There are about 720 gorillas remaining in the world and these are found in only three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. However due to the insecurities in the Congo forest, many gorillas fled the area to Uganda and Rwanda and this explains why half of the gorilla population is located in Bwindi Impenetrable conservation area in Uganda and also a larger number in volcanoes national park in Rwanda. This means that tourists visiting the area to track the rare endangered species find themselves having to choose to visit Bwindi impenetrable national park in Uganda or volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
Some tourists have however tracked gorillas in the two national parks and often find themselves comparing to see in which national park they have a better experience and value for their money.
In this case, let’s make a comparison of Bwindi impenetrable national park and volcanoes national park basing on the tourist pre-tracking experience, distance and accessibility of the national park, gorilla experience and the people around the two national parks, the accommodation facilities and price of gorilla permits.
Distance and accessibility of the two national parks
Volcanoes national park can be accessed easily and quickly because Rwanda is a small country and it only takes a 3 hours drive from the airport to reach the national park.
In Bwindi it’s a very different story. The park is over 600kms from the city center and would take a 9 or 10 hours drive to get there. However, there are flight operations between Entebbe international airport and Kajjansi airfields to kihihi and Ishasha airstrips in kanungu district. Tourists can then be transferred from here to Bwindi. A flight ticket may cost around $260 with Aero link Uganda.
In Rwanda, the pre-tracking experience is a bit limited because it would only take a 3 hours drive to volcanoes national park. This is very convenient for tourists interested in spending shorter time in east Africa. In volcanoes tourists have high chances of tracking gorillas the same day of their arrival without getting too exhausted.
While in Uganda a tourist will get a great pre-tracking experience mainly because Bwindi impenetrable national park is located in southwestern Uganda several kilometers from the city center (between 550-600km on road a 9 or 10 hours drive) depending on the route used. This gives a tourist a chance to view various attraction en-routes, stopovers at the equator for photographs, interaction with the highly hospitable Ugandans, and visit other national parks for game viewing especially Kibale forest national park, Queen Elizabeth national park and Lake Mburo national park. This however is best for tourists on long holiday vacations and those interested in viewing Uganda’s wild animals.
The price of gorilla permits
Gorilla permits in Uganda are relatively cheaper compared to Rwanda. In Uganda, a permit costs $600 and in Rwanda it costs $750. Budget tourists are therefore likely to track gorillas in Uganda and save the $150 for other expenses. However much as tourists pay $750 which seems to be a higher price, before tracking as tourists take a cup of tea, they get entertained by the local performances and yet in Uganda tourists get such entertainment on additional costs and its done in the evening.
Accommodation facilities around the parks
Around Bwindi impenetrable national park, there are many accommodation facilities for example cloud lodges, gorilla forest camp, mahogany springs, Buhoma lodge, Bwindi volcano lodge and many others which all offer luxury services. A tourist here can easily choose and go the accommodation facility of his/her choice.
In Rwanda there are also good accommodation facilities for example, Sabyinyo silverback lodge, Virunga lodge, Gorilla Mountain View but most tourists prefer staying in Virunga lodges.
The tracking experience
Uganda currently has twelve habituated gorilla groups however tourists can only visit eleven of those because one was left for research. However these gorilla groups maybe a little far a way from the park entrance and because they are always moving, it may take time to get one. Tracking through the impenetrable forest and hilly topography may be difficult and tourists who cannot carry their luggage for long are advised to hire porters. Some gorilla groups are social and tourists easily take their photos as they pose in the thick vegetation. The thick forest vegetation however sometimes makes it hard to take photographs especially of the gorillas that are not so social and still shy.
Rwanda has ten gorilla groups that can be tracked. A tourist tracking gorillas in volcanoes national park Rwanda has high chances of seeing them as well as easily taking photographs because volcanoes national park is on a higher elevation (2500 meters and above) compared to Bwindi’s elevation which ranges from 1000-2000 meters. The vegetation cover in volcanoes is also not as thick as it is in Bwindi thus giving tourists a chance to view many gorillas in their natural environment and easily take photographs.
The people around the two national parks;
Bwindi impenetrable national park is surrounded by the Batwa pygmies as well as the Bakiga. These have unique cultures which acts as tourist’s attractions themselves especially the Batwa community. A tourist visiting them can engage in activities like the Batwa trail, community walks, forest walks, get entertained by traditional dances and performances.
Volcanoes national park also has locals around but however they may not give a fascinating experience to the tourist like the Batwa community in Bwindi impenetrable national park.
In Conclusion, both Uganda and Rwanda offer fantastic gorilla tours which a traveler should not miss as each experience is quite different and the terrain is different too. This choice however depends a lot on his/her income, time and desire to visit other attractions. Both Bwindi impenetrable national park and volcanoes national park are interesting and unique in their own ways and therefore different individuals can have different satisfaction levels on their experiences and value for money. For a fair comparison, its better for tourists to visit the two national parks after all they are near each other and it’s even very easy to cross the border from Uganda to Rwanda or from Rwanda to Uganda as long as you have proper travel documents.