The Great Gorilla Debate

Posted On December 9, 2019 Posted By Platinum Travel

Hands up if your Facebook feed (or dinner party) has ever been hijacked by the feverish excitement of someone who’s come face to face with one of East Africa’s Silverback Gorillas? ?

We've collectively wondered at these gentle giants since Dian Fossey’s remarkable film The Mountain Gorilla and David Attenborough’s playful encounters in Life on Earth in the '70s. In one of the most remarkable wildlife conservation success stories in history, though, East Africa’s thriving gorilla population has become more accessible to the everyday traveller with each passing year.

In an effort to put the age-old Uganda vs. Rwanda debate to bed, though, we hit the road last month to try both treks out for ourselves (or more importantly: for you).

Let’s start with the cost
The cost of a daily permit to trek to see the gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is USD $600; although this is set to increase to USD $700 from July, 2020. If you’re trekking from the Rwandan side (Parc National des Volcans), you’ll pay USD $1,500. While this might appear to make quick work of your Uganda vs. Rwanda decision, there are few other important considerations to be aware of.

So, why trek in Rwanda if it’s twice the price?
It turns about there are a few pretty valid reasons, actually. Rwanda is a fair way ahead of Uganda in terms of catering to tourists, so you can expect sealed roads and significantly higher levels of local accommodation. So, if it’s comfort (or luxury!) you’re after, Rwanda may be the better pick for you. (Singita Kwitonda Lodge and the newly opened One&Only Gorilla's Nest are our current faves.)

Generally speaking, too, the Rwandan forest treks tend to be a little less demanding, with all treks commencing from the same (sealed) entry point to the park. The terrain also tends to be a little more ‘open,’ meaning you could end up with a better view of the gorillas once you find them.

The breathtaking view of the national park’s volcanoes is also unique to Rwanda, although it’s also significantly higher for those with a history of altitude sickness.

Lastly, Francophiles might choose the Rwandan trek for a chance to brush up on their Francais!

So, who should be trekking in Uganda?
Apart from the more favourable price tag, there were a number of reasons you might choose Uganda for your gorilla trek. While you may have greater distances to cover in Uganda, you also have greater options in terms of local activities and experiences. What most people don’t know is just how easy it is to get the ‘full Africa experience’ in Uganda: that’s gorillas, game drives and waterfalls. Uganda’s Murchison Falls is one of the most visited sites in Africa, in fact, and a visit can easily be combined with a 5-star safari in Murchison Falls National Park. There, you’ll see everything from elephants and hippos to chimpanzees and crocodiles, lions and leopards.

And, while it may not be One&Only level, Uganda still has a range of more than comfortable accommodation, with hospitality to die for. We inspected a number of hotels in and around Buhoma, and settled on Trackers Safari Lodge as our far-and-away favourite.

Oh, and if you’re a gin connoisseur, you may need an extra day or two to savour Uganda’s light and delicious waragi: an important weapon in your arsenal against the mosquitoes (if nothing else).

And what about fitness levels?
There’s no hiding the fact that a reasonable level of physical fitness is required to complete a trek in either Uganda or Rwanda comfortably. That’s not to say there isn’t help for those who need it, though. One of the most energising elements of the trek (in Uganda, at least), is the absolute commitment of the guides, porters and trackers to get you to the gorillas. Despite making the trek (nearly) every day, it seems no one is more aware of the significance of coming face to face with these magnificent creatures than they are.

If the going gets (really) tough, or you're caught off-guard with an injury or unexpected niggle, they'll even call in... the helicopter: a team of four indefatigable local porters who'll carry you all the way up and down again in (surprising; if makeshift) comfort.

So, in sum…
Whichever country you choose, the culmination of your trek will be the same: the extraordinary privilege of spending 60 minutes in the company of one the world’s most magnificent animals. Our biggest advice goes for both countries, though: you’re going to have to be unusually organised in planning this trip. Given the limited number of permits on offer (each park grants a limited number), with no one gorilla family being exposed to tourists for more than an hour at a time), a gorilla trek generally needs to be booked a minimum of 12 months in advance.

And if the cost of your trekking permit seems high, we promise it will come into instant perspective when you meet and unravel the complex web of people, organisations and not-for-profits that work tirelessly to protect and preserve this incredible opportunity for the generations to come.

see the silverbacks in 2020

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