Why is gorilla trekking so expensive? Gorilla trekking is one of the most thrilling wildlife activities on earth. The experience is much different from a game drive in the Serengeti, Masai Maraa or Kruger National Park. Gorilla trekking is special because mountain gorillas look and behave like we humans. They live in families with a hierarchy where the dominant silverback dictates everything that is done by the group. Gorilla trekking is expensive because mountain gorillas are endangered and because of that many people want to see them. The high numbers of tourists interested in seeing them has forced many governments to raise the price of permits. You can say the principle of demand and supply applies here – The higher the demand, the higher the price. But demand is not the only explanation for the high cost of gorilla permits. There is need for funds to protect the primates.
Gorilla conservation involves significant investments in research, rangers and scientists and this requires money. Part of the money collected from gorilla permits are channeled towards the protection of these majestic primates. To be more specific, 15% of the money collected goes to the government, 10% to the local communities and 75% to gorilla conservation. It is important to also note that if the prices for permits were reduced considerably, there is a likelihood that there would be too many visitors to the parks hence affecting the overall wellbeing of the few habituated gorilla groups. Gorilla trekking is possible only in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Uganda, mountain gorillas can be tracked in Mgahinga and Bwindi National Park. In Congo, the primates are found in Virunga National Park while in Rwanda it is the Volcanoes National Park.
The cost of gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo
The cost of gorilla trekking differs from country to country. It is important to note that the price of gorilla permits is just a fraction of the overall cost of gorilla trekking. You still have to consider transportation, accommodation, food, VISAs, air tickets, packing lists, porters and tips for the Guides. We will be discussing each of the different costs in the following paragraphs. We hope that by the end of the article, we would have answered the following questions:-
- How expensive is gorilla trekking?
- What is the cost of gorilla trekking?
- How much does a gorilla safari cost?
The cost of a gorilla permit: If you are planning to do gorilla trekking in any of the three countries, you will need to acquire a gorilla permit. A gorilla permit is a document that allows you access to the gorillas. In Uganda, gorilla permits cost $700, in Rwanda $1500 and Congo $400. If you are and East African national, you can obtain a gorilla permit in Uganda for 300,000 shillings. During the low seasons of the year, Gorilla permits are sold at a discount in Virunga National Park of Congo for $250 dollars (This could change). For those who are interested in the gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi, you will have to pay $1500 for a permit. The Gorilla habituation experience is quite different from gorilla trekking. It is a whole day’s experience and involves having four hours with mountain gorillas instead of the one hour allocated to tourists during standard gorilla trekking. A gorilla permit is a requirement for tracking gorillas. You cannot be allowed to take part in the activity without showing them to the park authorities. What is included in a Gorilla Permit Cost? A gorilla permit includes interacting with the gorillas for one hour, park entrance, Ranger fees and advance trackers.
To book a gorilla permit, you need to go through your tour operator or one of the government authorities in the respective countries. In Uganda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority issues out gorilla permits while the Rwanda Development board does the same in Rwanda. If you are planning on a safari in Congo, you can book a permit with the Virunga National Park website or through your tour operator. It is important to book your gorilla permit or gorilla tour at least 2 months in advance. If you are planning to travel in the peak season (June, July and August), we recommend that you do the booking at least 5 to 6 months before the trip so that you don’t go through the stress of asking different tour companies if they have availability. Please read more about the cheap gorilla permits in Uganda between December 2020 and March 2021.
The cost of accommodation: One of the things you will have to consider while planning your gorilla tour is where to sleep. All the gorilla national parks have high quality lodges from where you can spend the night. Your choice of accommodation will depend on your budget. The good budget hotels cost anywhere between $50 to $100 dollars a night. Good mid-range hotels go for between $150 to $200. The luxury hotels start from $300 to $2500 per night. You can book these hotels on your own if you planning to do a self-drive but most travelers book the hotels through their tour company. If you book a hotel yourself, ensure that it is located close to the starting point of the gorilla family or sector you have been assigned. If you book too far away, you may miss the trek – This is all the more reason why it is better to book your gorilla tour through a reputable tour operator.
The cost of food: While traveling to these countries, you need to take into consideration the expenses for food, drinks and particularly water. The hotels provide this but you are going to need water and food when out of the hotel or traveling. Food and drinks should cost you about $40 each day if you are traveling on your own. If you are planning to buy expensive booze or cigars, you might have to plan for a higher amount per day. If you are booking your travel with a tour company, you should not worry about food. They should take care of the food and water while at the hotel and traveling between activities.
The cost of transport – Plane tickets and hiring a vehicle: After securing the gorilla permits and identifying a lodge, the next thing that will come to your mind is how to get to the gorilla parks. Air tickets to and from your country of origin can cost between $600 to $2500 depending on your choice of airline. If you are planning to book chattered flights from within the gorilla trekking country, you might need to part with another $600. Should you find internal flights way beyond your budget or should you decide that you want to experience more of the African countryside, then traveling by road from the airport is highly recommended. Hiring a car in Rwanda and Uganda will cost you about $70 a day excluding fuel and a driver. Expect to travel on the road for long hours especially if you are tracking in Uganda and Congo. It takes between 8 and 10 hours of driving to reach Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable park from Entebbe international airport. The driving distance from Kigali International Airport to the Volcanoes National Park is 2 hours. Those who choose to do gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park have to first land in Kigali and then proceed to the Congo border in a journey that can take about four hours.
