How Much Does it Cost to Go Gorilla Trekking: The Guide
The allure of encountering gorillas in their natural habitat, in the dense forests of Uganda and Rwanda, is a dream for many. But it’s a dream that comes with a price, and often a hefty one. The cost of gorilla trekking in these nations is markedly different from other kinds of expeditions, with its price tag being relatively higher.
One primary driver behind the high cost is the gorilla permit fee, a rate far higher than fees for many other tourist activities. For perspective, it eclipses the costs of game drives, nature walks, boat rides, and hiking.
Why so high? Multiple reasons contribute. A significant chunk of the permit fee is channeled toward conserving and managing the gorilla habitats. These majestic beings are endangered, and safeguarding their environment is a costly affair. Moreover, the high price acts as a deterrent, regulating the number of people who can trek. Since gorilla trekking is an eco-tourism activity, it prioritizes the environment’s conservation. Thus, limiting the number of participants ensures minimal disruption to these fragile ecosystems.
Another factor is simple economics. The high demand from travelers to witness these magnificent creatures means authorities in both Rwanda and Uganda can charge higher permit fees.
But the gorilla permit fee is just one component of the entire gorilla trekking safari experience. The complete package also includes accommodation, transport, meals, and other logistical arrangements, which add to the overall cost.
Various tour operators offer different packages, based on the lodges they collaborate with, the transportation they provide, and the extra activities included. The commission taken by these agents also varies, making it another variable in the cost equation. Not to mention, the type of safari – budget or luxury – chosen by a traveler, will determine the final price.
It’s also worth noting that some expenses aren’t part of the safari’s quoted price. Items such as air tickets, visas, travel insurance, and luxury goods like wine or souvenirs are often outside of the package. The reason is straightforward: these expenses don’t have a standard price and can be outside the control of the tour operator.
Determining the precise cost of a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda or Uganda can be challenging due to the fluctuating prices and the diverse preferences of travelers. However, it’s essential to understand the key elements that shape the final price, ensuring that when you choose to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, you’re well-informed about the associated costs.
The Components That Determine The Cost of a Gorilla Trek Safari
Gorilla Permit Fees
A gorilla permit is an essential document allowing visitors to witness gorillas in their natural habitat. Without it, one cannot partake in the gorilla trekking experience. Here’s a breakdown of the gorilla permit fees across different countries:
- Uganda: $700 per person
- Rwanda: $1500 per person
- Dr. Congo: $400 in peak season, and $200 in low season
These permits can be booked in two ways:
- Directly – By contacting the permit issuing bodies in each country:
- Uganda: Uganda Wildlife Authority
- Rwanda: Rwanda Development Board
- Dr. Congo: Virunga Foundation
- Indirectly – Through a local tour operator who liaises with the issuing body on the traveler’s behalf. This method is often the most convenient.
Given the high demand for gorilla trekking, it’s advised to reserve permits at least six months in advance.
While accommodation often includes meals, there are occasions when meals are consumed on the go, referred to as en-route meals in itineraries. In cases where hunger strikes during transit or activities, travelers can stop at nearby restaurants in town, where a decent meal typically ranges between $30 to $40. Drinks like water and soft beverages are usually included, but alcoholic drinks come out of the client’s pocket.
Ground Transportation: Gorilla national parks in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo are a significant distance from most starting points. The most popular means of transport are 4×4 safari vehicles, which vary in price depending on the model. These vehicles are spacious, comfortable, and come with air-conditioning. Rates, calculated daily, include both the vehicle and fuel costs. The type of vehicle provided by local tour operators depends on the number of travelers and their budget.
Air Travel (Flying Safaris):
Uganda: For those opting for a quicker route, local tour operators can book charter flights via Aerolink. Flights depart either from Kajjansi airstrip or Entebbe airport and head to airstrips near gorilla national parks such as Kisoro or Kihihi. Ground transportation from the airstrip to the lodges or parks like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga National Park is arranged. This aerial route eliminates the lengthy 400 km drive from Kampala to the parks.
Rwanda: Similarly, travelers can opt for a charter plane which could be a singl or double engine helicopter from Kigali International Airport to any of the helipads at the luxury lodge where the client is likely to stay as there are public airstrips around Volcanoes national park.
