Gorilla trekking is a widely known experience today and it is also known that mountain Gorillas are found only in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) although much of the activity takes place in Uganda and Rwanda because of the never ending instabilities in eastern Congo with travel advisories barring tourists from the risks.
Many a tourist however, find it a daunting task making a choice of where to go for a gorilla trekking safari in Africa and it does not get easier as there are tons of inaccurate, and at times, incorrect information all over the internet and in print materials with everyone giving their opinions and “expert analogies” including those that have never set foot in the jungles of Bwindi, Mgahinga or Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Today, we will discuss the realities of Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Vs Volcanoes National Park from a local tour operator’s view with firsthand experience with an intention to equip you with knowledge of what to expect in each destination and put you in a better position to make an informed choice. Below, we explain the considerations and what the experience is like visiting Uganda or Rwanda;
Accessibility: How convenient is it to get to Bwindi or Volcanoes from the airport?
First and foremost, it is important to understand that Bwindi forest can be accessed through 4 different entry points. So, depending on which part of the forest you will be visiting, the distance is between 450 to 580 Kilometers and that will be between 8 and 10 hours of driving from Entebbe airport but, there is a flying option;
Aero-link operates scheduled daily flights to Kihihi and Kisoro with both morning and afternoon departures and the flight time is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Many lodges provide pickups and drop-offs at each of the airstrips at an additional cost and those transfers are usually 45 minutes to 1 and half hours depending on the lodge.
On the other hand, Volcanoes national park is located only 120 kilometers from Kigali International airport making it 3 hours drive to the park. This short distance to the park makes it possible for same day Gorilla trekking in Rwanda unlike Bwindi and this had put Rwanda at a favourable position until recently when they doubled the Gorilla permit price!
However, Bwindi impenetrable national park is actually closer to Kigali than Entebbe airport! So, with the increase in Rwanda’s gorilla permit price, many clients have been able to visit Bwindi from Kigali which is a 4 hours drive but same day gorilla trekking price in Bwindi from Kigali is not advisable because of border crossing which may not make it possible.
The cost: Bwindi Gorilla Permit Vs Volcanoes Gorilla Permit
Each gorilla permit is issued for a particular date and allows you access to one gorilla family for up to maximum 1 hour with the gorillas. This is the same whether visiting gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi forest or Volcanoes national park in Rwanda. A gorilla permit in Uganda costs $600 and $1,500 in Rwanda.
Additionally, Uganda has been offering low season discounted gorilla permits at $450 each but that will end this November 2017 but other discounts still stand; Foreign residents will still acquire the permit at $500 and East Africans at 250,000 shillings which is not the case for Rwanda where everyone including Rwandese have to pay $1,500 to be able to see gorillas in volcanoes national park.
These are all mountain gorillas, tracking is the same and the time spent with the gorillas is the same – 1 hour. Rwanda has however perfected its game at promoting gorilla tourism as it is the face of Rwanda’s tourism at times claiming that gorilla trekking there is better than that in Uganda or Congo.
The People & Other attractions / Diversity
The people in both destinations are wonderful – welcoming and hospitable but it has been on record that Ugandans are Africa’s friendliest people and nothing will prove this fact like a visit to Bwindi where the locals will greet you with wide smiles and the kids waving at you all the time chatting “muzungu” – literary meaning white person and happy to pose for your lens freely unlike in Rwanda where people will look the other way.
In terms of other attraction, it is easier combining a visit to Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth national park safari than it is to combine volcanoes to Akagera or Nyungwe. Uganda has 10 national parks with lots to explore compared to Rwanda’s 3 parks.
Gorilla habituation Chimpanzee and Golden monkey habituation can all be experienced in Uganda and that’s not possible in Rwanda.
All in all, Gorilla trekking is an excellent lifetime experience despite where you do it and it is for the plight of the Gorillas. The money you pay for the permit goes into conservation of these highly endangered wonderful creatures that are closely related to us. You have the info, make your choice.