What is the cost of a gorilla tour in Uganda?

Gorilla trekking is number one in the top things to do in Uganda. Many tourists visiting Africa for safaris will include a detour to Uganda for just the gorilla trek. Many however are put off by the cost of a gorilla trip in Uganda and do not know what really makes the trip expensive.

Below I will guide on the costs involved in a gorilla trip, and how one can, may be, get a cheap gorilla tour in Uganda.

Gorilla tracking permits

The gorilla trekking permit or pass or ticket, is the most important item of the gorilla trip. It is also a significant cost of the trip.

The price of the gorilla permit in Uganda is USD 700 for international tourists visiting Uganda. The price is different for the locals, and foreign east African residents.

The price of the gorilla permit does not change.

When booking a gorilla trip ensure that your gorilla permit has been purchased at the time of booking because the permits are limited and sell out quite fast. A maximum of 8 persons can track a gorilla family in a day, and there are only about 15 habituated gorilla families.

Note that the Uganda gorilla permit is way cheaper compared to the Rwanda gorilla trekking permit which is USD 1500. But there are also advantages of tracking gorillas in Rwanda vs Uganda and you can read this article where I compare gorilla trekking in Uganda vs Rwanda.

Accommodation and meals

The gorilla parks Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are located far from Kampala and Entebbe which are normally the starting points for a gorilla trip in Uganda. The journey by road is about 8hours drive.

That means you can not visit the gorillas in one day.

You need to overnight near the park before the gorilla trek, and then also after gorilla trekking because you may return from the park in the late afternoon and you can’t drive back to Kampala or Entebbe immediately.

In short, you need at least 2 nights of accommodation near the park.

Accommodation is a varying cost as there are different types of lodging/hotels ranging; basic camping, budget, midrange and luxury lodges. So you choose accommodation depending on your budget and the level of comfort that you need.

An overview of the pricing of the different accommodation types:

Budget cost between USD70 – USD150

Midrange cost between USD250 – USD400

Luxury cost USD600+

Transportation to gorillas

The distance from Kampala or Entebbe to the parks is more than 500km so obviously you need transportation.

You can travel by air or by road using a car.

Traveling by air is more costly with a return ticket by Aerolink costing close to 500USD (USD 472 for 2021 – 2022)

Most trips are by road with a car. Most of the road is smooth tarmac/paved but the feeder roads to the parks and within the parks are untarmacked/unpaved and rough so needing a four-wheel car.

We use two types of cars, the tour vans and the bigger customized safari land cruisers. Both are four-wheel drive, but during the long rainy season from Mar to May, a land cruiser may be preferred because the roads become so slippery and a much more stable car like the safari land cruiser is a better choice.

The tour vans cost about 70USD per day. While the land cruisers cost 150 USD per day.

Fuel consumed is about 200 USD

The tour driver is paid about 60 USD per day.

Porters

For your gorilla trek you can take a porter which I highly recommend because the time taken to find the gorillas is unpredictable & the terrain is quite rugged and mountainous, so it can be very tiring and challenging if for the seasoned hikers. The porter is very helpful in carrying your daypack and provide a push or pull where needed during the trek.

The porters are hired at $15

Taking a porter is also one way of directly supporting the locals.

Tipping

Tipping is not compulsory, however recommended as one of the ways to directly put some money in the pockets of the locals.

You expect to tip the following people and the amount I can recommend. You can always tip more or less.

Tour driver ($15 – $20 per day), park guide ($15), porter ($10), about 2 lodge waiter/waitresses ($5 – $10)

Souvenirs

You can support the local artisans by purchasing some of their items. Items include printed t-shirts, small wooden curvings of gorillas, crafted trekking sticks, etc… The items cost from $15 to $30

Items Cost
Gorilla tracking permit
Tour car *multiply by number of days
Fuel
Tour driver *multiply by number of days
Hotel on full board *multiply by number of nights
Porter
Tips
Souvenirs

 

Is it safe to track chimps in Uganda?

Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda gives you the opportunity to trek a forest and see up close chimpanzees in their natural home, without a barrier. This is a unique experience because chimps in many parts of the world are seen in zoos from a safe place behind a fence. So the idea of trekking the jungles to see wild chimps raises concerns as to whether it is safe?