Arranging your own travel in an unfamiliar and developing country can be complicated. It is why most travelers leave the issue of transport, permits and accommodation to their chosen tour operators so that they are only left with the task of showing up at the airport. It is also important to note that only a few tour companies are willing to book air tickets on behalf of their clients. Consult you tour company to see if they can help you with booking flights to and from your country of origin.
Cost of items on the gorilla trekking packing list: For the best experience while tracking and watching the gorillas, you will need to travel with a good camera, insect repellents, sunscreen, hiking boots, hand gloves, a binocular and a rain jacket. These are all hidden costs that need to be taken into consideration apart from the gorilla permit itself. You might want to read more about the gorilla trekking packing list.
Visas and border crossing: Gorilla trekking often involves crossing borders between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. If you are planning to do gorilla trekking in Congo, expect to cross the Goma border post at a cost ($100 for the VISA). Those who find the price of gorilla permits in Rwanda too high can choose to track the gorillas in Uganda instead but arrive through Kigali to avoid traveling for 8 hours from Entebbe or Uganda’s capital Kampala. Gorilla trekking from Uganda through Kigali involves paying a VISA fee of $50 at either the Katuna or Cyanika border crossings. The East African tourist visa can also be acquired at a cost of $100 for those who are combing safaris in different countries of East Africa.
Yellow Fever vaccination card: This may not seem important but it is a requirement for entering all the three countries. If you read reviews about gorilla trekking, you will learn that yellow fever vaccination cards are one of the key documents asked at the airport and while crossing borders. If you are planning to travel to most African countries, you need to consider the cost of taking the shots.
Cost of porters – especially for the elderly: If you are traveling with heavy equipment, bags or video cameras, you will need to hire a porter to help you carry them while tracking the gorillas. The porters can also help you carry packed lunch and lend a hand during the difficult sections of the trek. Gorilla trekking for the elderly is more complicated because they would need to use Sedan chairs and hire about eight porters to lift them up to the tracking point. It can cost about $400 to hire a Sedan chair and the porters to carry it. Porters live close to the gorilla parks and some were once poachers. A few of the porters are students who are looking for money to top up their school fees or men interested making some money to feed their families. By hiring these porters, you contribute to their general well-being and indirectly help them support their families. Hiring a porter costs about $15 and they can be got during the briefing. You may want to know how gorilla groups are allocated to travelers.
Tips for the Guide/Driver, Park Rangers and Hotel staff: Sometimes hotel staff, Guides, Rangers, waiters and waitresses go out of their way to make sure that your time with them was perfect and memorable. Out of courtesy, you might decide to show your appreciation for the work done by giving them tip. The amount depends entirely on you. Tipping during gorilla trekking is not compulsory and should only be paid after a service is rendered and you are happy with it.
In conclusion, we can say that the cost of gorilla trekking depends on how many days you set aside for the activity. A 1 day gorilla tour in Uganda will cost about $970 per person if traveling with someone. A 2 days Uganda gorilla tour will cost about $1080 per person if traveling two. The 3 days gorilla tour in Uganda will cost $1350 per person if traveling with someone. If you are planning to track the gorillas in Rwanda, add $900 to the prices above to get an estimate of your overall expenditure. Luxury gorilla tours can cost between $1600 to $5000. These prices do not include air tickets, tips, alcoholic beverages and any expenses that appear personal in nature.
Traveling alone is more expensive because you have to pay for transport, accommodation and fuel yourself. Moreover, it is important to note that companies add some markup costs to the overall trip to cater for administrative services (Guides, office staff, office functionality) – This is normally 10 -20% of the total cost.
How can you save on gorilla trekking costs given the above expenses? One way is to do gorilla trekking in the cheaper destinations like Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Another is to ask your tour operator to offer you the best budget lodges. Avoid traveling alone so that you can share the costs of transport, accommodation and fuel with your spouse or friend. You can also travel in low seasons (rainy season) when less tourists visit the countries. You will find that accommodation facilities are cheaper and that there are discounts for hotels and even gorilla permits in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can also save costs by using public transport but this is risky because you have no control of the time you leave or reach your destinations. Public buses in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo do not leave on time. You risk arriving late for briefing at the park headquarters or missing the activity entirely. You can’t afford to miss the activity because gorilla permits are expensive. Moreover, there is no guarantee that you can purchase one for the next day even if you want to.
If you want to cut costs further, avoid taking chattered flights within the country. Most of the chattered flights are very expensive. The reason for the high costs of internal flights is that few local people travel within the country by plane. The airlines compensate for the few local travelers by charging tourists highly. Traveling by road may take hours but provides you with a rare opportunity to marvel at the African countryside, landscape, beautiful scenery and the local people going about with their lives. You can get a good picture of a country by observing the countryside and smaller cities. Last but not least try to compare costs from different tour operators. Do not go for the cheapest – You might end up paying more. Go for a tour operator that is offering less but can guarantee quality services. The tour operator must be able to cater for the important elements of the trip which should include food, accommodation, water, fuel and a car. Ask them to share with you details about the accommodation options. Many tour operators promise much but do not deliver on quality (Experienced driver, vehicle, hotels etc.). Book with a tour operator that can book for you good accommodation facilities even if they cost slightly higher. The hotel choice is very important and can make or break a trip. You can’t mess up your holidays because you are trying to save on a few dollars.