Gorilla Trekking in East Africa: Permits, cost and when to travel

Planning to go on a gorilla trekking expedition in East Africa? There is no other experience than moments spent with a mountain gorilla.

Experience genuine African authenticity as you gaze upon the world’s endangered gorilla species. There are only about 1,063 gorillas left in the world.

The gorillas are distributed in the jungles of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, most of them live amongst the Virunga Mountains spanning between Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Over 400 gorillas can be found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in South Western Uganda. Thousands of adventurers visit one or more of these national parks every year, hoping to glimpse these majestic primates.

If you have been thinking of coming to East Africa on a gorilla trekking expedition, here is everything you need to know as you plan your trip.

How to Get There

The best way to reach all three destinations is to take a flight to Kigali, Rwanda. From Kigali, it will only take 2-3 hours to get to Volcanoes National Park’s base at Ruhengeri, 3-4 hours to reach Bwindi Impenetrable in Uganda, and nearly 4.5 hours to arrive at Virunga National Park in DRC.

The other routes start at Entebbe Airport in Uganda; then, it will take a nine-hour drive to Bwindi and about the same period to reach Kisoro, the nearest town to DRC.

At Entebbe Airport, you can also opt for a flight to Bwindi, which will take about 50 minutes. It will, however, cost much more than the road transport option.

You could plan breaks between as you journey from Entebbe Airport to Bwindi or DRC. Note that the Rwanda-Uganda, Rwanda-Congo, and Uganda-Congo routes include border crossings.

If you have all the necessary paperwork, it may take you less than 10 minutes to cross from both countries to Burundi.

Cost of Permits

Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda require permits for visitors to have a chance to go gorilla trekking. The number of permits fluctuates every year depending on the need for tourism income and available research.

So booking your gorilla permit in advance will double your chances of tracking a group of gorillas. Uganda and Rwanda have different sites and tour operators who can help with booking your permit online.

However, you may have to acquire your DRC gorilla permit at Virunga National Park Entrance.

Permits in Rwanda go for $1500, making it the most expensive country to go gorilla trekking, and there are limited permits, so you should book yours in advance to avoid disappointment.

In Uganda, a permit goes for $700, and in the DRC, $400. However, it is more expensive to reach the trekking destinations in both countries, making the difference minimal.

Best Season to Go Trekking in Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC

It is possible to trek gorillas in all three countries since their movements are not deterred by the changing seasons.

Every season has its gains and hindrances, so you shouldn’t be too discriminative when choosing a season. The best way is to go with a season you feel most comfortable.

Dry Season

Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda have two dry and two wet seasons. The dry season is June – August and December – February.

The dry season has been dubbed the best time to go Gorilla trekking in East Africa. Most tourists come to East Africa during the dry spell for a trek to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitats.

The longest of the dry season is between August and June, while the peak season is December to February.

The best thing about this period is that you can combine the gorilla trekking experience with other Safaris in other East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania or merge your trip with safari trips in the various national parks of Uganda.

There is no better time to immerse yourself in Uganda’s countryside and snap clear pictures of the “Big 5” lions, leopards, rhinoceros, buffalo, and elephants.

On the flip side, it is more expensive to travel during this period, the permits are hard to find, especially during last-minute bookings, and the vegetation is sparse.

We recommend booking your permit months in advance if you plan to visit during the dry season.

Wet Season

The wet season in East Africa is from March to April and October to November. Unfortunately, these are also the low seasons of gorilla trekking.

The wet season is best for adventurers who prefer a more challenging excursion. So grab your trekking boots and join in this exciting trek if this is you.

The crowds and traveling costs are less, and you might get lucky trying to acquire a last-minute gorilla permit.

The rainy season is muddy, making the ground more slippery, therefore, challenging to traverse. However, the fresh smell of the earth after the rains will tickle your senses, leaving you feeling like you will never experience it elsewhere in the world.

Unlike other parts of the globe, the rains in East Africa do not last all day. So your day can start with heavy rains, and the sun is up and bright 3 hours later.

Visitors are given rain jackets during this season to protect against the rains. The countryside is also green and colorful during this season.

It is the best time to opt for a trip from Entebbe Airport instead of Kigali. However, the flip side of this season is that trekking can be more difficult due to the rains.

Note; since the gorillas live in rainforests, do not rule out the possibility of the ground being muddy during the dry season.

Are you ready for a priceless adventure in East Africa? Then, go ahead and enjoy the time of your life. Gorilla trekking is only a tiny part of a more extensive trip to East Africa.

You can go to Rwanda for a straightforward experience, Uganda for a unique excursion with countless hidden gems and opportunities, and DRC for an adventure.

Now you are ready to start your journey into this significant undertaking. Visit our blog to see more adventures you must experience.

Pearce Kibaale is a freelance writer, content creator, and Editor-in-Chief of Trip Dhow.

Pearce Kibaale, Editor-in-Chief of Trip Dhow