Gorilla Trekking: Guide to Visiting Gorillas in Africa
Have you thought of watching gorillas in their natural habitat? Forget about the zoos and prepare yourself for serious trekking through the jungles on a gorilla safari in Africa. Gorilla trekking is not only an adventure but a special trip to understanding the survival of mountain gorillas as one of the most critically endangered primate in the world. It is estimated that there are less than 900 wild mountain gorillas with the only places to see them on earth being Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, where they roam the dense tropical mountainous forests.
In this guide for gorilla trekking, we take you through some steps that you’re likely to go through when planning for your gorilla safari.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda
Uganda offers an affordable gorilla trekking with a single permit at $600 of which the price is reduced to $450 during low season in the months of April and May and October to November.
The country also offers a combination of wildlife and cultural experiences because there are two places for gorilla trekking and many big game national parks which can easily be accessed. Bwindi impenetrable forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are located in south west Uganda. You would need to spare at least three days at minimum. We consider a day of traveling with overnight at your lodge and then another day for trekking. It takes over 10 hours to drive from Kampala where your itinerary possibly starts. Flying directly to south west Uganda is great but still you will embark on your gorilla trek the next day.
For many people, Bwindi is preferred because there are many groups of habituated gorillas to see about 14 are found at different trekking locations which include Buhoma (the park headquarters), Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo. Visitors can choose one at the time of booking a gorilla permit and you can rest assured to see the gorillas. On the other hand Mgahinga gorilla national park has only one habituated gorilla family called Nyakagezi. Being the only group in the park, gorilla treks tend to be long as trekkers have to follow and search the gorillas which also move long distances. Nevertheless, the experience of viewing and photographing gorillas remains superb.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
While everyone speaks about the high gorilla trekking prices for Rwanda, volcanoes national park is easier to reach by bus or taxi in just 2 hours and therefore little is spent on transportation.
Rwanda is a gorilla destination like no other where travelers can trek gorillas within a day and still be on time for their departures. Many visitors have done this before but it can be risky in a situation where you spend much time in the forest than expected.
Another advantage is that, volcanoes national park offer the best environment for gorilla photography. Because the dominant vegetation is bamboo and due to little thick undergrowth, enough sun light reaches the ground. Every morning trekkers gather at kinigi, the main visitor center in the park. There are 10 habituated gorilla families in volcanoes national park. These are rated as easy, medium and difficult considering time take and distance covered to find the gorillas. So depending on your fitness and trekking capacity, you’ll be assigned to a matching gorilla family. This can however only be done on the day of trekking and not possible during the booking process.
Gorilla Trekking in DRC
Rwanda and Uganda are busier and a relatively not cheaper with a permit at $400 per person. And the primary reason you would decide to go to Virunga national park DRC is that you consider it cheaper and also want to trek gorillas in serene solitude. Acknowledge ably there’s a sense of adventure and seclusion when trekking gorillas in Virunga national park. DRC receives few visitors for gorilla trekking due to remoteness and getting there is a bit challenging due to bumpy roads. Most visitors access DRC from Rwanda via Gisenyi border crossing to Goma city which is less than an hour to Virunga Park. Alternatively, if you’re in south west Uganda you can easily connect to Virunga via Bunagana border. Note, however visitors going to eastern DRC via Uganda and Rwanda need to have their visa and passports for security checking and verification.
How to book a gorilla permit
A gorilla permit is required for each visitor to trek gorillas. it should be booked in advance of 3-5 months. Whether you book your gorilla permit in person or online via a tour operator will depend on time you have in Uganda, Rwanda or DRC. The good thing is you’ll get your permit right whichever way you use but there each has got some advantages and disadvantages.
Tourists who have a few days in one of the gorilla destinations can go to the offices of the official gorilla authorities to book the gorilla permit in person. They include Uganda wildlife Authority in Kampala, Rwandan Development Board in Kigali and visit Virunga in Goma city.
On the other hand when you book a gorilla permit online through a tour operator you not only save time and get your gorilla safari confirmed but also get to weigh quotes from different people to get the right price. Another great thing with your operator is that they know their clients will make reviews on trip advisor after the gorilla trek, so no doubt that they will provide you a professional guide or driver giving you a great gorilla trekking experience.
Gorilla trekking rules and regulations
With concern over mountain gorilla conservation, it is very important that gorilla safaris are run ethically and responsibly. That’s why all of the tourists who come to see gorillas have to adhere to the gorilla trekking rules and regulations as briefed by the guides at the start of the treks. Tourists gain a perspective of how gorilla treks is meant to ensure there’s no disturbance. Therefore limited human interaction with gorillas is one of the factors contributing to strict eco-tourism conservation of gorillas and their habitats.
Selecting the right gorilla trekking destination
If you want to trek mountain gorillas in the wild then check out the gorilla national parks where several groups of gorillas have been habituated for tourists. They include Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda, volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in DRC. Each of the parks has got a well established trekking system and local guides and trackers have perfected how to search and locate the gorillas in the forest. Glad to guide you to the gorillas even with the physical exhaustion due to steep terrain, hoping you’ll be satisfied seeing and photographing the gorillas.
Gorilla safaris to each of the parks vary in duration of the tour costs and difficulty of hiking to the gorillas. Make the right decision depending on what other attractions you would like to visit.
Go with a gorilla trekking company and be guided or not?
Perhaps this is a personal decision but let’s face the advantages of having a guided gorilla safari. When you have booked with an operator, you get everything arranged and prepared including gorilla permits, transport and accommodation. So by the time the day of trekking reaches you are ready to embrace a memorable gorilla safari. A guide is also very useful in case of emergency situation like accidents or you’ll be assisted in finding the logistics.
Best season for gorilla trekking
Although one can go gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC at any time of the year, there are some months that are particularly best suited with regard to weather conditions.
The best months for gorilla trekking are June to September and December to February. The dry season means less rain and trails in the forest are a bit dry and trekking conditions are not difficult. The only challenge would be long treks since gorillas also tend move deep into the forest in search of fresh vegetation. Being the peak and busy season, you expect a lot of visitors.
However, one can also trek gorillas during the rainy season during the months of March, April to May and October to November. Being a low season, one advantage is that it is the time Uganda and DRC offer discounted gorilla permit and considerably cheaper to go on a gorilla safari.
Being a rainy season does not mean constant showers but trekking conditions tend to be difficult due to muddy trails and wet weather. it may not be fun in comparison to dry season but because of much foliage, gorillas move less and sometimes come to feed around park boundaries or lower slopes. Chances are high to have a short gorilla trek.
Generally, in all the gorilla parks, night and mornings tend to be cold and you need to be prepared with warm clothing.
What clothing do you need for gorilla trekking?
When choosing how much clothing gear to pack for gorilla trekking, we advise to bring lightweight and pack flexible clothing items. Whether you’re trekking in rainy or dry season, you need a rain coat, hiking boots, long sleeved shirts and pants and warm t-shirts or sweaters.
You don’t have to worry about the weight of your backpack. There are porters to hire in every gorilla park and they are glad to carry your bag and also give you support such as pushing and pulling during trekking in the forest.
Every visitor needs a tourist visa for Rwanda, Uganda and DRC depending on your choice of destination. You need to arrange a visa in advance of 3-5 months or contact the respective immigration offices and ask if possibly you could get one upon arrival.
Where to stay
In and around the gorilla parks, you can find a wide range of accommodation from luxury lodges, hotels, to budget and camping facilities. Some lodges are relatively far from the main gorilla trekking centers while others are just within a short distance. The good thing is that your guide will pick you up early morning to the visitor centers.