2022 / 2023 Guide for Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Africa
There's nothing quite like sharing a few long moments with a mountain gorilla family: the first glimpse of black as a juvenile jumps off a nearby branch, a toddler clings to its mother's back and a giant silverback rises to size you up. To make the most of this life-changing experience, planning ahead is essential.Uganda Gorilla Trekking is undertaken in two remarkable Protected Areas that include Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The latter is undoubtedly the most sought-after option as the safari destination is haven to the highest concentration of these Giant Apes, in addition to being strategically located for luxury fly-in safaris and numerous accommodation facilities.
Your choice of gorilla trekking destination between these two places largely depends on the overall travel itinerary as well as the time available. Some factors such as chances of spotting and prices of gorilla permits are the same in these two Gorilla Parks.
If you are familiar with the map of Uganda, you will discover that the two Gorilla parks are in the extreme south-western side of the country, close to the Democratic Republic of Congo border in the west as well as Rwanda border in the south. To make this more beautiful and worthwhile, majority of Uganda's tourist destinations are situated within the south-western side thus making it easier to combine gorilla and wildlife safaris for more unforgettable experiences.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Being the premier destination for Uganda Gorilla Trekking, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has the highest number of habituated gorilla families, which are accessed via four sectors/regions-Nkuringo, Buhoma, Rushaga and Ruhija. Each of these four sectors is marked by its own features, gorilla groups/families in addition to difficulty levels.
Leaving from any of the four trekking sectors/regions within the unfenced borders of the jungles, you connect with a group of 7 other trekkers for a guided forest walk in search of one of the 21 habituated gorilla families.
Treks are led by expert Uganda Wildlife Authority Rangers, who out of their many years of diligent work and passion introduce visitors to the unique ecosystem of the jungle as well as changing natural landscape while trekking for the Great Apes. The Ranger guides stay in constant communication with the trackers who have been following the Giant Apes since dawn. It is from the direction of trackers that the group guides will be easily ushered to the mountain gorillas.
The limit of 8 visitors trekking each habituated gorilla family is done to ensure safety of the Giant Apes from different airborne pathogens in addition to increasing visitors' chances of sighting the mountain gorillas because it was discovered that larger numbers usually scare away the shy animals. From the start, the formidable steep slopes and terraced hills of south-western Uganda are a clear prove of the challenging trek ahead of you. Remember that this is the natural habitat of mountain gorillas and getting there calls for moderate fitness levels to maneuver through the dense vegetation, muddy and slippery hills as well as rugged valleys.
The higher elevations as well as challenging terrains normally make gorilla treks difficult but the overall recompense is life-changing and worthwhile. When found, a silent wait in the dense vegetation is expected while watching the mountain gorillas 7 meters away. Watching them rustling leaves, wandering and playing, making calls as well as the plethora of other animals create the much needed spice for gorilla trekking adventures.
Visitors have up to one hour to enjoy time in the presence of one of the World's most sought-after creatures but if you feel this time isn't enough, you can book for the more elaborate Gorilla Habituation Experience where you will have up to four hours of interaction with the gentle giants. The accommodation options for this Park depend on the trailhead but include Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Safari Lodge, Mahogany Springs Camp, Nkuringo Safari Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Bwindi Volcanoes Lodge, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge, Lake Kitandara Camp, Bakiga Lodge, Ruhija Safari Lodge, Ruhija Community Rest Camp, Silverback Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Gift of Nature Lodge, Sanctuary Forest Camp, Gorilla Mist Camp, Bwindi View Bandas, Bwindi Backpackers Lodge, Chameleon Hill Lodge, the list is endless.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Just a stone throw from the Rwandan border, the 34-square kilometer Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is another wonderful Uganda Gorilla Trekking destination and undeniably wonderful choice for cross-over gorilla treks with Volcanoes National Park. Interestingly, it is the only place in the country where both mountain gorillas and golden monkeys are trekked. Given its location, it is also a fantastic choice for travellers that wish to trek gorillas in both Bwindi and Mgahinga, with the Nkuringo sector being the ideal place.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is more private and not thronged as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, besides treks not being so challenging. Given the existence of only one habituated gorilla family (Nyakagezi), permits are fewer (only 8 permits per day). Generally, Mgahinga was once the over-flow safari destination for Bwindi although this has slowly shifted for two main reasons. One being the fact that neighboring Rwanda offers more costly gorilla permits (at $1500 per person), prompting travellers to cross the border to Mgahinga for gorilla trekking whereby permits cost $700 per person. Another reason is that it is possible to combine two other magnificent sites-Lakes Mutanda and Bunyonyi. Also, the Virunga Volcanoes in the Ugandan side can only be hiked from this small Protected Area with over 8-10 hours of tireless but rewarding hikes.
