Whereas mountain gorilla trekking has become one of the most sought after experiences in the world, travelers still face a lot challenges when it comes to planning for this lifetime adventure. Mountain gorillas are only found in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In Uganda, they are found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park which are situated in southwestern side of the country; Volcanoes National Park in Northwestern Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Eastern DRC. In the whole world, there are fewer than 900 individuals of these Great apes that still thrive on earth, 480 of which are found within Uganda and the rest are shared between Rwanda and the DRC.
When it comes to this remarkable and breathtaking primate adventure, there is need for visitors to take note of the destination’s climatic and weather conditions. Usually, the wet season starts from March to May and this is characterized by heavy rainfall. And this means that the gorilla habitat can be wet and hence hiking through slippery slopes may turn to be a big change to most visitors but again the advantage with this season, is that there is much food available for gorillas to feed on and most of them are kept within the foothills of the park making it easier for visitors to view them within the shortest period of time. The dry season is always regarded as the best time to track these unique species as the gorilla habitat is always kept dry making it easier for tourists to hike through the steep slopes and thick jungles of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. However, given the nature of the habitat, visitors should expect rainfall at any time of day whether a dry or wet season.
If you are planning for this breathtaking adventure, it always advisable that you pack appropriately bearing in mind that you are not traveling for a picnic tour. The important items that you need to consider are water proof hiking boots that give support to ankle, a dry pack for camera gear and your camera shouldn’t have a flash light and if it does, you are advised to turn it off while taking photographs of the gorillas, waterproof pants, rain jacket, garden gloves, binoculars, enough drinking water, insect repellent, first aid kit, sweaters and many more. In case of heavy luggage, you can hire one of the porters at the park headquarters who will help relieve you from that heavy load. The cost of hiring a porter can around $20.
In terms of safety and security of visitors, Uganda and Rwanda are safe for gorilla trekking unlike DR Congo that is still recovering from insecurities. However, before setting off to any of the destinations it is always important to cross check with security alerts to ascertain the current state of destination that you intend to visit. Your safety is very vital while in a new destination.
Planning for this remarkable adventure also means that you have to book your trekking permits in advance at least 4 months earlier to avoid being disappointed at a last minute. In Uganda, there are over 96 gorilla trekking permits that are always available for visitors to book and you can book one through a trusted and reputable local tour operator or through Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and they are sold at $600 per visitor. In Rwanda, there are about 80 permits that are available for trekkers to book to trek mountain gorillas each day and they can be booked through a local tour operator or through Rwanda Development Board and they can be purchased at $1500 per person while in DRC permits are sold at $400 making it also one of the relatively affordable destinations for you to realize your dreams.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park are accessible by both road and air. By road, you will need a 4 by 4 safari car to help you navigate through the remotest areas of Uganda. The two parks are reachable within 9 to 10 hours drive from Kampala. However, the distance has been shorten by the scheduled flights where visitors can fly from Kajjansi airstrip or Entebbe airport to Kisoro airfield and then connect up to the park using a car. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is accessible within 2 to 3 hours’ drive from Kigali while Virunga National Park on other hand can be reached from Uganda and Rwanda. You may need a visa to cross the border and yellow fever card and you may also be required to take other vaccines like typhoid, rabies, anti-malaria tabs, meningitis and many more. Interested visitors need to plan and budget for their gorilla safari trips well especially on the car to be used for you to connect to the park.
You also need to plan for your accommodation at least 2 nights where the first day will be for traveling only and the next day for you to track mountain gorillas. Both destinations have budget, mid range and luxury safari lodges where you will comfortably spend a night while on your gorilla safari.
Company’s mark up
Besides looking at the different costs, the tour operator or company also has its mark up which may range from 10 to20 percent of the total cost as service fee. This varies from one company to another. The mark up is company’s profit as it is aids in the process of booking for permits, lodge and telephone calls to find out about availability and to make sure that they are all booked for you.
In conclusion, when planning your gorilla safari to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), you need to consider your budget as each destination comes with its own prices.