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Where to Go Gorilla Trekking – Uganda or Rwanda?

A trek to view the critically endangered mountain gorillas in the wild is incomparably the rarest experience that comes once in a life time. Whereas gorilla trekking has become the world’s most sought after and repaying adventures to trekkers on safaris to Africa, there is ongoing debate about where to go to trek these charismatic wild creatures. Most travelers have found it challenging to choose between gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda and hence questions such as which is the best destination to go for a gorilla trek Uganda or Rwanda? Which is more viable or cheaper-Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Volcanoes National Park, which is easier to access? Is trekking gorilla in Uganda better than Rwanda? The Great apes are inhabited in only three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), however due to the insecurities in DR Congo, gorilla trekking has not been as vibrant as that in Uganda and Rwanda. With not more than 900 individuals that are still thriving in the world, about 480 of the gorillas live in Uganda while the rest are shared between Rwanda and DR Congo. Visitors who have tracked mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda have had varied views some of which are not realistic but all in all it is what they experienced.

We would like to compare between gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda and ascertain which is one better than the other. There are numerous factors that we want to use to make comparisons between the two destinations as explained below;

Accessibility to Uganda and Rwanda

Gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda are only conducted in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the Southwestern part of the country. For trekkers to access these destinations means they have spend nearly 9-10 hours drive from Kampala city while trekkers to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda can send about two and half hours driving from Kigali International Park which puts Rwanda at a higher comparative advantage. However, while traveling to Bwindi or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, visitors have higher chances of getting pre-trekking experiences along the way. Visitors can make a stop at the Equator at Lake Mburo or Queen Elizabeth National Park. At Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, visitors have opportunity to sight at the rare tree climbing Lions at Ishasha sector as well as the general scenic beauty of the area which isn’t a case with Rwanda.

Gorilla trekking permits

To trek mountain gorillas in any of the ten habituated groups, the cost of permits is $1500 per person and it applies to all categories of visitors whereas in Uganda gorilla permits are obtainable at $600 per person for foreign non residents, $500 for foreign residents and shs.250000 for East African residents and this is relatively cheaper compared to Rwanda. Besides, during the low season Uganda Wildlife Authority issues discounted permits at $450 for foreign non residents, $400 for foreign residents and shs.150000 for East African residents and this applies in the months of April, May and November. We realize that Rwanda’s main challenge leis in the cost of gorilla permits.

Gorilla trekking experience in Uganda and Rwanda

 

Uganda offers visitors two options to track the critically endangered mountain gorillas which means that trekkers will visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where over 400 gorillas live representing about half of the Great apes in the world. Therefore there are about 11 habituated gorilla groups that have been set for tourism purposes in Bwindi and as well, there is Gorilla Habituation Experience for trekkers to par take in Bwindi making it the most exceptional protected area in the world. The other option is Mgahinga Gorilla National Park which inhabits about 80 of individuals featuring one habituated family for visitors to realize their dreams. In total, Uganda has 12 gorilla groups set for tourism, meaning a large number of trekkers are not left out choice to realize their dreams. Besides, Uganda has four trailheads where trekking takes place especially in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and they include Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo sector. In Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is the only place where gorilla trekking is conducted and features ten habituated groups.

 

However, in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, the gorilla families may be found in distant areas from the park headquarters and involves hiking through he thick vegetation and hilly sides which also comes with challenging adventures but for visitors who can not manage carrying their luggage, there porters to be hired to help relieve you from the heavy luggage. The thick vegetation in Bwindi some times makes it a challenging for trekkers to take pictures of these intelligent Apes in the wild. Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park live within the altitude 2500 meters and beyond offering visitors a higher opportunity to encounter these rare primates and also to take photographs.

The people around the parks

Regardless of the long distances to arrive at gorilla habitat, Uganda is incomparably a cultural melting pot featuring over 60 indigenous languages belonging to 5 varied linguistic groups, and an equally diverse cultural mosaic of music, art and handcraft. Visitors who are planning for their gorilla safaris to Uganda therefore have opportunity to encounter the unique Batwa pygmies as well as the Bakiga around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The Batwa culture is remarkable on its kind and it is undoubtedly Uganda’s main cultural attraction when you visit the Batwa community. After gorilla adventures in Bwindi or Mgahinga National Park, tourists can also participate in distinct activities such as the Batwa trail, traditional dances, music performances, community walks, forest walks. The sweetest moments of the Batwa trail is when you are caught up in the pitch dark cave, then sweet voices in harmony sizzle from nowhere before the torches are switched welcome you.  The theater stage has cast of children and women dressed on leaves strangulate their vocal chords in praise of the gods, the beautiful girls or past on ancestor. It is in deed authentic African experience not to be missed while on gorilla trekking safari in Uganda. Whereas in Rwanda, it may be hard for you to encounter such exceptional cultural experiences like it is a case in Uganda.

