Gorilla trekking in Africa is undoubtedly an adventure of a lifetime. This makes Africa the most preferred destination, not only for viewing the Big Five game but also for nature lovers to enjoy up-close and personal encounters with great apes, especially the rare mountain gorillas or eastern lowland gorillas in their natural habitats.
Since the early 2000s, gorilla safaris have become popular adventures that attract tourists to the East African countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These unique wildlife experiences are best enjoyed in the tropical rainforests, and gorilla trekking guarantees magical encounters. The unique primate adventures take trekkers deep into the dense tropical forest with the guidance of experienced park guides in search of the last remnant population of the great apes that are endemic to a few countries in the African country.
Where to Go for Gorilla Trekking?
The two main sought-after sub-species of gorillas in the world live in East-Central Africa, including mountain gorillas and Grauer’s or eastern lowland gorillas. If your target is to track mountain gorillas, then the must-visit national parks in Africa is Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The mountain gorillas are also found in Mgahinga National Park of Uganda and Virunga National Park in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
All the remaining 1063 mountain gorillas that exist on Earth live in these four national parks in Africa. About half of these apes reside in the two parks in Uganda (Mgahinga and Bwindi), and the rest thrive in Congo’s Virunga National Park and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. In each of these parks, there are habituated gorilla families to be visited, and park officials assign one group to every group of eight visitors to track in a day.
Volcanoes National Park
In the far northwest of Rwanda lies the Volcanoes National Park, a popular location for gorilla trekking. The park lies on the border with the D.R. Congo and Uganda. The park is part of the Greater Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) that spans over the three countries.
The park that is comprised of steep slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes and a rich montane ecosystem is home to the rare mountain gorillas. A trek through the Volcanoes National Park offers stirring views in all directions as well immersing hikers in the mysterious intimacy of Africa’s rain forests.
Within the park, there are 12 habituated gorilla families that can be visited by tourists. A gorilla permit costs uS$1500 and despite the fee being high, it is worthy due to the raving views from tourists who have visited the park.
The Volcanoes National Park is the most accessible tourist destination for gorilla trekking and from Kigali International Airport, the journey to the park takes about 3-4 hours’ drive on a well-maintained road.
Rwanda has also positioned itself as the best luxury destination for gorilla watching. There are several high-end properties that have been developed to offer the ultimate luxurious stays while visiting the great apes. Some of the popular properties include Bisate Lodge, Sabinyo Lodge, Singita Kwitonda Lodge and more.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), Uganda:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in the southwestern side of Uganda and spans only 331 sq.km. The park is on a UNESCO Heritage site due to its ecological uniqueness and amazing beauty.
Bwindi has made Uganda gorilla safaris popular and every year travelers travel to the remote park to meet the great apes in the wild. The park inhabits over 459 mountain gorillas and contains 20 habituated gorilla groups. Apart from the gorillas, Bwindi hosts several primate species that include chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkey, L’Hoest Monkey etc.
Amongst all gorilla parks, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offers slightly more challenging treks due to its terrains characterized by steep slopes and dense vegetation, with an altitudinal range of 1160m to 2607m. This is slightly different from Volcanoes National Park, and in general, gorillas spend most of their time at an elevation range of 1500 to 2500m.
Visiting Bwindi for gorilla trekking is worth it, as it offers a typical experience in the ancient tropical rainforest, featuring giant ferns, rivers, and the captivating songs of numerous birds.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Set in the far south west of Uganda, Mgahinga National Park is undoubtedly the smallest park in the Virunga Conservation Area, measuring 33.7 sq.km. It sits high in the clouds and it is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area. Mgahinga protects the mountain gorillas that roam through the Ugandan part of the Virunga.
The park was established to provide a safe haven for the mountain gorillas that roam the transboundary Virunga Conservation Area. Currently there is only one habituated gorilla family known as the Nyakagezi.
