Planning your Uganda Safaris from Rwanda
Wondering why so many tourists prefer to trek mountain gorillas in Uganda? Well, when it comes to gorilla trekking in Africa, so many people prefer to trek gorillas in Uganda than any other destination. This has very little to do with marketing and preference but rather facts that Uganda is the best gorilla tracking destination in the whole world. Uganda has two places where you can see mountain gorillas in the wild and these include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Gorilla permits in Uganda cost only $700 each all year round, with no low season discounts. This is $800 less than the huge $1500 price tag on Rwanda gorilla permits.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the face of gorilla tourism in Uganda. The park is home to over half the total remaining population of mountain gorillas in the world. It also has four gorilla trekking sectors, giving clients a chance to decide which sector they prefer to trek gorillas in. These sectors include Rushaga Sector, Nkuringo Sector, Buhoma Sector and Ruhija Sector. Rushaga and Nkuringo Sectors of Bwindi are the most popular when it comes to Uganda gorilla trekking from Kigali because of accessibility. They are the easiest to access. Please note that each sector has its own advantages and disadvantages and you should always consult with us on which sector is the best at the moment.
Despite having only one gorilla family with seasonal migrants, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park does offer a nice gorilla trekking experience as well. The gorilla trekking experience here is very different from the one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park as you get to trek in a whole different terrain. Mgahinga shares the Virunga Conservation Area with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and DRC Congo’s Virunga National Park. The experience in Bwindi is mainly characterized by trekking through forests whereas the one in Mgahinga involves more of trekking through mountains and elevations.
Why Arrive from Kigali in Rwanda?
There are so many advantages that come with booking Kigali to Bwindi gorilla trekking tours and we shall look at some of them. If you didn’t know, the distance from Kampala/Entebbe; the main entry points for international tourists is approximately 8 – 10 hours of road drive. This journey is so long and so many tourists hate it. Imagine spending 9 hours on the road to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, 8 hours searching for gorillas in the forest the next day and another 9 hours on your transfer back to Kampala. This would break down any traveler however experienced of a road adventurer you are! This time can however, be reduced by using charter and scheduled domestic flights or helicopters at an extra flight. Scheduled domestic flights are the most affordable of all and cost between of $280 - $380 per person irrespective of the season you are travelling in.
This is not the case when you arrive from Kigali in Rwanda. Your Kigali to Bwindi gorilla safaris become way easier, cheaper and much enjoyable. The distance from Kigali to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is only 4.5 hours. The distance to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is approximately 3 hours; so it depends on where you want to trek. This time should have been less but Rwanda limits all vehicles to travel at an average speed of 60 km/h. Exceeding this attracts a traffic penalty hence, guides are forced to drive at this speed.
One other advantage with this is the affordability bit of it. Most times when you arrive from Kigali, you won’t need to book an overnight stay at any accommodation facility before or after your trek. You can arrive and drive straight to Bwindi, and trek gorillas then drive back to Kigali and still make it on time. This will save you the money you would have spent on accommodation. There are so many other benefits but these are the most common of all.
Sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has four gorilla trekking sectors and these include Buhoma Sector (Northern Sector), Ruhija Sector (Eastern Sector), Rushaga Sector (Southern Sector) and Nkuringo Sector (Western Sector). Of all the sectors, Buhoma Sector is the oldest and most popular. It is where the first gorilla trekking activity in Uganda took place in the 1990s. This is where the famous Bwindi Massacre also happened; one of the most unfortunate occurring in the history of Ugandan Tourism. This sector in Particular carries a lot of history and is easy to access from Kampala or Entebbe; reason why so many tourists prefer to trek here. Some of the best luxury gorilla safari lodges in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are found in Buhoma Sector.
In the east lies Ruhija Sector, one of the most accessible sectors. Trekking gorillas in Ruhija Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is not so strenuous like other sectors; especially the southern and western sectors. The sector is also right at the main road hence, if you do not want to drive through a lot of bumpy roads to the park, this sector should be your preference. Ruhija Sector is preferred by travelers why wish to combine their trek with destinations like Lake Bunyonyi, Queen Elizabeth National Park or any other destination.
