Gorilla trekking is the latest trend in travel these days. People want to go to Uganda, Rwanda, or Democratic Republic of Congo to see these amazing yet endangered mountain gorillas.
But why should you go gorilla trekking in Uganda as oppose to Rwanda or Democratic Republic of Congo?
The simple answer is because it’s cheaper to go gorilla trekking in Uganda rather than Rwanda. Democratic Republic of Congo seems cheaper at first but we’ll see after taking all the cost into account.
*EDIT* As per request, I have added additional information if you want to pay more money for a much nicer accommodation and travel experience. I also added information on what type of clothes to wear when going trekking.
Cost breakdown of gorilla trekking in Uganda vs Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo
If you want to do gorilla trekking in Uganda, then it will cost you $600 USD for the permit. However, it’s difficult to secure just the gorilla trekking permit unless you’re already in Uganda. I personally had to arrange getting our permit and driver through a local tour operator. We chose African Adventure Travellers (I’m not affiliated with them) because they offered a one day package to see the mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park. In the end, Karen, myself, and my sister paid $704 USD each including the credit card processing fee.
If you want to get a permit in Rwanda, this will set you back $1500 USD. This is quite expensive because Rwanda decided they wanted to target the luxury traveller market for gorilla trekking. Right now, Rwanda is paying the price for this decision. After speaking with the local Rwandan people, the number of tourist visiting their country for gorilla trekking has dwindled dramatically. Tourist are choosing to go to either Uganda or Democratic Republic of Congo because of the huge price increase.
Keep in mind that the $1500 USD price tag is just for the permit. It doesn’t include the cost of having a driver or the fee you pay a tour operator.
The biggest benefit from gorilla trekking in Rwanda is that their mountain gorillas are bigger than the ones in Uganda! They’re also the same size as the ones in Democratic Republic of Congo. This is because Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Virunga National Park (DRC) are in the same region.
Rwanda is also the safest, most stable, and well developed of the three countries.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Technically, gorilla trekking is cheaper in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is because getting a permit through the Virunga National Park will set you back $400 USD.
Originally, I wanted to do gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is because I watched an awesome Netflix documentary about the national park. And of course, they have larger gorillas in Virunga National Park.
Virunga National Park is also one of the oldest national park in the world. And so, I felt that by doing it there, it would be so much cooler.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. To go gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park, you are required to purchase the Mikeno Mist Package. The Mikeno Mist Package cost $1,388 USD per person or $2,436 for two people. This price includes your gorilla trekking permit, two nights at the Kibumba Tented camps, and a permit to climb up Mount Nyiragongo.
This fee excludes the cost of porters ($25 USD each), and the “backpack” package for trekking Mount Nyiragongo ($100 USD) as well as gratuities.
Breaking down the cost of gorilla trekking in DRC even more
If we breakdown the cost of the Mikeno Mist Package even more, it looks something like this:
- Booking the Mount Nyiragongo trek separately costs $356 USD. It’s also an additional $100 USD for the “backpack” add-on package. The “backpack” package includes warm clothes, meals prepared by a cook, a backpack with snacks and a sleeping bag. Total cost for this is $456 USD.
- Gorilla trekking permit is $400 USD.
If you add the Mount Nyiragongo permit without the backpack ($356 USD) with the gorilla trekking permit ($400 USD), you’ll get $756 USD. When you take the cost of the Mikeno Mist package for one person, $1,388 USD and minus it by $756 USD (cost of the volcano and gorilla permits), you get $632 USD. This means the cost of your two night accommodation in DRC is $632 USD or $853.20 CAD!
If you book it for two people, it’s slightly cheaper at $462 USD or $623.70 CAD for the two night accommodation at the Kibumba Tented camps. However, even with that discount, it is still very expensive!
Uganda gorilla trekking + Mount Nyiragongo trek cost
Since I did my gorilla trekking in Uganda, it costed me $704 USD for the permit. Accommodation in Kabale was 40 Euros or $60 CAD. Because there was three of us in the room, we split the cost three ways so we each paid $20 CAD. Accommodation in Gisenyi, Rwanda (bordering DRC) cost 60,000 RWF (20,000 RWF each) which is $22.25 USD or $30 CAD.
