Gorilla trekking is arguably the best wildlife adventure in Africa, or even in the entire world. Admittedly, only three countries in the world offer this breathtaking experience namely; Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo. These three countries are notably the only places that home the entire world’s mountain gorilla population.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is assuredly no good choice for gorilla trekking due to safety factors such as insecurity and epidemics. This comparatively leaves gorilla trekking in Uganda and gorilla trekking Rwanda as the only viable destinations if you are looking forward to adding the gorilla trek to your safari or trip in Africa.
With the increment of the gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda from USD700 to USD1500, going to Uganda for the gorilla trip has become an easy choice for most travelers because of the much more affordable permit that costs USD 600 (set to be increased to $700 effective 1st July 2020).
However, even with the significant difference in the price of the gorilla permit there are other factors one can consider on whether to visit Rwanda or Uganda for the gorilla trekking adventure.
I have tracked the gorillas in both countries and below I discuss some of the factors one could consider when choosing between making the gorilla trip to Uganda or Rwanda (if the cost of the permit is not an issue). Note that gorilla trekking in Rwanda is done in only Volcanoes National Park, while in Uganda it is done in two parks, that is, Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. However since Bwindi National Park is where most (more than 90%) of the gorilla tracking in Uganda is done I shall be basing on this as the comparison to Rwanda’s trekking in Volcanoes National Park.
Journey to the gorilla parks
The time taken from the airport or city to the parks is something one may consider.
In Rwanda, it will take you only 2 hours of drive from Kigali City and the airport to the Volcanoes National Park. So this short trip leaves you fresh for the gorilla adventure the following day, plus also give you free time for an extra activity such as a tour of Kigali City before leaving, or enjoy some experiences in Musanze near the gorilla park such as visit to the twin lakes and explore the amazing scenery, visit the gorilla museum in Musanze, do the canoe trip on River Mukungwa with Kingfisher Journeys, visit the gorilla guardians cultural village for an experience of Rwanda’s cultures and traditions, etc… Also, because of the short distance, one can set off from Kigali as early as 4.30am and reach the park in time to do the gorilla trek that same day. Hence in Rwanda you can do the gorilla trip in one day and save on accommodation and extra days of transportation (car & driver hire).
While in Uganda you will take from 8 – 10 hours of driving from Kampala or Entebbe Airport to reach the gorilla homelands – Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. So, some may find this journey quite long and strenuous, and you will need at least 3 days for the gorilla trip in Uganda with 2 days just dedicated to driving to and from the gorilla parks thus spending more on transportation and accommodation. On the other hand however, the day long drives take you through different scenery and landscapes, local communities and pass through some interesting attractions such as the Uganda Equator, etc… hence offering an adventurous journey to spice up your gorilla trip. Also, found along the way to the gorilla parks are other game parks such as Lake Mburo National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park that you can easily incorporate into your gorilla trip to include a safari in the savannah to see animals.
Note that you can also do the gorilla trip in Uganda starting from Kigali Rwanda which is a relatively shorter distance than from Kampala/Entebbe and it would take you 4 – 5 hours drive and would need at least 2 days for the trip instead of 3 days when you start from Kampala.
Comparing Level of difficulty of the gorilla trek in Rwanda and Uganda
This is one of the concerns of many people when it comes to tracking the gorillas, whether the gorilla trek will be too difficult for them and so which country or park may offer an easier trek. There are also adventure fanatics who instead prefer a more challenging and longer trek to the gorillas.
The volcanoes and Bwindi have a different terrain. The volcanoes are mountains with a steady gradient and may involve steady climb up and may be sideways along the mountain to find the gorillas. So the trek will be become difficult depending on how far up the gorillas will have gone. Trekking back however will not be as challenging as you will be coming down the mountain.
On the other hand, Bwindi is made up of rolling highlands with sharp ridges and very dense vegetation. If the gorillas move deeper you could find yourself trekking over several highlands and ridges, penetrating dense jungles, and crossing rivers and streams. And this would be a two way trek.
I therefore say the gorilla trek in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park can be more challenging and difficult than the gorilla trek in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
But if the gorillas are closer to the start of the trek both countries can provide an easy trek.
Gorilla views and Photography
The slopes of the volcanoes do not have very thick trees (compared to Bwindi in Uganda) and gorillas can get to an opening where you can clearly view them in good light. For photography, the volcanoes provide good lighting due to the openness and since flash is not allowed while photographing the gorillas, you will have the best quality shots of the gorillas in Rwanda’s volcanoes.
On the other hand Uganda’s Bwindi has thick jungles which may obstruct full views of the gorillas, and the closed canopies mean little light for photography. However, Bwindi offers much more varied settings which can give you a variety of shots, from different scenery, a variety of gorilla interactions such as climbing trees or drinking from a water stream, etc… You can take similar shots of different gorillas in the volcanoes, it is almost impossible in Bwindi National Park.
Landscape and scenery
The backdrop of the Virunga Mountains is quite surreal! I have to say the Virungas offer the best scenery which is a big bonus to the gorilla trek. But also the sprawling forest clad misty highlands of Bwindi are breathtaking too.
Because of the pricey gorilla permit in Rwanda, there are fewer people who go there for the gorilla trekking tour and the small crowd means a more satisfying individual experience. Out of the maximum 8 people allowed to track the gorillas you could find that there are only four people in your group and therefore you won’t be clamoring for shots or views of the gorillas. However this may not be the case during peak months of July, August, September where the gorilla permits in Rwanda also get sold out. When it comes to Uganda, because of the cheaper price of the gorilla trekking permit, the numbers are almost filled to the maximum 8 which sometimes causes a bit of competition when viewing the gorillas and everyone trying to get the best shot!