The greater Virunga landscape covers around 80% of East and Central Africa and two subspecies of gorillas which include the mountain gorilla and Eastern low-land gorilla roam the dense tropical and bamboo forests as the dominant primates. There, the gorillas can be seen feeding on the vegetation early in the mornings or resting under the canopy and grooming each other at noon.
Mountain Gorillas were scientifically discovered in 1902, but to this day they are the primates on the mind of every wildlife enthusiast perhaps arriving on the African continent. As we talk now the discussion is almost certainly happening, with visitors asking about the guides and trackers about the chances of coming face with mountain gorillas on their forest walk. To help you plan your visit to Africa for gorilla trekking, we have rounded up the top 5 places where you can come face to face with the gorillas.
Bwindi impenetrable forest national and Mgahinga gorilla national park
Uganda has fascinated wildlife adventure travelers ever since 1994 when gorilla trekking safaris started in Bwindi impenetrable forest national parks, a UNESCO world heritage and also in Mgahinga gorilla national park which make up the Bwindi-Mgahinga conservation Area (BMC).
The country remains a budget gorilla destination after Rwanda more than doubled its gorilla trekking permit fees. It does not require much effort to find affordable gorilla safaris; no matter prices tend to be high during peak season as many trekkers expect less rain and favorable trekking conditions. The rainy/low season comes with low priced gorilla permits at $450, per visitor during the months of April to May and October to November. Expect to get a quite friendly budget accommodation as well. After all you get to see gorillas with that physical exhaustion you expect to get from navigating wet and slippery trails in the forest due to wet weather.
While there’s only one family of habituated of gorillas called Nyakagezi in Mgahinga, the largest number of habituated gorilla families about 14 are in Bwindi forest. You can manage to enjoy a diverse gorilla experience at in different areas of the park including Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. That means that visitors can find budget lodges, easy transfer, and a lot of activities to do especially if you love birding, canoeing, volcano hiking, golden monkey tracking and nature walks.
Most of the itineraries start from Kampala or Entebbe and you drive for nearly the whole day journey to south west Uganda. There are scheduled charter flights too but we tend to think as expensive but the benefit of driving for 8 to10 hour’s journey is having fun going through traditional Ankole cattle keeping and agricultural villages, meeting the local people, enjoying great scenery and eating traditional lunch en-route. You can also easily connect to neighboring savannah parks for more adventures including chimpanzee tacking in Kibale forest and game viewing and boat cruise trips in Queen Elizabeth national park.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Don’t be scared by the recent increase in gorilla permit fees currently at $1500. Rwanda remains the best place to go for shorter gorilla trekking safari. If the high cost is not an issue, travelers with limited time have the opportunity to trek gorillas in one day and make return flights. This is due to quick accessibility of volcanoes national park which is only 2 hours drive from Kigali airport. Another advantage is that Kigali airport has direct flights from other east African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, and many travelers find it easier to fly and trek gorillas within the same day.
There are 10 habituated gorilla families in volcanoes national park. Because there is practically no thick undergrowth due to large bamboo vegetation, much sun light penetrates through and gives clear visibility to photograph and see the gorillas compared to dense Bwindi forests.
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
DRC offers the cheapest but most adventurous gorilla trekking safaris. A gorilla permit for visitors to Virunga national park is at $450 per person. The permit price is also discounted to $350 during rainy seasons in the months of March, April to May.
Perhaps visitors will spend much on transportation and roads to the park are dirt and bumpy. Many visitors prefer to access Virunga national park by crossing the borders of Uganda or Rwanda via Gisenyi to Goma the nearest city to the park where visitors can also find a wide range of accommodations including luxury and budget as well as guesthouses. The transfer to the park can take near a full day and it is possible to make a gorilla tour package involving multiple visits to the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.
There are 6 habituated gorilla families in southern section of Virunga national park which is located in eastern DRC. Seeing the gorillas is guaranteed but the ragged terrain and thick bushes require serious physical fitness. The rules and regulations of seeing gorillas in DRC require trekkers to wear surgical masks. This has nothing to with satisfaction of observing or taking gorilla photos. Visitors are kindly told to respect the rules for the sake of minimizing the risk of human disease transmission to the gorillas.
Daily treks to the gorilla treks start at Bukima patrol post. This area is biologically diverse and our advice to maximize your chances of seeing the gorillas and also hike Mt. Nyiragongo, one of the active volcanoes in Virunga national park is to choose of lodges around in southern Virunga near Bukima post.
Virunga national park has been herald by different travel advisories highlighting insecurity in the region. This has however changed since 2014 as the Virunga park rangers provide maximum security for visitors to and from the park. Many tour operators will first check with park rangers for safety reasons especially if you were getting to Virunga by road via Uganda/DRC border.
Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo
It may be difficult to access the park taking nearly 14 hours drive from Brazzaville and the accommodations might not be cheap but the gorilla permit there is very cheaper at $400 per visitor. Odzala is part of the Congo basin rainforests and your trip is in the area where the world’s largest populations of wild Eastern lowland gorillas live. The park provides opportunities for travelers to see and photograph the Eastern lowland gorillas. On top of a guarantee to encounter the gorillas in a serene environment, forest walks offer free sightings of chimpanzees and other primates. You also have chances to transfer to savannah plains for big game viewing in the southern part of the park.
Stay in a remote luxury jungle eco-lodge and trek the lowland gorillas. For long years Dr. Magda Beremejo a German primatologist and local trackers have studied and habituated two groups of lowland gorillas. Neptuno group has 16 individuals while Jupiter has 25 individuals and now visitors can trek them at Ngaga camp the main visitor trekking center. Ngaga is part of the lodges managed by discovery camps which are devoted to conservation education and community development in the nearby Ombo and Mbomo villages. Camps offer a lot of activities including gorilla research, river canoeing, big game viewing, and cultural visits.