mountain gorilla in Uganda

All you need to know about gorilla trekking tours

Feb 8, 2024
Reading time: 19 minutes

So, we're guessing that you've heard about gorilla trekking and are keen to do it yourself? But you want to know more detail, like where you do it, how much it costs, and what to expect? If so, you're in the right place! We answer these questions and more.

What is gorilla trekking?

A gorilla trek sees you go on a guided group hike up into the rainforest of Central or East Africa to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Your group is allowed to spend an hour in the company of the visited troop before you must turn around and hike back down out of the forest.

Since mountain gorillas don’t live anywhere in the world outside of these rainforests, gorilla trekking is the only way for humans to find and observe these special and rare primates. 

Gorilla trek guide wooden walkway

Our clients Amber and Scott took this snap of their gorilla trek guide

Gorilla trekking has become a very popular trip with conservationists, nature- and animal- lovers, eco-tourists, and adventure travellers.

Fortunately, mountain gorillas aren’t aggressive animals, unless provoked. That means we as humans can come in relatively close contact with them on a gorilla trek. In fact, you can usually stand within a few metres of a gorilla troop.

It’s an incredibly special experience that seems to leave a lasting impression on everyone who does it.

A grown mountain gorilla scratching its shoulder

Gorilla trekking lets you spend an hour with an habituated troop

Trekkers visit habituated mountain gorillas

The mountain gorillas that you trek to see are those that have become habituated to the presence of humans. The process of gorilla habituation takes about two to three years.

Even though the gorillas you visit have become used to the presence of humans, there are still strict rules in place to protect them as well as their lifestyle and habitat. As there should be.

For starters, only one group of eight people is allowed to visit each gorilla troop per day. And each visit lasts only an hour. Other rules, as discussed in 20 things to know about mountain gorilla trekking, include not making loud noises and sudden movements. Common sense sort of stuff, really. 

People hiking through dense forest vegetation along a trail on a gorilla trekking tour

You trek through dense rainforest to see a gorilla troop

The finer points, like which hand signals might be problematic in front of a gorilla, are shared with you during your pre-trek briefing.

Where can I go gorilla trekking?

Mountain gorillas live in the montane (mountain) forests of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. Most folks don't want to go to the DRC, so Rwanda and Uganda dominate the gorilla trekking industry.

There are three parks where you can go gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda:


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Gorilla trekking Rwanda vs Uganda

Both Rwanda and Uganda have their pros and cons when it comes to gorilla trekking.

The factors that favour gorilla trekking in Uganda are:

  • It's easier to get a gorilla trekking permit.
  • The permit costs about half what it costs in Rwanda.
  • You have the option of spending more time in the gorillas' company.
  • The country is bigger and so offers more to do after your gorilla trek.
Coarse Chameleon - Trioceros rudis, beautiful colored lizard from African forests, Mgahinga, Uganda.

A coarse chameleon (Trioceros rudis) spotted in Mgahinga forest

The factors that favour gorilla trekking in Rwanda are:

  • There are more high-end accommodation options.
  • Rwanda is, generally speaking, the stabler and safer country
  • You don't have to travel far after flying in to reach the gorillas.

We discuss these differences in detail in Gorilla trekking in Rwanda vs Uganda.

How much does a gorilla trekking permit cost?

Currently a one-hour gorilla trekking permit costs US$700 in Uganda, and US$1,500 in Rwanda. The price in Uganda is, however, going up to US$800 on 1 July 2024.

A four-hour gorilla habituation experience (which can only be done at Bwindi Forest in Uganda) costs US$1,500. (We tell you more about this option in a moment.)

Two infant gorillas playing in the trees in Uganda

Two infants playing in the trees in Bwindi as snapped by our clients the Walshes

Protecting the mountain gorillas and their forest habitat requires hefty resources, hence gorilla trekking permits are really expensive.

Is gorilla trekking safe?

Yes, gorilla trekking is safe. The countries are reasonably safe to visit, the trek itself is safe, and mountain gorillas (especially those habituated to people) aren't dangerous.

We provide a few more details on each point below to further calm any possible fears or concerns ...

