Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Africa
Gorilla trekking in Africa is by far an unusual wildlife experience, something we consider a bucket-list adventure. Africa is home to endangered mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, and the western lowland gorillas. A glimpse at these apes in the wild while on a gorilla safari in Africa leaves many filled with lots of lasting memories. Gorilla safaris in Africa introduce you into the jungles to trek mountain gorillas and the eastern lowland gorillas.
Where to go for gorilla trekking in Africa
Gorilla trekking in Africa is mainly conducted in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Amazingly, each gorilla destination offers a unique experience and a visit to two or all the three countries never leaves you in regrets. Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC offer travelers on a gorilla safari in Africa opportunity to see mountain gorillas while in their natural habitat. It is a magical experience not to be missed on a gorilla trekking safari in Africa. Currently, there are about 1063 mountain gorillas left on planet earth and they are confined within the three countries.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is only conducted in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are situated in Southwestern Uganda and they host nearly half of all the 1063 mountain gorillas that the world boasts of today thus making Uganda a premier gorilla destination. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was founded in 1991 and it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Its establishment was primarily to protect mountain gorillas and currently, it prides itself as a home to 459 mountain gorillas. This park sits in an area of 331sq.km comprising largely of tropical rain-forest. Gorilla treks in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are done in any one of its four regions; Ruhija, Rushaga, Nkuringo, and Buhoma. Each of these gorilla trekking areas has habituated gorilla groups that make up a total of about 20 and they include; Oruzongo, Bitukura, Christmas, Kyaguriro, Nshongi, Kahungye, Katwe, Nkuringo, Kutu, Busingye, Mubare, Habinyanja, Bushaho, Bikingi, Bweza, Mukiza, Mishaya, Mucunguzi, Rushegura, and Rwingi.
Nyakagezi gorilla family is the only habituated gorilla group set for gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. For visitors with the plan to trek gorillas in less crowded places, Mgahinga National Park is incredibly the best alternative. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits in an area of 33.7sq.km making it the smallest park in Uganda. It forms part of the vast Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) that also covers Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in DR Congo. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Where to stay in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park
Luxury lodges in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park include Chameleon Hill Lodge, Clouds Mount Gorilla Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Mahogany Springs Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Gorilla Safari Lodge. Mid-range lodges in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park include Nkuringo Gorilla Camp, Silverback Lodge Bwindi, Gorilla Mist Camp, Gorilla Valley Lodge, Engagi Lodge Bwindi, and Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp. Budget lodges in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park include among others Buhoma Community Rest Camp, Wagtail Eco Safari Camp, Broadbill Forest Camp, Gift of Nature Lodge, Bwindi View Bandas.
Luxury lodges in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park include Mount Gahinga Lodge. Mid-range options are Mucha Hotel Kisoro, Traveler’s Rest Hotel Kisoro and budget alternatives are Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp and Kisoro Tourist Hotel.
How to get to Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are reachable by road or by air. By road, travelers on Uganda gorilla trekking safari can start their journey to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga National Park from Entebbe International Airport or a hotel/place of residence in Kampala. Driving to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park may take you about 9-10 hours in a comfortable 4×4 drive safari vehicle. You will drive through Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale to Bwindi or Kisoro to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Starting from Queen Elizabeth National Park (Mweya) via Kihihi-Buhoma, spend about 3 hours. Not to spend long hours on the road trip, you can begin your trip from Kigali via Katuna or Chanika border and you drive to the park of your preference which may take you about 3-4 hours.
Alternatively, you can opt for flight services starting from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airfield to Kihihi or Kisoro airstrip.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Visitors on Rwanda safari can trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda only in Volcanoes National Park. This park was established in 1925 and occupies an area of about 160sq.kms. It is an amazing gorilla destination of its own to consider for gorilla trekking in Africa. It is home to 10 habituated gorilla groups which include Hirwa, Bwenge, Agashya (Group 13), Amahoro, Susa A, Karisimbi (Susa B), Kwitonda, Uganda, Umubano, and Sabyinyo.
Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park
The available accommodation options for a night stay in Volcanoes National Park include Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Bisate Lodge, (Luxury); Hotel Muhabura, Villa Gorilla, Kinigi Guesthouse (Budget); Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Volcanoes Hotel, La Palme Hotel, Best View Hotel, Mountain Gorillas Nest Lodge, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge (Mid-Range).
How to get Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park lies in the Northern Province of Rwanda, about 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali capital city. For a successful road trip, you need a good and comfortable 4×4 drive safari vehicle to help you get to Volcanoes National Park.
