Mountain Gorilla Trekking: All you need to know

Mountain Gorilla Trekking: All you need to know

Experience the thrill of mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda! Our guide covers everything you need to know for an amazing adventure. From stunning scenery to conservation efforts, get ready for a memorable experience with these incredible creatures.


Short summary

Target species: Mountain Gorilla
Country: Uganda or Rwanda
National Parks: Bwindi in Uganda, Volcanoes in Rwanda
Access: 2-4 hour drive from nearest airports
Altitude: 8,000 to 13,000 feet
Mode of travel: Trek through dense forests with rangers
Time allowed with gorillas: Up to 1 hour
Safety risks: none
Physical fitness: Moderate fitness to walk up to 8 hours


How many times have you come across a “200Kg monkey”, which quite resembles humans? Well, these are the endangered mountain gorillas that inhabit some highlands of East Africa between elevations of 8.000 feet to 13,000 feet. Over the years, the territories of these gorillas have significantly reduced, and they have been pushed to a few protected reserves as of today, which, though, do a good job of protecting them. They have thick fur, as compared to other apes, and the males are also called silverbacks, as the male’s back has a silver-ish appearance. They often live with the family, where a male heads the family with a few females and young ones. The families usually move together in search of food. Their primary diet is stems, fruits, and bamboo shoots, though some also feed on termites and ants. Gorillas share 98.3% of their DNA with humans, and after chimpanzees and bonobos, they are our closest cousins. For the same reason, they are also susceptible to the same diseases that humans are and can easily contract transmittable diseases from humans.

A close-up of a mountain gorilla during trekking



The area around the border of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda forms one of the last habitats of these apes, with Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in Congo being their prime habitats. Of these, Congo is not a recommended place to visit for tourists because of the many reports of civil disturbances and the lack of regular tourism infrastructure in place. 


The entrance to Volcanoes National Park, where thrilling encounters with mountain gorillas begin.


However, both Rwanda and Uganda have done a wonderful job of tourism, and these countries are perfectly safe for tourists. We have been conducting gorilla treks in both of these countries for many years now. 


Bwindi Park Gate



The only way to see these gorillas is by trekking through the dense forests in the company of park rangers. There are no jeep safaris possible as the gorillas inhabit dense forests at high elevations and keep moving within the forests, where walking is the only way to move around. This is very different from the savannah habitats of Masai Mara and Serengeti, which are the go-to safari destinations for Africa. 

Majestic Bwindi Impenetrable Forest: Towering trees and dense foliage create a canopy over the lush forest floor

In both Volcanoes National Park and Bwindi Forest, there are 8–10 gorilla families that are “habituated” to humans. Habituated does not mean that they are domesticated or tamed, but due to repeated encounters with forest guards, these gorillas tolerate human presence and usually do not cause any kind of harm to humans visiting them. A not-so-habituated wild gorilla can behave very unpredictably with tourists, so the tourists are not exposed to such gorillas. 

A powerful mountain gorilla sits serenely surrounded by trees during trekking.




The treks are organized by the respective park authorities, and the treks are highly regulated. There is only one trek that happens every day, which starts in the morning, typically around 7:00 am in both parks. First, the guests assemble at the park headquarters, where they are given a safety briefing, and the documentation is also done. Children under 15 are not allowed on the trek, and you need to have reasonable physical fitness to walk for 7-8 hours if needed. 

Thrilling Gorilla Trekking Adventure in Rwanda. Visitors set out on an exhilarating journey through lush forests to witness the mountain gorillas

About 60–100 tourists are allowed each day to trek for the gorillas in both parks. Tourists are divided into groups of 8 each. Each group is accompanied by 2–4 forest rangers and security guards. The staff carry wireless communication and basic weapons to clear the dense forest, make walkways (if needed), and ward off any attacking animal (the chances of that are nearly zero). Each group sets off after a specific gorilla family, and each group is allocated a different gorilla family so that each family is not disturbed beyond a certain point. Once a group meets their gorilla family, they are allowed to spend up to one hour with that family, and then they have to head back to the starting point. This is a very smart move towards eco-tourism as well as protecting the species. Due to the small number of permits issued every day, the permit charges are exorbitant and stand at USD 600 per person in Uganda and USD 1500 per person in Rwanda, as of June 15, 2020. The earnings they make through gorilla trekking are used to invest in the habitat and gorilla conservation activities, which is a win-win situation for the park authorities and the tourists alike. 

