Gorilla trekking in Africa is regarded a dream come true to most adventure enthusiasts. It is one for the few adventure activities that remain interesting even to the 8th time visitors. This wildlife encounter is not only magical but also a heart pounding experience that you can have in the thick montane forests around the African continent.
Gorillas are endemic to the African. They are the largest living primates in the world. On the African continent, gorillas can be found in ten countries around the African continent. Since gorilla trekking is not the most popular activity in some of these ten countries, we bring you the best five places to consider for an exceptional yet safe gorilla trekking experience on the African continent.
These great apes are classified into two species; the western gorilla and the Eastern gorilla. The western gorillas are further classified into two sub species; the western lowland gorillas and the cross-river gorillas.
The western lowland gorillas are found in DR Congo, Congo Brazaville, Gabon, Angola, Cameroon and the Central African Republic while the Cross River Gorillas are found in Nigeria and Cameroon.
The Eastern gorillas are further classified into two sub species; the mountain gorillas and the Eastern lowland gorillas also known as Grauer’s gorillas. The Mountain gorillas are found in only three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Their counterparts; the Eastern lowland gorillas are found in Maiko National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park of DR Congo.
Several countries have developed a formidable gorilla tourism industry to welcome travelers to be part of the rare encounter with the gorillas. Currently, gorilla safaris are common in six countries where you can go gorilla trekking in the wild. These are Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, Gabon, Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
Of these countries, three most popular countries offer this rare wildlife encounter. These are Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most popular five national parks where gorilla trekking is done are found in these countries. These are;
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi forest national park is located in southwestern Uganda about 8 hours’ drive from the city center Kampala. This world heritage site is a sanctuary for not only gorillas but also chimpanzees, several mammals, birds and butterflies.
The park hosts almost half of the world population of the mountain gorillas. These apes live in families that are spread over the large impenetrable forest that is believed to be among the most ancient in Africa.
In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, about 17 habituated gorilla families are readily available for visitors to trek in order to catch a glimpse at the world’s largest apes. They include Mubare group, Rushegura, Habinyanja, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Kyaguliro, Nshongi, Kahungye, Bikingi, Busingye, Bweza, Bushaho, Nkuringo, Christmas, Katwe etc.
With these families, Bwindi is undoubtedly the best place in the entire world to see mountain gorillas.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park is another best alternative for Uganda travelers. Less known to tourists, Mgahinga is a fascinating place to visit. The park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area. It was gazetted with the sole purpose of protecting the mountain gorillas that roam within the Virunga.
Currently, the park has only one habituated gorilla group available all year long for tourist visits.
On a tour to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, you can also visit the enchanting Batwa Pygmies who once shared their habitat with the gorillas, as well as a visit to the golden monkeys; an old world monkey order that is endemic to the Virunga Region.
The park also shelters 79 bird species, several mammals and 3 conical Virunga Volcanoes that make the park one of the most scenic places to visit in Africa.
Volcanoes National Park
The Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular places for gorilla tracking. Located in the northern part of Rwanda, the Volcanoes National Park is a popular spot for tourists who have less time in Africa yet would like to see the mountain gorillas.
The Volcanoes National Park is located within a distance of just 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali Airport. This makes it the most accessible gorilla destination and it attracts a considerable number of tourists all year round.
Currently, twelve gorilla families have been habituated for tourist visits. These include the Susa A and Susa B, Karisimbi group, Kwitonda, Sabyinyo, Ugenda, Bwenge, Hirwa, Umubano, Group 13/Agashya and Amahoro etc.
From the Volcanoes National Park, you can also engage in other adventure activities that include volcano hiking, golden monkey tracking, hiking to the grave of Dian Fossey as well as cultural experience of the local communities that live adjacent to the park.
Virunga National Park
This is the oldest national park in Africa. When you decide to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo, you should consider going on a gorilla trek in the Virunga National Park which is also part of the large Virunga Conservation Area.
You can pay a visit to this park by landing into Goma DRC directly or connect from Rwanda via Grand Berriele (Goma – Gisenyi) Border or from Uganda via the Bunagana Border.
Though the park is always disturbed by on and off civil conflicts, this is the fourth popular destination for gorilla tracking. The park has eight gorilla families that have been habituated for tourist visits. These include Rugendo, Munyaga, Mapuwa, Kabirizi, Lulengo, Bageni, Humba, Nyakamwe and others.
One of the advantages of going on a gorilla safari in the Virunga National Park is that the park offers the most affordable gorilla permits. A gorilla permit costs only US$400 which is cheaper if compared with Uganda which offers its permits at US$700 and Rwanda which sells it permits at US$1500. Virunga national park also offer discounted gorilla trekking permits in the low safari seasons unlike Uganda and Rwanda who rate is the same throughout the year.
Kahuzi Biega National Park
This is a less known national park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the only place where travelers can see the eastern lowland gorillas in their natural home.
The park was established in 1939 and by 1989 was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park is home to a number of eastern lowland gorillas and it remains the last stronghold with such species.
There are nine gorilla families within the Kahuzi Biega National Park and only two families have been habituated for tourist visits. These are Mugaruka and Chimanuka and can be visited all year round.
To access the park, you need to travel to Bukavu in the Eastern DR Congo. A gorilla permit costs US$400 and the park lies in a relatively peaceful region than the Virunga National Park.
Preparing for the Gorilla Trek
- To have ultimate gorilla experience in Africa, you need to be well-prepared as this adventure takes a process. First, think about the distinct terrains you are likely to encounter and the thick rainforest cover. You need to be prepared for hikes within the mountainous environment and a considerable degree of physical fitness is required.
- At all times, you will guided by park rangers during the hike in the forests. The guides will take you through the protocol of observing the gorillas that you should adhere to at all times. They will also inform you about general overview of national park and behaviors of gorillas in the wild. Interestingly, these park ranger guides are well-trained, professional and experienced. When you are done with the morning briefing on gorilla dos and don’ts, you will be put in groups of 8 visitors and be assigned to only 1 habituated family to track.
- Mountain gorillas share about 98 percent of their DNA with humans and making them to be very susceptible to any kind of human infectious diseases. While on the forest, you are required to keep your voices low to avoid disturbing the behavior of these creatures and perhaps make them get irritated, no flashlight cameras are allowed while taking photos and if your camera has a flashlight, make sure that you have turned it off before taking pictures of these large apes.
- Only 8 visitors are allowed to track a gorilla family per day.
- Only one hour is given to gorilla trekkers to strike your imaginations with these amazing creatures
- No drinking, smoking or even eating while with gorillas
- Avoid littering the gorilla habitat and make sure you leave their habitat as you found it
- Wash your hands before embarking on the actual trek
- Use the rest rooms before setting out for your gorilla trek but in case nature calls in the middle of the trek the rangers will advise accordingly on how to go about the matter.