The Best Tips for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda for Couples

It's an adventurous way to celebrate an anniversary trip or the honeymoon.
Adult female gorilla with baby seen gorilla trekking
Photo: Rixipix / Getty Images
Jessica Kelly
by Jessica Kelly
Updated Oct 30, 2023
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Instead of heading to a beach or an all-inclusive resort in some tropical destination, you've decided to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda. Welcome. An opportunity to commemorate the experience of your marriage (both new and old), the opportunity to observe mountain gorillas in their natural environment in Africa is a unique idea for a getaway. When looking at 2024 travel trends, you can see there's an uptick in ecotourism and sustainable stays. This is certainly something to keep in mind when searching for couples' travel ideas and adventure honeymoon destinations.

Through ecotourism, Rwanda is doing its part and working to reduce poaching cases in Volcanoes National Park. Local conservationists are also looking to build the endangered mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Massif, while actively keeping trash off the streets and out of the national parks with initiatives like mandatory nationwide cleanups. Here are our tips for planning an eco-friendly gorilla trekking adventure.

Gorilla Trekking Travel Tips in this Article:

What Exactly is Gorilla Trekking?

Group gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Photo: Matt Starling Photography / Shutterstock

Gorilla trekking can be challenging, but it's an incredibly rewarding experience. Hikers can expect to trudge through dense rainforest and uneven terrain, which at times is also quite steep and can be slippery. At the meeting point, people are broken into groups based on their athletic level (easy, moderate and difficult). However, be prepared with plenty of water and snacks—even if you're assigned an easy group, the mountain gorillas are wild animals that can decide to start moving up the mountain at any moment, making your trek longer.

Only eight people are assigned to each gorilla family per day. Once you reach the gorilla family, you'll have an hour to observe them in their natural environment before hiking back to the start point. Be sure to have cash on you to tip your guides and pay porters (they can carry your bags and camera equipment, very worth it).

Best Places to Go Gorilla Trekking in Africa

Group gorilla trekking in the African rainforest in Bwindi
Photo: Travel Stock / Shutterstock

You can only see the less than 1,100 mountain gorillas remaining in the world in four places: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park. These parks are located throughout Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Uganda and Rwanda are the main places to view mountain gorillas in the wild.

Is Uganda or Rwanda Better for Gorilla Trekking?

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Photo: GrilledPaprika / Shutterstock

It depends on your preference, athletic level and budget. Both locations have their perks and their downfalls. For many travelers, it does come down to permit cost. You're paying about $700 in Uganda and $1,500 in Rwanda for the experience. Although this may seem like an easy choice, many travelers say that Uganda is a much more challenging trek, while gorilla trekking in Rwanda tends to be less strenuous with a steadier incline and easier terrain.

Another favorable point about Rwanda is that you trek uphill first. Once you catch up with your gorilla family, the group spends an hour observing before an easy hike downhill. In Uganda, it's the opposite—you generally have a very steep hike back when you're already a little tired from the trek through the dense forest.

When to Go See the Mountain Gorillas in Africa

Although you can base your visit on your schedule, the dry season from June to September generally makes the hiking conditions a little better, so you're not dealing with mud or slippery trails. It can also help lower the chance of contracting malaria (talk to your doctor about malaria pills and other recommended vaccines).

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Tourists gorilla trekking through Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda
Photo: Matt Starling Photography / Shutterstock

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an experience that will stay with you forever. Nothing compares to the chills you'll get when you hear your guide whisper, "Our gorilla family is just up ahead." Watching a mother breastfeed her two-month old, seeing the tiny babies playing and swinging from the trees, observing the silverback beat his chest as a signal to the group that it's time to move, and just witnessing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is an emotional experience that you both will cherish forever.

Best Rwanda Resorts and Hotels for Gorilla Trekking

Group gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Photo: &Beyond

One&Only Gorilla's Nest: One&Only Gorilla's Nest has a high-end reputation of delivering luxury amenities and experiences to their guests. This particular location is engulfed in eucalyptus trees, and is located right at the tip of Volcanoes National Park. The five-star property offers 21 suites and lodges, with luxury tree houses for privacy and incredible views. You never know what you might see from the privacy of your own balcony.

Nyonirima, Kinigi, Ruhengeri, Rwanda

5.0 Star Rating | Read Reviews

Virunga Inn Resort and Spa: Virunga Inn Resort and Spa is located minutes from Volcanoes National Park with 14 chalets and 20 deluxe accommodations available. The rooms are huge with comfortable beds, a spacious bathroom and a private terrace with fire pits overlooking the gardens. They offer special amenities for gorilla trekking like meeting you with slippers when you return so they can deep clean your boots and gear for you.