Rushaga Sector and Nkuringo Sector are the best and most convenient when arriving and departing from Kigali in Rwanda. They are the closest and most of the time when you book Uganda gorilla trekking from Kigali, you will be booked to trek in one of these two sectors. In case there is no gorilla permit availability in these two sectors, you could get booked to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park or Ruhija and Buhoma Sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The trek in the southern and western sectors can mean to be strenuous at times but you can request for an easy trek in advance.
Best Sector to Trek Gorillas In
So now that we have explored the sectors, which is the best gorilla trekking sectors in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park? This is a very common question from travelers planning their first gorilla safari in Uganda. They try to make the most of their trek by getting the best experience. Others actually look on to advice from previous travelers on how best they can maximize their gorilla trek. The answer to this is there is no particular best trekking sector and your experience will not be like theirs. This is what makes gorilla trekking actually awesome. Each experience is different and no one should lie to you that your experience will be like theirs.
So let’s look at what each sector has to offer. Buhoma Sector is the easiest to access when you start your gorilla trip from Entebbe or Kampala and gives you the privilege of trekking in the oldest of the gorilla trekking sectors in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Most of the best luxury lodges in Bwindi are also found in this particular sector. Ruhija Sector makes it easy for you to connect to other destinations and the road going there is well tarmacked. Rushaga Sector has the most gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and because of this, it is one of the busiest sectors. The mountain gorillas here are over trekked and because of this, they get to move to higher elevations at times to get a sense of loneliness. On a bad day, you could spend up to 8 hours trekking gorillas in Rushaga.
Nkuringo Sector has the best gorilla trekking scenery. In this sector, you will get clear views of Virunga National Park in DRC Congo. You will also be able to see some of the Virunga Mountains from here hence, if you want to blend your gorilla experience with a nice scenic tour, Nkuringo Sector might suit you best.
Other notable safari activities to do
So many tourists visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for mountain gorilla trekking and end up missing out on a lot other interesting activities to do in this park. Besides gorilla tourism, Bwindi is a great place for bird watching holidays, hiking and nature trips, cultural trips, biking tours and educational trips among safari types. When you visit, try to enhance your visit by engaging in other activities around the national park and diversify your experience. This will actually make you love the park more and appreciate its true beauty. For birders, Bwindi is a birder’s paradise with so many species of birds; some of which you won’t see anywhere else in Uganda.
So let’s try to look at some of these alternate tour activities in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in details. A great additional activity is nature walks. Nature walks are only done by very few travelers because most of them do not actually realize that they exist. Bwindi has some of the best hiking trails in the Uganda Tourism Industry. The hiking experiences here are very cheap and cost an average of $70 per person for a certain duration. Taking on a nature walk in the park is a great way to explore the forest in detail.
Another great activity is the Batwa Cultural Experience. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was first inhabited by the Batwa, a hunder-gatherer tribe that lived in forests for thousands and years and relied on it for shelter, herbs, food through hunting and other activities. However, since the introduction of gorilla tourism, they were displaced from the forests and resettled within the communities. These people still source their herbs from the forest but are not allowed to hunt in it any more. Engaging in this activity will let you learn how this this tribe managed to survive extinction for all these years despite living in a very dangerous environment. There are several more activities that you can engage in.
Distance from Kigali to Bwindi
The distance from Kigali to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes. This time includes the minutes you spend at your particular border post clearing up to enter Uganda and returning to Kigali from Bwindi. This is what makes most clients book Kigali to Bwindi gorilla trekking tours besides the cost aspect. With this time, you can actually arrive in the morning, transfer to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and reach before evening. However, most clients use the excess hours to carry out a city tour around Kigali City and explore some of its attractions before actually getting on the journey to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
This is highly recommended because Kigali City has some great attractions that you should see. Visiting most of these attractions is free. Highly notable is the Kigali Genocide Memorial Monument, a place that commemorates the 1994 Rwanda Genocide; one of the darkest days in the history of Rwanda. From here, you will learn a lot about the genocide from start to end. The actual activity takes about 2 hours. Other notable attractions are Caplaki Crafts Village, Kimironko Market and Hotel Milles Des Collines (appeared in Hollywood blockbuster movie – Hotel Rwanda) and a few more.