If you add the cost of accommodation, gorilla trekking permit in Uganda, and the permit for Mount Nyiragongo, the total cost is $1,097.25 USD per person. So as you can see, you’re still saving between $120.75 USD – $193.56 USD.
Looking at it now, if you also plan on trekking the volcano, then it seems that if you book for two people, the savings from doing it in Uganda isn’t that much more.
However, if you don’t want to climb Mount Nyiragongo, then doing the gorilla trekking is definitely cheaper in Uganda.
But quite honestly, there is a part of me that regretted I didn’t do it in Democratic Republic of Congo. It just feels more epic to do the gorilla trekking there. Not to mention that the gorillas in Democratic Republic of Congo are suppose to be bigger as well.
Gorilla trekking if you have a bigger budget
As my readers just told me, not everyone wants to go gorilla trekking on a budget. Some individuals don’t mind paying more money for a nicer experience. I totally get it; however, keep in mind that the actual gorilla trekking itself is largely going to be the same regardless if you pay significantly more money or if you go the cheapest route.
What paying more money will get you is usually two thing:
- First, you’ll get a much nicer accommodation.
- Second, you’ll be able to stay within the park meaning you don’t have to wake up earlier to go gorilla trekking.
As far as the quality of the tour guide goes, from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t matter the price you pay, it depends on who you actually get. If you want an awesome tour guide for Uganda and Rwanda, let me know because I can give you the phone number of our driver for our trip between Rwanda and Uganda. He was amazing and his fee is $30 USD per day!
Companies to check out when going gorilla trekking in Uganda (I have no affiliation with these companies):
- I personally went with African Adventure travellers which offered the most competitive price for a one day gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park. However, if you want to stay at a nicer accommodation, they can also custom tailor your trip to meet your needs. I was quite happy with the company and can definitely recommend them to other travellers.
- My friend Jeremy Jones (I used to write for his blog at LivingtheDreamRTW.com) went with a company called Churchill Safaris. From what I remember, they paid around $8,000 USD for two people for an 8 day tour of Uganda. This included their gorilla trekking and mid-range accommodation. They custom tailored their itinerary based on the short time they have available to travel within Uganda. Therefore, you if you prefer a nicer accommodation, they can also arrange that for you.
- And of course, you can go with any of the traditional adventure travel companies like Intrepid travellers or G Adventures. Although, I’ve heard they can also be hit or miss. Don’t assume that just because they’re a big company that the level of service you’ll receive is much higher.
How far in advance should you book for gorilla trekking?
Uganda only issues about 100 gorilla trekking permits per day. And these permits sell out fast during the peak season between June-December. As a result, if you plan on travelling during peak season, you need to get these permits at least 3 months in advance.
If you travel during off-peak season (rainy season), you can probably get them closer to the date. It’s also cheaper to go gorilla trekking during off-peak season because local tour operators doesn’t have as much customers.
And, it’s also cheaper to book your gorilla trekking when you’re in the city of Kabale in Uganda (one of the launching point for gorilla trekking in Uganda). The other launching point city is called Kisoro if you’re curious (apparently, there’s a beautiful lake in Kisoro you can check out called Lake Mutanda.
Travel VISA to Uganda
The cost of the single entry VISA to Uganda is $50 USD. You can get the E-VISA from the Uganda immigration website. Keep in mind that when signing up for the VISA, they will ask you which point of entry you plan on entering the country. If you’re starting your trip from Rwanda (which I highly recommend), then your point of entry is called “Katuna”. If you fly into Uganda, then you need to specify your point of entry as well (which is most likely the Entebbe Airport).
Alternatively, you can get the East African VISA which costs $100 USD and gives you multiple entry between Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. The one downside to this is if you enter a country outside these three countries, then your VISA automatically becomes void.
