Gorilla trekking is one of the most popular tourism activities in the East African Region. The activity involves hiking into the wilderness in a search for these endangered apes. Gorillas are classified into two; Mountain Gorillas and Lowland Gorillas but our focus today will be on the former.
Mountain Gorillas are only found in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, in two close regions of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda) and the Virunga Massif that is comprised of Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and DRC’s Virunga National Park.
However, Mountain Gorilla Safaris are currently most popular in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest with the Mountain Gorillas being the star attraction of the country.
Thousands of tourists from around the world visit the three countries to see the Gorillas but unfortunately, many miss this lifetime opportunity due to unavailability of tracking permits.
This is caused by a number of reasons of which the major remains to be late booking mostly in the peak seasons. So the question remains, when should one consider booking for a Gorilla permit?
Best time Book for Gorilla Permits in Uganda
Uganda is a very popular destination for Mountain Gorilla Tracking around the World. Those looking for a much more memorable experience while on a Uganda Safari always blend it with a Gorilla trekking experience. This justifies why a number of Uganda Safaris are planned with at least a one time experience with these rare species.
Gorilla Tracking in Uganda is done in the famous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. However, finding a Gorilla tracking permit in any of these two parks can sometimes be strenuous mostly in the peak season.
The peak season for Gorilla Tracking as well as other Safari activities in Uganda is between June to October and December to March while the rest of the months are most times considered to be off-peak. The months of July, August and December are the busiest of all.
Uganda has the highest number of tracking permits with up to 19 Gorilla groups, of which 18 are in Bwindi and the other in Mgahinga. Each Gorilla Group is assigned 8 permits per day where trackers are allowed an hour of contact with these critically endangered primates. Each Gorilla tracking permit costs $600.
However, there is a provision of staying the whole day with these gigantic but peaceful creatures in one of the groups in Bwindi, a process referred to as Gorilla habituation. Gorilla Habituation permits are only four (4) a day with each costing $1500.
Though some would define traveling outside the rush-hours to be cheaper, others wouldn’t feel comfortable to be on a safari with a few or no other tourists around them. Therefore if you wish to travel in the Peak seasons, its better you book your Gorilla Tracking permit at least 6 months to the tracking date. For those travelling in groups, at least 8 months booking time should be considered. Early booking also allows you to figure out in time on how you will travel, sleep, eat among others during the Safari.
On the other hand, if you are considering traveling off peak, its better you book your permit at least a month towards the tracking date. Accommodation and traveling can easily be solved during this period.
Best time Book for Gorilla Permits in Rwanda
Rwanda is currently the second most popular tourist destination for mountain Gorilla trekking. It was once the best destination for the activity but since the Gorilla tracking fees were changed from $750 to $1500, a number of tourist have now considered using the Ugandan side.
Rwanda has a total of 12 gorilla groups, all found in the country’s only park for Gorilla tracking, Volcanoes National Park. Just like Uganda, each group is allowed to be accessed by only 8 people per day.
However, the drop in the number of visitors to Rwanda doesn’t mean that you will always find available permits. You also have to book in time as some tourist would prefer Rwanda’s gorillas to Uganda due the country’s added advantage of easier access to the Gorilla tracking park from the main Airport.
Driving from either Rwanda’s capital Kigali or the main Airport (Kigali International Airport) to Ruhengeri where Gorilla tracking is done takes 1 – 2 hours as compared to the at least 8 hours required to access Uganda’s Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks on ground from either the country’s capital Kampala or the main Airport (Entebbe International Airport).
Therefore atleast three (3) months booking to the tracking date would give you enough time to sort out other additions such as Accommodation and transport. For those travelling in groups, at least 5 months booking time should be considered.
Best time Book for Gorilla Permits in DRC
Though DR Congo is considered to be least visited of the three countries for Gorilla Tracking, many consider tracking the Virunga National park Gorillas due to a number of reasons including being cheaper.
Since it is almost the same region where the famous Nyiragongo Volcano is found, a number of tourist who go to hike this active volcanoes to see the ever burning lava crater find it easier to blend it with tracking these 2nd closest cousins to human kind after the Chimpanzees.
The region has 8 habituated gorilla groups but unlike Uganda and Rwanda, there are only 6 permits available per group. Each Gorilla permit costs $400.
Though DR Congo has always been affected by political insecurities, Gorilla trekking is currently considered to be safe and a number of tourists now visit the region. Therefore, it is better to book for your Congo Gorilla tracking Permit in at least two (2) months to the tracking date. For those travelling in groups, at least 3 months booking time should be considered.
How to Book the Gorilla Tracking Permits?
Booking for a Gorilla permit is now easier. In Uganda, you can either book directly with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) itself or any local tour company. From my point of view, booking with the latter would be better as long as you choose one you can trust.
There are very rare cases of tourist fraud in Uganda, thanks to the iron hand of the Uganda Tourism Police regarding such and related issues. That is an assurance that your money and bookings are always at a great percentage of being safe.
Mountain Gorillas in Congo’s Virunga National Park
Most tour companies in Uganda also extend their services to Rwanda and Congo, so you can also always use them to book a Gorilla permit in any country of your choice.
Just search the web and get one you can trust with your money. Even though you are planning to organize a Safari on your own, they can always secure the Gorilla permissions for you. For self-drive clients, you can also book your Gorilla tracking permit with your local Car Hire agency.