Uganda and Rwanda are safe countries for visitors

Both Rwanda and Uganda are pretty stable countries with thriving tourism industries.

Furthermore, park rangers and tourism police are on duty every day at all of the mountain gorilla parks to ensure the safety of both visitors and the mountain gorillas.

Happy children in Uganda

Ugandans are renowned for being incredibly welcoming and warm with foreigners

The trek itself is safe

Aside from the usual dangers accompanying any hike into nature and the mountains, the trek is safe. Just be sure to pack the appropriate clothing and equipment for gorilla trekking, which includes rain gear, sturdy hiking boots and insect repellent. Your biggest danger is probably muddying your knees if you take a tumble on a slick bit of path.

There's no chance of getting lost, as all gorilla treks are led by experienced guides.

You usually bushwhack a little near the end to reach the gorillas – they don’t sit themselves at the terminus of a trail like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. 

Mountain gorillas are gentle giants

Mountain gorillas are gentle creatures, so gorilla trekking is quite safe in that respect too. (Also, there are no large predatory animals living in the forests.) 

Furthermore, as discussed, the troops that trekkers visit have been trained over the passage of years to be used to the presence of humans.

Mother and infant mountain gorillas

Mountain gorillas aren't aggressive unless provoked

Given the gorillas' gentle nature and habituated status, your trek guide is able to bring you within a few metres of the assigned troop. Once there, you can safely stand or sit in place for an hour to observe them as they play, groom themselves, and more. 

What to look for in a tour operator

Most people who want to see mountain gorillas travel with a gorilla trekking tour operator. There are a few reasons for this, such as:

  • A gorilla trek is often part of a broader East Africa trip, and tour operators can organise everything, meaning less admin for you.
  • The gorilla parks encourage visitors to book their permits through a registered tour operator.
  • A tour operator can usually offer safer and more cost-effective ground transport.

You naturally want to select a good tour operator – nobody wants to book a mountain gorilla trek with a company that will in any way fudge this special trip!

How to find a good tour operator

There are many tour operators out there; some offer a great service, while others ... not so much.

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Here are a few ways to ensure you’re dealing with a professional and reliable company that also has experience organising gorilla treks:

  • Browse the company's website to check that:
    • Everything is solid and consistent.
    • There's a physical address and phone number in the contact info.
    • There's a gorilla trekking section offering plenty of detail.
  • Compare a company's gorilla trekking prices with those of competitors, being sure to study what's included in the price (but remember that the gorilla trekking permit price is much more in Rwanda).
  • Search for independent reviews of the operator's services and gorilla treks (remember that those on their website could, possibly, be made up).
  • Check out the company's social media platforms, and read the comments.
  • Ask the company some questions about gorilla trekking or their tours and see if the responses are professional and provide sufficient detail. Don’t ignore your gut if it says something is off.
The Walshes gorilla close-up Bwindi Uganda

Another incredible pic shared with us by the Walshes – this time of a chimp

Note that a well-organised gorilla trek requires advanced planning and knowledge of the mountain gorilla trekking system.

A good tour operator knows, for instance, which gate of Bwindi NP to take you to based on your permit. Bwindi is really big – 331 km2 (128 sq mi) to be precise – and arriving at the wrong gate will likely mean that you miss your gorilla trek!

Map showing the different entrance gates of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Map showing the different entrance gates and sections of Bwindi

You want to choose a tour operator that thinks of everything for you, like reminding you to bring your passport on the day to ensure you're allowed into the park. 

What else is in the gorilla trekking package?

Most companies offering gorilla trekking do so as part of packages that take in other sights in Rwanda or Uganda. Both countries offer excellent safari opportunities, among other things, so why not do some game-spotting while you’re in that neck of the woods? 

Pride of lions lying on the grass

Both Rwanda and Uganda offer excellent safaris

Also, note that you can do a beautiful forest hike to find endangered golden monkeys in both Rwanda and Uganda. These rare primates live in the same forests as the mountain gorillas in Mgahinga NP in Uganda and Volcanoes NP in Rwanda. So if you're interested in one unique primate encounter, we feel it's a safe bet that you might also be interested in another!