All in all, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park takes only 10% of the country's overall gorilla trekking adventures. However, accommodation options here are fewer but include Mount Gahinga Lodge, Travellers Rest Camp Kisoro, Amajambere Iwacu Camp, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, and Lake Mutanda Resort among others.
The best time for Uganda Gorilla Trekking is between the months of June and September as well as December to February, because they are the traditional dry seasons when forest trails are drier, more comfortable and easily accessible. The rainy season from March to May and October to November is usually marked by heavy downpours, dense vegetation and muddy/slippery forest trails making treks a little bit challenging. The good news however is that discounts are usually offered for accommodation and the Park is less thronged.
Permits for Uganda Gorilla Trekking cost $700 per person for the foreign non-residents, $600 for the foreign residents and Shs. 250,000 for the East African visitors.
Rwanda Gorilla Trekking
Encounters with mountain gorillas within Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park are cautiously undertaken with experienced trackers as well as guides who lead groups of 8 persons up Bamboo-blanketed slopes to search and spend time with the gentle giants. The Virunga massif that spans Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo is also haven to the beautiful Great Apes but trekking them in Rwanda is safer as well as relatively accessible.
With the total 604 mountain gorillas in the Virunga massif, about 300 of them are found in Volcanoes National Park and interestingly growing, owing to the good relationship between surrounding communities, the Government and different Conservation Agencies. Presently, a total of 12 habituated gorilla families live within the 160-square kilometer Volcanoes National Park. Each of these families comprises of at least one silverback, a number of females and infants.
A total of eight trekking permits are availed for each habituated gorilla family each day, thus encounters remain as private and uninterrupted as you would wish it to be. With only about 96 trekking permits issued every day in Volcanoes National Park, it is very advisable to book early-whether through Rwanda Development Board or a credible Tour Operator.
Persons with gorilla treks planned for this day are required to converge at Kinigi Park Headquarters by 7:00am for briefing as well as allocation into gorilla families on this particular day. The assignment is done based on levels of physical fitness, age and personal interests, obviously after getting acquainted with the rules and regulations of trekking the Giant Apes. The habituated gorilla groups trekked here are Muhoza, Susa, Bwenge, Amahoro, Umubano, Karisimbi, Agashya, Ugenda, Kwitonda, Sabyinyo, Igisha and Hirwa.
Guided treks up the different home ranges of gorilla families take between half an hour to three hours, sometimes less or more arriving elevations of 8000 to 13,123 feet above sea level. Given the physical demands, porters can be hired to offer support in carrying backpacks or holding your hands while hiking to higher areas.
When it comes to the best time for Rwanda gorilla trekking, it can be done all year round but it is more challenging in the rainy months of March to May as well as October to November when trails become messier, muddy and slippery. Majority of Rwanda gorilla trekking tours happen in the dry season-June to September and December to February when trails are drier, not slippery or more accessible.
Permits for Rwanda Gorilla Trekking cost about $1500 per person for the one hour encounter with the Giant Apes in their natural environment. However, 40% discounts are available for travellers who spend up to 3 days exploring either Akagera National Park for wildlife safaris or Nyungwe Forest National Park for chimpanzee treks, canopy walks and possibly guided forest walks. This therefore means travellers will pay only $1050 instead of the usual $1500 per person per trek and the money paid goes into strengthening the endless conservation efforts as well as supporting local community development.
When you talk of accommodation options during Rwanda Gorilla Trekking, Volcanoes National Park has something for everyone-whether budget, midrange or luxury travellers. In recent years, Rwanda has been positioning as a luxury gorilla trekking destination and visitors who wish to stay like Royalty after the encounter with mountain gorillas can stay at Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Bisate Lodge, Virunga Lodge and One & Only Gorilla's Nest while midrange options include La Palme Hotel, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Villa Gorilla, Best View Hotel, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel and the budget visitors have to book from Kinigi Guesthouse and Muhabura Hotel as the most popular options.
Congo Gorilla Trekking
Congo Gorilla trekking offers a whole different perspective and lifetime experiences with Giant Apes because visitors meet not just one but two gorilla sub-species-the mountain gorillas and Eastern lowland gorillas, both part of the Eastern gorillas. As noticed, the first two mentioned countries (Uganda and Rwanda) only offer chances of seeing only the mountain gorillas.
