Uganda Gorilla Safari – The Ins and Outs
Sitting in silence on the cold Ugandan forest floor might not seem like a lifetime dream, but for many safari adventurists this experience is an absolute privilege. A Uganda gorilla safari will see you doing just that, sitting in silence for sixty minutes observing Africa’s mysterious mountain gorillas. This guide will give you all you need to know before embarking on a Uganda gorilla safari of a lifetime, all in just six minutes reading time.
What is a Uganda Gorilla Safari and where in Uganda can you go?
Uganda is often referred to as ‘The Pearl of Africa’ and the term was made famous by Winston Churchill in his 1908 book “My African Journey” which told the tale of Churchill’s 1907 journey to Uganda. Churchill was enamoured with Uganda and wrote in his book: “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life – bird, insect, reptile, beast – for vast scale -Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa.”
Uganda boasts a diverse nation, serene beauty, mountains, lakes, wildlife, and of course Africa’s mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas have had a tumultuous history in Africa and until 2018 they were classified as critically endangered, facing threats such as climate change, disease, snares and habitat encroachment. Mountain gorillas have been downgraded to endangered and a recent 2019 census declared that the population had risen to a total estimated count of 1069 gorillas, with the Uganda Wildlife Authority identifying 400 of these mountain gorillas inside of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
This is exciting and hopeful news for the global primate population and is evidence that conservation efforts and eco-tourism have been greatly beneficial in the preservation of these great creatures. The mountain gorillas are Uganda’s biggest tourist attraction and bring in an average of 30 000 tourists annually who are all desperate for the opportunity to track and observe the mountain gorillas.This safari will see you travelling to the briefing centre within the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where you will meet your expert guides and will receive an informative briefing on your gorilla encounter.
The educated and highly trained guides will accompany you on a hike through the forest, looking for signs of your designated mountain gorilla group. Once you meet your gorilla group you will have 60 minutes to spend with them, watching their every move and observing the various group dynamics and individual characteristics.
A Uganda gorilla safari will take place in either the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. In both parks you will have the opportunity to see mountain gorillas, and will also be able to see other primates such as L’Hoest’s monkeys, baboons and chimpanzees and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is also home to a recorded 300 species of butterfly and 350 species of birds, including the globally threatened African Green Broadbill and the Shelley’s Crimsonwing. The vast array of wildlife and picturesque landscapes make this safari an experience of a lifetime.
What are the costs involved with a Uganda gorilla safari?
A Uganda gorilla safari is an experience that you want to be thoroughly prepared for and it is important to be realistic and transparent with your expectations and your preferences. Be sure to book accommodation that suits your lifestyle and that you are comfortable with and be willing to pay for this. Apart from accommodation there will be the costs of flights to and from Uganda (the Entebbe International Airport), the cots of permits and park levies, and of course the cost of the actual Uganda gorilla safari.
A Uganda gorilla permit currently costs USD $600 per person per trek but from July 2020 the price will increase to USD $700 per person per trek and a gorilla habituation experience permit will cost USD $1500 per person. These permits can be bought directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority upon your arrival into the country, however it is recommended that you book them in advance through an agent to ensure availability and to ensure that the process is as seamless as possible.
The trek to and from the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park takes an overall three days and you should budget in advance for these three days, including meals and accommodation.
On the first day you will travel from Entebbe International Airport and on the second day you will travel within the park itself which you will need a 4×4 for. You may need to hire vehicles or guides so it is recommended to go through an agency that can plan and organise all of this for you in advance.
There are many different and customizable options for a Uganda safari with budget options as well as luxury options such as:
• A three day Uganda gorilla tracking safari from USD $590 per person which excludes permits and levies but includes accommodation. The minimum age for this Uganda gorilla safari is 15 years old and you can have a maximum of 6 individuals in your group.
• A five day low season gorilla and chimp safari from Kigali which starts at USD $1720 per person and includes accommodation but excludes permits fees. This is a great option for a Uganda gorilla safari because you get to see the mountain gorillas but also get to experience other aspects of the ‘Pearl of Africa’. Day one will see you travelling from Kigali, day two will see you embarking on your gorilla trek in Bwindi Impenetrable National park, day three you will drive to Kibale National Park, day four you will do chimpanzee trekking and a Bigodi Wetland walk, and day five you will drive back to Kigali National Airport.
