Absolute bucket list item. And an activity that may not be around together, so although it doesn’t come cheap, trekking with mountian gorillas in East and Central Africa is something not to be missed. Save your pennies, and book your ticket. You won’t regret it.
So for sure you’re wondering “How much does it cost to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda?”. Rumours of crazy expenses are unfortunately pretty accurate – to trek with the Mountain Gorillas in either Rwanda or Uganda will cost you a one-time fee of $750 (rumours of $1000-$2000 increases through 2015 & 2016 are rife) which gives you access to the gorillas for one hour only. Ouch!
Ok ok so $750 is a heartbreaker but money comes and goes and this really is an opportunity of a lifetime. Petting sedated tigers in Bangkok, feeding domesticated monkeys in India – these kind of activites are contrived tourism practices with dubious morals, but trekking with the mountain gorillas is true wildlife at its finest. You get up close and personal with these massive creatures and there are few more inspiring, intimidating and impressive sights than a 200kg silverback male standing on two feet and beating his chest at you, just to let you know who’s boss, and believe me you will certainly know who’s boss!
So should you see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda?
Well, you can trek mountain gorillas in 3 places in the world – Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. The DRC can be dangerous and with the convoluted and expensive visa requirements pushing the costs higher I’d rule that one. So Uganda or Rwanda? The actual cost remains the same ($750) so which should you choose?
TRANSPORT: Located a whole days drive from Kampala, it’s more difficult to access and with accommodation around the park being expensive, the costs for independent travellers can soon soar. The town of Buhoma, the nearest town to the gorillas, is a gruelling 13 hour bus ride from Kampala so factor that into your timing too. The other entry point is Nkoringo which involves a similarly arduous journey. Get yourself to Kampala, early in the morning head to the bus station in the town centre and you’ll be off. The bus costs around $10 to get to Bwindi,
BOOKING: For Uganda, you need to book through the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, they are more efficient than their Rwandan brothers and are much more open to emails, phone calls etc. Only 50 permits available each day but cancellations are quite common so if there are only a couple of you, you can turn up and wait for cancellations – normally within 2 or 3 days you’ll be good to go.
VISAS: Most nationalities (EU passports, Canada, US, Australia, NZ etc) don’t require any prior work. Just arrive at the border, pay your $50 (steep i know!) and you’re in. Only single entry visas are available.
GORILLAS: Amazing of course, the groups (bands) are smaller than in Rwanda but still impressive. The rainforest here is reportedly denser than that of Rwanda so the photo opps aren’t necessarily as presentable however, as a silverback runs across your path that’ll be the least of your worries! The trek from the park to the gorillas range from 1 to 5 hours depending on the gorillas movement.
TRANSPORT: From Kigali, you’ll be heading to Musanze the closest town to the Volcanoes National Park. Probably still a tad too far to consider a day trip so I would recommend heading down the day before, sleep there have your day with the gorillas and head back to Kigali or onwards to Uganda the same day.
BOOKING: With only a limited number of spaces available each day to trek with the gorillas ideally you should book in advance. Easier said that done! For Rwanda, you book through the ORPTN office in Kigali, Rwanda although as you’ll see from their retro website, they aren’t exactly surging through the technological times! Endless emails and phone calls will be required and in the end, if you have time to spare, it’s easier (in a group of 1, 2 or 3) to turn up to the office and book when you arrive. You may have to wait a few days for cancellations but if you’re patient, you’ll get to the see the gorillas I promise! Note that, Rwanda is not a cheap country to stay in so try to get an idea of what specific days there may be spaces so you can arrive roughly around that time and avoid emptying your wallets in the overpriced Kigali!
VISAS: Available on the border and in the airport and generally cost $60 for 30 days. No problems at all.
GORILLAS: The general consensus is that the Rwandan gorilla groups are larger, easier to spot and the scenery allows for better photos and, after visiting here, I can only confirm all of the above. It really is something special, with baby gorillas rolling around at your feet to Silverbacks charging around within a metre or two of you, it will take your breath away. The most famous group, and the furthest to trek to is the Susa group so if you’re feeling energetic ask for that. They have the biggest male, the most babies but can often be up to 5 hours trek away!
Uganda or Rwanda? For me, it’s gotta be Rwanda. The vast majority of the people I met along the way in Africa seemed to say the same thing, of course either country will be a great experience though but Rwanda pips it.
Mountain Gorillas on a budget? There are countless tour operators who would love nothing more than for you to pay them $$$$ to arrange the whole thing for you, arrive by local bus, stay in local accommodation, have your $750 in cash and that’s the best you can hope for. This is not a cheap activity, but one you’ll never regret.
So are the gorillas worth the $750? Definitely, I wouldn’t change it for the world. For example, the standard line is that you must remain 7m away from them, try telling the gorillas that! They’ll be running around you, inches from your face, a truly awe-inspiring experience and one that I urge everyone to try to see for themselves. Not to mention the trek through the thick African rainforest as you make your way to the gorillas, this is Africa in it’s most purest, $750 might be steep but do it now before the price hikes truly make it impossible to consider!
Any questions guys, feel free to comment below and i’ll get back to you asap…