In Conclusion, Uganda and Rwanda East Africa’s ultimate mountain gorilla destinations offering the most thrilling experience of a life time. You can visit both Uganda and Rwanda to find out the differences in this life time experiences. However, gorilla trekking in both countries is remarkable on their own as trekkers get varied satisfaction levels of encounters as well as value for their money. You can either travel from Uganda to Rwanda or Rwanda to Uganda.

Rwanda Doubles the Price of Gorilla Permits

Rwanda has doubled the price of gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park starting from May 6th 2017. According to the Press Release from the Rwanda Development Board, the prices of a gorilla permit have been increased from USD750 to USD1500 per person, per trek. This change became effective “with immediate effect” as per the RDB announcement.

There has also been introduction of new packages for tourists interested in gorilla watching in the Volcanoes National Park. A new exclusive package for tourists who wish to book an entire family of gorillas was introduced at US$ 15,000! Tourists who opt out for this package will receive exclusive personalized tour guide services as per the RDB Website.

Discounted Gorilla Permits

Tourists who discover the other national parks in Rwanda will also receive a discount of 30% off the new price of gorilla permits. To qualify for this, tourists should have visited Akagera National Park or Nyungwe Forest National Park for a minimum of three days.

In addition to that conference tourists, who stay pre or post conference dates to see gorillas will be eligible for a 15% discount.

Why an Increament in Gorilla Trekking Prices?

Ms. Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer at Rwanda Development Board said: “Gorilla trekking is a highly unique experience. We have raised the price of permits in order to ensure sustainability of conservation initiatives and enhance visitors’ experience. We also want to make sure that the communities living near the park area receive a bigger share of tourism revenues to fund development projects and empower them economically.”

 

Contribution of Tourism to Rwanda’s Economy

Tourism is one of the major economic sectors in Rwanda. Major tourist attraction in Rwanda includes Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Golden monkeys, Virunga Mountains, Lake Kivu and the tropical forest of Nyungwe.

Other tourist attractions include, Genocide memorial museum, National museums, Twin lakes, birds, bamboo forest among others.

Rwanda has three major national parks like Volcanoes national park, Nyungwe forest national park and Akagera national park.

Tourism in Rwanda generates foreign exchange- Rwanda government gets foreign exchange through selling Gorilla permits, Chimpanzee permits, and Golden monkey permits among others.

Rwanda tourism has led to creation of jobs to people. Some people are working in the parks as ranger guide, Tour guides, drivers, Security guard, others are working in Hotels and Lodges like Virunga Lodge, Sabyinyo Silver back lodge, Mountain gorilla View Lodge, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Kinigi Guest House, Muhabura Hotel among others.

Tourism has widens government tax base- the government taxes Hotel, Lodges, National parks, cultural centres like Iby’iwacu, National Museums among others. More so, safari vehicles pay for permits, park entry fees among others.

Tourism has supplemented other economic activities like Agriculture, mining, lumbering, Agro forestry and so on.

Rwanda Tourism has facilitated the development of social infrastructures like roads, health centers, and schools among others. Such are developed from the profits obtained from tourism.

Tourism has facilitated the reservation of wildlife. Wild animals and plants are reserved after the realization of their importance.

It has facilitated people earning – some people earn a living from tourism especially those employed in the sector.  Rangers, guides, guards and so on depend on tourism sector.

Tourism in Rwanda has facilitated research- some tourists come for field study. Experts are also employed to find ways of protecting wildlife.

It has created market to the products produced in Rwanda.  Tourists buy crafts, food, drinks among others.

It has led to the growth and development of Agricultural sector since all tourists eat while on their trips.

Tourism sector has made Rwanda famous worldwide. In other words, it as marketed Rwanda internationally- this is because of the large number of tourists who visit Rwanda for Gorilla trekking.

Creation of friendship – some people in Rwanda have befriended tourist while on their safaris. As tourists visit local community, the people get a chance to interact with the tourists and in the process, friendship is created.

Tourism has promoted education- students on field work are allowed to enter the park for studies.

Tourism sector has promoted culture – some museums are set up to keep the traditional equipment, hunting equipment among others.

Tourism has led to the development of once remote areas.  Areas of Nyungwe, Akagera and Musanze have developed because of tourist destination in those ends.