A gorilla tracking permit (USD 600 for foreigners; USD 500 for foreign residents; USh 250,000 for East Africans) buys you one hour with mountain gorillas and covers the cost of park entrance and guiding. Only 8 visitors aged 15 years or above are allowed to track each gorilla group per day: they all set off at 8:30am and usually return by midday. Depending on where the great apes are, tracking can be easy or strenuous. Gorilla movements are followed daily, so unsuccessful tracking is almost unheard of. Half of the fee would be returned in such an unlikely case.
The deeper version of the experience is called gorilla habituation (USD 1,500 for foreigners; USD 1,000 for foreign residents; USh 750,000 for East Africans) and means departing with gorilla trackers at 7:30am, spending 4 hours with the gorillas and observing the process of habituation (getting them used to humans). You can do it with two gorilla groups, one in Nkuringo and one in Rushaga.
Permits can be purchased at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Kampala (next to Uganda Museum), in Kisoro and at Bwindi gorilla gates. Between June and September obtaining a permit becomes challenging—tour companies will purchase them in advance, before they even get customers for their trips. If they fail to get tourists, they will later advertise permit availability.
Booking a permit means paying for the permit upfront and can be done via email through UWA. Many find the process frustrating and opt for local agents instead (they will charge up to 10% extra). Those feeling lucky can simply show up at the UWA office when they arrive to Kampala, fingers crossed.
In April-May and November there is a low season promotion and a permit costs USD 450 for foreigners/USD 400 for foreign residents/USh 150,000 for East Africans.
In Mgahinga, 1 gorilla group is habituated. It has a reputation of occasionally crossing into Rwanda but in reality that has not happened for years. The major advantage of doing your tracking in Mgahinga is that you are likely to find gorillas in the open, unlike in Bwindi, a much thicker forest. If gorillas surprise everyone by moving to the neighbouring country, you will automatically get a replacement permit for Bwindi.
In Bwindi, 11 groups are habituated for tourism and one for research, with four access points. The Buhoma gate, the park headquarters, is the oldest among them and hence most known and touristically developed. Gorillas here are often most accessible. However, it would be wrong to ignore the other three gate options. If nothing else, they are closer to towns that offer a wider selection of more modestly priced accommodation.
This Travel Guide is based on the the Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook, an award-winning labour of love that gives you a comprehensive insight into the cultures, languages, people and nature that make our area so special. By purchasing the ebook you will contribute to an ambitious initiative that aims to transform southwestern Uganda.