Is it Safe?

There have been no reported casualties or incidents with tourists while gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda. As long as you follow the instructions of your rangers and do not venture alone from your group, you will be perfectly safe. Venturing alone from your group can be extremely dangerous, as mobile networks do not work inside the forests, and if you are lost, it may take hours or days for even the rangers to locate you. So always stick with your group. If you feel tired, that is okay, as everyone with you will also be tired. The group can take as many breaks as they wish, but it is important for the group and the rangers to stick together. 

Gorilla Tracking in Uganda. Adventurers trek through Uganda's diverse terrain, guided by experienced trackers, to encounter magnificent mountain gorillas.

In case, for any reason, you are not able to continue the trek, the rangers will allocate one of the rangers or guards with you to take you back to the base point, and they will never leave you alone. In case of an emergency, they can request that you be chairlifted by four porters to the base point. 

How much do I need to walk? 

The walk happens through dense forests, and often there are no clear walking tracks. It can be through mud and slush, and the forests are uneven in elevation, so there can be a bit of (we are a bit modest here) climbing up and climbing down involved. The target is to track your decided Gorilla family, and the rangers accompanying your group will be coordinating over wireless with other rangers to find the position of your Gorilla family. The rangers will constantly endeavor to take you to the decided Gorilla family by the shortest possible route. However, each gorilla family inhibits a different part of the forest, and their position is also not constant as they keep moving. So the walking time for your gorilla family can fluctuate drastically. It can take you 20 minutes to reach your gorilla family, and it can also take you up to 5 hours, depending on your luck (call it the position of your gorilla family that day). During my first trek, we were initially told that our gorilla family was just a 25-minute walk away, but during the last 5 minutes of our approach, the family decided to move around for food.  It could have taken them possibly 10-15 minutes to move, jumping through the trees, but it took us another 3 hours to reach their final position, where they were feeding merrily. 
After meeting your gorilla family, you can spend up to 1 hour with them. The rangers will be very vigilant when you are with the family, and they will advise you how close you can get. There is nothing to worry about as long as you follow the instructions of the rangers. 

What if I cannot walk? Can I hire porters? 

You can be chairlifted by 4 porters, which costs about USD 300 for the trek. We would suggest that only if you have a strong desire to see the gorillas or are on a photography assignment and, for some reason, cannot walk. Otherwise, trekking for the gorillas is as much fun as seeing the gorillas themselves. 

Gorilla Observation. Visitors quietly observe a family of gorillas as they interact in their natural habitat, offering a rare glimpse into their daily lives.


However, all tourists can hire porters for about USD 15 for the trip. That is a great relief, and we suggest tipping the porters generously, as this amount is minuscule for the burden they relieve you from.


When to go? 

The gorilla trek can be done year-round; the only consideration for choosing the “best time” is to avoid the rain. It can rain any day of the year, as the climate in these mountains is very unpredictable. Also, these regions remain cool throughout the year as they are at a high altitude. 
The “best times” are considered to be the dry season from mid-December to mid-February, which is a short dry season. The long dry season is from June to September, which is the time when many people plan for the trek. The other reason for this time being peak is that many people combine a gorilla trek with an African Big 5 safari at Masai Mara or Serengeti, and this is the peak migration time, which makes it a big draw for tourists from across the world. We, however, also recommend going during the low season, as you will encounter less rush and more solitude. 

How close can I get to them? 

You can get as close as 20 feet to the gorillas but only approach them when instructed by your rangers. Do not try to approach them alone without instructions from your rangers, that can be potentially dangerous. 