Ruhengeri, Rwanda

5.0 Star Rating | Read Reviews

Cleo Lake Kivu Hotel: After gorilla trekking, consider visiting Lake Kivu for a few nights at Cleo Lake Kivu. The villas on the property provide incredible views of the lake and private pools to cool off in. The farm-to-table dining experience with customized cocktails and wine lists makes hotel dining a great option so you don't have to venture out for dinner. Cleo Lake Kivu has amenities for guests like boat cruising and kayaking down by the water.

Bwishyura, Kibuye 4307 Rwanda

4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

Akagera Game Lodge: Although the main purpose of your trip is to go gorilla trekking, the incredible thing about Rwanda is that you can drive just a few hours and be in a bustling city, a national park exploring the rainforest canopies, or the savanna on a game drive. There's a lot to see and experience in Rwanda, and Akagera National Park should be high on your list of places to visit. Akagera Game Lodge has beautiful views from the modern rooms overlooking Lake Ihema. Step into the safari vehicles that meet you at the lobby to go out on a game drive searching for elephants, lions, birds, warthogs, giraffes, hippos and more. When you return, relax by the pool with a cocktail before dinner on the property.

Akagera National Park, Rwanda

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Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tours

It's surprisingly easy to plan a gorilla trekking experience, as long as you secure your permit and reservations in advance. Only a certain number of people are allowed into the park per day for just an hour at a time per gorilla family, so that doesn't leave a lot of room each day for visitors. Planning ahead and budgeting for the permit ($1,500) is your main priority. Your travel agent, guide and even most hotels in the area can assist with the plans once you have the ball in motion.

&Beyond: In Rwanda, &Beyond does an incredible job leading small groups out to view the endangered mountain gorillas. On their website, they answer a variety of questions, so you go into the experience prepared. The process can be intimidating, so having a trained guide to answer any questions and offer protection through &Beyond allows guests the chance to just take it all in without worry.

Silverback Gorilla Tours: If you're looking for a tour company to go gorilla trekking with, Silverback Gorilla Tours is a great option. You can book your permits through them and the professionals will guide you through the entire experience. This is a great option if you've decided to rent an Airbnb instead of booking a hotel with staff who are available to assist.

Rwanda Tourist Attractions & Excursions

Game Whisperers Adventure: You should take advantage of your time in Africa, even if it's just during a long layover. If you're flying from New York to Rwanda through Kenya Airways, you'll most likely have a layover in Kenya. Consider renting a private guide through Game Whisperers Adventure for a half day. The driver can pick you up from the airport and bring you out to Nairobi National Park to search for ostriches, giraffes, hippos and even rhinoceroses.

Kigali Genocide Memorial: If you fly into Kigali to experience the city before driving out to remote areas of the country for gorilla trekking and safaris, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important tribute to how the country has rebuilt its community after a terrible tragedy. Be warned, it's incredibly emotional and a bit difficult to witness.

Nyungwe National Park: The national parks in Rwanda are stunning, and there is so much to see. Within Nyungwe National Park alone, the Canopy Walkway experience provides you with phenomenal views among the treetops. You'll have the chance to see monkeys swinging from the branches and hear the birds chirping as you watch the sunset. Visitors can hike to the Ndambarare Waterfall in Nyungwe, visit the Gisakura Tea Plantation and IVOMO, or hike to watch the colobus monkeys.

Visit Kinunu Coffee Estate: Take a boat ride out to the Kinunu Coffee Estate to learn about the coffee making process from the plant to the cup. Smell the fresh coffee flower blossoms in the fields while walking through to see the beans and the picking process. Finally, end the tour by sipping hot brewed coffee on the patio overlooking the property.

Community and Conservation

There are quite a few ways to dive into community activities. See reformed poachers and locals teaching visitors about art, holistic medicine and music at Gorilla Guardians. Purchase local paintings, dance and learn to make banana beer from scratch at the Red Rocks Community Center. Visit the Ellen DeGeneres Campus for Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to learn more about the magnificent mountain gorillas and the admirable woman who dedicated her life to protecting the endangered species from poaching.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Rwanda is a great location to go gorilla trekking, but it certainly isn't the only option. Uganda has been a strong contender for gorilla trekking for years, and the permit is half the cost of Rwanda's.

