Planning Your Own Gorilla Safari Will Save You Money - Heres How
Going on a gorilla safari must rank as one of the best wildlife experiences left in the natural world. Many people describe it as an overwhelming and awe-inspiring experience and worth every penny they spent on making it happen.
But it doesn't necessarily have to cost the earth.
You can organise and plan your own trek far cheaper than it would cost if you used a safari company as they need to work through the applicable wildlife authorities in each country to obtain gorilla permits anyway and you can do the same if you know how.
The trade-off is that it will be more inconvenient for you because you will need to organise all the logistics yourself whereas with a gorilla safari company you just turn up and go along for the ride.
If you are a do-it-yourself traveller, here is what you need to know to make it possible and save yourself some money...
Where to Find the Gorillas
Mountain gorillas are highly endangered and there are isolated pockets of them left in Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. It's estimated that there are less than 650 mountain gorilla left in the world.
Travel to the Congo is considered risky because of the political and military instabilities that exist there but Uganda and Rwanda are perfect for a gorilla safari.
Your chances of seeing the gorillas are excellent in both Uganda and Rwanda because they are tracked each day by experienced trackers so their locations are known down to the last 24 hours. It's possible but quite rare for visitors not to see the gorillas.
In Uganda the big apes live in the Bwindi National Park and in Rwanda they can be found at the Volcanoes National Park.
There are three habituated gorilla groups in the Bwindi forest and a total of eighteen permits are issued every day at six per group.
In Rwanda there are four habituated gorilla groups and eight permits are issued per group bringing the total per day to thirty two.
There are some simple rules that apply when visiting these great apes: Don't go if you are sick because you might infect them and they are very susceptible to human diseases, no flash photography, maintain a seven metre distance, don't eat or drink around them and each group can stay for a maximum of one hour.
Best Time to Go on a Gorilla Safari
Bwindi is a rainforest so you can expect precipitation most of the year with the heaviest rains occurring in March - April and September - November while other months are reasonably dry. Annual precipitation is between 1130 mm and 2390 mm.
The annual temperature ranges between 7-20 degrees c with the coldest period between June- July.
The climate in the Volcanoes National Park is changeable and you can generally expect both sun and rainfall during the day. At 1,700m above sea level it is generally quite cold particularly in the evening so warm clothing is advised.
The park receives a high amount of rainfall, over 70 inches (1,800 mm) per year and daytime temperatures average about 70°F (21°C). The dry season occurs mid-June-September and December-March.
Rain is an inconvenience on a gorilla safari but it's not an insurmountable obstacle. Just make sure that you take a good pair of hiking boots with you because it can become very muddy and some parts are pretty steep which can cause you to slip.
Travel and Accommodation
Bwindi in Uganda can be reached from QENP in the north (2-3 hours), from Kabale to the south (1-2 hours), or from Kampala via Mbarara (6-8 hours). The roads meet at Butogota, 17km from the Buhoma entrance gate.
Two up-market tented camps, a lodge, community-run budget rooms and camping are available near the Buhoma entrance gate for accommodation the night before the gorilla safari.
In Rwanda the day before the gorilla trek you can take a 2 USD minibus to Ruhengeri (2 hours) or a 2 USD Virunga or Okapi bus from Kigale. Buses leave every hour (on the hour) from near the gare routière/bus station. If you want to leave early in the morning from Kigale it might be a good idea to buy a ticket the day before, but if you leave in the afternoon, you might buy a ticket in the morning.
In Ruhengeri you can stay at any of the decent guesthouses ranging from Home d'Accueil at 5USD, to Muhabura which is clean with private bathroom at 20USD. The expensive Gorillas nest is at Kinigi, a taxi car drive out of town.
Where and how to get the gorilla permit and transportation plus accommodation tips, advice and costs for both Uganda and Rwanda so that you can decide between them.
The Top Three gorilla safari companies if you decide to use a guide rather than plan your own trek.
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