Gorilla and Its Admirers: Visitors delight in the presence of a majestic gorilla, capturing cherished moments through photographs and shared admiration.


What to carry on gorilla trekking?

We suggest you carry light trekking shoes, preferably waterproof, as you may be passing areas of slush or mud. Carry a rain poncho, rain cover, or umbrella, as it can rain anytime, even during the dry season. Carry sufficient water, ideally 3–4 litres per person, and some snacks, as it can take up to 8–9 hours for the return trek.
Do carry cameras, as this will be a lifetime memory, and do carry sufficient rain covers to protect from rain. Carry wide-angle lenses for the beautiful forest habitat and a mid-telephoto-like 70–200mm lens for gorilla portraits. You will almost always not need a longer lens, so do not bother to carry long primes and zooms beyond 300mm, as you will be able to go close to the Gorilla family, usually within 20 feet or so. 
Remember that once you enter the forest, there will be no place to rest nor any shops or food available, so whatever you carry with you will only come to your rescue. 

isitors have a great time with gorillas, getting to know them better and making unforgettable moments


Accommodations options during your mountain gorilla trekking

There are a few experiential and luxury lodgings available both near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. All the accommodations are outside the national park areas and can be accessed by car. Both parks are at high altitudes amidst rolling mountains, so from all the top accommodations, you can enjoy sprawling views of the mountains and the forests. After a hard day of the Gorilla Trek, you deserve to be pampered, which these resorts do very happily!
Gorilla Safari Lodge, Nkuringo

Gorilla Safari Lodge Nkuringo


Lodge in Bwindi

Lodge in Bwindi


Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge

clouds mountain gorilla lodge



What else can I do?

In both Uganda and Rwanda, you can also do Chimpanzee trekking, which has similar logistics but permit costs are significantly lower. Kibale National Park in Uganda and Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda are famous for chimpanzee trekking. You can also do regular African 4×4 safaris in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and Akagera National Park in Rwanda. 
Gorillas in their natural habitat, surrounded by lush forests and enjoying the freedom of the wild.


Male silverback gorilla


Should I choose Uganda or Rwanda for mountain gorilla trekking?

The forests and habitats are very similar, the gorilla species are the same, and the trek logistics and group size are also very similar. Both countries allow you to spend one hour with the gorillas, so your wildlife experience is the same. Similar grades of accommodations are available in both places, and both places rank very similar in terms of safety, both are very safe. 
In terms of access, Bwindi in Uganda is a 2 2-hour drive from the nearest airport in Uganda and a 3.5-hour drive from Kigale in Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is a 2-hour drive from Kigale, so there is not much to choose from in terms of access. However, the differentiator is the cost, Uganda charges you USD 600 per trek and Rwanda charges USD 1500. The difference is particularly prominent if you do more than one day of trekking or if you have more members in your family wanting to do the trek. Based on that we may suggest you to go Uganda. 

Close up of a Gorilla cub


How much can it cost for the full trip?

The most politically correct answer is, it depends 🙂 Cost depends on the level of accommodation, number of days, other places you are visiting, different countries you are visiting, number of people in your group, and so on. The permit costs mentioned above are just one part of it.
You will need a lot of logistical support and planning to do a mountain gorilla trekking trip. Procuring the permits and doing the trek is one part of it. The itinerary needs to be designed by experts to accommodate your other wish lists, like chimpanzee tracking or Big 5 safaris. You also need to find and book suitable accommodations for the trek. Further, as with most places in Africa, you cannot land at the airport and try a backpacking trip, as that can be potentially hazardous to drive with unknown taxi drivers and guides. The best is to go through a reputed and reliable tour operator like ourselves, both from a safety and destination expertise point of view. To connect with our Gorilla Trek experts and start planning your trip, drop a line at [email protected]
You may like to take a look at a few sample itineraries of mountain gorilla trekking to get a preliminary idea:
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