• Evelyn Nakazi

How to Book a Gorilla Permit

What is a gorilla permit?


A gorilla permit is like a ticket that allows you an escorted hike into the Eastern Africa jungle with trackers and a guide to track a habituated mountain gorilla family and later spend up to 60 minutes in their presence, watching them go about their daily business.


Mountain gorillas are listed on the IUCN red list as an endangered species with just about 1008 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild and the number increasing steadily. This wasn’t so a few years ago when they were critically endangered due to poaching and habitat loss to human encroachment.


But recent research has shown that the consistent increase in the mountain gorilla population is a result of the intensive daily protection provided by the national park authorities of the respective countries and conservation organizations, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.


To keep these creatures flourishing in their natural habitat, great amounts of money are involved and so, the gorilla permit is one way to contribute towards that endeavor.



Why is a gorilla permit important?


Due to small numbers of the mountain gorillas and the high level of threats, which include limited habitat, snares set for other animals, disease, and climate change, continued protection of the mountain gorilla population is crucial and must continue intensive protection efforts working, and provide all partners with a basis for good conservation planning.


Mountain gorillas are still critically endangered and face threats due to their limited habitat, intense human encroachment, snares set for other animals, and potential diseases. With only about 1,008 individuals remaining, divided into two separate populations, they remain one of the world’s most endangered animals.


To get the world’s population to come in the East African jungles to see the mountain gorilla and give a small fee, by buying a gorilla permit, is one major way to contribute towards the conservation efforts of maintaining the 451 square kilometers of Virunga habitat and the 331 square kilometres of the Bwindi Impenetrable habitat and keeping its inhabitants flourishing.



How much is a gorilla permit?


Conserving and protecting over 780 square kilometers of natural forest with its inhabitants deserve massive efforts and a huge bank account not to mention a good number of dedicated individuals. So the gorilla trekking permit is expensive.


A gorilla permit in Uganda costs $700 per person per day for Foreign non-residents and US$600 for Foreign residents. See the 2020-21 UWA conservation tariffs for reference.


In Rwanda, the gorilla permit costs US$1,500 per person per day and has been since 2017.


In DR Congo, the gorilla permit will cost you US$400 per person. Congo is much avoided by many travelers due to its never-ending insecurity within its jungle forests.



Are there cheaper gorilla permit options?


The gorilla tracking permit is sold at face value by only the government authorities and it’s illegal for anyone else to sell it at a different price. So no, there are no cheaper permit options except choosing the cheaper destination option between Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo in that order. But like in any economy with players that act with intentions, you may be able to find an operator that possesses purchased permits they have failed to dispose of, especially in low seasons, and can give it at a lower price. I can’t guarantee that though!



How do I buy the gorilla permit?


A gorilla trekking permit is very scarce. Consider the number of habituated mountain gorilla families available for tracking, (11 habituated gorilla families and one for research in Uganda, and 7 habituated gorilla families in Rwanda. Totaling 19 gorilla groups), each gorilla family can be visited once a day for one hour. Therefore, 144 gorilla permits are issued each day in both Rwanda and Uganda, excluding habituation permits. That is a very small number that would make a gorilla permit a very scarce commodity today.


Therefore, you’re advised to book your permit for 4-6 months, way ahead of your travel date. If you’re traveling in a group, maybe a year would be sufficient enough to get all the parties a permit each, especially if you’re planning to travel in the peak seasons of June through October and January to March when competition for the permit is high.


Only the government authority is authorized to issue gorilla permits and a licensed tour operator can purchase them on your behalf. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Rwanda Development Board (RDB), and Virunga in Congo are the authorized issuers of gorilla permits and everyone else has to be licensed to purchase them on your behalf.



Can I just buy the gorilla permit anywhere online?


Yes, you can for the Rwanda gorilla permits. Rwanda has made it easier for non-residents to purchase gorilla permits online through their Irembo website. Uganda hasn’t moved towards online gorilla permit choice yet.


But buying it from a licensed tour operator is as good as buying it online. Contact us to help you out. Check out the Association of Uganda Tour Operators for licensed operators.



What do I need to buy a gorilla permit?


The date(s) you would like to track the gorillas. Suggest a few dates in case your first choice of date is already booked up. Your name, nationality, and passport number. Ideally, scan and email a copy of your passport to your travel operator.


The best way to pay for your permit is by bank wire transfer. If you are buying the permits directly from UWA or RDB, you will need to send them the bank payment confirmation email.


Once the tour company has your preferred dates and personal details, they can make a temporary reservation with the authority.


You should receive a scanned copy of your gorilla tracking permit within a few days or weeks for confirmation of your permit reservation. The original permit will be handed to you when you arrive in the country by your operator or pick it at the UWA/RDB offices if traveling independently.


Your gorilla permit will have a unique serial number and your personal details written on it. It is non-transferable. Remember to carry your passport with you to the trailhead, you’ll need to verify permit possession pre-tracking briefing.


Uganda’s gorilla families are spread over a wide geographic area, so it is important that you book accommodation that is within an hour’s drive – or a few minutes’ walks – of the start of the Gorilla Tracking/ Trekking.


To reserve gorilla permits in Uganda, you will need to specify which park (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga NP) you would like to visit. Before your tracking, UWA staff will guide you on which family you will be tracking, according to your fitness level and interests.


You do not have to specify a particular gorilla family when you purchase your gorilla permit in Rwanda. I’d suggest looking for accommodation within an hour’s drive of Kinigi, the trailhead for all gorilla trackers.

Is there an age limit to gorilla permit booking?


Yes, there is a gorilla tracking age limit. Anyone below the age of 15 years is not allowed into the forest jungles to track mountain gorillas. So, of course, they’ll not be allowed to get a gorilla permit.



Can I cancel or get a refund on a gorilla permit?


According to UWA, 50% of the permit fee will be refunded if the visitor fails to make it to the tracking starting point due to illness. This can only be at the recommendation of the Warden in Charge. Find out more from our team of consultants.


Visitors who fail to make it to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as a result of their movement to the neighboring country will receive a full refund on their permits. However, those who would have tracked the whole day and failed to view the gorillas for one reason or another will be refunded 75% of the gorilla permit fee. All permit refunds shall be effected through the Reservation Office at UWA Headquarters in Kampala.


When you make a cancellation with UWA they’ll consider retaining fees as follows;

  • 0 – 8 days to tracking date – no refund

  • 9 – 45 days to tracking date – 75% (25% refund to client)

  • 46-90 days to tracking date – 50%

  • 91 days and above to tracking date – 25% (75% refund to client)

  • Any refund to be made on the 30% deposit shall be at the value of the permit.


Is a gorilla permit transferable to another person?


A gorilla permit is non-transferable. But no one wants to lose money in unavoidable circumstances. If you have purchased your gorilla permit through a licensed tour operator, they may be able to resell your permit through a network of operators in the country. Otherwise, it may be very difficult to recover your money once you have the permit. The same applies to transferring the gorilla permit, your operator may be able to help you with that.


Ok, folks, that’s just about it for gorilla tracking permits. If you have more questions, kindly engage our team of gorilla tour experts to help you out. You should know that Iconic Travel’s gorilla tours are all-inclusive of the gorilla pert. Once you book a gorilla tracking tour holiday with us, the permit will be taken care of with other things like accommodation, transfers, meals, and entertainment. Our team is ready to help you out when you are but first, take a look at some of our recommended gorilla trekking itineraries.