The actual 4 hours and 30 minutes to southern Bwindi Impenetrable National Park could have been less if it weren’t for Rwanda’s strict traffic rules and emphasizes all drivers to limit their speed to 60 kilometers per hour or less. Border clearance can take up to 30 minutes depending on how busy it is though most of the times it takes less than that. So the distance from Kigali to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is actually not long. If even possible to trek gorillas in Bwindi and drive back to Kigali on the same day from drop offer or departure from Kigali International Airport.
Reducing Risks of Fatigue
No traveler wants to feel tired during their trip. Fatigue can mess up your trip and let you carry out activities at half potential or skip them in the worst scenario. We have seen cases where gorilla trekking clients give up their trek in the forest and have to be carried all the way to the gorillas and back. As you plan your trip, endeavor to request your tour operator to craft for you a trip that is less tiring. This way, you will get to enjoy it the more and probably carry out more safari activities.
Scheduling your arrival and departure from Kigali International Airport is a great way of managing fatigue on your trip. Travelling for long hours can mean to be so tiring at times and will keep you tired. You should always try to avoid this. As you may notice, most of our travel packages tackle this. We always try to minimize driving time as much as we can by cutting long journeys in half, shorter routes and using scheduled flights where possible. All these measures are put in place to help clients enjoy their safaris more and at full potential. When you book Kigali to Bwindi gorilla trekking safaris with us, you’ll always be in the right shape throughout your trip.
Regarding gorilla trekking difficulty, trekking gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can mean to be so tiring at times. However, nowadays things have changed. Park Rangers go gorilla tracking before clients and direct clients towards the right direction of gorillas unlike the previous years when clients had to search for the gorillas themselves. This has made treks much simpler, shorter and straight forward. It has also made it possible for clients who are unable to carry out long hikes to request for shorter treks.
Border Crossing Requirements
Uganda and Rwanda are both part of the East African Community hence, you will not find a hard time clearing up at the border. All you need for border crossing is a Visa, Passport and Yellow Vaccination Certificate (Rarely Asked). If you do not get your visa in advance, you will have to apply for one at the border post you are using. The approval process usually takes a few minutes if you have all the other requirements. Just in case you have all your details ready, you are likely to spend a maximum of 30 minutes clearing up with the authorities at the border before you are granted entourage to Uganda. When returning back to Kigali, you will spend less time at the border than before.
Booking your East Africa Tourist Visa
An East African Tourist Visa is a single visa document that allows you up to 90 days of stay in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Each East African Tourist Visa costs $100 and should be applied for your point of entry. If you are arriving through Kigali in Rwanda, you should apply for an East Africa Tourist Visa through Rwanda. However, if you enter Burundi or Tanzania, your East African Tourist Visa automatically expires and you’ll have to pay for another one on return.
A short Kigali City Tour before your Trip
Before you begin your Kigali to Bwindi gorilla trekking tours, it’s good to have a short city tour around Kigali City. Most of the attractions you will visit in Kigali are free. Some of them include the Kigali Genocide Memorial Monument, Caplaki Crafts Village, Inerta Arts Center, Kimironko Market and Hotel Rwanda among other places. It’s always recommended to begin your Kigali City tour in the morning so that you finish up early and arrive in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park before dusk. Arriving a day before or early morning favors a Kigali City tour.
Cost of Gorilla Trekking
The biggest cost of gorilla trekking is gorilla permits. However, in some cases accommodation fees might take up the most share of the gorilla trekking quotation especially when staying in high-end luxurious lodges like Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Trackers Safari Lodge and Buhoma Lodge among the rest. The mode of transportation also determines your gorilla tour costs. A 4x4 safari van will cost way less than a 4x4 safari land cruiser. Also, when you book a longer trip, you’ll pay more than someone who goes on a short gorilla tour. All in all, do not mind so much about the cost, it’s the experience that matters and you ought to make it as comfortable as you can at whatever cost.
