Comparing Uganda or Rwanda for gorillas is a pretty simple task if you consider in detail all the information available on gorilla trekking in both the countries. Most travellers will want that comparison made so simple with only two factors, price of the gorilla permit ($1500 in Rwanda and $600 in Uganda) and ease of access to mountain gorillas (Rwanda very easy compared to Uganda).
Simple, right? Not so quick. Let me take you through through all the details of comparing Uganda or Rwanda for gorilla trekking safari so that you can come up with an informed decision.
A gorilla permit is like a license that is issued by the wildlife authority (Uganda Wildlife Authority – UWA and Rwanda Development Board – RDB) to any traveller that wants to visit a Habituated Mountain Gorilla group of family in their natural habitat.
Of course we have to start with comparing Uganda or Rwanda Gorilla permits – which without you’ll not be allowed to see those beautiful elusive creatures.
Uganda’s gorilla permits remain on a lower edge at $600 compared to Rwanda’s Gorilla permits at a whooping $1500 per person. Surprised? Don’t be because you’ll know why the difference as I continue this Uganda or Rwanda gorillas comparison.
Rwanda Development Board recently (June 2017) raised the gorilla permits from $750 to $1500 siting a move to develop it’s young tourism industry.
“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.” Said Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer at Rwanda Development Board during the announcement. “Tourists who visit other national parks (Nyungwe and Akagera) for a minimum of three days, in addition to gorilla trekking will receive a discount of 30%. Similarly, conference tourists, who stay pre or post conference dates to see gorillas will be eligible for a 15% discount.” Ms Kamanzi delared. Read more about that story.
Uganda is keeping it $600 for the Gorilla Permit Prices until at least December 31, 2019, this was recently confirmed by Uganda Wildlife Authority.
There you have it, Rwanda is more expensive for gorilla trekking than Uganda. If you consider only pricing of the gorilla permit to compare Uganda or Rwanda Gorillas, you have your choice made easy now. But you can read on for a comprehensive comparison here.
Rwanda is a much smaller country than Uganda, so lends itself better to a short trip in combination with a safari or beach stay elsewhere in East Africa.
The Volcanoes National Park is only two hours’ drive on tarmac road from Kigali and the international airport. For one visit to the gorillas, you will need a minimum of one night’s stay just outside Volcanoes National Park, and three nights would be ideal.
Because Rwanda has more less the number of habituated mountain gorilla groups (10 gorilla groups) than Uganda (14 mountain groups) and so permits are generally more harder to access in Rwanda than Uganda.
There are currently ten main groups that can be tracked in Rwanda; the Susa, Sabinyo, Bwenge, Amahoro, Umubano, Hirwa, Kwitonda, Karisimbi, Ugenda and Group Thirteen.
The groups vary in number from around 9 to 39 individuals and all currently have at least one silverback male. Of the seven groups, there are a couple that tend to be found on the saddle between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga which is around a two hour walk from the park entrance.
Whilst it is not possible to book a permit for a specific group, your chances of having a shorter walk are higher than in Uganda. Nothing is guaranteed though and you may find yourself tracking a group such as the Susa, first studied by Diane Fossey and often found on the slopes of Mount Visoke, a five hour hike away.
Uganda is a larger country to explore than Rwanda in comparison, and it takes almost 9 hours of driving from Entebbe International Airport to reach the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the mountain gorillas are found, broken up with an overnight stay halfway at Lake Mburo if you’re doing a safari in the safari park.
But the drive to Bwindi is not all that draining as it sounds. Uganda has one of the most beuatiful countryside and great roads leading to Bwindi and many travellers enjoy this ride round the hills and valleys so much, especially Uganda Safari travellers. But you can take a local flight from Entebbe Airport to Kihihi airstrip for about $500 and then drive from for 2 hours to Bwindi.
Uganda or Rwanda gorilla groups? Uganda has habituated a total of 14 gorilla groups which gives Uganda an upper hand in availability of gorillas and gorilla permits on any given day.
Of these 14 groups in Uganda, 13 are within different locations in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and 01 in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. A maximum of 8 persons can visit each of the 14 gorilla groups per day spending a maximum one hour each visit.
The Bwindi gorilla groups are organized according to the location; Buhoma area currently having 3 groups, Ruhija area currently having 3 groups, Nkuringo area group having 2 Gorilla groups (One group for habituation experience only) and Rushaga area having 5 groups (One group for habituation experience only). The two groups under Gorilla Habituation Experience have a special arrangement where one can visit these groups for habituation experience spending a maximum four hours in each visit. There is only one gorilla group available for tourism in Mgahinga gorilla National Park.
The terrain in Bwindi means that you sometimes start your trek at the top of the hills, descend on foot into the valley to see the gorillas, and then climb up the slopes at the end of the day, which can be more arduous.
In short, Uganda tends to be a harder option than Rwanda for those that don’t have the energy to trek but concisely you have a better chance of seeing the gorillas in Uganda than in Rwanda.
In short comparing Uganda or Rwanda gorillas: it’s closer, and easier to get to Bwindi, Uganda, by flying in and out of Kigali, Rwanda. Kigali is closer than flying into Kampala/Entebbe and the scenery is fantastic along the way. From Kigali to Volcanos National Park, it’s about a 3 hour drive (depending on how often you stop for photos). Then from Volcanoes (Rwanda) to Bwindi lodges (Uganda), it’s about a 6 hour drive of non-stop photo opportunities and exceptionally beautiful scenery. From Bwindi lodges by road back to Kigali, it’s about 7 ½ hours depending on how often stops are made for photos. The drive time should not be a deterrent; rather it should be considered an added benefit to be able to see more of the beautiful country.
Gorillas are the main tourism attraction for this tiny landlocked country and the Rwanda Development Board has done a terrific job promoting the Mountain Gorillas. Journalists from around the world have been invited and show around the Land of a Thousand Hills to point their content to Rwanda and it’s been so effective.
Rwanda is clean, Kigali has been ranked top destination city in the World and the government has invested heavily in security and infrastructure. So it would make sense to make Rwanda your first choice for the gorilla trekking safari.
Uganda that has a little more than half of the other gorillas has not fared well with the media. There’s alot of misconception about security, politics and the gay community. Much is being written that does not reflect well with Uganda and what actually it is. But I would recommend you ignore most of that propaganda.
Uganda is politically stable, Ugandan people are so welcoming, you’ll love it when they call you Muzungu and want to help you with anything. The gay people are very safe in Uganda because no one even notices their presences. (Note: the controversial anti-gay law was squashed by the Ugandan Courts).
Uganda has not done as well as Rwanda when it comes to PR and promoting its Mountain Gorillas. The movies “Raid on Entebbe” and it’s latest Hollywood remake “7 Days in Entebbe“– “The Last King of Scotland” about Idi Amin do not at all promote Uganda as a destination as does “Gorillas in the Mist” for Rwanda and a follow up on the life of Dian Fossey.
The Math for Rwanda or Uganda Gorillas:
So which one will it be? Uganda or Rwanda Gorillas, the choice is yours and we’ll be right hear if you need any help on making that decision.