I personally got the single entry VISA because I have two passports and one of them allows me a VISA-free entry to Rwanda so I didn’t need to get the East African VISA.
Clothes to wear and other things to bring for a successful gorilla trekking
When going gorilla trekking, you’ll be walking away from hiking trails. This means you’re literally hiking through the thick forest vegetation with only the ranger and his machete to clear a path for you.
This means you need to prepare for any elements that can possibly make your trek very uncomfortable.
Here are some things you need to bring to protect yourself from insects, plants, and the weather:
- Water proof jacket in case it rains
- Gardening gloves (which the park sells for $5 USD) to protect yourself from thorns or stinging nettles
- Water proof or water resistant pants – I wore an under armour workout pants and it worked great
- Water proof or water resistant backpack to protect your belongings should it rain
- Bug spray to avoid mosquitoes or other insects from biting you
When going gorilla trekking, you’ll also want to take tons of pictures of the mountain gorillas. The problem is that these guys can be moving fast or they can be far away from you at times. You need to be prepared to snap they’re photo as quickly as possible or you might miss your chance.
I wouldn’t recommend bringing a huge DSLR camera because it’s too heavy to carry and you might damage it if you trip or slip on mud or other uneven terrain. I can honestly say that it’s not if you’ll slip, but when you’ll slip.
When my girlfriend used her point and shoot camera, it felt like the perfect camera to bring. My sister only relied on her mobile phone and it worked well for her.
I used a mirrorless camera which was still too bulky for my liking but it did the job. And of course, I also used my mobile phone at times.
I would say that if you bring a mirrorless camera, then having a zoom lens will also make a huge difference as you’ll be able to capture a photo of the gorillas even if they’re far away from you.
How to go gorilla trekking in Uganda starting from Rwanda
Kigali, Rwanda to Katuna (also called Gatuna) border (name of the Rwanda-Uganda border)
If you plan on doing gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park, you’ll first have to go to a city in Uganda called Kabale. The closest place to Kabale is actually not Kampala (the capital of Uganda) but Kigali, Rwanda.
After flying in Kigali, there’s three ways you can reach the border.
The first method is to take the taxi but I heard it cost something ridiculous like $100 USD. You might want to go the second method instead which is to rent a car and hire a driver to take you to the border. And afterwards, to take you all the way to Kabale.
The third method is to take the “Jaguar” bus to Kabale from Kigali. From what I heard, the bus is really good. I’m not sure how much it cost to take the bus but if you take the bus from Kigali to Kampala with a stopover in Kabale, it cost about 45,000 UG or $16 CAD or $12 USD.
Katuna border to Kabale, Uganda
The border crossing in the Katuna border is relatively simple. You just get stamped out from the Rwanda side then walk over to the Uganda side. If you have the E-VISA, then you just present it to them and you’ll get stamped in the country. They didn’t ask me for my yellow fever card (but you should bring it just in case).
Walking between the Rwanda-Uganda border
Uganda side of the border
When we went, we got lucky because there was no line up at both immigration office. When we asked our driver why this was, he said it only gets busy when the big buses are crossing the border.
Because we hired a car and a driver, our driver met us on the other side of the border and drove us all the way to Kabale.
They drive on the left hand side of the road in Kabale just like in the UK so do keep that in mind.
Staying overnight in Kabale
We stayed overnight in Kabale and ate dinner at the hotel we stayed in. The hotel we stayed in was dingy and Karen had an anxiety attack staying there.
The customer service was great; however, so if you don’t mind roughing it then it’s a good option for you. The hotel’s name is Kings Hotel Kabale.
Our driver also helped exchange some of our Rwandan Francs into Ugandan Shillings so we can buy food and water while we’re in Kabale.
Kabale, Uganda to Bwindi National Park
The next morning, we ate a popular local street food cuisine called “Rolex”. It’s basically Chapati (Indian bread) filled with egg omelette inside. It tasted really good despite the questionable food preparation method (maybe that’s why it tasted so good).
