There are a multitude of questions that need to be thoroughly stripped bare as far as gorilla trekking is concerned. Under normal circumstances, gorilla trekking go on differing from country to country and experience differs as well. Some of the rampant questions under the spot light here include; which is the best place to do a gorilla trek Uganda or Rwanda? Which is more viable and cheaper: Bwindi or Volcanoes national park? Is tracking Rwanda better than Uganda? So such questions are some of the many that we are going to digest under this article.
Gorilla trekking or tracking whatever you may call it is one of those thrilling moments that one should always vie to do before one dies. The excitement that comes with setting the eyes on a wild mountain gorilla is really enticing. Yet in the same intellect, that magical one hour spent with the gorillas does not come cheaply considering that a permit goes for US$1500 in Rwanda and $700 in Uganda – but it is unusual to find someone who regretted the financial outlay due to the fact that the experience is far reaching than the amount paid for the permit.
Only 8 persons can visit a given gorilla family per day. In Uganda, 18 gorilla families have been habituated in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP, and so can host 144 persons tracking the mountain gorillas on any day.
Rwanda can also take 96 persons per day. All else being equal, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has a slight edge over the rest because its gorillas are the most wholly habituated, and they are often found in bamboo than the dense forest which makes photographing easier.
The major challenge with tracking gorillas in Rwanda is certainly the price of the gorilla permit at US$1500 compared to Uganda’s US$700 per permit. However, Rwanda’s pride is in the ability for one to do the gorilla trek even in one day and fly back home which is impossible for Uganda. Volcanoes National Park is located 116 km from Kigali and can be driven in just 2 hours. On the other hand, Bwindi is located 500 km from Kampala/ Entebbe Airport and a drive can take 8 hours plus. In that sense, you will spend at least 3 days for your gorilla trek tour. If a tour operator is making you a tour package, they shall definitely have to consider this cost and include it in your tour cost.
However, the long drive to Bwindi is quite enchanting with great sceneries all through like the Equator, Lake Mburo National Park (for some Queen Elizabeth National Park with abundant wildlife), terraced mountains with flowing rivers, and a lot of rural Africa. This is not so really the case for the drive from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park.
Therefore you will certainly need to spend more on transport and time to track the mountain gorillas in Uganda than it is for Rwanda although this cost is compensated for by a cheaper gorilla permit.
Besides, some sections of the roads to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are not so comfortable to drive on yet in the case of Rwanda; you drive on smooth tarmac at least up to the Volcanoes National Park head office. Not to mention though, the roads leading from Volcanoes park office to the gorilla trek trail-heads can only be accessed with a raised 4×4 vehicle.
Comparison of the Gorilla trekking 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. However, 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 in general
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$600 ($350 in April and May 2014). A low budget 3 days gorilla trek tour in Uganda goes for about $1250 (with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport). The two days Rwanda gorilla trek costs about $1220 ( with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport) and a three days Rwanda gorilla tracking tour costs is about $1280 (with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport).
Lastly, if you are not traveling 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.