While our standard Uganda gorilla trekking trips suggest going to Bwindi, we can easily take you to Mgahinga instead if you'd like to pair your gorilla trek with a golden monkey trek. Please just note that these two adventures must be done on different days, as both are half-day experiences that take place in the morning.

Mother and baby golden monkeys portrait

Golden monkeys live in the same forest ecosystem as mountain gorillas

Find a company with feet on the ground

You also want to choose a tour operator with feet on the ground rather than one that outsources your gorilla trekking trip to a third party, since middle men won't usually stand in the gap if something goes wrong.

Rather, you want someone who is there with you at all times, looking after your safety, ensuring the smooth running of your trip, and just generally serving as your touchpoint throughout your adventure. 

At Follow Alice, there's no outsourcing. We sell you a trip, prepare you for it before you travel, are physically there with you during your trip, and then follow up with you after your trip.

Brad Rebecca and Peter Dian Fossey Rwanda

Our clients Brad and Rebecca at the Dian Fossey gravesite with their guide Peter

At Follow Alice we have knowledgeable local leaders who ensure you are where you need to be, with the equipment you need, the morning of the gorilla trek. They also look after your safety throughout the rest of your trip, answer your questions, troubleshoot any issues that may arise, and just generally look after you.

The goal of our tour guides is always to ensure you have a fantastic and utterly memorable time in Uganda or Rwanda! 

How tough is the trek?

Each trek varies depending on the park you visit and the gorilla troop you're assigned. And since the troops can move around freely, there's no way of saying exactly how far or long each day's trek will be. That said, the different troops have their usual territories and so the park rangers have a rough idea of how long it will take to reach each one.

This being the case, if you go gorilla trekking in Bwindi NP in Uganda, which is by far the biggest mountain gorilla park and has several habituated gorilla troops, you can request a longer or shorter hike. The park will then try to assign you to one of the troops that best suits your request.

A mother mountain gorilla with her infant in Bwindi forest, Uganda

A mother with her infant in Bwindi

So please be clear-eyed with yourself about your fitness level.

The longer hikes can take a few hours each way and be quite arduous if you're unused to walking in the mountains. The shorter hikes might be just 30 minutes each way. If you’re fit and want to see as much of the forest as possible, it’s important to go on a longer trek.

If you travel with a tour operator, they'll ask after your preference before making a booking on your behalf. But do note that given the popularity of gorilla trekking permits, a late booking might mean not getting your preferred trek length.


At Bwindi NP you can request a longer or shorter gorilla trek

All of this said, even the shortest gorilla treks aren't a Sunday stroll. There are likely to be some steep climbs, the ground can be muddy and rocky, stinging nettles will try to leave their mark on you, and insects will search out bare flesh. The high altitude and humidity might also be a challenge for some.

And on that point of altitude ... occasionally some trekkers experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness in Mgahinga Gorilla NP and Volcanoes NP, as the forests of these parks reach above 3,000 m above sea level. If you're visiting one of these parks for your gorilla trek, we suggest going on a golden monkey trek the day before to help your body acclimatise to the high altitude. 

Hire a porter

For some, a porter might be a good idea. A porter will carry your backpack for you, and even help you to navigate any sections of the walk that feel too tricky on your own.

Please consider tipping your porter if you're happy with the service, as tipping is customary in this part of the world.

Bring your camera

And speaking of cameras, be sure to bring yours along. But note that you’ll have to keep the flash turned off so as to not disturb the gorillas. It can get quite gloomy at times in the forest, but you’ll have to make do with the natural light.

You might consider bringing along a tripod to allow for longer exposures. 

All that said, remember to not spend your entire hour behind a lens. Try to be present in the moment, breathing in the forest scents, listening to the sounds of nature, and watching the intricacies of the gorillas' social interactions.

Why not take a few photos and then put your camera away so that you can sit and silently observe. Or if you’re going in a group, perhaps assign one person to be team photographer? The folks here are all capturing the same image, after all ...

Gorilla trekkers leaning back to take photos of something in a tree

You'll spot plenty of other wildlife on your gorilla trek as well

If these mindfulness tips resonated with you, you might enjoy reading Mindful travel: 14 ways to have a more meaningful trip.