What accommodation options are there for a Uganda gorilla safari?
The cost of your gorilla tour should include accommodation for two nights with the first being the night of your arrival at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the second dis the night after your gorilla trek. Most accommodation options within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park include meals and good service and there are budget options as well as luxury options available.
Accommodation options for your Uganda safari include:
• Chameleon Hill Lodge: this lodge is inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and has a spectacular lake and volcano setting, boasting a vibrant atmosphere, impeccable service and a divine organic dinner menu made from local foods. The Chameleon Hill Lodge also offers post gorilla trek massages in their spa as well as muddy boot cleaning service. The Chameleon Hill Lodge has ten suites that overlook the picturesque shores of Lake Mutanda and will cost approximately USD $200 per person sharing.
• Mweya Safari Lodge: The Mweya Safari Lodge is located within the Queen Elizabeth National Park and is surrounded by the picturesque Rwenzori mountains, known as the “Mountains of the Moon”. The Mweya Safari Lodge has 32 standard rooms that are all en suite and have balconies overlooking the pathways and lake below. The Mweya lodge also has 12 deluxe rooms, a honeymoon suite, The Family Cottages and Presidential Cottages. The Mweya Safari lodge costs approximately USD $200 per person sharing depending on which room you opt for.
• Mutanda Lake Resort: The Mutanda Lake Resort is in perfect distance to the gorilla treks in Nkuringo, Ruhija and Mgahinga and offers you a cosy “glamping” spot in luxury tented camps equipped with hot showers and electricity after a long day gorilla trekking. The Mutanda Lake Resort is just a stones throw from Lake Mutanda where you can swim, canoe and go on boat cruises. The Mutanda Lake Resort will cost approximately USD $250 per person sharing which makes it a great budget option for Uganda gorilla safari adventurists.
• The Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp: The Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is located inside of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and offers delectable luxury while ensuring that you are not removed from the exquisite nature around you. The Sanctuary Gorilla Forest camp is ideal for those embarking on a gorilla safari and it is not uncommon to spot gorillas within the camp itself. The camp also offers hiking, bird watching, cultural tours and local village walks while maintaining impeccable service. The Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp may also be convenient for you because they offer discounted rates the more nights you stay so it will cost roughly USD $630 if you are staying for 1-3 nights and can go as low as $270 if you are staying for 7+ nights depending on the season.
Is a Uganda Gorilla safari safe?
We at Journey’s Intent want you to have an enjoyable and carefree Uganda gorilla safari whereby we take care of everything, including safety. Uganda in general is a fairly safe country and primarily you should be on the lookout for pick pocketers and nothing more serious than that however gorilla trek safety is a whole different concern. You will be accompanied by trained guides and armed park rangers who are there to ensure that you are safe throughout the entire trek. Each group of trekkers (usually 8 individuals) is assigned two armed ranger guides where one ranger will lead the group while one ranger will guard the back of the group.
We have compiled a short list of important safety considerations that you should be aware of before you embark on your gorilla trek:
• Distance: it is a general rule of thumb to keep at least seven metres distance between you and the gorillas so that you do not appear as a threat and so that the gorillas remain comfortable and at ease.
• Illness: this tip is more for the gorillas than the humans. Any and all travellers are encouraged to not trek if they are feeling ill as mountain gorillas are highly susceptible to human diseases such as the common flu, it is therefore required that travellers present a medical letter attaining to their health before they embark on the gorilla trek.
• Attire: the hike through the forest is certainly not a walk in the park and it is strongly recommended that you wear comfy and sturdy hiking boots to ensure that you don’t get any blisters. You are also required to wear dull colours that do not make you stick out, such as khaki long-sleeved shirts and long pants. It is also recommended to wear sunscreen and sunglasses, as well as to carry gloves so that you can manoeuvre through the sharp and thorny shrubbery.
• Avoid direct eye contact and remain calm: Uganda gorilla trekkers will be advised to avoid making direct eye contact with the mountain gorillas as they can view this as a threat. You are also advised to speak in a low tone of voice and to remain calm at all times. If the gorillas come near you one should stay silent and still and do not make any sudden movements that will startle the gorilla, who is probably just inquisitive of you.