Booking your Gorilla Permits
Booking your gorilla permits through a trust gorilla travel agency like us is highly recommended. We shall take care of everything right from the booking process and printing the actual permits and deliver them on ground with your tour guide. In case of any reschedules, we can help with that as well. However, booking your gorilla permits several months in advance is highly encouraged especially when traveling in the high and peak seasons. Last minute bookings might not get you the availability you want especially in high-demand gorilla trekking sectors like Buhoma.
Minimum Age for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Not everyone is allowed to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo in Africa. Only children above 15 years of age are allowed to trek gorillas. This rule is very strict in Rwanda and DR Congo. In Uganda, there is a chance of signing an indemnity form consenting to all consequences that may arise during a gorilla trekking experience should your child refuse to follow the set gorilla trekking rules, regulations and guidelines. A child has to be over 12 years to increase your chances of approval.
Planning your Flights
As mentioned earlier, arriving and departing through Kigali in Rwanda will shorten the driving distance to and from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. Instead of spending eight to ten hours on road traveling, you will only spend four hours and thirty minutes, which is pretty much a good deal. This will keep you in the best shape possible for your gorilla trek and not feel fatigued. Gorilla trekking can mean to be a difficulty tour activity at times hence, you have to minimize on all possible sources of fatigue prior to your actual encounter with mountain gorillas.
What to Avoid
When it comes to a safari In Uganda or Rwanda and DR Congo, you should fully entrust your tour operator with the planning process to avoid messing up. So many times, we receive requests from clients trying to tailor their own trip. This is not a bad idea but on cases where we advise you or recommend something better, you should highly take that into account. As a gorilla travel agency on ground, we are always updated everything regarding gorilla trekking and can give you the best travel information.
Minimum number of days to book for
Short trips involve a lot of traveling and less hour of rest. I wouldn’t advise anyone to take on a short trip unless they feel it’s their only option. For the best Kigali to Bwindi gorilla trekking safaris, we recommend three days and four days if your main point of interest is gorilla watching. If you intend to add wildlife viewing to your package, you should consider a trip longer than 5 days. Booking a two days Kigali to Bwindi gorilla tour should be the last thing on your mind. It’s not easy to trek gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and drive back to Kigali on the same day for departure or drop off much as it’s doable.
Pay more for convenience
Finances should not limit your level of enjoyment on a safari in Uganda, Rwanda or DR Congo. Many times, budget travelers try to minimize as much as they can and end up complaining about services. Because of this, we operate at certain standards and can only stick to that. In most cases, our budget quotations might seem pricier than those from competitors and this is not because we are expensive or perhaps trying to make a lot of profit from your trip, it’s simply because we are booking the best services and facilities for your budget.
Choice of Gorilla Safari Lodges
Waking up on a comfortable bed with a stunning view of the forest is something that puts you in the right mind. If things are not right from accommodation, you are least likely to enjoy your gorilla trekking trips. Accommodation plays a very big role when it comes to safaris. After trek gorillas, its better you return to a very relaxing gorilla safari lodge and rest without worrying about poor service or amenities and facilities. We often recommend the best gorilla safari lodges irrespective of your class of travel.
How many times should you trek gorillas to get a total satisfaction of the activity? Well, you can trek gorillas over and over again and keep getting different experiences. For an avid primate lover, trekking gorillas in all the sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is recommended. We do have these gorilla trekking circuit itineraries and can avail them to you on request. If you are on a total budget, having two gorilla tracking iterations is just fine. If you can’t afford, you can trek once. Please note that you need a gorilla permit for each encounter you have with mountain gorillas. You cannot use the same permit to trek with gorillas simultaneously.
Bwindi vs Mgahinga
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is incomparable to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi is apparently the best place to see mountain gorillas in the whole world. Over half the remaining population of gorillas live in the thick misty forest. It is a very common point of interest among Uganda travel destinations. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has only one gorilla family with rare seasonal immigrants from Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The only difference is it has more diverse activities. In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, you can also trek golden monkeys, hike Mount Sabyinyo, hike Mount Gahinga, go bird watching, take on the Batwa Cultural Trail and visit the Garama Cave among many other interesting safari activities. If you are planning to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, you should definitely consider having your trek in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.