Below I give some guide and assurance

The chimps are known to be wild and violent, won’t I be attacked during the chimpanzee tracking?

True, chimpanzees are some of the most violent creatures, no wander they are our closest relatives! They are also very powerful, that the strength of one grown chimp is said to be equal to the strength of five energetic human males. On the internet you can find many gruesome pictures of humans that have been attacked by chimps and these can worry you if you are planning to include chimpanzee tracking on your African safari.

However, you will be tracking habituated chimpanzees. Chimpanzee habituation is a long process taking several years where trained park personnel make frequent visits to the chimps till the time chimps realize these humans do not pose a threat to them and will stop running away or won’t attack them. The chimps see these park personnel as friendly since during the habituation they will carry some goodies such as bananas.

Make no mistake, the habituated chimps are still wild and can make an attack. However, as long as they see among the tourist group the park personnel who they regard as friends they will not become violent.

Once some tourists who didn’t want to pay for the chimpanzee tracking activity went into Budongo forest without the knowledge of the park authorities so they could track the chimps on their own. The tourists found the chimps but once the chimps didn’t see any familiar faces (park guides) among the tourists they became suspicious of the group, got agitated and started roughing up the tourists who fled for their lives while the chimps gave them a chase. It is was the park authorities that heard screaming tourists that run in to rescue them.

So, you will NOT be attacked by the chimps because you will be tracking a chimp community that has undergone habituation and you will be led by park guides who are known to the chimps and these park guides also know what to do in case the chimps become moody.

How about other dangerous animals in the forests?

Several other animals can be found in the forests, such as elephants, leopard, buffaloes, non-habituated chimps, etc… These are not habituated of course and can cause a danger if encountered at close quarter. However these are also quite shy and elusive and in most cases flee before you see them. However nothing is left to chance, so for each tourist group tracking the chimps there is an armed ranger who will shoot in the air to scare away any animal that may seem it could attack the group.

This 2 day Kibale chimpanzee trip and the 3 day Kibale chimpanzee tour are some of the best short trips to track chimps in Uganda.

Is it safe to track gorillas in Uganda

 

Below are some of the safety questions or concerns that tourists have when deciding to do the gorilla trekking in Uganda.

Won’t the gorillas attack me during the gorilla tracking?

The gorillas are wild animals and like other wild animals their natural instinct of survival is to attack or flee when they feel threatened by another species in their space. And indeed, gorillas being the strongest primate, that the strength of one grown male gorilla is said to be equal to the strength of about 8 energetic male humans, an attack from a gorilla would be fatal.

However, the possibility of being attacked by the gorillas during the watching are very minimal because the gorillas you will track are habituated. Habituation of the gorillas is the process of getting the gorillas to accept humans in their space without seeing them as threats. This is through continuous contact with the gorillas over a long period of time (more than 3 years) until the gorillas notice the humans mean no harm & will begin to feel relaxed in their presence. The habituation is done by trained park personnel.

When you track the gorillas you are in company of park guides who are known by the gorillas and who have been habituating the gorillas. These park guides are able to read the moods of these gorillas & know the characters of each gorilla and shall guide the tourists on how to carry themselves while with the gorillas and advise on what to do in certain situations. The guides also know the different vocalizations of the gorillas and will communicate with the gorillas to make them feel comfortable.

Also, importantly, the gorillas recognize the familiar faces of the park guides and thus will accept the rest of the tourist groups on seeing their ‘friends’ in the group.

Can I be attacked by other wild animals in the jungle during the trek?

There are other wild animals in the jungle other than the gorillas and of course these are not habituated. First of all, you can still find unhabituated gorillas who are aggressive and violent. Elephants, buffaloes, and leopards are plenty in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (which is the number one gorilla trekking destination in Uganda). However these animals are very hard to encounter because they are shy and naturally flee at the slightest sensing of humans approaching. In most cases you will see only foot prints or droppings, and if lucky may just catch a glimpse of them disappearing into the jungle.

However, an encounter cannot be ruled out completely and once in a while it occurs. So for protection you will be in company of an armed personnel whose first order is to shoot in the air to scare away an animal.