Best Uganda Resorts and Hotels for Gorilla Trekking

Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp Uganda: With Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp Uganda located right in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, there's no telling what you might encounter outside one of their 10 luxury tents. With breathtaking views of the mountain landscapes in the background, guests can go beyond wildlife encounters, even finding themselves among local Batwa Pygmies. The Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp in Uganda provides "luxury, naturally," to their valued visitors.

0°59'20.98"S 29°36'48.54"E, Bwindi National Park, Uganda

5.0 Star Rating | Read Reviews

Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge: Among Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge is in a prime location on the southern end of the park. They offer a variety of options like high-end suites and private garden cottages to make your stay in between trekking to the mountain gorillas enjoyable and luxurious. They offer other amenities as well, like walking safaris for guests and nature hikes.

Nteko Ridge Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

5.0 Star Rating | Read Reviews

Gorilla Safari Lodge-Rushaga Sector: For a luxurious stay in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Gorilla Safari Lodge is located deep in the jungle. Looking out from your room, there's potential to see everything from wild gorillas to forest elephants. Guests have access to plenty of activities like guided hikes, community visits with the Batwa Pygmies and mountain biking. Of course, the main point of being in this location is to go on a gorilla trek, but booking a spa treatment keeps guests relaxed and happy in between activities.

RUSHAGA, Uganda

4.3 Star Rating | Read Reviews

Uganda Gorilla Trekking Tours

Uganda's permit cost is around $700. If your schedule allows, plan to visit during the dry season, which is generally between December and February (and again from June through August) for a chance of better hiking conditions.

Silverback Gorilla Tours: Silverback Gorilla Tours also provides tours throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Tanzania in addition to Rwanda and Uganda. They guide clients through everything, including booking necessary permits and providing passport information to the Rwanda Development Board.

&Beyond: Many tour groups that offer tours out of Rwanda overlap, offering them in Uganda as well. Using &Beyond is a fantastic option, especially if you don't have the help of a trip planner or a hotel to set up the trekking experience for you. Both Rwanda and Uganda work hard to promote ecotourism and conservation efforts, especially when it comes to mountain gorillas. They both depend heavily on tourism associated with trekking experiences, so if you have the time, consider visiting both countries with &Beyond.

Uganda Tourist Attractions & Excursions

Murchison Falls National Park: Located right on Lake Albert, Murchison Falls National Park is a beautiful place to visit while in Uganda. Not only are the landscapes incredible, but the park provides visitors with an opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife like hippos, chimpanzees, elephants and birds.

Queen Elizabeth Game Drives: While in Uganda, a game drive is a necessity. Queen Elizabeth National Park is a great area to see plenty of wildlife. When planning for game drives, keep in mind that they generally happen early in the morning (around 6:30 a.m.), later in the afternoon (2 p.m.), or even at night for a truly special experience.

Boat Cruise on Kazinga Channel: While in Queen Elizabeth National Park, take a scenic boat ride along the Kazinga Channel to spot some wildlife stopping by the water for a drink or to cool off. There are plenty of opportunities to see elephants, buffaloes and a wide variety of water birds.

Sempaya Hot Springs: After trekking to the gorillas, your body might be sore from the intense incline and challenging terrain. A soak in a hot spring can soothe your muscles and relax you both. The Sempaya Hot Springs is about a half an hour walk into Semiliki National Park. Once there, sink into the bubbling, hot water and unwind together.

Shoebill Stork Tour: In Uganda, visitors can get to the Lugogo Swamp via the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This is a great opportunity, as it's almost certain that guests will see the shoebill stork. With nearly 300 different species of birds, there's a lot to see, but the shoebill stork is definitely one of the most unique birds.

What to Pack for a Gorilla Trekking Trip

Woman taking photo while gorilla trekking
Photo: Yaroslav Astakhov / Getty Images

You have your flights booked, your hotels locked in, trekking plans in place and permits purchased—now it's time to pack. When it comes to what to wear gorilla trekking, your main priority will definitely be a pair of high-quality, waterproof hiking boots. Give yourself enough time to properly break them in so they're nice and comfortable when you go to use them. Even if your boots are waterproof, consider waterproofing them again to add an extra layer of protection.

Always double check with your hotel, but for the most part, you can rent items like gaiters, hiking sticks and even rain coats. (If you hike often though, it might be worth purchasing your own gear.) Helpful items include quick dry pants and shirts, socks, linen and cotton clothes for hot days, a refillable water bottle or two, snacks, neutral clothing (hunter green, brown and tan), a hat, plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, a Bug Bite Thing Suction Tool, sunglasses, bathing suits, backpacks, a raincoat and even gardening gloves in case you have to trek through thick bushes and plants.

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