Is gorilla trekking worth it?

Speak to anyone who's visited mountain gorillas and they’ll tell you the same thing: gorilla trekking is 100% worth it! The time, the money, the effort – nobody regrets investing in a gorilla trek.

We've never met anyone who was anything less than thrilled with their gorilla trekking experience!

On a gorilla trek you encounter a species of ape that shares 98% of our human DNA. These similarities make for an extraordinary meeting.

It’s fascinating, for example, to watch the young gorillas at ‘play’, which includes activities like climbing trees, swinging from branches, and chasing one another.

A seated mountain gorilla among the leaves

Spending time with these fascinating primates is a true privilege

For a whole hour on your trek you're able to quietly observe these mighty animals as they engage with each other, munch on leaves and roots, groom themselves, suckle their infants, and observe you.

In fact, you’re close enough to look into the gorillas’ eyes, and many visitors come away with an increased sense of connection to the animal world and nature in general.



A few facts about mountain gorillas 

You might be interested to know that:

  • The scientific name for the mountain gorilla is gorilla beringei beringei.
  • Mountain gorillas live in high mountain forests. 
  • They’re a species distinct from other gorillas like the lowland gorilla. 
  • Mountain gorillas are social creatures, and live in family groups known as troops or bands. 
  • Mountain gorilla babies are called infants, and they ride on their mother’s backs for two to three years.
  • Older adult males are called silverbacks because around age 12 they develop silver fur on their backs and hips.
  • The average mountain gorilla lives for 35 years in the wild.
  • When fully grown, a mountain gorilla stands about four to six feet tall.
  • Mountain gorillas are vegetarians, eating shoots, bark, roots, fruit, wild celery and pulp. 
A mountain gorilla troop lying down

Gorillas live in family units called troops

Mountain gorillas are endangered 

Unfortunately mountain gorillas are an endangered species, mostly thanks to humans. The plight of mountain gorillas was brought to international attention by Dian Fossey through her 1983 book Gorillas in the Mist. You’ve probably seen the movie adaptation starring Sigourney Weaver.

Mountain gorillas live in the Virunga Massif, a volcanic mountain range that runs along the border region of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda. A recent census put the Virunga mountain gorilla population at around a thousand individuals.

A gorilla walking through the forest

When you go on a gorilla trek your permit fee helps to protect these incredible creatures

There are no known mountain gorillas in captivity. This means you can only see mountain gorillas by flying to Africa and visiting them in their natural habitat. What a great excuse for an African adventure!

You hike through pristine rainforest

Something else that makes gorilla trekking so special is having the opportunity to trek through highly remote and pristine rainforest. Both Volcanoes in Rwanda and Bwindi and Mgahinga in Uganda contain Afromontane forest, which is an ancient and extremely biodiverse ecosystem.

Sabyinyo hike in misty Virunga Mountains, Mgahinga Gorilla NP, Uganda

The Virunga Mountains are often shrouded in mist

In Bwindi Forest, for instance, you have more than a hundred fern species as well as about 140 tree species. These tree species include the Guinea plum, African alpine bamboo, and African mahogany.

If you’re interested in botany, your heart will start racing with delight the moment you step into the forest on your gorilla trek!

The Virunga Mountains are a truly breathtaking part of the world. Being so close to the Equator, its forests are humid; streams, waterfalls, rivulets and dripping leaves are all par for the course.

You can also look forward to a vibrant rainforest soundtrack accompanying your gorilla trek. There’ll be flitting and buzzing insects, frog croaks, bird calls and wing flaps, dripping water and splashing streams, monkey howls, and, of course, the closer you get to them, gorilla grunts!

A grey-cheeked mangabey in Bwindi Forest

If you're lucky you might also spot a grey-cheeked mangabey on your trek

Who should go gorilla trekking?

We believe gorilla trekking is a fantastic experience for just about anyone.

There are, however, a couple of exclusions: children under the age of 15, and those unable to engage in a short but potentially steep hike.

You have to be 15 years or older to go on a gorilla trek. 

For everyone else, gorilla trekking presents a wonderful opportunity for an eco-adventure. It's suitable for groups as well as solo travellers. It's even a great adventure honeymoon idea, in our opinion.