Are the jungles secure from wrong people?

This is a very valid question. Many years ago the jungles were a haven for wrong doers such as criminals hiding from justice, kidnappers, rebels, poachers, etc… In 1999 the most unfortunate of incidents happened and what is the darkest time in the history of gorilla tracking in Uganda, 8 tourists were attacked by rebels while on the trek in Bwindi forest and killed.

However, the jungles of Bwindi have since been pacified of all wrong elements. The armed forces continuously patrol the jungles. Most of the wrong elements sneaked in from the neighboring DR Congo but the Uganda army and security apparatus since established surveillance posts along the border and further created an intelligence & security buffer into the Congo to eliminate any potential threat.

So the jungle is safe and there has not been any incident of an attack on tourists tracking gorillas for the last so many years

The Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit

The Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit is a cultural as well as historical trail in Kampala City that has been launched by the Buganda Heritage & Tourism Board, a body responsible for tourism development in the Buganda Kingdom. Buganda is the gateway to Uganda and Buganda gave Uganda her name. When you fly into Uganda, you arrive through Buganda and therefore before continuing on your trip to trip in Uganda, a tour of this circuit will introduce you to the history and culture of Buganda and Uganda. You can include the circuit or part of it on a Kampala City tour.

The circuit revolves around the location of what are/were the core administration units of the 1000 year Buganda kingdom; which is the Kabaka’s palace where the kabaka (kabaka is the title given the king of Buganda) resided, the Bulange building which houses the Lukiiko – the parliament of the Buganda kingdom, and the residence of the Katikiro (Butikiro) i.e. the prime minister. Residences of other then powerful agents or call them ministers of Kabaka are still intact and preserve a rich history of Buganda and Uganda.

The tour along the circuit gives you an opportunity to delve into the impeccable organization structure (political and cultural) of the Buganda kingdom. It is little wonder that the colonial British were blown away by a political organization so well structured & organized and somewhat similar to theirs, a grassroot based system, that Uganda was not declared a colony like their many other countries. It was declared a protectorate and the Buganda kingdom’s structures were used by the British to govern and conquer the rest of Uganda.

You walking tour of the Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit will take you to the following sites:

Bulange – Buganda Parliament

 

The walk starts at Bulange. Bulange houses the Lukiiko which is the parliament of the Buganda, and the Kabaka’s work place.

In the compound of Bulange building is a small souvenir shop that has been named the “cultural corner”. The cultural corner has an array of traditional items that were used back in the day before modernity in the day to day lives of the people such as omweso, bark cloth, local drums, etc…

The Royal Mile and the clans of Buganda

The royal mile is a straight path exactly one mile long from the gate of the Bulange to the gate of the Kabaka’s palace.

After exiting Bulange you will set out to walk the 1 mile to the Palace just like the Kabaka’s used to do back in the day.

This 1 mile walk on the royal mile is a very interesting journey through Buganda history and culture that you will learn; the mile is lined by 56 trees (kabaka anjagala) which represent the 56 clans of Buganda. Buganda kingdom is a clan-based society. You will learn about the different clans and their different roles in the Kingdom as well as their totems.

Along the mile are also important houses or buildings that date back since the 1800s, one such includes the first storied building in Uganda, Butikiro which was the official residence of the Katikiro (prime minister) etc…

Ntawetwa – the King does not bend

Ntawetwa is a roundabout at a junction along the Royal mile which was modified with a continuous passage of the royal mile through the round-about with a gate that is only opened for the Kabaka. This was done so that the Kabaka does not go round the roundabout since he is not supposed to face any obstacle on his way from the palace to bulange and back. It is a very interesting structure on the royal mile.

Kabaka’s Palace

You will eventually arrive at the elegant Kabaka’s Palace on Mengo hill.

The Kabaka’s Palace was the official residence of the king of Buganda. The Palace gate is exactly 1 mile from the Bulange gate.

You will learn how the palace came to be built on this hill and who were the original occupants of this hill.

Take in the beautiful architecture and walk around the royal grounds. A wreckage of one the Kabaka Mutesa’s cars a Daimler is on display in the compound.