Gorilla trekking in DR Congo
Gorilla trekking in DR Congo is conducted in two national parks; the Virunga National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park. Virunga National Park sits in the Eastern side of DRC and its establishment in 1925 was primarily to offer refuge to a section of mountain gorillas. Today, this 7800sq.km protected area prides itself as a home to over 300 mountain gorillas making it one of the amazing gorilla destinations to visit for gorilla trekking in Africa. It is managed by Congolese National Park Authorities together with the Institut Congolais Pour la Conservation de la Nature.
Virunga National Park is comprised of 8 habituated gorilla families and they include Lulengo, Humba, Bageni, Mapuwa, Munyaga, Nyakamwe, Rugendo gorilla family and Kabirizi gorilla family.
How to get to Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is found in Eastern DR Congo, about 32kms West of Goma. It is possible to arrange transport with the park authorities or drive via Bunagana Southwestern Uganda.
Kahuzi Biega National Park is an ideal destination to visit in DR Congo and Africa at large for eastern lowland gorilla trekking. It was established in 1970 and it sits in an area of about 6000sq.kms. This park is comprised of 12 gorilla families although only 4 have been habituated which is Mpongwe, Chimanuka, Mugahuka, and Bonnani. Kahuzi Biega National Park is about 30kms drive from Bukavu Town.
Best time to visit Africa for gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking in Africa can be done at any time of the year given its favorable weather conditions. For starters, the dry season is regarded as the best time to visit Africa for gorilla trekking. The two dry seasons are usually experienced in Africa; between June, July, August, September, and December, January, February. The dry months are favorable for gorilla trekking in Africa because it is a period when there is low rainfall received and the habitat remains relatively drier.
It is also possible to trek gorillas in Africa during the wet or rainy season. The wet/rainy months of the year in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC occur in March, April, May, and October, November. Plenty of rainfall is experienced during these months and there is plenty of forage for gorillas to feed on.
What to expect on a gorilla trek?
On a gorilla trek in Africa, your day begins with you waking up early in the morning, have your breakfast and by 7:00 am, you will be expected at the respective park headquarters for a briefing on the set guidelines for gorilla trekking. Briefing is always conducted by the park official or park ranger guide. You will be allocated a gorilla group to trek and at 8:00 am, you will begin a search for a gorilla family assigned to you in a group of 8 visitors and park ranger guide will lead you. Once you come across a gorilla family, you have an hour of magical encounter, take photos and learn how they behave. On a trek to see gorillas higher chances are you will come other species; birds, primates and plants.
Gorilla trekking rules and regulations
Before setting off on actual gorilla trek, the park official will briefs visitors on the set gorilla trekking rules and regulations. These rules/safety measures are mainly to ensure your safety and also the health of gorillas since they are susceptible to human infectious diseases. Some of the rules and regulations to observe on gorilla trekking in Africa include;
- To trek mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC, you should be 15 years and above.
- Do not go trekking gorillas if you are sick.
- Please cover your mouth in case you need to cough and nose when sneezing.
- 8 visitors are assigned to trek one habituated gorilla family.
- A distance of 7-8 meters should be kept away from gorillas.
- No flashlight camera is allowed when taking pictures of gorillas.
- Always keep your voices low but feel free to ask any question.
- Don’t eat, smoke or drink near or in the presence of gorillas.
- Leave the habitat the way you found it or in a better state.
Cost of gorilla permits
Uganda issues out gorilla permits to trekkers at $600 for foreign non-residents, $500 for foreign residents and the East African Citizens at Shs.250,000. This is expected to run up to 30th June 2020 and from 1st July, each gorilla permit will be obtainable at $700 if you are a foreign non-resident, $600 for foreign residents and the East African Citizens at Shs.250,000. Gorilla permits in Uganda are obtainable through our reservation team or directly through reservation team at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
In Rwanda, gorilla trekking permits are sold at $1500. Visitors on Rwanda gorilla safari can secure their permits through our reservation team or directly with Rwanda Development Board (RDB). In DR Congo, gorilla permits are obtainable at $450 and can be booked through our reservation team or Virunga National Park authorities.
What to pack for gorilla trekking in Africa?
A successful gorilla trekking safari in Africa requires you to pack appropriately. In your packing list, always consider essential items first and they include among others waterproof hiking boots, daypack, insect repellents, rain jacket or poncho, camera with no flashlight, long-sleeved shirt, gorilla permit, valid visa, passport, sweater, sunglasses, first aid kit, toiletries, hat, trousers, prescribed anti-malarial medication, gardening gloves, socks.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking in Africa is an amazing experience of its own. Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC are the three countries in Africa any traveler should think of paying a visit when it comes to the gorilla trekking experience in Africa.