A group of Follow Alice Gorilla trekkers

A Follow Alice gorilla trek group

What's the best time for gorilla trekking?

You can go gorilla trekking at any time of the year, as mountain gorillas don’t migrate, hibernate or anything of that sort.

That said, gorilla trekking in the wet season is a very muddy and slippery experience, especially in Bwindi, so maybe don’t go then. But note that there's not really a dry season; Volcanoes in Rwanda and Mgahinga and Bwindi in Uganda experience rain and mist to some degree throughout the year.

The best times of year for gorilla trekking are the two dry seasons: mid December to early February, and June to September.

Mist over Bwindi Forest in Uganda

Don't wear anything fancy or special to you on a gorilla trek as it can get very muddy sometimes

When you go gorilla trekking, mud is a big likelihood. So leave your fancy shoes at home (as we discuss in What to pack for a gorilla trek). 

What's a gorilla habituation experience?

The Uganda Wildlife Authority currently offers visitors a full-day gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. More specifically, the habituation experience takes place in Rushaga, the southern sector of Bwindi.

The four-hour gorilla habituation experience is only offered in Uganda.

Habituation refers to the years-long process whereby a particular gorilla troop is made to grow accustomed to the presence of humans. During this time, park staff spend hours each day in the presence of the troop, observing and learning about them, helping them to grow accustomed to the presence of humans, and gradually readying them for visits from the public. 

Two young gorillas playing

A gorilla habituation experience is the ultimate gorilla trek

How much does a gorilla habituation experience cost?

As mentioned earlier, the permit for a gorilla habituation experience is US$1,500. 

Only eight visitors in total are allowed to take part in the habituation experience each day. There are always two gorilla troops in the process of being habituated, so that’s four visitors per troop. You therefore have to book well in advance to secure one of these few spots. 

Only two groups of four can take part in a gorilla habituation each day, so book well in advance to enjoy this amazing experience.

mountain gorilla in Uganda

It's amazing given their size and strength how docile mountain gorillas are

What can I expect of my gorilla habituation experience?

On the day of the trek, you’ll head out into the forest in the company of trek guides and trackers. The trackers will lead you through the forest to find one of the gorilla troops undergoing habituation.

Once you’ve found them, you spend four precious hours in their company. During this time you as a visitor both watch and engage in the habituation process. This could mean being asked by the guides to make certain noises, for instance.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest gorilla

A gorilla habituation experience lets you spend four hours with a gorilla troop

The gorilla habituation experience is a rare treat, and something you’ll no doubt be telling others about for the rest of your life!

Is chimpanzee trekking available nearby?

If you’re keen on seeing mountain gorillas in the wild, the chances are you’d also love to see chimpanzees in the wild.

Similar to gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking involves going on a small-group guided forest hike to find and spend time with a chimpanzee troop in the wild.

One of the best places in the world to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat is beautiful Kibale Forest National Park, which is an eight-hour drive north of Bwindi NP. Another of the best locations is Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda, which is a drive of 4.5 hours to the southwest of Volcanoes NP.


Humans and chimps share about 99% DNA!

One of the main differences between a chimpanzee trek and a gorilla trek is that chimps spend much of their lives in trees. So a chimpanzee trek has you looking up a lot more.

Fortunately, the best times of year for chimp trekking are the same as for gorilla trekking: November to February, and June to October.

Keen to book a gorilla trek?

At Follow Alice we offer a few different gorilla trekking Uganda trips as well as gorilla trekking Rwanda trips. Yet as with all of our itineraries, they're suggestions and can be tweaked to suit your preferences.

We’re also more than happy to organise a gorilla habituation experience in Uganda for anyone who’s keen to spend even more time with the gorillas.

 Chimpanzees seen from below while in tree canopy

Chimps spend much of their lives up in trees

If you’d like to chat about Uganda or Rwanda, mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, or anything else vaguely related, please feel free to drop us a line!

We’re regular folks like you with a thirst to explore our beautiful planet. Let’s sit down with a drink and chat online, or we can do some good old emailing. Whatever floats your boat. ⛵️