A valid passport is mandatory. Multiple-entry visas are difficult to obtain. Single entry visas are available without difficulty. Rwandan visas are NOT required by nationals of:
- South Africa
- Great Britain
- Hong Kong
Ugandans and Rwandans appreciate those who dress modestly. Cotton clothing is the most comfortable during the day. Uganda and Rwanda are warm in the plains but often cold in the hilly and mountainous areas; a rain jacket, heavy sweater and boots are therefore essential. See also our recommended packing list and equipment for Gorilla tracking. Take a look at our online shop to make sure you have everything you need.
Warm clothes, fleece or light wool sweater, moisture wicking undergarments, lightweight wool socks, long-sleeved shirt, strong waterproof walking boots (comfortable for going up and down steep hills), sturdy trousers, sunglasses, a torch, fast film, binoculars, sun screen, a sun hat, a breathable lightweight rain poncho or parka with a rain hat, gloves to grip vegetation (inexpensive gardening gloves work well) and a small backpack to carry water and a packed lunch. It is best to have layers of clothing as temperatures tend to change. The guides will make you a walking stick if needed or one can be borrowed from the lodge. Take a look at our online shop to make sure you have everything you need.
Climbing - mountain gloves or mittens / overmitts for climbing; climbing rope; crampons; ice axe; climbing harness; carabiners; slings; day pack/climbing pack; tent; sleeping bag; sleeping mat; waterproof sacks, such as large canoe bags (Ortleib) for packing tent, gear and sleeping bag and clothes. Clothing - hats for sun/rain; warm hat for high altitude climbing; mountain jacket; rain gear; fleece jacket and sweater; long-sleeve trekking shirts; T-shirts; hiking, climbing pants; shorts; light weight long underwear; light pair of gloves for camp. Footwear - camp shoes or sandals, walking shoes (runners) gaiters (a set for low and high altitudes); and mountain boots that can fit crampons for going to summit. Medical - Malaria prophylaxis; Diamox (helps acclimatisation and reduces risk of edema); non-prescription painkillers (like panadol - avoid aspirin); sleeping pills (for those who find it hard to sleep at altitude); first aid kit; medication; sun screen, about 45 or 60 spf; dark sunglasses. Take a look at our online shop to make sure you have everything you need.
Volcanoes Safaris does not organize or sell international flights. We have partnered with AirTreks, based in San Francisco, the leader in international flight planning, to assist our clients with arranging flights to Entebbe in Uganda or Kigali in Rwanda. Airtreks' travel consultants work with each traveller to find the best choice of airlines, routes, and fares. For a co-coordinated and customized flight itinerary at a cost-effective price please contact Airtreks at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (+1) 415-977-7100 and ask for the Volcanoes Safaris representative. Flights to Uganda are available from British Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Brussels Airlines, KLM, Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, African Express, South Africa Airways and Kenya Airways. Flights within Uganda are offered by Aerolink which operates twice daily flights between Murchison Falls, Kibale Forest, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi and Kidepo. Fly Uganda also offers scheduled flights to Murchison Falls, Kibale Forest, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi and Kidepo. Flights to Rwanda are available from KLM, Kenya Airways, Brussels Airlines, Qatar Aiways, Turkish Airlines, South Africa Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. Helicopter transfers within Rwanda can be arranged daily to Volcanoes Virunga Lodge and other destinations. Flights within East Africa are operated by Kenya Airways, Precision, Coastal Aviation, Air Uganda and Rwandair, making the connection between Uganda, Rwanda and the savannah plains of Kenya and Tanzania easier than ever before! Please note that Volcanoes does not handle international flights. The airlines operating to the region are subject to change so please check with the airline concerned. Please also be sure to book flights at the appropriate time that connect with the beginning and end of your safari.
