Gorilla Trekking Permits
Gorilla trekking permits are what is needed for one to engage in gorilla trekking in any of the four national parks that inhabit the mountain gorillas and offer gorilla trekking of those gorilla groups that are fully habituated. Gorilla trekking is only possible in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Congo’s Virunga National Park. A gorilla trekking permit is a document or card issued by bodies/authorities of the respective countries that allows a traveler who is above the age of 15 to track the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Only 8 people per gorilla group per day can visit, and they are not so many of them out there. It is also important to note that a gorilla permit fee is not refundable, travelers need to be sure of their travel days to avoid any mishaps.
Obtaining gorilla trekking permits several months before the start of your gorilla safari is advised. In fact, 3-4 months prior to the start of the holiday is what is recommended so as to secure them for you as they are very competitive and few in number. It is especially hard during the peak season that seas a number of travelers holidaying and opting to do a gorilla trekking safari solely or have it as a climax of one’s African safari. The dry months that run from June – September, and December – February are what are considered dry and peak season months, which are the recommended months that travelers can visit these gorillas in their natural habitat even though they can actually be tracked throughout the year. This gorilla permit allows travelers to encounter the gorillas for a maximum of one hour on a gorilla trek that can take anything between 30 minutes to 5 hours or more, depending on the location of the mountain gorillas.
Up until June 2020, a gorilla permit in Uganda costs $600, $500 and ugx250,000 for foreign non-residents, foreign residents, and East African citizens respectively. Effective July 2020, a gorilla permit will be at $700, $600 and ugx250,000 for foreign non-residents, foreign residents and East Africans, respectively. Rwanda’s gorilla permit has been at $1,500 since 2017 for all persons interested in gorilla trekking in Rwanda, including the Rwandan nationals. Gorilla permits in Congo cost $400 only for all intending to track, while the Congo citizens only pay $150. Gorilla habituation, which has travelers spending more than one hour with the gorillas as they learn and acclimatize to their behavior has travelers parting with $1,500 for foreign non-residents, $1000 for foreign residents and ugx750,000 for East African citizens. In Uganda, gorilla permits can be purchased from the Uganda Wildlife Authority reservation office in Kampala while the Rwanda Development Board issues gorilla permits for Rwanda. Travelers can alternatively have trusted tour operators handle the gorilla permit booking for them.
Gorilla trekking permits in Uganda are issued according to the different sectors of Bwindi impenetrable national park, say Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo which altogether have about 18 gorilla families/groups that travelers can track. allocation of which gorilla group one is going to track is no longer done upon purchase of a gorilla permit but in the field on the day of the trek. Gorilla group allocation is mostly based on the fitness level of a traveler.
Clad with the recommended essential items for a successful gorilla trekking experience and a gorilla permit in hand, travelers are up for a brief as early as 7 am by a park ranger who shares what travelers are supposed to expect on the trek and also the rules and guidelines that are to be followed during the gorilla trekking activity. After being allocated gorilla groups to track, the hike in search of the gorillas starts at 8 am and takes travelers deep into the lush vegetation cover of these forests with some rough terrain (travelers need to be a little fit). Upon encountering the gorillas, only one hour is allowed to the travelers in which time they can take pictures, videos and be amazed at the gentleness of the gorillas as they feed and juveniles play with the silverback. The trek back gives travelers an opportunity to watch out for other animals in the park, like forest elephants.
One gorilla permit admits only one person and is used once. After the trek, travelers are expected to leave the cards with the park officials, and they in exchange get gorilla tracking certificates that they can show to any who cares to know that they too trekked mountain gorillas in Africa.