Gorilla Trekking In Rwanda Versus Gorilla Trekking In Uganda
What is gorilla trekking?
The term ‘gorilla trekking’ refers to an activity of moving into the jungles of rain forests on the quest to find a species of gorillas. Gorilla trekking often involves walking long or short distances by a visitor while searching for a particular habituated gorilla family. It is an activity which could last from about 30 minutes to several walking hours depending on the movement of a gorilla group in the Jungle, it also depends on your level of fitness and how fast you can hike. Once a gorilla family of interest is sighted, visitors are then allowed a maximum of one-hour ultimate gorilla experience in the midst of the giant apes.
An overview of gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is purely a life-changing adventure rewarding visitors with a close encounter to the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Before the trek, a cup of tea or coffee is served to visitors at the park headquarters (Visitors’ information centre) Along with it is a traditional performance which gives guests a good start for their exciting day’s adventure before being briefed by a ranger on how to behave while on the trek. Later on, groups of eight individuals are led through the tracking trails on an adventure to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Each hiking group is assigned a ranger and two armed guards, accompanied by porters to ensure the guest’s safety from jungle animals such as Elephants. The hiking experience in the search for the mountain gorillas in the Jungle is so interesting and unpredictable since gorillas are free to loam about in their natural habit hence rewarding trekkers with long or short treks depending on the movement of a gorilla family one is meant to track. Once the gorilla family of interest is spotted, visitors enjoy one hour with the gentle apes while they incredibly admire how graceful and peaceful these gentle giants are.
An overview of gorilla trekking in Uganda
The memorable gorilla trekking experience in Uganda begins 8:30 am with guests being briefed about what is expected of them during the tracking experience. Later, visitors grouped into groups of eight where each group is assigned a park ranger. Thereafter, the groups embark on the journey to the tracking trails on a quest to find the rare mountain gorilla species. Gorilla trekking in Uganda (Bwindi National Park) is more strenuous compared to Rwanda and time-taken ranges between 1 – 7 hours depending on the movement of a gorilla family a visitor has planned to track. Once the gorilla family is sighted, visitors are the then allowed a one-hour unforgettable moment with a gorilla group after which they head back to the park.
Differences between Rwanda’s gorilla trekking and Uganda’s gorilla trekking
For quite some time, visitors have wondered whether there exists a difference if a guest chooses tracking gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda. Therefore in this article, I try to draw the difference between gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda as well as what the two countries share in common in terms of gorilla trekking adventures. Here some of the differences between Rwanda’s gorilla trekking and Uganda’s gorilla trekking;
- Gorilla trekking destinations
Uganda has only two destinations which offer visitors an out of the ordinary gorilla trekking experience. These are mainly Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park located in the southwestern part of Uganda. Rwanda, on the other hand, has only one gorilla trekking destination- Volcanoes national park situated northeast of Rwanda. With reference from the above information, Uganda has more gorilla trekking destinations compared to Rwanda.
- Cost of Gorilla trekking permits
Rwanda charges a fee of 1500 USD for a visitor interested in tracking gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. This fee includes park entry charges, guiding and a certificate for accomplishing the trek. In Uganda, a gorilla permit costs 700 USD. Looking at the two gorilla permit charges, Rwanda offers quite an expensive gorilla trekking safaris compared to Uganda.
- Habituated Gorilla families
Rwanda has a total of twelve habituated gorilla families currently that are available for gorilla trekking. These include Igisha, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Hirwa, Bwenge, Ugyenda and Muhoza and Susa although one (Hirwa gorilla group) has been a resident in Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda for the past few years.
This is different from Uganda which has a total of 19 habituated gorilla families currently all available for gorilla trekking experiences. These include Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Nkuringo, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza, Busingye, Nsongi, Bikyingi, Rwigi, Katwe, Mucunguzi, Bushaho, Mukiza, Kyaguriro for research and Nyakagyezi in Mgahinga gorilla park. Therefore, Uganda has more mountain gorilla groups available for trekking compared to Rwanda.
- Road distance to gorilla trekking locations
In Uganda, travelling to Bwindi impenetrable national park from Kampala is usually about 450-490km approximately 8 – 10 hours drive by road depending to which gorilla sector you are heading to. Similarly, road distance from Kigali Capital of Rwanda to Bwindi impenetrable forest national park is about 170km approximately 4 hours drive. On the other hand, Mgahinga gorilla is 495km from Kampala approximately 10hours drive by road. From Kigali city of Rwanda to Mgahinga gorilla national park is about 131 km approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes.
However, in Rwanda, Volcanoes national park is about 106 km from Kigali close to 2 hours drive on a smooth road from Kigali- Rwanda’s capital. Therefore, it is undeniably true that Rwanda’s gorilla trekking destination is nearer and easily accessible in terms of road distance compared to gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda which may require long hours of driving.
