Gorilla Trekking in Uganda or Rwanda: Similarities & Differences
About Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda:
Gorilla Trekking is conducted in Volcanoes National Park which is situated in northern part of Rwanda known as Ruhengeri. The Park is reached after 2hrs drive from Kigali Airport or Kigali city. You can reach Ruhengeri town by public transport or private vehicle however, 4-wheel drive cars are recommended because the area is mountainous. Volcanoes National Park is named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif: Karisimbi – the highest at 4,507m, Bisoke with its verdant crater lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura.
About Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is dominated by tropical rain forest. It’s situated in western Uganda and reachable after 8-9 hours drive from Entebbe International Airport or Kampala city.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is thought to have one of the richest faunal communities in East Africa, including more than 350 bird species and more than 200 butterfly species along side different primates but above all mountain Gorillas. The last gorilla census of 2018 shows that BINP hosts almost half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. This Park is estimated to protect over 459 individual gorillas.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda:
It’s the smallest National Park in Uganda but treasured for hosting travelers looking to gorilla watching safaris in the Ugandan part of the Virunga. MGNP is part of Virunga crescent together with Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo. MGNP is famous for its mountainous relief amidst Virunga Volcanoes like Mt Muhabura (4,127 m), Mt Gahinga (3,474 m) from which the park derives its name, and Mt Sabyinyo (3,645 m). It lies in Bufumbira county, Nyarusiza and Muramba sub-counties and adjacent to the three parishes of Gisozi, Rukongi and Gitenderi.
Similarities between Uganda and Rwanda Gorilla trekking:
Uganda and Rwanda start gorilla trekking with briefing at 7:30am and thereafter, groups of trekkers walk to meet gorillas in their natural habitat. During briefing, guests are equipped with DOS and DON’Ts while with gorillas.
Trekkers are grouped into a maximum of eight people to visit each gorilla family. For more information, each group is headed by ranger guides whose work id to guide, feed information and provide security to the visitors.
A maximum of one hour is given to watch gorillas in their natural environment. Once you meet gorillas, Uganda and Rwanda gives you only one hour to take photos, films and watch the gentle giants as they perform their routine activities.
Trekkers meet only habituated gorilla families which are calm and familiarized to be tracked. For a gorilla family to be trekked, it first under go a 2-3year habituation process which is spear headed by wildlife experts and primatologists among others.
You need a gorilla permit to be allowed to meet Gorillas. Advance purchase of Rwanda and Uganda Gorilla permit is recommended because the permits are on high demand.
Differences between Rwanda and Uganda Gorilla Trekking:
The cost of Rwanda Gorilla permit goes to US$1500 while that of Uganda cost US$700. For that case, Rwanda offers the most expensive gorilla trek on record.
Uganda conducts gorilla trekking in two gorilla parks namely; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. For that case, Uganda offers two options for tourists to choose where to trek gorillas from.
Uganda protects more than 18 habituated gorilla families in two parks while Rwanda offers 10 habituated gorilla families. That means that Uganda offers more gorilla permits per day, all year round.
Uganda offers both Gorilla trekking and Gorilla habituation for tourists. Rwanda only offers gorilla trekking however, the cost of Uganda gorilla habituation goes up to US$1500 (stay four hours with gorillas) which is equivalent to the cost of Rwanda gorilla trekking (1hr stay with gorillas).
Rwanda offers gorilla trekking from Kinigi park headquarters while Uganda is by far offers four gorilla trekking centres namely: Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo.
It’s a shorter distance from Kigali city to Volcanoes National Park (2hrs drive) verses 8-9hrs drive from Kampala city to Bwindi Impenetrable national Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Rwanda Gorilla Park is situated in northern direction while Uganda gorilla parks are in western Uganda.
Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda is more mountainous that Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The writer of this article is therefore cautioning all travelers opting to trek Gorilla in Rwanda to acquire high level of fitness before the actual tracking date.
Rwanda has ten habituated gorilla groups while Uganda has more than 18 habituated gorilla families. Rwanda gorilla families include Karisimbi Gorilla Family (Susa-B), Sabyinyo Gorilla Family, Amahoro Gorilla Family, Umubano Gorilla Family, Agasha Gorilla Family (Group 13), Kwitonda Gorilla Family, Hirwa Gorilla Family (Hirwa in the local dialect means “lucky one”) and Bwenge Gorilla Family.
Habituated gorilla families in Uganda include; Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Nkuringo, Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza, Busingye, Nyakagezi, Kyaguriro among others.
Volcanoes National Park is more of bamboo vegetation than Bwindi. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is dominated by tropical rain forest which is characterized by tall trees, ever green vegetation, less undergrowth and canopies.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, covering 32,092 ha, is one of the largest areas in East Africa which still has Afromontane lowland forest extending to well within the montane forest belt. Volcanoes National Park covers 160 km2 (62 sq mi) of rainforest and encompasses five of the eight volcanoes. For that case, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is larger than Volcanoes National Park.
In conclusion, Uganda and Rwanda offers the best mountain gorilla trekking exercise however, your budget will determine were to trek from.