The drive to Bwindi National Park took a little over 2 hours and it’s a very beautiful and scenic drive. It’s also a bit sketchy on some areas where the vehicle is driving near the edge of a cliff. I can imagine if we went during wet season, the driving condition would feel more unsafe.
Cultural performance and briefing before the trek
We arrived early to the gorilla trekking meeting point. Before the big trek, the national park had some local women do a cultural dance performance for us trying to raise funds for their group.
The cultural performance was great and we really enjoyed it. We happy left them a tip.
After the cultural performance, we were given a briefing on what to expect during the trek. Porters were available for hire for $15 USD.
You can also purchase gardening gloves for $5 USD to avoid touching stinging nettles in the forest. Finally, should you decide that the trek is too hard for you and you’re unable to continue, you can pay $350 USD to get helicoptered out of the forest.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda at Bwindi National Park
Going gorilla trekking is quite random. On a good day, you can find the mountain gorillas within 1 hour. On average it takes anywhere between 3-5 hours to find the gorillas.
And if you’re really unlucky, it can take you up to 11 hours to find the gorillas.
Luckily for us, we found them within 1 hour. Seeing the gorillas was amazing! We were given 1 hour to spend with the gorilla family. We followed them around and took their pictures. The silverback gorilla even jumped in front of my sister which startled her!
These creatures are truly amazing and it was worth the money to see them and to help with protecting these endangered animals.
Unfortunately for us, the hike back would be painful as we had a troublesome member in our group rudely held everyone back. This is why it’s important to adequately prepare yourself before going gorilla tracking!
Bwindi National Park back to Kabale
After finally making it back to the starting point of the trek, we each gave our porters a tip. I believe we gave them $15 USD each because they worked really hard to help us out. We were also presented with a gorilla trekking certificate as proof of completing the trek.
The driver from African Adventure Travellers took us back to the spot where we were briefed and dropped off our guide. Afterwards, he drove us back to Kabale where he bought us a complimentary lunch at the end of the tour. We felt that our driver was really helpful so we bought him lunch. He was super happy from the gesture. He then dropped us off at the hotel we previously stayed at the night before and we gave him a nice tip.
Kabale back to Katuna and finally back to Kigali
We decided not to stay in Kabale for one more night because we were tired and filthy. Kigali has cheaper and much nicer accommodations so we felt it was better to go back to Kigali after gorilla trekking.
The border crossing this time around had a line up because buses were coming back and dropping off their passengers to get cleared by immigration.
It was actually fun going through immigration this time around because one of the immigration staff went out of his booth and started chatting with me about politics. He asked for my contact information after because he wanted to keep in touch but I forgot to give him my information.
Before I left the border, I was also asked to open up my luggage. They began looking through my stuff and asking me what I was bringing back to Rwanda. All I said was “my underwear”. The border police started laughing and told me to continue on.
We drove back to Kigali where we ended up redeeming our Marriott Bonvoy points and stayed for two nights at the Marriott in Kigali. This turned out to be a great decision because we got a proper shower in a nice hotel and rested very well.
Important things to note before going Gorilla trekking
- Bring Rwandan Francs with you to Uganda and ask your driver or hotel to help you exchange your money
- Make sure you have the phone number of the tour operator you join. Sometimes, they don’t give you any info even after you have already arrived in Uganda. So you’ll need to call them when you arrive so they can arrange your pick up the next day.
Gorilla trekking conclusion
Uganda is the cheapest place you can do gorilla trekking, especially if you don’t plan on hiking Mount Nyiragongo in the nearby Democratic Republic of Congo. To do the one day gorilla trekking, you’ll want to go to Kabale or Kisoro in Uganda as your home base. If you fly into Africa, you’ll then want to fly into Kigali and take ground transportation to either Kabale or Kisoro.
One of the regrets we have is not staying in Uganda one more day and exploring lake Mutanda. If you decide to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, I recommend going to Kisoro afterwards and check out the beautiful lake! Then head back to Kigali and get some well deserved rest and relaxation after seeing the awesome mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park!