Mountain gorillas can only be found in three countries; Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. What makes observing them in the wild a bucket list item. Gorillas have the nearest resemblance to man especially with their behaviour and family arrangement. There are only about 1,000 mountain gorillas left on earth rendering them an endangered species as well as a hot tourist attraction. To be able to go gorilla tracking, you need to have a gorilla permit. A gorilla permit is the document that gives you the right to watch the gorillas and access the games parks. It is like the ticket on a flight to an exciting adventure and a good tour company can get you covered so you do not need to go through all the hassles of figuring out how to get one.
Unlike a flight ticket that you can get even hours before traveling, you have to book your gorilla permit at least 5 months before. You cannot enter the park without this permit so it is important to work on getting a permit almost as soon as you add a gorilla tour to your bucket list. As a particularly exciting activity, there are waiting lists during peak season.
Gorilla permits are expensive because mountian gorillas are an endangered species and demand for them is high. It is also important to note that 80% of the funds collected go to gorilla conservation efforts. Gorilla tracking is therefore, a fun and educative way to contribute to this purpose. The price of a gorilla permit includes park entrance fees and the services of Rangers and a guides who will be taking you to track the primates. However, it doesn’t include accommodation, transport, porters and tips.
To get a permit, one should be 15 years or older. One also needs to show their passport details. Just like with a flight ticket, gorilla permits are not transferable and so the identification on the passport and permit must match. While acquiring this permit is something you can do on your own through Wildlife Authorities, an experienced tour company can save you from the cumbersome and sometimes frustrating experience. A good tour operator will not only get the permits for you, but also go ahead to organize the transport and accommodation. What is the cost of a gorilla permit in the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
Booking Gorilla Permits in Rwanda
A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs $1500 and can obtained from the Rwanda Development Board offices in Kigali or Ruhengeri. Ruhengeri is near the Volcanoes national park where the gorilla tracking is done. It is imporant to note that most tourists book their permits using the services of a good tour operator. This is particularly imporant during the peak season when permits are difficult to find and the only way of getting one is by getting it from companies with extra ones. Because of how high the cost is in Rwanda, most tourists resort to DR Congo or Uganda.
Cost of Gorilla Permits in Uganda
A gorilla permit in Uganda costs $700 and can be obtained from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at their Kampala headquarters or through a reliable tour operator especially during the peak season. The tracking is done in Bwindi impenetrable forest where there are 14 habitiated gorilla families and Mgahinga Gorilla Park where there is only one. UWA issues over 152 gorilla permits per day for gorilla families in both places.
During standard gorilla trekking, you only have one hour with the primates but Uganda also offers the gorilla habituation experience. For $1500, you can get three more hours with the gorillas under the guidance of experienced researchers and trackers. The experience is suitable if you have gone tracking before and now wish to have a more in-depth understanding of Mountain gorillas. Uganda is the only country that offers this.
Because a prmit is booked several months in advance, it is possible you might want to cancel your trip after already acquiring the permit due to unforeseen circumstances. UWA has a cancellation policy depending on the number of days before the scheduled trip. Refunds can only BE made to travellers who had paid the full amount and not just a deposit. It is important to note that this refund policy applies to UWA specifically and, in case you booked with a tour agent, they have their own policy as well. Overall a 1 day gorilla tour in Uganda costs $980 if we are to include, transport, lunch, fuel and permits. A longer tour will cost even more because there is also accommodation to take into consideration.
Price of a Gorilla Permit in Congo
A gorilla permit in Congo costs $400 per person and can be booked either directly from the park or through a tour operator. Unlike Rwanda and Uganda where you will be sent scanned copies to confirm booking, the park or tour operator reserves the permit based on mutual trust. Apart from mountain gorillas gorilla permits, it is also possible to book permits to track Eastern lowland gorillas at Kahuzi-Biega national park. While these can be secured last minute, we recommend booking in advance to avoid any disappointments.
DRC has a lot to offer in terms of biodiversity and pristine African wilderness but it is a shame that because of the instability in the country, the authorities have a hard time selling permits. This is, perhaps, why it is the cheapest of all 3 countries.
Finally, if you are booking your permit through a tour operator, payments are made by bank transfer or Pesapal (A payment link is sent to you). All genuine Tour companies have a clearly identifiable bank account in case you need to follow up, so never send money to a personal account. Also, while permits might be hard to get during peak season, never accept to pay a price higher than those set by the different parks.