A Gorilla Permit is a document which allows one access to a particular group of habituated gorilla groups. It can be in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda or other gorilla destinations. Are you thinking of how to book a gorilla permit? Acquiring a gorilla permit or pass to observe wild mountain gorillas is one of the most important things to consider when planning for a gorilla safari. It is important to book your gorilla permit as soon as you to track gorillas. All tourists must have Gorilla permits while entering gorilla habitats and are advised to obtain one at least 6 months before traveling – especially if they plan to travel during the peak season.
As soon as you decide to go for gorilla trekking, you need to commit to the tour and request your tour company to help reserve a permit for a given day. Booking gorilla permits during the peak season (June to early October and December to early March) can be very competitive. It is possible to acquire gorilla permits on your own but our experience shows that travelers find the process cumbersome – particularly if they are not residents. A good tour company will help you easily get permits and put together your entire gorilla tracking safari. This includes organizing transport, meals, other activities and accommodation. The cost of the gorilla permit should be included in the overall tour cost.
We are going to find out shortly that gorilla permits cost differently for each of the three mountain gorilla trekking countries.
Gorilla Permits in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is done at the volcanoes national park. There are 10 habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda and a permit costs $1500. Gorilla permits in Rwanda are obtained online, from the Rwanda Development Board offices in Kigali or directly from the park. The high price for Rwanda permits has forced many budget travelers to cross the border for cheaper tours in Uganda and DR Congo.
Update: The Coronavirus Pandemic forced the government of Rwanda to offer cheaper Rwanda gorilla permits to African Union Citizens, Residents of Rwanda and those traveling in very large groups. The discounts may still be valid as I write this.
Booking Gorilla Permits in Uganda and Cancellation policy
In Uganda, gorillas are found in Bwindi impenetrable forest and Mgahinga Gorilla Park. There are 19 habituated Gorilla groups in Uganda. Bwindi has 18 habituated gorilla families while Mgahinga has one very large group. The cost of trekking gorillas is $700 per day in Uganda. Uganda has benefited a lot by maintaining a lower price for its permits. The park generally receives more visitors because of the price of permits.
Gorilla permits in Uganda are obtained from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) offices in Kampala. The Uganda Wildlife Authority issues over 152 gorilla permits per day. If you decide to book the permit by yourself, contact UWA by email requesting a reservation with information about your dates of travel.
Bwindi impenetrable forest park has several sectors. Your permit will determine which gorilla family to track as well as your accommodation. There may be discounted gorilla permits in Uganda during the low seasons of April, May and November – but this is very rare these days. Mgahinga national park has only one habituated gorilla group and and is generally not busy during the low season. Getting a gorilla permit for Mgahinga can be very difficult during the peak season. Why? Because all Tour operators go for its permits when there is non remaining in other gorilla parks.
I almost forgot to mention that Uganda is the only country offering the gorilla habituation experience. This is where tourists are allowed more time with the gorillas under the guidance of experienced Researchers and Trackers. This gorilla habituation permit costs $1500 and is suitable for those who have already gone for normally tracking and now wish to have an in-depth understanding of Mountain gorillas. By the time you leave a group undergoing habituation, you would have spent four hours with the primates. During standard gorilla trekking, you only have one hour with the primates.
Gorilla Permits in Congo
There are 8 Gorilla Groups in Congo and gorilla trekking permits cost $400 per per person. Booking gorilla permits in Congo is done either directly with the park or using a tour operator. The park or tour operator helps you reserve the permit based on mutual trust. Tour operators can also help you book Eastern lowland gorilla permits in Kahuzi-Biega national park. Lowland gorilla permits can be secured last minute but we recommend that you plan your booking in advance just to be sure.
When one analyses the different prices for gorilla permits, they could begin to wonder whether it’s worth it. Gorilla permits are expensive because gorillas have a striking resemblance to humans. They may not be as intelligent as chimpanzees but their behavior and family arrangement is strikingly familiar. Gorillas are wiser than chimpanzees. They are more gentle, peaceful and considerate of all family members. Gorillas will protect their family and especially the young to death.
Mountain gorillas are an endangered species with about 1000 remaining in the wild. They are only found in the wilds of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. The experience of observing them in the wild is special and the fact that they are endangered has contributed to the high price for permits. The governments need funds to protect the primates and preserve their natural habitat. 80% of the money generated from gorilla permits is used for gorilla conservation purposes. By paying for the permits, you are also contributing to the protection of a creature that reminds us of ourselves and the past. The local communities and former poachers gain a lot from gorilla tourism and are less likely to harm the primates.
Additional Information about Securing Gorilla Permits in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo
A gorilla permit is the one document that gives you the right to observe the gorillas for one or four hours. Tour operators will ask you to share your passport details or copy at the time of booking your trip so that they can know your age. The age is important because it determines if you qualify for gorilla trekking or could need a porter while at the park. The passport copy will also help the tour company figure out if you need a Guide who speaks multiple languages.
What is included in the price of a gorilla permit? The price of a gorilla permit includes park entrance fees and the services of the Ranges/Guides who will be leading you while in the forest. The Rangers protect you from any wild animals by scaring them away with gunshots (rarely). The price of a gorilla permit excludes accommodation, transport, porters and tips.
It is important to book your gorilla permits and safari months in advance before traveling. This is particularly important during the peal seasons.
Never accept to pay for gorilla permits at a price different from that offered by the government Authorities. If it is peak season, it is better to wait or book for another month. There is no need to rush because you will eventually see the gorillas if you really want to.
Never send money to a personal account when booking your gorilla permit or tour. All genuine Tour companies have a bank account. This will help you follow up in case you ever need to. All Tour operators must give you an option of paying by credit card. Most companies in East Africa use the Pesapal online system or something similar.
Gorilla trekking is carried out throughout the year. However the low season for tourism is during the months of March to April and the beginning of May or November. Those are the months were acquiring gorilla permits is easy. You cannot count on getting a gorilla permit in the other months (peak season) unless you book your safari in advance. You can read our article about how to choose an easier gorilla group to trek.
Gorilla Permit cancellation penalties and policy in Uganda
Should you cancel your gorilla tour after booking a gorilla permit, this is what you need to know. The Uganda Wildlife Authority will not refund you anything if you cancel the tour from 0 to 8 days to the day of tracking. UWA will refund you only 25% of the permit cost is you cancel from four to forty five days before the activity. Cancelling a tour 46 to 90 days before gorilla trekking attracts a refund of 50% of the cost of the permit. If you cancel the activity 91 days beforehand, you receive a refund of 75%. These refunds only apply to those who paid the whole amount for the gorilla permit. If you had only made a deposit, you are not liable for a refund.
The above cancellation policy is applies to the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Tour operators have their own cancellation policies and you might want to look at our Terms and Conditions.