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Uganda or Rwanda

The never ending saga of Uganda vs Rwanda, in regards to searching of mountain gorillas.

Uganda or Rwanda
Uganda or Rwanda first appeared in a Dispatch, the updates sent to all Society members. It also caused a bit of online discussion from both sides. To be part of the conversation, you can join for free here.


“I want to see the gorillas, but should I visit Uganda or Rwanda?”

It’s is a very common question. It’s up there with “East Africa or Southern Africa”, “Zambia or Zimbabwe for Victoria Falls” and “Will a lion eat me?” Yet, just because it is a common question, doesn’t mean it’s not a good one.

Here is a breakdown between the gorilla experience in both countries and how it might impact your trip.

Note: In this comparison of Uganda or Rwanda you should know that when we say ‘gorillas’ we are talking about mountain gorillas. There are many species of gorillas, some of which you can visit, but most people generally mean ‘mountain gorilla’ when they want to visit ‘gorillas’.

Amount of Gorillas

Both Uganda and Rwanda border each other, as well as the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It’s within this environment that the gorillas now live, marooned on islands of forest by the gradual encroachment of man. Within these three countries, there are four places to visit the gorillas. The DRC has Virunga National Park, but for this discussion, we’ll leave that out. Rwanda has Parc National des Volcans, or “Volcanoes National Park”. Uganda actually has two locations, the practically unknown Mgahinga National Park and the well-known Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Bwindi is large, only second to Virunga in size.

On paper, the winner of Uganda or Rwanda should look like Uganda. But, there is more to the story.

Bwindi (Uganda) is isolated, removed from a larger connected landscape by borders and human development. Meanwhile, the three parks of Virunga (DRC), Volcanoes (Rwanda) and Mgahinga (Uganda) all largely border each other, forming the ‘Virunga Massif’. This Massif means that the territory for the gorillas to live, mix and mate in is far larger than Bwindi alone. Rwanda and the DRC alone contain a fraction under two-thirds of the gorillas found in the most recent survey, with Bwindi making up the other third. Mgahinga, a small park only a short distance away from the rest of the massif, only has one habituated gorilla family. This is the reason it’s unknown.

So, Rwanda has more gorillas but they share them with other countries. Uganda has two parks with gorillas, but fewer in total.

Winner: It’s a Tie

Which Gorillas are better?

We do get asked this a fair amount also. The actual question is silly, as a gorilla is a gorilla, but what they usually mean is “Which gorilla experience is better?”.

The gorilla experience, in both countries, is highly dependent on the day. Seasonality, rainfall, and the whim of the gorilla, all affect the experience. The people with the strongest opinions are usually those who have only done it once, in one place, and enjoyed their experience. As a result, someone who did it on a rainy day with active gorillas on a steep hill will spend less ‘sit time’ with them. Compare this to someone who lucked out with some sleepy gorillas on a sunny day. It doesn’t mean the place is better, it means the combination was better.

Having done it many times, it depends on the day. Wherever that day is.

Winner: It’s a Tie

Which is more affordable?

This question can be a tricky one to answer. A lot of this will depend on your accommodation preferences, your trip length and whether you are planning on doing much else in the country.

For a sheer cost comparison, we can look at the cost of the gorilla permits. In Uganda, the cost of a permit is around USD $700 per person. In Rwanda, it’s twice that, costing USD $1,500 per person. Accommodation options vary in both countries. Whilst the travel might be longer in Uganda, if you are travelling with other people and sharing the cost then you will save money.

Winner: Uganda

Which is easier to get to?

Rwanda is quite a small country, the fourth smallest in Africa and comparable in size to Haiti or Albania. This means that getting from the airport, located in the capital Kigali, is pretty straightforward. A simple two-hour drive will see you right at the doorstep of the mountains, ready to trek. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see four, even three, day itineraries. They’d consist of an arrival day, a gorilla trekking day (or two) and a departure day.

Uganda is a much larger country, about the same size as the UK. Not only that but the major international airport, Entebbe, is near Lake Victoria in the south of the country, roughly central in location. Whilst this is great for those visiting all of Uganda, to get to the gorillas is at least a nine-hour drive from here, on some less than comfortable roads. You can instead choose to take a light aircraft from Entebbe to the Bwindi area. It does cut down the travel time, but is an extra step.

Winner: Rwanda

There is also another option, less commonly done but worth considering. That plan is to do both. Arriving in Rwanda sees you take a simple short drive, on good roads, towards the gorillas. From there you cross the border and drive another four hours, past scenic mountain passes, towards Bwindi. You then repeat the process in reverse coming back. This option allows you to see a little of both countries and take advantage of cheaper gorilla permits in Uganda.

Which has the nicer accommodation?

Uganda has been developing a range of accommodation options near Bwindi for travellers of all levels. But, for sheer luxury, Rwanda is at an advantage. It has long been focusing on a premium traveller, one who doesn’t mind the higher gorilla fees and is looking for an escape into the destination. Luxury lodges have recently set up camp, so to speak, right at the border of the national park. This also extends the space available for gorilla conservation one land parcel at a time. They might cost more, but the service level and the feeling of being in the gorilla’s world as you eat your gourmet dinner is worth it.

Winner: Rwanda

Which has more to do?

This one has a clear winner.

Rwanda has been diversifying its safari offerings beyond gorillas. They now have with lakeside resorts, chimpanzee and golden monkey tracking on offer. It also has a moving display of humanity with its museum remembering the 1994 genocide, one that profoundly affects many visitors.

But, for the sheer diversity of experience, Uganda is the winner. A large country, bordering the plains of Kenya/Tanzania to the east, the Central African forest to the west and Lake Victoria to the south, Uganda has much to offer travellers. Not only does Uganda also have chimpanzee tracking, but they also have safari options in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This park offers savannah-style safaris with healthy amounts of predators and large mammals. There are also lakes dotted around the country offering a picturesque retreat or the wildness of the Nile river as it exits its Lake Victoria home. There are even the famed ‘Mountains of the Moon’, the Rwenzori mountains, that you can climb and hike. Almost everyone can find something here for them.

Winner: Uganda

Overall Winner: It’s a Tie

We know. What a waste of everyone’s time.

But, it’s an honest judgment. What country will suit someone best depends on their preferences, the time of year and how it fits into a larger trip. Often the country someone ends up visiting will be the only one that has gorilla permits left. There are definitely arguments to be had for each destination. And many arguments have been had.

At the end of the day, it heads down a similar path to the endless “East Africa or Southern Africa” or “Zambia or Zimbabwe for Victoria Falls” debates. It often comes down to personal preference. That doesn’t even come into effect however until you can compare both with personal experience.

So, as a team who has done both, let us give you the final verdict, especially if this question is holding you back from going.


Whatever one you go to will be your favourite.

When you get there, you’ll look into the eyes of a gorilla and realise that there is another life, intelligent life, staring back at you. At this point, whether you made the right decision about Uganda or Rwanda will be the last thing on your mind.

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