A typical gorilla trekking safari can last two days or more. As a result, travelers will need to book accommodation for their stay. The regions around the national parks are populated with various safari lodges and hotels, ensuring every traveler finds a suitable place to rest.
Range of Lodges: From budget to luxury, safari lodges vary significantly in terms of cost and the services they offer. Naturally, a luxury facility will provide premium services that might not be available at more basic accommodations.
Meal-based Pricing: It’s important to note that lodge rates can vary based on the meals they offer. For instance, rates for bed and breakfast will differ from those of full board.
Visa and Cross Border Fees
The initial entrance visa is typically not covered in a gorilla trekking safari package. However, certain situations might necessitate additional visas or fees.
Multi-country Visits: For travelers visiting multiple countries or those landing in one country but trekking in another, visa or cross-border fees are applicable.
East African Tourist Visa: For travelers intending to explore both Uganda and Rwanda, there’s an option to apply for an East African tourist visa. This acts as a multi-entry visa for both countries and costs 100$.
Individual Country Visas: A standard visa to move from Uganda to Rwanda (or vice versa) stands at 50$. For those venturing to Congo from Uganda or Rwanda, it’s priced at 100$.
Vehicle Cross Border Fee: If you’re crossing borders with a vehicle from Rwanda or Uganda, an additional COMESA fee of 40$ applies.
Safari Driver Fees
A safari driver plays a pivotal role in enhancing the gorilla trekking experience. Their local knowledge ensures travelers get the most out of their adventure.
Language Proficiency: In Uganda and Rwanda, most safari drivers communicate in English. However, in Congo and occasionally in Rwanda, French-speaking guides are available.
Driver Wages: Safari drivers receive a daily wage for their services. This is typically around 50$-60$ per day.
Porter Hire Fees
When you embark on a gorilla trekking adventure, you’re in for hours of hiking through often rough and uneven terrains of the forest. This means carrying equipment, personal items, and trekking tools which can add a significant weight to your journey. Carrying heavy packs for extended periods can make the trek more exhausting. A porter significantly eases this burden by carrying the pack for you. They are usually locals familiar with the terrain and can offer invaluable guidance, making your trek safer and more enjoyable.A porter is available for hire at a nominal fee of $15. This fee not only provides employment opportunities for the locals but also ensures that tourists have a more comfortable trekking experience.
Additional Equipment: It’s also advisable for trekkers to invest in a walking stick. This aids in stability, especially on slippery or steep paths.
Commission of a Local Tour Operator
Organizing a gorilla trekking safari is no simple feat. From transportation, park permits, and accommodation to many other details, there’s a lot to plan. Tour operators streamline the process by packaging all the necessary services into one offering. Their local expertise and connections often mean they can secure services and accommodations that might be difficult for individual travelers to book. In return for their services, tour operators add a markup or profit percentage on the total cost of all tour items. This commission is essentially their wage for assembling a comprehensive and hassle-free gorilla trekking package for tourists. The Mark up charged is normally 10%-20% of the total cost of the gorilla safari package.
Tips for Safari Personnel
Recognizing the efforts of those who make the safari experience memorable is an integral part of the journey. From the safari driver who navigates tough terrains to the park ranger who ensures safety and shares invaluable information about the gorillas, tipping is a way of showing appreciation. Hospitality personnel, who often work behind the scenes, also play a pivotal role in making the safari comfortable for tourists. Some tour operators integrate a specific fee in the overall cost of the gorilla trekking safari designated for tipping. Once this fee is included in the quotation, tourists are not permitted to give out additional tips. The intention is to ensure fair and consistent compensation for the staff, and tourists are advised accordingly.
In conclusion, determining a fixed cost for a gorilla trekking safari across Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo is challenging due to the fluctuating prices of travel components and the customizable nature of the safari packages. Tour operators offer varying prices based on the traveler’s preferences, such as luxury versus budget experiences. However, by understanding and considering the key safari elements mentioned, a traveler can get a clearer picture of the potential expenses. Regardless of customization, certain safari expenses are unavoidable for anyone looking to embark on this unique adventure.