Traveling to Bwindi or Mgahinga from Kampala takes about 8-9 hours by road, and you can also cross from Kigali via Cyanika or Katuna border, about a 4–5 hour drive. By air, the journey takes only 2 hours or less, depending on the weather, and you land at Kihihi or Kisoro airstrip.
Go Gorilla Trekking in Congo
Within Eastern Congo, there are two protected areas located that offer unique opportunities for gorilla trekking. These parks are home to two distinct species of gorillas: mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park and eastern lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
Virunga National Park
The Virunga National Park is situated in the eastern part of the D.R. Congo, bordering Rwanda and Uganda. It is one of the oldest national parks in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This park is famous for its population of critically endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), which are found in the high-altitude forests of the Virunga Massif.
The park offers the most affordable gorilla treks and a permit to see the mountain gorillas cost US$400.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is located in the eastern part of the D.R. Congo, near the town of Bukavu. This park is renowned for its population of eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), which are the largest subspecies of gorillas and are also classified as endangered.
Eastern lowland gorilla trekking in Kahuzi Biega offers a different experience compared to mountain gorilla trekking. The treks take place in the lowland rainforests and require traversing dense vegetation, making it a physically demanding endeavor. However, the rewards are well worth it as visitors get the chance to encounter these impressive primates.
How Does Gorilla Trekking Work?
Gorilla trekking is an all-day adventure conducted with the guidance of an experienced park guide. The day begins with a briefing and registration at 7:00 am at the respective park offices.
The park authorities will allocate one gorilla group to a group of eight visitors to visit, and the long day trek lasts for 2-6 hours, including one hour for a close encounter.
Gorilla Permits & How to Book – What Is the Easiest Way?
Having a valid gorilla permit is essential to experience gorilla encounters in the wild. You can obtain a gorilla permit through a reliable tour operator in the respective gorilla safari destinations. In Uganda, for instance, permits are issued at USD 700 per person.
In Rwanda, tourists can book their mountain gorilla trekking permits at USD 1500 per person with the assistance of local experts, while in the D.R. Congo, affordable gorilla safaris are offered, with permits costing USD 400 per person.
Gorilla Trekking Regulations & Safety Measures
While visiting gorilla habitats, there are set gorilla trekking guidelines to be followed from the start until you leave these apes’ habitats. These guidelines include:
- A maximum of 1 hour is allocated for visitors to interact with a family of mountain gorillas in the wild.
- The acceptable age limit for visitors visiting Africa for gorilla trekking is 15 and above.
- A maximum of 8 visitors are allowed to visit a gorilla family, whether it is in Uganda or Rwanda.
- A distance of 7-8 meters must be observed when interacting with gorillas (grauer’s or mountain gorillas).
- Don’t leave any rubbish in the gorilla habitat.
- If you are sick, you won’t be allowed to visit gorillas.
- Touching gorillas is highly prohibited.
- When a gorilla charges, please never run away; observe what your guide tells you.
- Always keep within your group and avoid overcrowding or surrounding gorillas.
- The use of flashlight cameras is highly prohibited.
When Is the Best Time to Go for Gorilla Trekking in Africa?
The dry season is the most recommended time for gorilla trekking in Africa, whether you plan to see mountain gorillas or Grauer’s gorillas. Each year, there are two phases of the dry season: one from June to September and another from December to February.
What Should You Pack for a Gorilla Tour Trip in Africa?
There are several items you may require to have a successful gorilla trek, including waterproof hiking boots, a rain jacket, a daypack, a valid gorilla permit, insect repellents, a safari hat, long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, and others.
Is Gorilla Trekking in Africa Worth It?
Yes! Gorilla trekking is undoubtedly a priceless adventure. After a long day trek, coming across massive mountain gorillas/lowland gorillas in the dense vegetation can be mind-blowing.
The cost of gorilla trekking is worth it because there is a cost involved in conserving these apes, and the largest portion of fees paid by tourists supports such activities. Mountain gorillas and eastern lowland gorillas are unique primates, and only a few of them still survive in the wild.
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