Meeting face to face with the Mountain gorillas in the wild is a once in a lifetime opportunity that draws over thousands of tourists from across the world. Gorilla trekking is what everyone wishes to participate in whenever in Uganda, Rwanda or DRC. Even when these countries are mentioned to someone, what comes in the mind is this riveting adventure. Whilst everyone dreams of staring in the eyes of these critically endangered giant apes, few people are allowed to visit them per day (only 8 persons are allowed to visit a gorilla group per day, with a maximum of 96 permits for Uganda (88 permits for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and 8 for Mgahinga Gorilla National Park), 80 permits for Volcanoes National Park and between 48 and 64 permits for Virunga National Park depending on the demand for the permits). However, no matter how much you yearn to visit these countries for this mind-boggling activity, you will only be allowed to participate when you have a gorilla permit, and tourists are advised to book at least 6 months in advance. A gorilla permit is a document issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for Uganda or Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Rwanda allowing tourists to track/trek critically endangered mountain gorillas from Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park or Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Cost of gorilla permits
Gorilla permits in Uganda cost $600 for foreign non residents, $500 for foreign residents and Shs 250,000 for East African Residents. What makes gorilla trekking easier and more interesting in Uganda is that permits are discounted during the low seasons (April, May and November) with $450 charged for foreign non residents, $400 for foreign residents and Shs 150,000 for East African Residents. Tourists who cannot afford prices for the normal permits can take the opportunity to track the mountain gorillas during the low seasons and achieve their dreams.
The Democratic Republic of Congo offers the lowest prices for gorilla permits of all the three countries where gorilla trekking is conducted. Permits for Virunga cost $400 for the International tourists and $150 for Congolese Citizens. Just like Uganda, DRC also offers discounted permits during low seasons (March to May) at $200 per person.
Rwanda on the other hand offers the highest price for gorilla permits at $1500 for all categories of tourists (with effect from 6th May 2017). On top of Prices for gorilla permits being high, discounted permits are not offered in Rwanda. However special packages are offered whereby Tourists who visit Akagera and Nyungwe National Parks for a minimum of 3 days prior to gorilla trekking are eligible for a 30% discount. Not only that, Business tourists who stay before or after conference dates to see mountain gorillas are entitled to a 15% discount. Rwandan Development Board (RDB) also introduced an exclusive package where a tourist who desires to book for an entire gorilla family pays only $15,000 and the package includes personalized services for example tour guides. There is a unique “behind the scenes” package where tourists pay $30,000 for a minimum of 3 persons for 3 successive days.
How to acquire gorilla permits
Tourists have to book for gorilla permits at least 6 months prior to tracking or travelling. Gorilla permits for Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks can be booked both directly and indirectly. Permits can directly be acquired from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) head office at Plot 7 Kira Road in Kamwokya, Kampala Uganda or call +256 414 355 409/410 for reservations and bookings, to inquire about availability of permits for the dates you wish to track the gorillas or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or access their website on www.wildlife.org/contact-us-2/uwa-addresses for more information and also call the Park headquarters on +256 486 24121 for Bwindi and +256 414 680 793/+256 392 881 348 for Mgahinga National Park. You can acquire a permit by contacting Maranatha Tour and Travel, where the entire gorilla trekking safari will be booked on your behalf.
For Rwanda, Permits can be booked from Rwanda Tourism (ORTPN) Reservation Office in Kigali or in Ruhengeri or call on +252 57 65 14. You can alternatively send an email to email@example.com or access their website on www.rwandatourism.com to confirm for availability of gorilla permits then eventually book for them. Thereafter banking procedures will be sent to you so that you can pay for the permit. You have to include bank charges when transacting to prevent sending less money. Maranatha Tours and Travel can also organizes gorilla trekking safaris for Rwanda; you can contact the company for a smooth and memorable experience.
Since there are few tour operators in DRC, it is advisable to book through Ugandan or Rwandan tour operators. Here is a listing of tour operators organising safaris to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
What you need to know about the gorilla permits is that tourists are allowed to spend only one hour with the gorilla group, but the process of tracking takes between 30 minutes and 6 hours before they are sighted.
Bear in mind that having a gorilla permit only guarantees your participation in gorilla trekking but doesn’t guarantee that you will see these Giant Apes because they are wild animals that are not positioned in one place but instead keep moving, hence it’s a matter of luck to see them. However, there is a 95% possibility for tourists to sight them.
Also, a maximum of 8 permits for 8 persons are sold for a particular gorilla group. This limitation is done to reduce on risks of spreading human diseases like flue, cough or diarrhea to the Mountain gorillas and vice versa.
For Uganda especially Bwindi National Park, it is important to know what sector you are tracking in (Buhoma in the North, Rushaga and Nkuringo in the South or Ruhija sector in the Eastern side of Bwindi), so that you also book for the lodging/accommodation facilities from that particular sector. The gorilla groups are distributed throughout the sectors with Habinyanja, Mubare and Rushegura in Buhoma sector, Bitukura and Oruzogo in Ruhija sector, Rushaga has the highest number of gorilla groups that include Nshongi, Mishaya, Bweza, Kahungye and Busingye groups, and Nkuringo group in Nkuringo sector.
When booking for gorilla permits, tourists should be in position to abide to the guidelines/rules and regulation that govern gorilla trekking. These guidelines include avoiding noise when tracking or when with the mountain gorillas, maintaining a distance of 7 meters away when with these Giant apes, do not eat or drink in the presence of these creatures and do not visit them when you are sick with cough or flue to avoid transmitting those diseases to them.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking has continuously become a unique opportunity for tourists who visit Uganda, Rwanda and DRC yet the gorilla permits are on high demand. In order to achieve their dreams, tourists are advised to book for permits at least 6 months in advance to avoid disappointment.