When and where seeing Gorillas in Uganda.

We visited Uganda in April 2015 during 1 month, moving with public transport, doing couchsurfing and sleeping in small local hotels, eating in local restaurants.
You can see all the details on the right sidebar menu.


For our tight budget, seeing mountain gorillas was out of price. Even in low season with 45% discount, it was still very expensive, not at all for low-cost travellers.
But, while in Kisoro, as there´s a UWA (Uganda Wildlife Agency) office, we asked for information about the gorilla´s tracking in Uganda. 
We would like to share.


¿ Can I see gorillas in Uganda ?

Yes. Uganda has 2 areas where you can see gorillas: 
  • Mgahinga National Park
  • Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Mgahinga NP is in the volcanoes area, shared by Uganda, Congo (Virunga NP) and Rwanda (Volcanoes NP). Beautiful area. Just south of Kisoro.
Bwindi Impenetrable NP is another mountain area. 


¿ How much does it cost to see the gorillas ?

To see mountain gorillas is not cheap, as you need to buy a special permit with the national parks. You will need to walk in the forest and see the gorillas for only 45 minutes! The transport price to get to the meeting starting point is never included in the gorilla price.

Only 3 countries have mountain gorillas and they are very few ones left nowdays: Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo.

The "less expensive" country to see them is Uganda, but in april and may (low and rainy season), when the price goes down to 350 $/pp. 
Otherwise, the normal price to see gorillas in Uganda is 600 $/pp.
In both cases, including NP fees, guide, walk and gorilla encounter for only 45 min. Departures are usually early morning, around 8:00.

In Rwanda it costs 750$/pp and in DR Congo 400$/pp (but keep in mind that with extras like the expensive Congo visa and transport, the total price can be higher in this country).
More details in our post "Rwanda-Musanze".

 
In this map we did, you can see the protected areas where you can track mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo, and access roads.


 
¿ Where is the cheapest and easiest place to see mountain gorillas ?


In Mgahinga National Park, Uganda. We will explain why.

Keep in mind that, in any case, you have to consider the special gorilla tracking permit and the transportation to the meeting and starting point. Yes, these points can be in quite remote areas, usually there are well populated outside the reserve, but with limited public transport. So getting there can be long and expensive if you need to charter a taxi.

So, why Mgahinga NP?
  • In April and may the price is 350$/pp. Normal price is 600$/pp.
  • You don´t need to book in advance. "One day before is enough in low season to get the permit, even in other months not many tourist there". This is what the NP officer told us in Kisoro. True, not many tour companies use this area... Never too crowded. There´s ONE GROUP of gorillas to track in Mgahinga.
  • Kisoro (town), with public transport and a good tarred road, is only 14 km south of the Mgahinga visitor center. There are many boda-bodas (mototaxis) and taxis around the town and it´s a short distance... they shouldn´t charged you too much... and it´s a populated area around... In Kisoro, you can find cheap food and affordable accommodation.
  • There´s a UWA office is in Kisoro town. The staff is nice and they have complete information.
 
Picture with the gorilla for free!
Can I see gorillas by myself, without an organized tour or without a guide ?  

Not really!
You can go to the entrance of the national park (Mgahinga or Bwindi) by yourself, without a group or an organized tour. But you need to follow a NP ranger in the forest to reach the gorillas, so you need a UWA permit!

This permit include NP fees, guide (ranger), walk and gorilla encounter for 45 min. 


Do I have warranty to see the gorillas ?

Yes!
There are rangers folling the groups of gorillas in the forest, with GPS navigation, connected by radio to the guide ranger. So when you start walking with your permit, they send the GPS coordinates to your guide and you will reach the gorillas group. That´s why you will have to walk more or less...
Or maybe the gorillas have location chips... Technology helps!
Anyway, yes, 100% warranty to see at least one gorilla and staying with him 45 minutes.


With the Mgahinga NP gorilla tracking permit, can I also see the golden monkeys, chimpanzees and climb the volcanos? Is it included too?

NO! You need different permits for each activity! It´s not only about conservation, it´s also a big bussiness!

The prices are:
  • Golden Monkeys tracking in Mgahinga NP: 90 $/pp (fees and guide).
  • Climbing the volcanos in Mgahinga NP: 80 $/pp/volcanoe (fee and guide). There are 3 volcanoes: Muhabura (4.127 m, 8 h), Gahinga (3.474 m, 6 h), Sabyinyo (3.669 m, 8 h).
  • If you want to follow the Batwa Trail, it´s also 80 $/pp (caves, views). And same price to see pigmy communities in the area.

¿ What about the famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park ?

Yes, it´s the most famous place to see gorillas in Uganda, because half of the world´s population of gorillas is there (around 350 only!).

Many habituated groups that can be tracked (11 GROUPS in Bwindi). But only 8 tourists/group/day.

There are different areas in Bwindi NP:
- Nkuringo and Rushaga (southern area) are better reached from Kisoro, around 35 km north of the town.
- Ruhija (western area) is reached off the road between Kisoro and Kabale (around 60 km from Kabale).
- Buhoma (northern area) is reached from Butogota and Queen Elizabeth NP-Ishasha. That´s why it´s the most popular area to combine gorillas and wildlife in Queen Elizabeth (even if it´s 80 km far). This is the favourite area for tour companies!

Access to Bwindi is via dirty roads, most of the times in bad conditions and specially during rainy season. Big adventure!


Usually permits have to be obtained in advance, long time in advance (the officer at the UWA office told us that at least it´s usually one week in advance). 
Keep in mind that tour companies take a lot of permits... and sometimes for independent travellers is hard to get one. Specially during high season, june to september!
Buhoma is the most solicited section, many tours companies do gorillas in Buhoma-Bwindi+ wildlife in Queen Elizabeth!
If planning of tracking gorillas it´s better to contact UWA well before and check how the situation is.


Cheap accommodation around Bwindi NP.

Camping is the cheapest option, rooms are usually quite expensive in all this tourist areas of Uganda.

There are camps in almost all the areas of Bwindi, but if not tracking gorillas, maybe it doesn´t worth going so far away, specially if on a budget.

Prices for camping in:
  • Rushaga Area: Nshongi Camp, camping 10.000 sh/pp (35.000 sh/banda). One of the cheapest places.
  • Nkuringo Area: Albertine Campsite
  • Ruhija Area: Community Restcamp 10 $/pp, Tropical Institute 5$/pp, Gorilla Friends 7$/pp.
  • Buhoma Area: Gorilla Friends Lodge, from 15$/pp, Bwindi Backpackers 10 $/pp, Buhoma Community Camp 10 $/pp, Bwindi View 7$/pp.

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