The gorilla lives in four parks in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. In Uganda they are seen in Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park, in Rwanda they can be tracked in the Parc National des Volcans (PNV) where Dian Fossey conducted her research. Virunga National Park in the DRC also has a number of habituated gorilla families but Volcanoes does not currently take clients there. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has nine habituated families with 8 permits available daily for each group. The gorillas there live in thicker tropical forest and tracking is more challenging than Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and PNV in Rwanda as the hillsides are steeper and it can take 3-10 hours after leaving the base. Five of the families (Mubare, Habinyanja, Oruzogo, Bitukura and Rushegura) are accessed from Buhoma in the north, staying at Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge. A further four families can be tracked from Southern Bwindi, which is accessed from Kisoro, staying at Volcanoes Mount Gahinga Lodge. These families are Nkuringo, Nshongi, Kahunje and Mishaya. The Mubare Family: 7 members including 1 silverback. Mubare is the oldest habituated gorilla group in Uganda, having been habituated between 1991 and 1993 and was named after the Mubare hills, where it was first spotted. The family began, led by silverback Ruhondeza, with 12 individuals, swelling to 18 before dropping to their current 7. 15-30 minutes from Bwindi Lodge. The Habinyanja Family: 15 members with 2 silverbacks. Habinyanja means ‘body of water’ and was habituated in 1997. It was a massive group but it split into two families, forming the Rushegura family. 1 hour drive from Bwindi Lodge. The Oruzogo Family: 16 members including 1 silverback. The group was named after the local name of a common plant in the home range of this family. 2 hour drive from Bwindi Lodge. The Bitukura Family: 12 members including 4 silverbacks The family is one of the newer groups in the Impenetrable Forest and was named after the Bitukura river. Their habituation started in 2007 and tracking began in 2008. 2 hour drive from Bwindi Lodge. The Rushegura Family: 19 members with 1 silverback The family was habituated in 2000 and was named after the place where the separation of this group from the larger family of Habinyanja took place. Their name is taken from a tree species that grows in their home area, ‘Ebishegura’. They are a calm group and often visit the Bwindi Lodge gardens. 15 minutes or less from Bwindi Lodge (It is the nearest group). The Nkuringo Family: 19 members with 2 silverbacks The family was named after the Nkuringo hill where the group was first spotted. They were originally habituated in 2004 because of difficulties caused by their destroying crops of local farmers. Now farmers benefit from the tourism they provide. 6 hours from Bwindi Lodge; 2 hours from Mount Gahinga Lodge. The Nshongi Family: 25 members with 4 silverbacks. The group was named after the river close to where this gorilla family was first sighted. It was the largest group to be habituated and were first tracked in 2009. 6-7 hours from Bwindi Lodge; 2 hours from Mount Gahinga Lodge. The Mishaya Family: 12 members including 1 silverback. Mishaya means 'lucky one'. The group was formed after a dispute in the Nshongi family, at which point they split off and became a separate family. 6-7 hours from Bwindi Lodge; 2 hours from Mount Gahinga Lodge. The Kahungye Family: 27 members including 3 silverbacks. The group was named after the Kahungye hill and are newly habituated, opened for tracking in 2011. 6-7 hours from Bwindi Lodge; 2 hours from Mount Gahinga Lodge. Mgahinga National Park has 1 gorilla group, The Nyakagezi Family, which has recently returned from their travelling in Rwanda and Congo. Tracking in Mgahinga and PNV is usually easier than Bwindi as the afromontane forest is lighter. The Nyakagezi Family : 10 members, including 3 silverbacks. The group is very nomadic, crossing the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. 5 minutes from Mount Gahinga Lodge (the group tends to move frequently and distance to the group itself varies). Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in Rwanda has ten habituated gorilla families with 8 permits available daily for each group. These include Susa, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Kwitonda, Hirwa, Agashya, Bwenge and Ugyenda. Most groups are half-day walks but Susa can take around 7 hours. Tracking in PNV is usually easier than tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda as the afromontane forest is lighter. The Susa group: 28 members including 3 silverbacks. Susa was the largest gorilla group before it split into two and was named after the Susa river. It was the group originally studied by Dian Fossey and is popular because of a pair of twins, Byishimo and Impano. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Karisimbi group: 15 members including 3 silverbacks. This is the family that split from the original Susa family. It has 15 members and it always stays in the lower slopes of Karisimbi Volcano. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Sabyinyo group: 12 members including 2 silverbacks. The group was named after the rugged Sabyinyo Volcano. Sabyinyo means 'old man's teeth' and the group is known to stay between the mountains Sabyinyo and Gahinga, enjoying the gentle slopes and easy terrain. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Amahoro group: 17 members including 1 silverback. Amahoro means 'peaceful' and the group is usually extraordinarily gentle and peaceful, which is why they were given the name. It is a tougher climb to reach them, though. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Umubano group: 11 members including 1 silverback. Umubano means 'live together' as the group originally formed when it split from the Amahoro group. They still share much of the same territory and there is a peaceful relationship between them. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Kwitonda group: 18 members including 2 silverbacks. Kwitonda means 'humble one', a name given to the group after the name of their dominant silverback. They generally stay on the lower slopes of Mount Muhavura but are one of the more difficult tracking experiences. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Hirwa group: 12 members including 1 silverback. Hirwa means 'lucky one'. Hirwa is a new group that was formed when splinters from Sabyinyo group and Group 13 merged. They have twins and are usually on Mount Sabyinyo. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Agasha group: 25 members including 2 silverbacks. Agasha means 'the news'. The Agasha group was previously known as Group 13 but was renamed when Agasha challenged the dominant silverback by leading the group away from him and assimilating other individuals from groups or solitary wandering. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Bwenge group: 10 members including 1 silverback. Bwenge means 'brightness' and shares much of their territory with the Ugyenda group on Mount Visoke. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge. The Ugyenda group: 11 members including 1 silverback. Ugyenda means 'departure'. The group usually stays around the Mount Visoke region and the tracking is not too difficult. 40 minutes from Virunga Lodge.
