Comparison of Gorilla Trekking: Uganda & Rwanda

Natural World Safaris

11 Jun 2014

Which is better for gorilla trekking - uganda or rwanda?

Clients often ask us whether Uganda or Rwanda is the best destination, so I was really looking forward to the opportunity to do both in one trip, allowing me to directly compare the two experiences.

The Uganda Experience

After meeting a number of people fresh from their gorilla trekking experience I had received more than enough pointers about how difficult the the trek was going to be. Whilst confident in my fitness levels, I was beginning to get concerned about the level of difficulty I was going to encounter during this activity. 

There is no doubt that the terrain where the gorillas are found is steep. Depending on their location and the family group you are going to visit, it can require a lot of cutting your way through the bush in order to create something resembling a path. 

I was very relieved that the tales I had heard of it being extremely difficult did not apply to the family I was due to visit for this day. The Oruzogo group is located in Ruhija, north eastern Bwindi and while this required a drive of around 2 hours to get to the start point, the drive itself is stunning and offers amazing views of the surrounding mountains. 

When you arrive at the meeting point you will meet your group for the rest of the day and your guides will go through some information relating to the family of gorillas you will be tracking for the day. Our hike started with a steep decent through the surrounding jungle but our guides set a relaxed pace and accommodated the slower members of the group. It is important to note that if the group is slightly slower it doesn't affect your trip as your allotted one hour with the gorillas will remain regardless of what time you arrive. 

After about an hour and a half of making our way down the steep hills it was clear that the gorillas were up ahead as the tell-tale shaking of trees indicated there younger gorillas were playing in the branches. A few minutes later we reached the gorillas and after that is incredible how fast an hour can pass. 

The young ones were playful throughout and seemed as fascinated by us as we were by them. During the whole hour we spent with them were play fighting with each other.

The young gorillas were climbing and then falling out of trees; a genuine pleasure to watch - I only wish it could have been longer. 

The silverback proved more elusive during our visit to the Oruzugo family, he was there throughout but was difficult to see clearly. However, when the time came to leave he provided the most satisfying viewing of the day. As the rest of our group moved on to continue viewing the younger gorillas I decided to stay near the silverback to see if he decided to move. I managed to lie on my stomach and while looking through the bush you could clearly make out his face. While we thought he had been ignoring us, the whole time he had in fact been monitoring us quietly and confidently, we just didn't know it.

The Rwanda Experience

Considering this is technically the same activity as the gorilla trekking in Uganda it came as quite a surprise to find out exactly how much contrasting of an experience it turned out to be. That is not to say a "better" or superior experience, but a completely different one. 

The gorilla family we were visiting has two young twins and one very young baby that remained in very close proximity with his mother throughout. The pathway we trekked along to their location was clear and provided none of the hacking your way through the bush that we dealt with in Uganda. Beside a very simple short scramble at the end to reach their final location it was a relatively straight forward hike to reach them. This in itself highlights the importance of knowing what you are looking for when booking your trip. Some people may appreciate the simpler journey to reach the gorillas whilst others may feel that it lacked the sense of adventure that our trek in Uganda provided. 

Upon reaching the gorillas themselves it was again in stark contrast to my previous experience. They were set relatively in the open and the silverback was anything but hidden, he sat proudly in the middle of the other gorillas whilst the younger ones, including the twins, continued to playfight and pose for the cameras. 

There is a clear and enforced rule of staying at least seven metres away from the gorillas at all times but this was at times difficult to adhere to with the young ones constantly moving around and getting close to you. 

It is very difficult to suggest that one location is better than the other for this experience as they really are both amazing experiences in their own right, aside from the presence and viewing of mountain gorillas in both of them it is hard to find many other similarities. I can certainly say with complete sincerity that both experiences are among the most enjoyable encounters with wildlife or in fact any travel experience that I have ever had the pleasure to be part of worldwide. The diversity of the two experiences shows that there is an trek to suit everybody, the trick is to know what is out there and what would suit you best. 

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Comments

NWS

20/2/2017 5:47 PM

Hi Linda, Great to hear your thoughts and experiences about your gorilla tracking safaris in Rwanda and Uganda. It's understandable that your trips were quite different almost 10 years apart, glad they were both enjoyable, memorable experiences though! :-) NWS

Linda Burns

20/2/2017 5:43 PM

I first visited the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda approximately 2003. It was an extremely difficult climb up the side of a volcano, thrashing through dense foliage and giant stinging nettles and sinking into the deep volcanic mud. Bwindi in Uganda in 2012 was a completely different experience but just as rewarding. We had to climb down steep forests and again climb up at times. Comparatively, I think that Uganda, although somewhat difficult, was far easier.

Stephen

23/6/2014 6:15 AM

We trekked both Uganda and Rwanda in 2009. We visited in August and did not have to endure much rain. In Uganda, we had about a 90 minute hike through farms and encountered the gorillas just barely off the trail. The gorillas immediately moved off to an adjacent banana plantation where we watched for an hour as they tore down and devoured the banana plants. Only afterwards did we realize that the gorillas were using us as "cover" from the farmers who wanted to chase them back into the forest. The Rwanda experience was actually more challenging for us with steeper slippery climbs and more undergrowth to push through. The denser foliage produced what I felt were better photos with the greenery contrasting with the black gorillas. My take is that if you are only able to visit one of the countries, do not stress too much about which is the "right" decision. You will have an unforgettable experience no matter what.

Will

19/6/2014 4:59 PM

Hi John - interesting to hear your experiences. I agree in that it can change from day to day so never easy to predict! Rwanda traditionally is more out in the open, however as you say, even then it can be tricky as on occasions they end up in bamboo thickets which can make viewing more difficult!

John Barrett

18/6/2014 1:42 PM

I have visited 2 family groups in Bwindi. I completely agree with the "adventure" aspect of finding and getting to the group. However, the actual viewing we had was very much in the bush one day, as you described whereas the other day they were in a relatively open field area, so choosing based on the expected type of viewing could lead to disappointment.

Abs

16/6/2014 5:20 PM

Thanks Paul for sharing that info in your blog. Having only tracked in Uganda, its always good to get first hand feedback for those who have tracked in both sides of the border. Looking forward to reading more blogs about your trip and gorillas in general!

Will

13/6/2014 9:19 AM

Always a tricky question, which is the better destination for gorilla tracking, Uganda or Rwanda?! An enlightening write up and as you say, a pretty unbeatable wildlife experience. Would be interesting to see what you say of the lowland gorilla tracking in the Republic of Congo - there next?!

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