- After gorilla trekking activities
Visitors to the pearl of Africa (Uganda) get to enjoy a variety of activities after gorilla trekking. These include white water rafting, game drive in different savannah parks such as Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo and Kidepo Valley, birding, boat cruise, hot air balloon trips, cultural tours, chimpanzee trekking, golden monkey tracking, Elgon and Rwenzori mountain climbing, nature walks and so much more.
Visitors to Rwanda on another hand enjoy a few after gorilla trekking activities such as golden monkey trekking, birding, Kigali Genocide memorial museum, canopy walks, chimpanzee trekking and cultural encounters at Ibyiwacu cultural centre. This is different from Uganda where a visitor has a variety of after trekking activities to enjoy. Thus in case, a visitor is interested in exploring more attractions than mountain gorillas, Uganda would be an ideal destination to enjoy this.
According to Mr Philimone, the managing Director of 4×4 Tanzania, he receives many tourists interested in seeing lots of Africa’s wildlife in Tanzania, after which they fly to Rwanda purposely for gorilla tracking experience.
Most importantly, visitors to Rwanda enjoy a traditional performance before gorilla trekking which gives them a good start for their exciting day’s adventure. This is usually during breakfast where they enjoy a cup of coffee along with local music, dance and drama before being briefed by a ranger on how to behave while trekking gorillas. This is different in Uganda where traditional performances are enjoyed often during evening hours around borne fires after trekking usually at an incurred cost. However of recent, only in Ruhija sector, some traditional performances take place at the park headquarters before the actual hike.
Similarities between Rwanda and Uganda’s gorilla trekking
Although gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda has several differences, some features remain similar about the two countries in regard to their trekking adventures. Here are some of those similarities between Rwanda’s and Uganda’s gorilla trekking;
- Time for an ultimate gorilla experience
Both Rwanda and Uganda reward visitors with a one-hour ultimate experience with the gorillas. This is usually after finding a gorilla group of interest where visitors can observe the gentle apes, take lifetime photographs, learn about their behaviour and head back to the park after this.
- Gorilla trekking time
Both Rwanda and Uganda gorilla trekking time lasts from 30 minutes to four hours or more depending on the movement of the mountain gorilla group one is tracking. Whether short or long trekking time both countries offer a remarkable gorilla adventure.
- Recommended age for trekking
In both countries, visitors must be 15 years and above for them to be allowed to go gorilla trekking. This restriction is meant to prevent the spread of diseases especially chickenpox and mumps from gorillas to humans and vice versa. Similarly, persons below the age of 15 are considered unfit to take on the difficulties that may arise during gorilla trekking.
- Briefing of visitors
In both countries, visitors are first briefed before they embark on the quest to trek gorillas. The activity is mandatory for every visitor who plans to trek gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. Briefing in both countries is done in the morning hours before embarking on the trek. It is often a caution-guided session given to visitors in preparation of how to behave themselves along the trekking trails and in the midst of the gorillas.
- Number of Visitors
In both Rwanda and Uganda, only a maximum of eight visitors allowed to trek a gorilla group in a day. This number restricted to only visitors who are free to have around one-to-two porters each to help a guest around with carrying the luggage and whatever one would need during trekking.
- Distance from the Gorillas
Visitors to both Rwanda and Uganda are advised to always stay 7 meters away from the gorillas while in the midst of the mountain gorillas. This is done to protect mountain gorillas from catching human diseases.
- Gorilla trekking season
Both Uganda and Rwanda are all year round gorilla trekking destinations. However, the best time to trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda is during the dry seasons. This would be during the months of June to August and December to February. This is because during the fore mentioned months, the tracking trails are not very slippery and the gorillas are easy to spot, unlike the rainy season where gorillas tend to take shelter in the forests and are quite hard to spot.
- Gorilla trekking rules and regulations
Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is governed by a numbers of rules which all visitors ought to abide by. These are usually divided into three sections; before trekking, during trekking and after trekking. The rules in both countries come along with high penalties in case a guest violates them, thus compliance is always encouraged.
- Number of times a gorilla group can be visited daily
In Rwanda and Uganda, a gorilla group can trek once a day. This is often one set of visitors per gorilla family daily. This is done to minimize behaviour changes of the mountain gorillas as well as to ensure that other habituated mountain gorilla groups are visited.
- Packing list for gorilla trekking
Both Rwanda and Uganda require guest to be very well prepared for the trekking adventure in order to have an amazing gorilla safari. The packing list in both countries often involves necessary items to ensure a visitor enjoys a great trekking experience. Here is a list containing some of the vital items that visitors need to carry for gorilla trekking in both countries; hiking boots, long-sleeved shirt and trousers, a rain jacket, a backpack, a hat, sunglasses, insect repellant, camera and many others.
In conclusion, the question of whether its Uganda or Rwanda’s gorilla trekking on chooses lies on which form of gorilla safari adventure a visitor is interested in. One needs not to forget that both countries are undoubtedly amazing mountain gorilla destinations which reward guests with exceptional gorilla trekking safaris.