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Gorilla trekking is probably the best wildlife experience in Africa, and rightfully appeals to most people. Whether you like old-growth forests, mountains with simple trails, getting to look into the red calming eyes of a big silverback or watching the small gorillas play about - it is an experience full of many exciting moments.

In comparison with other wildlife activities, gorilla tracking is quite costly. This is because of the limited number of gorilla permits which are available per day. 

silverback gorilla

Because of the conservation challenges of gorillas, only a limited number of people can be allowed to visit a gorilla family in a day - and a for a limited time. This is because we are so closely related to gorillas that it is easy to transmit diseases and stress them when the time of interaction is not strictly adhered to.

As someone who is mindful about your budget, it is still possible to come and track gorillas - and get to see them and observe them for 1 full hour. 

In this article, we share share with you the ideas and insights to help you plan and actually go on a gorilla trekking safari by hacking and optimising your budget. While not all the ideas will suit you best, we know that the ones you choose will save you some money that can go towards other things.

Gorilla Trekking on a Tight Budget

Here are all the things to consider as you plan your budget gorilla safari.

1. Tour Operators or DIY?

The first step is deciding on your travel style - whether you will use the help of a tour operator, or do it yourself. 

  • Using A Tour Operator

Tour operators offer a convenient, hassle-free experience. They handle everything from securing those precious gorilla permits (essential and often booked months in advance) to arranging transportation, good accommodation, and experienced tour guides. 

This is perfect if you prefer a structured itinerary, peace of mind, and having everything taken care of. However, the price will be a bit high, to account for the tour operators services. 

  • D.I.Y (Self Planned) Tour

Planning and organizing the gorilla trip yourself offers flexibility and potential savings on the cost. You will have to properly plan every detail of the trip - including gorilla permits, transport, accommodation, meals, local guides, etc.

While planning on your own requires some time and work, it is possible and can be quite satisfying, getting to plan your own adventure and learn the skills.

2. Choosing Gorilla Permits

This is the big cost of any gorilla trip, and should be a major point of your planning. Mountain gorillas can be seen in Uganda, Rwanda and D.R.Congo, and each country has a different price for their gorilla tracking permit.

Here is a simple table to illustrate the differences in the price of the gorilla permit of each country.

Permit Type Uganda Rwanda D.R.Congo*
Foreign Visitors 800 USD 1500 USD 400 USD
Foreign Residents 700 USD 500 USD 400 USD
Locals 300,000 UGX 500 USD 400 USD

Of the 3 countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo has the most budget friendly gorilla permits. Due to security concerns, the gorilla trekking isn't always open, and most countries advise against visiting.

This makes Uganda, the more realistic place to visit for a budget gorilla trek since Rwanda's gorilla permits sell at a premium of 1500 USD.

Whatever your choice, you should know that gorilla permits are what will allow you to see the gorillas, and it is important to get it ahead of time.

Here is our complete article that will help you to clearly understand everything you need to know about gorilla permits as you prepare for your journey to meet the mountain gorillas.

3. Entry Visas

Visas are a part of the travel plans which you have to take care of so that you are allowed to enter into either Uganda, Rwanda or D.R.Congo.

The visa application and processing for Uganda and Rwanda is easy and can be done through the online portals - and your confirmation comes in a few days. 

uganda visa requirements

As you look over the visa requirements, first check to see if your country gets visa-exemption. This could save you some money and time - which you can use elsewhere.

Here are full articles about the tourist visas to Rwanda or Uganda.

If you plan on going to both countries, take a look at the East African Tourist Visa. It allows you to visit either Uganda, Rwanda or Kenya on a multiple entry basis - but with one visa. This is Ideal for someone who plans to start their trip in Kigali and end in Uganda, or vice versa - as this can be a good hack for using less transport but seeing both countries.

4. Health / Vaccinations

Before you go for a trip to a distant place, it is advisable to check with your doctor for professional advice. This advice can often be about malaria which is common in the tropics as well as vaccinations and your regular medicine.

Following the advice of a doctor, you might want to refill your prescription to last the entirety of your trip, or even start anti-malarial medicine.

vaccinations for african safari

Even person's health needs are different, and it is best to have knowledge and peace of mind about this.

If you are organizing your trip with a tour operator, they will likely remind you of this, but if you are handling everything on your own, it is easy to forget.

Here is our full guide on how you can approach the health and vaccinations for an African safari

5. International Flights

Flights are a major cost of your trip and you can hack the cost by looking for deals with budget airlines, booking ahead or travelling during the shoulder season. Depending on where you are coming from, you will have different options on how to optimise the cost of flights.

If you are flying to Uganda, you will have to look for flights to Entebbe International Airport (EBB). On the other hand, if you are flying to Rwanda, you will have to look for flights to Kigali International Airport (KGL).

Most people going to Uganda to see gorillas use Entebbe Airport, but if you are only coming for gorillas, you might choose to start your safari in Rwanda. Whether you choose to use Kigali or Entebbe, try looking for deals to that you can get savings on your flights.

kigali conv center

6. Local Transport

Local transport is how you will move from the airport to your lodge/hotel, the parks where you will see gorillas and other parts of your tour program. There are many options such as hiring a private car and driver, self drive and using public transport.

