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There are only about 1,000 mountain gorillas, like this one, left in the wild.
Use these tips and list of recommended tour operators to plan a trip to see the famed silverback gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda.
If you talk to someone who has been fortunate enough to visit the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda, you’ll be treated to an enthusiastic, if not rhapsodical, explainer on why the experience is both magical and moving.
To be sure, trekking through emerald rain forests searching for one of humankind's closest relatives is nothing short of spectacular. It’s also rare.
Today, only about 1,000 mountain gorillas are left, making the species critically endangered. The sole way to see them (there are none in zoos) is by trekking in certain East African national parks (Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda). That trek also needs to be with a certified guide for your protection and the protection of the gorillas. From costs and permits to tour providers who can organize it all, here is how to plan a gorilla trekking trip.
While it can be argued that there is no bad time to come face-to-face with these incredible animals, certain months are better than others—specifically during the dry seasons of December through February and June through August. Heavy rains throughout the rest of the year can make trekking trails, which can have steep slopes, muddy and slippery. Those are not ideal conditions for an all-day outdoor excursion. That being said, it’s easier to get permits during the low season.
The permit price helps the countries with protection and conservation efforts—particularly important, considering the mountain gorillas are critically endangered.
In Rwanda, the price for a trekking permit is $1,500. In Uganda, the price for both parks is $700. Most operators include the price of the permit in the overall tour, but be sure to double-check with your company.
If you’re planning to travel during peak season (June–August), it's good to book as far in advance as possible.
No two gorilla treks are the same. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours to find a family in the rain forest, and once there, visitors are allowed one hour with the gorillas.
Here are a few companies we recommend if you’re considering booking a trip.
Departure dates year-round from $3,975. firstname.lastname@example.org, volcanoessafaris.com.
For 25 years, Volcanoes Safaris has led great ape (mountain gorilla and chimpanzee) ecotours from four of its lodges in Rwanda and Uganda. It’s something the company is passionate about—one of its properties, Virunga Lodge in Rwanda, even has a permanent exhibition honoring the primatologist Dian Fossey.
Guests can opt to participate in a four-day trip that focuses on one park and one lodge, or they can do a 6-, 7-, 8-, or 10-day circuit of Volcanoes Safaris lodges to see multiple parks and primate families.
Departures are year-round from £5,650 (US$7,086). coxandkings.co.uk.
While the mountain gorillas may be the marquee animal, they’re not the only wildlife encounter you’ll have on Cox & Kings’ nine-night “Primates of Uganda” safari.
Beyond doing a one-day trek to commune with the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, guests also can see monkeys and chimpanzees at Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park (as well as forest elephants, tree-climbing lions, gazelles, hippos, and buffalo). Clients can opt to do a private tour or join a group.
Departures are offered from June to March (no departures in April and May), starting from $4,479. gadventures.com.
Combining some of the most iconic experiences in East Africa, G Adventures’ 12-day Masai Mara & Gorilla Adventure starts with a safari drive in the famous Masai Mara National Reserve to look for the Big Five. From there, it’s off to Kibale National Park for chimps and then Queen Elizabeth National Park to spot primates, warthogs, elephants, and more. The tour wraps with gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Regular departures June–October, plus select dates in February and April. Prices from $3,922. Intrepidtravel.com.
Intrepid's six-day Premium Uganda & Rwanda has the Goldilocks seal of approval for those who want something that’s not too short and not too long. And, unlike many other tours, guests have the option to add a second day of trekking to see another gorilla family in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Intrepid also offers longer tours that incorporate time with the mountain gorillas, including Remarkable Rwanda & Gorillas of Uganda (9 days), Premium Uganda, Rwanda & Kenya (13 days), and Gorillas & East Africa Safari (18 days), among others.
Departures year-round, starting at $2,950. go2africa.com.
This Africa-based tour operator offers everything from 5-day hikes that focus on the mountain gorillas of one park to epic 15-day journeys that combine some of East Africa’s most dizzying wildlife experiences (like gorilla trekking, viewing the Great Wildebeest Migration, and scanning the horizon for Africa’s Big Five at Ngorongoro Crater).
Customized departures are available year-round. Prices vary. 212-226-7331, extraordinaryjourneys.com.
Safari specialists at this luxury travel company can craft unique itineraries for those who would prefer to only travel with friends and family. They are able to build itineraries in Rwanda or Uganda (or both), as well as other African nations like Botswana, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, and beyond.
Departures for small group tours available from August through October (private tours offered year-round), prices starting at $10,995. abercrombiekent.com.
This luxury tour operator’s Uganda: Gorillas and Beyond 2022 tour starts with a cruise up the Nile River to look for water birds, hippos, and crocodiles. From there, it’s off to Kibale National Park to spend time with its famous chimpanzees, followed by two days of game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park, where Uganda kobs, Cape buffalo, elephants, and lions make frequent appearances in camera viewfinders. Finally, to cap off the extraordinary 11-day trip: trekking to see the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Abercrombie & Kent also offers the option to have private, customized itineraries for clients who would prefer not to travel with others.
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