Only a limited number of permits are available in each gorilla park. It is therefore essential to book well in advance. Permits need to be paid for at the time of the initial safari booking so that they can be purchased immediately. Delay in payment can result in permits not being secured. Those going gorilla tracking need to be properly equipped and should consult our website for a packing list. To protect gorillas from disease, no children under 15 or people with illnesses may go tracking. Trackers must be fit and in good health as tracking in thick forest at heights up to 3,000m traversing steep-sided mountains and ravines can be tough, arduous and wet. Porters can be hired to carry equipment. Part of the gorilla permit fee goes to communities living around the gorilla parks. Permits are non-refundable except for medical reasons and a medical certificate has to be provided. Gorilla viewing can be denied at short notice because of national park or border closures, security changes or gorillas going out of range. In such circumstances refunds are at the discretion of the authority and are not within the company's control. Obtaining a gorilla permit therefore is not a guarantee of seeing a gorilla. One hour is allowed with the gorillas, at a distance of at least 7 metres. Flash photography is not allowed, so fast film is useful (400-1600 ASA). Personal DVD recorders are allowed. Professional film makers require permission and need to purchase filming permits. At the National Parks you will meet your ranger who explains the rules for tracking gorillas and will take you up to the gorillas. Please follow the rules stated.
There are no set percentages for tips. Local culture believes the level of tips should be at the discretion of the client and any token of appreciation is gladly received. These are our suggestions:
- About 3-5% in restaurants
- Lodges/camps US$ $3-5 per guest for a stay of 1-3 days
- Driver/guides US$ $5 - 10 per day per client
- Head Ranger when gorilla tracking $10 per day per client who shares it out
- Porters at parks - $20-25 per day per person
- Hotel/lodge baggage porters - $1 to $2 per client per stay
- Forest walks - $5 per client
Seek medical advice before travelling. In the UK, MASTA (The Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad) can be consulted on +44 9068 224100 or on line at www.masta.org. In the USA, CDC can be consulted on www.cdc.gov. Bring any personal medication required. Anti-malaria tablets and mosquito repellent are essential. Seek advice on vaccination inoculations that may be required. Travel to and from some African countries such as the DRC requires a Yellow Fever inoculation. Drink bottled or boiled water only. Medical services, especially up-country, are basic. Ensure the insurance cover includes medical and evacuation cover.
It is a condition of booking that all clients must have, and must demonstrate to the company prior to their departure, adequate insurance for the duration of the tour. For more information visit our Safari Insurance Page.
Most costs are covered in the safari. For personal expenditure Travellers Cheques and some cash is best; US$30-50 per day is reasonable. One US Dollar is about 2575 Ugandan Shillings and 640 Rwandan Francs (June 2013). Please be aware that high denomination US Dollar bills (only post-2000) are usable. Bills should be in excellent condition with no stains or tears. Credit cards are accepted by very few outlets in Kampala and Kigali and a few hotels/lodges up-country. Only cash is accepted by most places. ATM machines are available in Kampala and Kigali only.
Photography is not allowed near military buildings or soldiers. Before photographing people it is polite to ask. For digital photography, please bring extra batteries and a car charger as not all lodges/camps have electricity. Volcanoes Safaris lodges have facilities to charge batteries. Flash photography is not allowed, so fast film is useful (400-1600 ASA). Personal DVD recorders are allowed. Professional filmmakers require permission and need to purchase filming permits. Those interested in photographing gorillas should note that photography is often easier when the weather is not sunny.
Basic precautions should be taken, as in all countries, and common sense used. Do not carry excessive jewellery and money or leave them lying around. Use safe deposit boxes where available; secure travel documents and valuables. Do not walk unescorted at night. If in doubt seek advice from your Volcanoes guide.
International telephone communication is very good from Kampala and Kigali but more difficult from some up-country areas. The mobile telephone network is good and rapidly expanding. Most European or American mobile phones with a roaming agreement work in Uganda and Rwanda. Local SIM cards can also be purchased in many outlets. Internet facilities are available in Kampala and Kigali and in most major towns in Uganda and Rwanda although the quality and speed of the connection varies. Our guides have cell phones which can be used for incoming calls.
Uganda and Rwanda are both near the Equator. As a result the climate does not change much, this makes both countries all year round destinations. The rainy seasons tend to be from March to April and October to November, but this varies in different areas and it can rain any time of year, especially in the gorilla parks areas. Travel can be slower in the rainy season but the views are often better. Gorilla tracking can be muddier but remains open. In the mountainous areas it is much colder than on the plains and the rainfall is greater. The temperatures on the plains tend to be between 21°C and 30°C and in the mountainous areas they can go down to 10°C in certain months. Our advice is to travel when it is most convenient and usually the rain, which is often for short periods, is part of the great experience.