While using the local transport is the cheapest option, it might be too hard to navigate without a knowledgeable local guide or friend that understands the system. As a cheap option, public buses and omnibuses are basic and follow no schedule.

Choosing to rent a car is a bit costly and you also have to plan for fuel, and the challenge of navigating unfamiliar places. This can be simplified by hiring a driver, which of course adds to the cost - but saves time and you get to enjoy your trip instead of fussing with maps and unfamiliar driving demands.

If you are using the services of a tour company, they will handle all this as part of your all-inclusive package.

Another great way of saving on transport costs is travelling as a group since this splits the cost of fuels, the car hire and the driver amongst many people. If you are in a group, hiring a car and driver will be cheaper than when travelling solo.

7. Accommodation & Meals

While accommodation tends to add a huge part to the daily costs of a safari, it is also quite easy to do on a budget. Some of the places in the park, or just outside might charge a premium, but the nearby towns have cheaper options that are meant for locals.

If you can decide that your adventure is about seeing gorillas and experiencing everything else, you can get a basic hotel with simple amenities at a much cheaper price that you would have gotten at the lodges near the park. As people who don't know the area much, this is a good option if you have some local friends or a guide to make sure you don't end up in a shady part of the town.

Cheaper accommodation always comes with cheaper meals - especially if you choose local food.

8. Join A Group

Travelling in a group has the advantage of reducing your overall cost. Parts of the trips such as car hire, guide fees, fuel and accommodation can greatly be reduced. 

tracking gorillas in the jungle

Most people would prefer to do this with their friends and family but if that is not possible for you, joining a group of like minded travellers can be a great way of expanding your horizons and making new lifelong friendships.

Some groups allow people to join for a shorter period, for most, you would have to follow the general itinerary as everyone else.

The good news is that many people visit Rwanda and Uganda for gorilla everyday, and if you can be able to find a group, the arrangement will save you some money.

9. Choose Shorter Trips

A shorter 3 or 4 day gorilla trip can seem counter intuitive especially if you are flying in from very far, but the truth is you can always visit again. The truth is that even after a visit of 15 days, most people still plan to come back to visit Africa - even before they say bye to their guide.

Choosing a shorter trip that you can afford gets you to see the gorillas. We promise that the experience is very gratifying.

10. On-Safari Spending

Sticking to a budget extends to while you are on safari and the major costs are already paid for.

money usd

There are so many souvenirs and while we encourage you to buy some, remember you budget and stick to it. For the items you simply must have, try to bargain for a discount.

Local markets have cheap fruits and street snacks which can be a good way of experiencing the local life, while saving money on what a run to the supermarket would have cost.

This article about safari pocket money in Uganda will help you understand how much extra money to carry and where it is usually spent.

11. Smart Packing

When it comes to packing your bags, get a packing list to follow. It is so easy to pack unnecessary things and forget items that you end up having to spend money on. This could be clothing, bathroom essentials or even your phone charger, that you can forget and end up needing when you are already in Uganda or Rwanda.

With your packing list, you might already have most of the items and find that you can thrift or borrow others. A good item to borrow is a camera to capture your moments with the gorillas, and with enough planning, it is possible to do so via friends and connections.

12. More Than Gorillas

While your big plan is to have that special face-to-face with the mountain gorillas, it is good to think about looking beyond the gorillas. Here the underlying thought is that since you are here, you might as well see a little more - of course within the budget.

This could be in terms of day hikes, cultural experiences or wildlife safaris in the nearby national parks.

Depending on where you track gorillas, here are the possible options that you have for an extra day or two.

  • Day hikes to Mount Sabinyo whose summit is the meeting point of 3 countries - Uganda, Rwanda & D.R.Congo.
  • Wildlife viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park for elephants, lions, hippos, hyenas, buffalos & more.
  • Wildlife viewing in Lake Mburo National Park for buffalos, zebras, giraffes, hippos, elands & more.
  • Wildlife viewing in Akagera National Park for lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos & more.
  • Chimp tracking in Kyambura Gorge or Kalinzu Forest.

This hack is to show that you have options especially if your thought process for undertaking these budget hacks is to save on some items and possibly extend your stay. These are just options to give you a starting point.

elephant on safari

Realistically, it is possible to make enough savings that can translate into 2 to 4 extra days. As you plan, see if your budget permits for such wiggle room.

Closing thoughts

As much as gorilla trekking safaris tend to be on the premium end due to the price of the permits, doing it on a budget is absolutely achievable. And now you have good information and insight on how to start, proceed and make it happen.

From our own experience, that hour spent with the gorillas is going to be one of the fastest and most precious ones you experience, and we fully believe everyone should have a chance to see the gorillas.  The calm and reassuring nature of the big silverback provides great leadership to the family while the playfulness of the infants and juveniles is very human-like.

We hope this article gives you the ideas on how to approach doing gorilla trekking on a budget. It is possible. Feel free to reach out to us and we can give you a little more insight to guide you.

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