma, in the popular Northern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest - Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushagura. A 2-hour drive away from this in the more remote Ruhija area of Bwindi, one can trek 3 other families, Oruzogo, Kyaguriro and Bitukura. In the wildest part of Bwindi, in the Southern Sector one can trek the Nkuringo. There are eight permits available daily for each group at a cost of U$600 per permit, per person.

How close to the gorillas do you get? 

Officially 7 metres. It is very important that you adhere to the guidelines laid down by your guide during the pre-trek briefing as they are in place for a reason. Whilst it can be difficult to keep to this distance ( the gorillas have never been told of this particular rule) please be aware of your guides comments and do what they say. The gorillas are usually spread out in the forest, sometimes out in the open, other times hiding in the shadows, so you may only catch glimpses of them and other times you may be very lucky and see them all out in the open.  Should the gorillas move towards you, please follow your guides instruction as the 7 metre rule is designed for the benefit of both humans and gorillas and to reduce the spread of infection (gorillas are susceptible to colds).  Some of the younger gorillas may well come and investigate.

What is travel like in Uganda?

Very exciting, very adventurous and always interesting. You can get around by driving (Steppes always use high quality 4WD) or you can enjoy the luxury of safe and established internal flights for convenience. Either way, there is always something new to see. Roads vary enormously in Uganda, from good tarred roads around the major towns and cities, (the traffic can still be bad) to rough dirt tracks through the parks and when exploring the more remote areas so if you have a very bad back, or suffer from car sickness, you may want to consider flying.  If driving through the country, you need to be prepared for one or two unavoidably long drives (around 4-6 hours), but we always use comfortable, 4 wheel drives and the driver will be happy to stop as you go along. Travelling overland however, does give you a wonderful sense of place as you pass through traditional villages and can stop anywhere to take great pictures.  For those who want to spend less time travelling, there are very good and very safe, internal flights between all of the major parks, using small 12 seater planes or private aviation companies or helicopters. This makes for some spectacular aerial photographs and allows you to spend more time doing activities.  We tend to advise a mixture of driving and flying to get the most from your time away. All of the parks are well connected by road or by internal flights, but the more remote a region, the higher the cost.

Is it safe?

Of course. If it wasn’t we simply would not go there. We have been taking travellers here for nearly 25 years and the safety of our clients is paramount, so to ensure this, not only do we travel there regularly ourselves, but are also in close contact with the numerous lodge owners, partners, charities and officials with whom we work. The Ugandan people are some of the most welcoming people in East Africa and whilst our clients go there to experience the wildlife, for many it is the warmth and generosity of the Ugandan people that makes the greatest impression. We also use the most experienced and professional agents in Uganda, whilst also providing a manned UK emergency contact telephone number that you can call any time of the day or night, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

What are the lodges like?

Very good quality, ranging from small, well-run lodges with an emphasis on character and comfort through to exclusive, award winning luxury lodges in spectacular locations with all the mod cons you would expect. All are en-suite and most have wi-fi. In the cities, you can expect international standard hotels, with a range of facilities and restaurants. They all have their own characters and each offer something slightly different, depending on what kind of place you prefer to stay in. We would recommend one property over another, based on what you consider to be the most important aspect of where you stay – location, level of luxury, views etc. They serve a wide range of food, pretty much all special dietary requirements can be catered for and in many of the upmarket lodges alcohol is included in the price.

Can I charge ipads, phones, batteries etc at the lodge?

Yes, all of the lodges have facilities to charge batteries, either in your room or in the main dining / bar area. We recommend you bring an adaptor.

What else can you do apart from Gorilla Trekking?

There are so many other activities you can do in Uganda besides gorilla trekking that you can easily fill 2 weeks. Many of the parks are home to lots of traditional big game and savannah wildlife where you can enjoy game drives or guided walks. These include Queen Elizabeth National Park (famous for the tree climbing lions), Murchison Falls (excellent not just for the falls, but one of the best places in the country to see the shoebill stork and lots of other big game), Semliki (excellent for big game, boat safaris and black and white colobus) and Kidepo Valley National Park. Kidepo is one of the wildest parks in Africa, best reached by a short domestic flight and in addition to the dramatic setting and wealth of wildlife, it is the only park in Uganda where you can find aardwolf, caracal and cheetah.

Uganda is also one of the most accessible places in Africa for Chimpanzee safaris, which you can do in three different regions (Kyambura Gorge - ok, Kibale Forest – good, Budongo Forest – very good) which is similar to gorilla viewing in terms of early starts and forest trekking. As 25% of Uganda is also covered in water, there are some great boat safaris to do, in particular the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, some of Africa’s best fishing (big tiger fish and Nile perch) in Murchison, shoebill safaris on the lakes around Semliki, but Jinja also offers some dramatic white water rafting. There is some excellent climbing to be done in the Rwenzori Mountains or some easy day hikes in the foothills. The birding in Uganda is also considered some of the best in the world, with over 1000 species in a country smaller than Great Britain due to the huge variety of habitat which is easy to reach and the birds being easy to see. This diversity also makes for some incredible photography – Uganda being one of Africa’s most photogenic countries.

Do Mobile phones work in Uganda?

Yes, although they can be a little patchy in some of the more rural areas, but texts can usually get through. The best way to find the best spot for reception in a village or small town is to look for a group of people huddled together on a small hill, waiving their phones in the air! You can also ask our guide about buying a cheap sim card and local phone if you prefer.

Can I use my credit card?

Yes, but only really in the larger towns and cities. In the smaller lodges, it is a little trickier, but as all of your meals (and most of your drinks) are included on the trip, you won’t need to worry.

How much cash should I take?

This depends on how long you are away, where you are staying and what kind of activities you are going. We send out a very detailed information pack on money and tipping, specific for each person’s trip. That said, nearly everything is included, from transfers, to park fees, to meals, to drinks, so you will only be paying for tips and souvenirs.

Why should I travel to Uganda with Steppes.

We have been running successful holidays to Uganda for 25 years and are considered the UK’s leading authorities on trips to Uganda. We are lucky to travel to Uganda numerous times each year to ensure that our tried and tested lodges and operations provide you with the best possible experience. Not only do we meet hoteliers, charities, agents, partners, officials and conservationists to gain further insights into the country, but are always looking for new experiences and places for you to stay. Such is our reputation, that over the years we have been asked to arrange trips for everyone from the BBC Natural history unit, to Turner Broadcasting and CNN. Steppes was even approached by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority themselves when they were looking to open up a new gorilla group to tourism in 2004 (The Nkuringo Group) – they wanted us to provide the tourists. We are of course very lucky to have worked with these organisations over the years, but the highest accolade we can offer is the fact that over 70% of our business is repeat and referral. We hope that you will call us to at least discuss ideas if nothing else so we can answer plenty of questions and help start with the planning of your own adventure.

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