The palace is well situated on Mengo hill that commands 360 degree views over Kampala City. It is not hard to see why the then Kabaka decided to move the palace here. And also probably why the hill was victim of military contestations by previous military governments who raided the palace and captured the hill that provides fire superiority over all Kampala.

Amin’s Torture chamber

Inside the Palace is the infamous torture chamber where Amin brought political victims and suspected rebels for interrogation and execution.

When Amin took over the palace and turned it into a military post in the 1970’s he invited the Israels to build him an armory which they did.

After a few months he turned it into an interrogation and torture chamber where it is believe more than then thousand victims faced their death.

Kabaka’s lake (Kayanja)

Once the palace visit is over you shall walk down to the Kabaka’s lake to refresh and shake off the sad mood after torture chamber story

The Kabaka’s lake is one of the few known man-made lakes in the world. And what is even more special is that it was dug with rudimentary digging tools.

The lake was made by the youthful Kabaka Mwanga who wanted a channel of water from the palace connecting to Lake Victoria which he enjoyed visiting. The channel would serve for recreation but also a route for easy escape via Lake Victoria in case the palace was to be attacked.

The Royal Certificate

When you visit all the sites along the tourism circuit you are rewarded with a Royal Certificate

World Migratory Bird Day 2021 in Uganda at Lutembe Bay

World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is a day that is dedicated to migratory birds awareness and in this year 2021 it has been celebrated on 8th May. Migratory birds are faced with challenges along their migratory paths such as hunting, poisoning, and degradation of stopover points. WMBD in Africa is helping to sensitize the local population about the migration of birds and many locals are surprised to learn that many of the birds they see during certain times of the year are visitors coming from as far as Europe. The people are sensitized on the importance of the migratory birds, and the need to conserve them and their habitats.

Uganda, which hosts many Palearctic & Afrotropical migrant birds, joined the rest of the world in recognizing and celebrating the World Migratory Bird Day. The day was well attended by several groups and individuals with Nature Uganda taking the lead in coordinating and organizing the day’s activities intended to draw attention to the migratory birds.

Nature Uganda organized a birding excursion to Lutembe Wetland on Lake Victoria which is one of the 9 Ramsar sites in Uganda. There would not have been a better place than Lutembe wetland for this day because the wetland hosts many migrant birds but it is also under immense threat for destruction from encroachment and illegal activities. A lot of the habitats around the wetland have been razed for agriculture and settlements, and commercial flower growing along the lake shore has seen dangerous chemicals being released into the wetland.

We met up at Lutembe early in the morning. Among the participants included Ugandan bird guides and tour operators who benefit a lot from selling birding in Uganda tours, members from the local community near Lutembe who take the lead in destroying or protecting the wetland, Civil Aviation Authority from Entebbe International Airport which shares the same ecosystem on Lake Victoria, and importantly students from university who represent the young and custodians of the future of conservation.

Birding at Lutembe covers water and land habitats and therefore the group was divided into two, one group birding on water and another on land with the two groups to meet later and combine one list.

Personally, I wanted to see what gulls, terns and other migrant water birds were still present given that many Palearctic migrants have already left by April, so I decided to join the water group. We set off in a motorized canoe and we birded the fringes first, scanning the papyrus where we spotted many Northern Brown Throated Weavers, and Swamp Flycatchers, Village Weavers, Striated Heron, Malachite Kingfisher, a Sedge Warbler (a Paleartic migrant), Purple Heron, Yellow-billed Ducks, White-faced Whistling Ducks, and Long-tailed Cormorants. We even heard the elusive Papyrus Gonolek and played its call but it refused to come out of hiding. We proceeded to the small islands of mudflats and found small flocks of Grey-head headed and Black-headed Gulls were still present, in addition to Whiskered, White-winged Terns and Gull-billed Terns, Common Ringed Plovers, Common Greenshank, Little Egrets, Great Egret, Great Cormorant. The highlight for the group was witnessing the Osprey diving for a fish that it struggled to fly away with as it was quite sizeable.

Once we returned after two hours birding on the lake another shift from the lake group set out into the lake but a few minutes later it started pouring and interrupting the day which started off so well… The heavy downpour didn’t stop for several hours and unfortunately brought at an early end to the World Migratory Bird Day activities at Lutembe.