Permits are non-refundable except for medical reasons, in which case you would need to provide a medical certificate.
Purchasing a gorilla trekking permit is not a guarantee of seeing the gorillas but you will have an over 95% chance of seeing them, thanks to rangers’ 24 hour monitoring. The habituated gorilla families do occasionally move out of range, but this is very rare.
When is the best time of year to trek the mountain gorillas?
Personally, I wouldn’t let the weather forecast decide when the best time is to see the gorillas since it rains most days in the rainforest. The rain may not be heavy, but there will certainly be low-lying mist and wet vegetation. Of course, some treks and trails are muddier than others!
Predicting the rainy seasons is not an exact science these days but broadly speaking, the rainy seasons are March and April and October and November. The timing of your visit to East Africa may be important to you if you are planning a safari as part of your travels to Uganda or Rwanda.
Uganda and Rwanda enjoy round temperatures of between 21°C and 30°C throughout the year. In the higher altitudes of the mountain gorillas’ habitat, it can be as cold as 10°C.
Rwanda’s annual Kwita Izina gorilla-naming ceremony in the first week of September is a fascinating time to visit Volcanoes National Park. It is a celebration of Rwanda’s progress in gorilla conservation, and the challenges these great apes continues to face. This superb event is by invitation only – but, if you’re touring the country, you’re invited! (There is no charge, but your tour operator will need to secure your invitation in advance).
How many days should I book for my gorilla trekking tour?
You will need to set aside at least three days to see the gorillas in Uganda. Allow one day for travel to your accommodation, one day for the gorilla trekking itself and a third day for travel back or onwards, wherever you opt for. (It is possible to reduce a gorilla trekking tour to two days in Rwanda, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Some crazy people even fly in and out in one day, but don’t do it!)
You will need to be up very early on the day of the gorilla trekking and the day will be physically demanding, so you will need to arrive at your lodge by 6 or 7 PM on the day before you trek. Note that it gets dark early on the Equator, and we only advise travelling in daylight hours, owing to the long distance and remoteness of your destination. Have an early night in preparedness for the next day.
In the evening after your trek, kick back, relax and relive your adventure in one of the lodges near the gorilla trekking areas before travelling the next day, or even the day after.
Combining gorilla trekking with some hiking, birdwatching or a safari are very popular options. The areas around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Virunga National Park offer fantastic forest walks, volcano hiking, birdwatching, canoeing and community tours. If you love primates, why not trek to see the golden monkeys? Further afield, in Nyungwe National Forest (Rwanda) or Kyambura Gorge or Kibale Forest (both in Uganda) you might also venture chimpanzee trekking.
Should I hire a porter for my gorilla trek?
Hiring a porter means you can pack all your camera equipment, rain gear, snacks and plenty of water without worrying about how you will manage to drag it up a muddy slope through bushy undergrowth!
In areas where the majority of people are subsistence farmers, portering jobs are invaluable. The day fees for a porter bring in cash – a rare commodity in this remote corner of Africa. By employing someone on a gorilla trekking tour, even for a day, you are reminding people of the personal value to be gained from protecting the mountain gorillas and their habitat. These employment opportunities help reduce encroachment into the protected areas – to set snares or collect timber – where the mountain gorillas live. Employ a porter and you’re not just helping yourself, you are supporting the local community and thus the gorillas themselves.
The cost to hire a porter is $10-15 (plus discretionary $5 tip). Tips should be in small US dollar bills (dated post-2006) or local currency (Uganda shillings or Rwandese francs, depending on which country you are trekking in).
Note that although the rangers will accompany you all the way back to the park headquarters, occasionally the porters leave your group before you reach there, so make sure you have the right money for tips with you, just in case they depart early.
For gorilla trekking stories and Uganda and Rwanda travel advice, click on the hyperlinks in the Ultimate Guide to Mountain Gorilla Trekking. Still got a question? Contact the Muzungu.