Meeting face to face with the Mountain gorillas in the wild is a once in a lifetime opportunity that draws over thousands of tourists from across the world. Gorilla trekking is what everyone wishes to participate in whenever in Uganda, Rwanda or DRC. Even when these countries are mentioned to someone, what comes in the mind is this riveting adventure. Whilst everyone dreams of staring in the eyes of these critically endangered Giant Apes, few people are allowed to visit them per day (only 8 persons are allowed to visit a gorilla group per day, with a maximum of 96 permits for Uganda (88 permits for Bwindi National Park and 8 for Mgahinga National Park), 80 permits for Volcanoes National Park and between 48 and 64 permits for Virunga National Park depending on the demand for the permits). However, no matter how much you yearn to visit these countries for this mind-boggling activity, you will only be allowed to participate when you have a gorilla permit, and tourists are advised to book at least 6 months in advance. A gorilla permit is a document issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for Uganda or Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Rwanda allowing tourists to track/trek critically endangered mountain gorillas from Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park or Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
For one to track the endangered mountain gorillas, one must poses a gorilla permits. In the Virunga’s the cost of the gorilla permit differs from one national park to another;
- US$ 700 for gorilla tracking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda
- US$ 1500 for gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda
- US$ 400 for gorilla tracking in Virunga National Park
Within Uganda and Rwanda, eight permits per day are issued for each of the habituated gorilla group. Currently, there are ten habituated gorilla families in the Volcanoes National Park, making a daily total of 80 permits available for gorilla tracking every day.
Gorilla Permits for Rwanda Visitors
Sometimes habituated groups stay within the tracking range on a more or less permanent basis, but gorillas are not governed by international boundaries and it is always possible that groups which cross from Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo might cross there again. Trackers are not allocated a specific group in advance but the guides do generally make an effort to match people to a group based on their apparent fitness. There are some known groups for the elderly and less fit who take safaris in Rwanda. Sabyinyo and Group thirteen are usually the least demanding hikes while the Susa Group is the most challenging.
Gorilla Permits for Uganda Visitors
A gorilla tracking permit costs US$700.
If you are looking at tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, it is advisable for visitors that are going to track gorillas to sleep near the gorilla trekking trails because if you don’t turn up at the appointed time you risk invalidating your permit and having to miss out on the gorillas.
Who is Eligible for Gorilla Tracking?
What is the Minimum Age for Gorilla Trekking?
The strictly enforced minimum age for tracking gorillas is 15.
Gorilla Trekking Rules & Regulations
In all the Virunga Parks, there are strict rules and regulations that should be followed by gorilla trackers.
On the way to the gorillas;
-A maximum number of 8 visitors may visit a group of habituated gorillas in a day. This minimizes behaviourial disturbance to the gorillas and the risk of their exposure to human-borne diseases
-Always wash your hands before you head out to the gorillas
-Do not leave rubbish in the park, whatever you bring into the forest should be carried back with you
-You will be taken to where the guides left the gorillas the day before. From there you will follow the gorillas’ trail to find them. Look out for the gorillas’ nesting sites along the way
-When you approach the gorillas, the guides will inform you when to get your cameras ready
-Please always keep your voices low, you will also be able to observe the great bird life and other wildlife in the forest.
When you are with the gorillas;
-Keep a minimum of 7 meters( 21 feet) from the gorillas. This is to protect gorillas from human disease transmission
-You must stay in a tight group when you are near the gorillas
-Keep your voices low at all times, however it is okay to ask the guide questions
-Do not eat or drink while you are near the gorillas to reduce the risk of disease transmission
-Sometimes the gorillas charge. Follow the guide’s example-crouch down slowly, do not look the gorilla in the eye, wait for the animals to pass. Do not attempt to run away. Running away will increase the risk of attack.
-Flash photography is not permitted, when taking pictures, move slowly and carefully
-Do not touch the gorillas, they are wild animals
-The maximum time visitors are allowed to spend with the gorillas is one hour to limit their disturbance, if the gorillas become agitated or nervous, the guide will end the visit early
-After the visit, keep your voices down until you are 200 meters away from the gorillas
General Health Rules;
Remember gorillas are very susceptible to human diseases. The following are ways to minimize the risk your visit might pose to them:
-Respect the limit imposed on the time that visitors are allowed with the gorillas each day. This minimizes the risk of disease transmission and stress to the group
-If you are feeling ill, or have a contagious disease when you are already at the park, please volunteer to stay behind. An alternative visit will be arranged for you, or will be refunded your money as per gorilla reservation guidelines
-If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of bacteria or viruses
-Always stay 7 meters ( 21 feet ) away from the gorillas. The further back you are, the more relaxed the group will be
-Do not leave any rubbish like for example food wrappers in the park, such items can harbour diseases or other contaminants
-If you need to go the toilet while in the forest, please ask the guide to dig you a hole and ensure that you cover it when you have finished.