Within Africa, there only three options regarding gorilla trekking safaris, the rare mountain gorillas and that is Uganda, DR C and Rwanda. Within Uganda, Gorilla trekking is conducted in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks located in the southern part of Uganda. Within the Democratic Republic of Congo, the mountain gorillas are found in Virunga National Park which is a UNESCO Heritage site. And within Rwanda, mountain gorillas are trekked in Volcanoes National Park. The country is also blessed with the western low land gorillas which are found in Kahuzi Biega National Park.
Virunga National Park is located in the eastern side of DR Congo and borders both Uganda and Rwanda. And within Rwanda, mountain gorillas are trekked in Volcanoes National Park. The park is found in the west direction of Goma which is capital of north Kivu province. Transport from Goma to the park can be arranged by the management of Virunga National Park. Tourists travelling from Rwanda have the best option of reaching Goma and it takes 3 hours to drive from Kigali to Goma. Goma can also be accessed from south western side of Uganda at the border crossing Bunagana border where you are able to purchase a local visa for crossing. If you’re planning to track mountain gorillas in Virunga national park, you are advised to book with one of the best local tour operators and the Congo gorilla permit costing $400, Uganda $600 and Rwanda $1500.
Today the endangered mountain gorilla is confined to the Virunga, a cluster of forested volcanoes that straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic of Congo. Gorilla trekking in Congo takes place in the Mikeno area, close to the Park headquarters; about two hours’ drive from the gateway town of Goma. Compared with chimps, gorillas are very relaxed animals, but this is like no other encounter and nothing prepares you for its thrilling experience. You cannot explain the encounter mountain gorillas, there is no denying that being in the company of these great apes, meeting those searching intelligent, eyes in face that seems reflect your own, is an out of this world experience their behavioral trend just leaves you in great awe.
Mountain gorilla trekking experience is all the same in both countries which involves hiking deep into the mountain jungles to observe a gorilla family in the wild. Tourists are led by armed park rangers with machetes to battle with the big vegetation. The park rangers help to locate a gorilla family where it slept the previous night. Both adventures in Uganda and Congo begin with morning breakfast and then transfer to park headquarters for short briefing about the gorilla rules and the forest. From there you are driven to the starting point of your gorilla trekking. In Congo, Bukima patrol post is the starting of your gorilla trekking.
In both countries, the length of the trek entirely depends on the gorilla movements which can take from 2 to 8 hours, for some people it can take short time to find them and other much longer. Trekking to see mountain gorilla may be tiresome but when you first set your eyes on a silver back gorilla for the first time, all the fatigue is taken away, seeing mothers holding their babies, Juvenile gorillas playing, as you keep an eye out on the gorilla family as the one hour passes by, don’t forget to take pictures and videos for your life time memory. It is government law that you can only spend 1hr with a family at a time. This may seem unreasonable, as the price of the permit isn’t that cheap, but if putting a time limit on visits means that it protects the gorillas from catching any human disease and basically from being too accustomed to us. You cannot eat, drink, smoke or go to the toilet near the gorillas. Talking should be kept to a minimum also so as not to disturb them.
The mountain gorillas of both Uganda and Congo can be visited anytime during the year. However some paths are hard to navigate during the wet season of April, May and November. Other months are better for gorilla trekking since it is dry season. When planning for your trekking excursion to see gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Virunga National Parks, we advise you to come with a few things that are useful for you to attain your lifetime ultimate experience that involves trekking/hiking visit mountain gorillas in Uganda and Congo.
- You need light weight hiking boots for this activity/strong waterproof walking boots due to nature and altitude of the forest. So get shoes that have good ankle support.
- Take a light jumper and lightweight breathable waterproof jacket/trousers as temperature is variable and weather conditions can change
- Lightweight long wool socks which are comfortable for a mountain tropical forest
- A few long-sleeved shirts/trousers. Please ensure that you trek in your long sleeved trousers/shirts to avoid insects such as safari ants entering your trousers.
- Sweater for cool evenings and chilly mornings due to nature and altitude of the place
- Please carry a hat to protect you from the strong sun rays if it is hot.
- You may also need to carry some Sunglasses too with neck strap
- Sun cream is also necessary
- Video/photo camera, extra lenses and Reserve batteries. Photography is an important component of your safari and make sure that you have your camera ready, charge your batteries very well and if necessary, carry extra batteries as you will need to take many photographs in the one hour you will have with the gorillas.
- Insect repellents to protect you from Mosquito bites as Bwindi and Virunga Park is a tropical forest so many insects are accommodated there in.
- Garden gloves that will protect you from germs and other items that may scratch your hands.
- A glove to grip vegetation and it’s also best to have different layers of clothes since the temperatures tend to change.
- Energy Giving snacks. Gorilla trekking can take from 30 minutes to eight or so hours and that’s why a certain level of fitness is required. To add on that, we advise that you carry some energy giving snacks as supplements and lots of drinking water as you never know when you will return.