Where is Congo Gorilla Trekking done from?
Gorillas of the Democratic Republic of Congo are found in different places but are mainly trekked in two phenomenal places, Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks.
Congo Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park
The majority of Congo Gorilla Trekking tours are undertaken in this incredibly popular 7800-square kilometer safari destination in the Eastern side of Democratic Republic of Congo. This is because it shelters the mountain gorillas and this Protected Area together with Uganda's Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park form part of the Virunga massif where over 604 gorillas are found.
Virunga National Park shelters about 250 of these endangered gentle giants occupying the stunning landscape marked by montane tropical rainforest. Of the over 20 gorilla families in this Park, only about 8 have been fully habituated for trekking by 8 travellers each, putting the number of available gorilla permits at 64 permits each day. Mapuwa, Rugendo, Bageni, Munyanga, Kabirizi, Humba, Lulengo and Nyakamwe are the wonderful trekkable gorilla families and to see them, visitors have to be equipped with valid gorilla permits. Treks for these Great Apes normally begin by 7:00am with briefing and registration at Bukima Ranger Post (the official starting point for gorilla treks) where participants are offered the rules and regulations to be followed while walking in this jungle.
These walks are led by a team of armed Rangers and expert guides to offer the much required information as well as security during these walks and last 1-4 hours before signals of getting closer to the Great Apes are sent and once contacts are made, one hour is all trekkers have for watching and taking photos of these endangered creatures. The limit to gorilla numbers and time spent in the presence of these gentle giants is placed to protect the mountain gorillas from airborne pathogens.
Congo Gorilla trekking tours within Virunga National Park also offer the base for travellers interested in hiking to the World's largest Lava Lake on Mount Nyiragongo. Treks also offer opportunities of seeing other magnificent primate species that include black and white colobus monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, red-tailed monkeys and blue monkeys among others. The most popular places of stay during treks in this Park are Mikeno Lodge, Bukima Tented Camp, Kibumba Tented Camp, Tchegera Island Camp and Lulimbi Tented Camp.
Lowland Gorilla Trekking in Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is the best choice for encountering the Eastern lowland gorillas (biggest Great Apes, even bigger than mountain gorillas) that are surprisingly unique to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Of the 12 gorilla families available in this 6000-square kilometer Protected Area in Eastern Congo, only 5 have been habituated for trekking all year round and they are Chimanuka, Nganwa, Mugaruka, Bonnani and Mpungwe. Treks in this Park begin with briefing at the Park Headquarters and grouping of travellers (into 8) before beginning the 1-4 hours' walk through the slopes of Kahuzi and Biega Volcanoes.
Once these Giants are sighted, visitors have up to one hour to take photos and record videos while studying their unique behavior. As you walk through the changing vegetation types-Montane forest, swamplands, bamboo forest, dry savannah grasslands and lowland forest, expect to come across blue monkeys, forest elephants, forest buffaloes, red-tailed monkeys, giant forest hogs, black and white colobus monkeys and many others. Travellers are offered a wide range of sleeping options outside Kahuzi-Biega National Park that include Orchids Safari Club, Coco Lodge Bukavu, Mount Kahuzi Hotel, Exodus Hotel and Hotel Begonias among others.
When it comes to permits for Congo Gorilla Trekking (Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks), they cost $400 per person. This makes DRC the most affordable option for achieving once-in-lifetime opportunities of meeting face to face with gentle giants in their natural habitat. These permits are booked directly via ICCN Head offices and online platform or via trusted tour operators.
For the best time to relish Congo gorilla trekking safaris, choose the dry season (December to February and June to September) because there is no or reduced rains to delay gorilla trekking adventures in the jungles. The rainy season-March to May and October to November experience less crowds because most travellers avoid the heavy rains that bring about muddy and slippery trails. However, remember that these two safari destinations are marked by tropical rainforest where rainfall is received almost all year round.
Packing for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Gorilla treks in all the three countries require packing the right items and gear/equipment that include long sleeved shirts, breathable safari pants, a good camera, rainproof backpack, rain jacket, strong hiking boots, sunglasses, insect repellant, pair of binoculars, energy-giving snacks, re-usable water bottle, a thick sweater for the cold mornings and evenings, cotton socks, wide-brim hat, first aid kit, toiletries and so much more.