If you are thinking of a gorilla safari in Uganda and wish to know how to go about acquiring a permit, here’s how.
The gorilla trekking activity in Uganda is done in either of 2 National parks, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla National park. Uganda is home to half of the world’s mountain gorilla population with over 400 habituated gorillas. However due to the scarcity and unreliability of the permits and fewer accommodation options in Mgahinga park, Bwindi impenetrable has become more popular to track mountain gorillas, Uganda has 12 habituated mountain gorilla groups open to tourists, each group is assigned 8 guests per day. A total of 120 permits are available for sale per day, meaning on a good day if all permits are sold, only 120 guests will have a chance with these mammals. Tracking the gorillas can take anywhere between 20 minutes to even 4 or 5 hours, and once the gorillas are found, guests are given one hour to interact with them, filming, taking pictures, enjoying the company and learning more about them. Its important to first check availability and book the gorilla permits before you book accommodation, this is because, the permits availability determines where you will stay depending on the tracking location available. There are a number of Tracking locations in different Communities and they are usually many Kilometers from each other, since you are supposed to report to the tracking point by 8 O’ clock in the morning, choosing a lodge nearby would make more sense, so, if your interest is staying in a particular lodge, its important to ask about permits availability in that particular location. Bwindi Impenetrable has the following tracking points, Buhoma with 3 families and 24 permits, Ruhija with 4 families and 32 permits, Rushaga with 5 families and 40 permits and Nkuringo with 2 Families and 16 permits. Mgahinga has 1 family with 8 permits. Hopefully, more Gorilla Families in Uganda will soon to be officially opened for trekking tours.
The going prices for Gorilla tracking is $600 for Foreign Non resident guests (Tourists), $450 for Residents with valid work / residence permits and $50 for East Africans (Ugandans, Rwandans, Kenyans and Tanzanians) This includes the park entry charges and the guiding fee.
Uganda still runs a low season promotion when the permits are subsidized. The low season months are April, May and November where each gorilla permit costs $450 for Foreign Non resident guests (Tourists), $400 for Residents with valid work / residence permits and 150,000UGX for East Africans. However it is uncertain if this low season promotion will still be available next year. So don’t miss the low season deal to track gorillas at a reduced price this November.
Gorilla Permits in Uganda can only be purchased from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) headquarters in Kampala, either directly or through a broker (tour company, travel agent, or lodge)
Purchasing Gorilla tracking permits directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority Agent / reservations desk in Kampala.
It is possible to obtain Gorilla permits directly from the UWA (if you are not in Uganda), once your itinerary is set, you can email the wildlife authority or call them up directly to check for the permits availability for that date, (its good practice to check for permits on surrounding dates and nearby locations so you can have options in case the said date / location isn’t available). Also note that that travel time from Kampala is close to 9 hours by road, so you have to consider travel days. Flights are available as well however the earliest flight to Bwindi will land in Kihihi airstrip at about 9.30am, then another hours’ drive to the nearest location Buhoma. To book with UWA, they’ll need your commitment; this implies the directive that you will track on that day in order for them to book the permit for you. They will require a copy of your bio data passport page (please note that the minimum age for tracking is 15 years), or a copy of the residence/work permit if you are a resident, once you send this, they’ll tentatively book and invoice you, then give you about 3 days to wire the money to their account. Please remember to take care of the bank charges so that they can receive the exact amount invoiced to avoid withholding your permit, then also remember to share a copy of the remittance form with the UWA reservations staff to notify them that you have made the transfer, normally, bank transfers take between 3-7 working days before funds are realized on account. Once the funds mature, then UWA will confirm the purchase of the gorilla permit and send you a tax receipt. If you are organizing your trip on your own, you’ll then have to drop by their offices in Kampala to collect the permits before heading to the National park.
Buying gorilla trekking/tracking permits through a broker (Lodge, tour operator, travel agent)
To avoid the hustle and bustle of obtaining a gorilla permit, entrusting a local operator to handle this procedure could save you a lot of time, as many of the operators have a good working relationship with UWA, it shouldn’t be a train smash. Normally, operators selling packages that include visiting gorillas will not charge extra for purchasing the permits as they’ll invoice you for an all inclusive package that already includes the administrative fee. (Packages could include accommodation, transfers, other safaris and guiding). However, if you only need the operator to purchase the permits and nothing more, they could charge you anywhere between $30 – $60 per permit as handling fees. The procedure however remains the same, they’ll contact UWA for availability and if positive, they’ll need commitment from you, your passport bio data copy, or work permit and the gorilla permit fees as UWA only books permits on cash basis. The difference here is that the operators will do the running around for you, and most likely get the permits in a more speedy way as sometimes in the high seasons availability changes quickly.
Ask me about Gorilla packages, low season deals and itineraries for Uganda.