Mountain gorillas are very rare primates on planet earth with less than 900 individual gorillas left in the wild, found only in the Virunga volcano conservation area of 3 countries Uganda, Rwanda and the democratic republic of Congo.
Gorilla trekking ultimately takes place in Uganda and Rwanda much more than it can be done in the democratic republic of Congo. This is because DR Congo has been considered by many travelers as an unsafe destination to travel to. Consequently most people when planning their trips to trek gorillas, will most likely decide to first compare between Rwanda and Uganda.
For the most part, the well-liked places to see mountain gorillas are Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi impenetrable forests and Mgahinga national park in south western Uganda. The gorilla trekking process is almost comparable in these national parks. Some of the mountain gorilla groups have been habituated and familiarized with people that enable human interactions during visits deep in the forest to see those endangered primates. Gorillas have not been changed or altered in their natural behavior but rather trained. Guides and trackers lead a small group of only 8 people into the forests searching for gorillas. Once the gorillas have been found you can only spend 1 hour there each single day. While you are never guaranteed to see gorillas, experienced guides have mastered how to search for them in the wild and your chances are likely that you might see them.
Gorilla trekking is highly restricted in order not to change the natural behaviors of gorillas and eventually the primary purpose for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is to promote their conservation and protect their pristine habitats all aimed at increasing gorilla populations in the wild. Recently Rwanda's annual gorilla naming ceremony was introduced to intensify mountain gorilla conservation and attract many visitors to the destination.
While you are still looking for the answer to which destination is the best to trek gorillas in Africa, you are not far from getting what you want and no matter how much information you receive regarding the best place, the choice is ultimately yours to decide whether to trek gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda. Information provided below will highlight the major differences and similarities so you can decide what suits you regarding Rwanda and Uganda.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda
The park is home to about 300 which are part of the larger Virunga conservation area and there are 10 groups of gorillas that have been habituated for trekking which can be found within the park boundaries most of the time. The park boosts the largest number of habituated gorilla groups in the whole world. Remember that gorillas may not pay attention to borders and may cross over though not likely in case of volcanoes. The park covers an area of about 160 sq km of intertwined rain and bamboo forests ranging at an altitude from 2,400 to 4,500 meters above sea level. The main activity in the park is gorilla trekking and the experience is well established with experienced guides positioned to fulfill your expectations of trekking gorillas.
In terms of accessibility, volcanoes national park is very close to Kigali International Airport and travelers can only take 2 and ½ hours making it quick and faster on tarmac roads. Many travelers prefer this short time and distance to the trekking site which make Rwanda come up first for time bound travelers.
Terrain and Scenery in Rwanda
Regarding scenic terrain and landscapes, Rwanda has a different terrain renowned as a land of a thousand hills by most, the terrain is quite open though forested and mountainous and with large tracts of bamboo forests, therefore, a gorilla safari in Volcanoes Rwanda is not difficult. The forest offers a good opportunity to easily see and photograph gorillas clearly because the vegetation is not thick. However it’s never easy to hike through the forests and one needs to be a bit physically fit.
The route from Kigali to Volcanoes is not that scenic and stunning therefore travelers seeking an insight into the distinctive rural African setting may not get enough of it except those interested in gorilla trekking alone. Travelers who want to trek gorillas and encounter a variety of other wildlife such as the popular African safari Big - five mammals will have to opt for Uganda.
In terms of altitude, Volcanoes National Park is at a higher level with up to 4,500 meters above sea level and visitors looking for higher altitudes Rwanda is the place to enjoy far reaching stunning views of the whole Virunga region from one stand point.
Permits and Ease of Use
In Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, gorilla trekking permits are expensive at a cost of 750 US dollars each permit per person. These are inclusive of park entry fees which can be purchased indirectly or directly with the official body issuing permits for Rwanda Development Board in person.There are local travel agents and tour operators who sell permits. Travelers are advised to book their permits in advance before the actual trekking day. For fly in visitors, permits can be processed after arriving at Kigali International Airport.
Weather Conditions in Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is located in the heart of the equatorial rain forests of the Virunga massifs hence weather conditions are expected to be wet and humid most of the times with frequent rains even during the dry seasons. This also applies to Uganda because both countries experience tropical weather but most importantly in Rwanda trekkers should target the dry season which is more favorable to trek gorillas. The dry season starts normally starts from December to February which is the best for you to trek gorillas and enjoy sunny and hot weather. Mid March, May and October is mostly wet and rainy.
Mountain Gorillas and Other Activities to Enjoy
Most travelers who go for gorilla trekking also show interest in exploring and comparing the biodiversity in both Rwanda and Uganda. For one to get a diverse safari trip, Uganda is the best place because of what can be done besides trekking mountain gorillas. Uganda has various protected areas en route to the gorillas where one can stop and take part in lots of activities and encounter other wildlife. In Rwanda travelers will enjoy a simple and smooth trek and it is possible to trek gorillas in one day therefore best suited for those specifically looking for gorillas and other primates only.