If you are thinking of taking a gorilla safari in Africa, you are looking to either visit Rwanda or Uganda. These are the two best places to go gorilla trekking given that they are safe, secure and have promoted gorilla tourism. After writing the comprehensive guide to gorilla trekking, many respondents wanted to get a relative comparison between gorilla trekking in Uganda vs Rwanda. Below are just some of the comparative things that you should know about planning a trek in both countries. After reading this comparison guide, the ball lies in your hands to choose which place to go to;
Uganda is located astride the Equator within Eastern Africa. The country can be easily visited with ease of attaining visa on arrival. You can easily travel to Uganda from Nairobi, Kigali or Tanzania via a commuter bus. It can also be accessed via air with several airlines flying to the Entebbe International Airport.
Rwanda is located in Central Africa though politically it is within the East Africa Community. It can easily be accessed by via by taking flights to Kigali International Airport. Rwanda requires application for visa before traveling to date and this can be done online at https://www.migration.gov.rw/index.php?id=245
Please note; you can travel both destinations on a single tourist visa.
Mountain Gorillas: Rwanda v. Uganda
Cost: Both countries charge different fees for the gorilla permits. Rwanda gorilla permits cost $1500 per person while Uganda charges $700 per person. A gorilla permit is required for every tourists looking to gorilla trekking and it permits for a full hour with the gorillas. The trips to the gorillas are taken in groups of 8 persons per group and are led by local tour guides. Therefore if you are looking to save on your next permit, you can save $800 in Uganda.
Duration of Packaged Trips: Rwanda provides the easiest access to gorilla trekking for travelers looking for shorter trips. Rwanda offers day trips and 2 Days gorilla treks for travelers with less time yet would like to see the endangered gorillas in the wild. This is due to that Ruhengeri the region where PNV lies is located just 2hours from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. For Uganda, the shortest trip is a 3 Day Gorilla Safari given its location from Kampala or Entebbe where most trips start. A gorilla safari in Uganda involves an 8-10 hour drive from the international airport in Entebbe, traveling to the remote South western Uganda, where Bwindi lies.
Trek Difficulty: There is no specific time for a gorilla tour in any of the parks. The walk in search of the mountain gorillas can take between 30 minutes – 12 hours of hiking to find them in the wild. Guided by tourists the hikes can vary quite a bit depending on the particular group visited, the terrain and the last known location where the mountain gorillas were last seen. Tough most people consider that treks in Rwanda are slightly easier while those in Uganda are slightly more strenuous given the different landscapes it is not a guarantee that the treks in Rwanda will be shorter than that in Uganda.
Better Gorillas: Many travelers ask about which gorillas are better, the truth is there is no difference. Today there are 12 habituated troops in Rwanda and 18 habituated gorilla groups in Uganda. Therefore there are 96 gorilla permits available everyday and 144 gorilla permits in Uganda. You can reserve the gorilla permits quickly though a tour operator or the booking office. The system of tracking the gorillas is nearly the same in both countries with a few slight difference. Upon reserving your gorilla permit in Uganda, your permit carries the gorilla group to be visited while in Rwanda, you have to wait till the D Day and the local rangers will assign you to the gorilla group you are to hike to.
The Gorilla Watching Experience
In general, the experience can only be different due to the way a particular gorilla family behaves in front of the trackers, how long and tough one has to track before reaching the gorillas and the way the park staff conduct the exercise. Personally, I found the Rwanda gorilla tracking package more charming than the Ugandan one on the tracking day. Should we say that this’ because of the gorilla permit price difference? Anyways, on your gorilla tracking day in Rwanda, you will definitely get more than that. At about 7:00 AM, tea/ coffee dispensers with cups are laid for visitors going for the trek. You are free to take as much as you wish. As visitors are enjoying the tea/ coffee, they are entertained by the lively traditional dance troupe (SACOLA Traditional Dancers) who bring on a wholesome Rwanda traditional cultural experience that all visitors enjoy. However, you can get this in Uganda in evenings (at a fee) from the various traditional cultural groups that are near the park.
Other Things to See
The drive from Kampala to Bwindi is a very fabulous one traversing at least another national park (either Kibale or Queen Elizabeth National Park famous for tree climbing lions and many other big mammals, or Lake Mburo National Park) and not to miss- the Equator. In a way, even before you arrive Bwindi you have had a bit of the ‘Pearl of Africa’ as is fondly known. To many, driving along paved eucalyptus avenues to the gorillas in not the best deal. Indeed many to purchase tour packages combining both Rwanda and Uganda, first doing Gorillas in Rwanda and then crossing to Uganda to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park for the BIG 5 safaris and chimpanzee tracking among other tours.
Let’s compare the tour costs of a Trip
Because of the long drive one endures from Kampala to Bwindi, the general cost is increased (even when you travel by public buses). It even increases more because you have to travel 2 days (to and from Bwindi). However, the increased cost is countered by the low cost gorilla permit of US$700 (at times permits are discounted for April, May and November). A low budget 3 days gorilla trek tour in Uganda goes for about $1350 (with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport). The two days Rwanda gorilla trek costs about $1970 ( with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport) and a three days Rwanda gorilla tracking tour costs is about $1280 (with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport) . Costs samples got from Gorilla expeditions website effective Jan 2014.
Lastly, if you are not travelling just to see the mountain gorilla, and you want to include other activities in your visit, Rwanda may not be the best choice. Many tourists have continually had to cross to Uganda after their Rwanda gorilla trek to tour other reserves like Queen Elizabeth National Parks so endowed with abundant wildlife one cannot see in Rwanda. This is why probably folks continue enduring the long drives to Bwindi yet there is an easy way out.
At the end of the day – the ultimate jury are those who are looking as to which country to visit in order to track Gorillas – it is not Rwanda, not Uganda, not the Democratic Republic of Congo but where their pockets and hearts choose. If you precisely want the mountain gorillas and nothing else, go for a one-day gorilla trek especially in Rwanda but if you are a one who wants it and all of it, go for the long drive in Uganda – you won’t regret.