Introduction to Bwindi

Gorilla Trekking in uganda & Rwanda

Uganda’s most important national park

Even if Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was not home to the Mountain Gorilla, its remoteness, natural beauty and enthralling biodiversity would attract visitors. But it is those magnificent great apes that have made Bwindi Uganda’s single most important tourist destination.

Coming face to face with mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is one of the most powerful and humbling wildlife encounters possible. You can always spot trekkers who are returning from having been with the gorillas: even the strong and silent types are grinning and chattering like birds.

Departing from one of the four trailheads on the perimeters of the forest (Buhoma, Nkurongi, Rushaga, and Ruhija), you join a group of a maximum of eight other visitors for a guided trek into the forest in search of one of 11 habituated gorilla families. 

Led by experienced, specialised Uganda Wildlife Authority guides, you will be introduced to the ecology of the forest and the changing landscape as you trek to the gorillas. Your guides are in communication with the team of trackers who will have been shadowing the gorillas since daybreak. The trackers direct your guides to bring you to the gorillas.

You should be prepared to walk through a challenging terrain of steep ridges and valleys, following animal paths through tangled undergrowth for about three hours to reach this point. Although sometimes contact can be made after 45 minutes and other times six hours. 

Once contact has been made, you have up to one hour in which to observe the gorilla family from a distance of 7 metres. However, you should also be prepared for relaxed mums or inquisitive young to close this gap considerably! The trackers will remain in charge of the contact, telling you what to do in order to remain safe and enjoy the experience to the full.

The number of gorilla permits each day is strictly limited and so the peak season months of June to September and January and February sell out well in advance of travel. It is therefore recommended that you plan your visit about a year in advance, if not earlier. Gorilla permits are non-refundable, but if you trek and do not see a gorilla, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund 50% of the permit cost. This happens very rarely.

Gorilla habituation experience, for the most enthusiastic among you

Visitors often ask about the difference between tracking the mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. One of the answers is that over the last few years, Uganda has provided an incredible opportunity to join a gorilla habituation team and spend up to four hours in the company of one gorilla family.

This opportunity costs $1,500 per person, but with only six trekkers in a group, it is an intense and unforgettable experience, perfect for those with a passion for gorillas or the urge to capture the perfect photographic record of the experience.

It is not right for everyone, even if the cost is not an issue. Four hours is a long time to remain quiet and observant in a small area of forest. We humans find it incredibly difficult to maintain concentration for more than an hour. However, for some, it can be an ultimate travel highlight. 

The Four Trailheads

Habituated families can be accessed from four trail heads: BuhomaRuhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. Each trail head has its own characteristics, families and levels of difficulty.

The trailheads serve as launch points for treks to 11 fully habituated (and three semi-habituated) gorilla family groups. The standard treks depart in the morning and include up to one hour observing the gorillas from a distance of about seven metres. 

The treks can be quite challenging, and you need to be prepared to trek for up to 6 hours, although most sightings take place within 2-3 hours. 

gorilla trekking in uganda and rwanda
Gorilla trekking tours in uganda and rwanda

Buhoma Sector

Gorilla tracking began here in 1993. It has the greatest number of accommodation options and is the home of the park’s HQ. If you are coming into Bwindi from the north, the chances are you will be staying at Buhoma. 

Arguably, the topography around Buhoma provides some of the more accessible gorilla treks, especially as the Rushegura family is known to be found relatively close to the village (occasionally thrilling visitors to Gorilla Forest Camp).

Buhoma is also home to inspiring non-governmental organisations like Ride 4 a Woman, the Batwa Development Programme, plus local craftsmen, providing interesting and often inspirational experiences outside the forest.

Gorilla trekking in rwanda and uganda

Ruhija Sector

45 kilometres from Buhoma, Ruhija has been said to be one of the most beautiful gorilla tracking areas.

At 2,340 metres, it is also one of the most challenging. Opened for tracking in 2008, the local roads have now been improved to the extent that visitors often stay in Buhoma, enjoying the greater range of accommodation options, and then track in Ruhija where three gorilla groups are now available. 

Buhoma and Ruhija are the two trailheads serving the north of the park. Buhoma’s superior range of accommodation means it’s often the trailhead of choice if you’re coming down from the north.

Gorilla Trekkking in uganda

Rushaga Sector

Rushaga is the first of the trailheads in the south of the park. 

There are five gorilla groups available in Rushaga, making 40 permits available daily. Additionally, six permits are available for the gorilla habituation trek. The terrain is more open here, providing stunning views of the mountains, rather than enveloping trekkers in forest, making it easier going than Ruhija.

While there are local accommodation options, Rushaga is also accessible to trekkers staying in Nkuringo, around Lake Mutanda, or even Kisoro.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo

Nkuringo Sector

Opened in 2004, Nkuringo is found diametrically opposite to Buhoma in the remote south of Bwindi. The trailhead is at an altitude of 2,100 metres on the Nteko Ridge, 600 metres above the Kashasha River valley where the Nkuringo gorilla group like to roam. This makes for a steep descent at the beginning of a trek and a very challenging return hike.

There is no doubt that Nkuringo is the most difficult tracking destination of the four. But it is beautiful with stunning panoramic views of the Virunga Volcanic Range. A stay here also provides access to local farming communities, a Batwa experience and the wonderful lakes Mutanda and Bunyonyi.