Trek Eastern Lowland Gorillas and the Virunga Mountain Gorillas in DR Congo
If you have not trekked Lowland Gorillas before, then when you do; do not miss out a chance of trekking the Eastern Lowland gorillas since it is one of Africa’s most adventurous safari of its own. It is a unique experience enjoyed only in DR Congo on the entire continent unlike Mountain Gorilla trekking that can be undertaken in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.
Gorilla trekking safaris in Congo are done in three National Parks; Eastern Lowland Gorillas can be trekked in either Maiko or Kahuzi Biega National Parks and the Mountain Gorillas in Virunga National Park which lies in the Virunga Massif. Virunga is home to about 400 species with about 8 habituated Gorilla groups that can be trekked and in Kahuzi Biega there are over 400 species of Eastern lowland gorillas and 9 groups are habituated with only two open for trekking.
Gorilla trekking is the most famous safari activity enjoyed by various travelers while in Congo. Just like the trekking mountain gorillas in Congo, the gorilla permit for trekking lowland gorillas costs also USD 400. It is truly an amazing experience when you meet these creatures. Different initiatives have been put in place in the country inorder to help in safeguarding Congo’s environment and also protecting and conserving the remaining endangered Gorillas (both Mountain and Lowland).
The most important activity done in Kahuzi Biega National Park is trekking Lowland Gorillas, out of the 9 families only two are trekked. This trek is just as the way trekking Mountain Gorillas is done, therefore you shouldn’t miss out on this rewarding experience of watching and meeting these gentle giants in their Natural home.
Upon arrival before the Park entrance, is Tschivanga Visitor’s Centre where you will have a briefing from the park staff, they will guide you on how to make your payments and register for the adventurous gorilla experience. After that ensure that you take a photo with the huge gorilla statue as you wait for gorilla family to be located. After the location has been confirmed, it is when the long awaited experience begins as you drive into the Park.
The Gorilla Trekking Experience
On the day of trekking gorillas, you will have briefing from the park guide before you begin the trek. The briefing is about the geography, history of the park, how to behave on meeting the gorillas and the facts concerning the gorilla family to be trekked.
After being briefed, you will start the hike through narrow paths in the jungle to meet the endangered primates. How long this trek will take you depends entirely on the gorilla location. The gorillas are always on the search for food through the forest. Ensure you wear a mask because in most cases gorillas catch diseases from human beings.
On meeting with these creatures in their territory, you are welcomed by the huge Silverback who makes sure that there is no any threat from you. When he permits you, the long awaited experience of watching Gorillas starts, you are only allowed to spend an hour with the gorillas, so ensure you use it to the maximum.
Your Expectation concerning Gorilla Trekking
The length of trekking gorillas varies depending on a number on factors like location of gorillas, terrain, weather and a few others. In most cases the trek can take 1hour and other times it can take you as long as 5hours before meeting the gorillas.
During the trek in the forest, make sure you follow the lead guide. There are areas that are steep hence you are required to be in a good physical state since at some level you might need to pull yourself as you climb through the steep paths by holding yourself on branches, plant roots and bushes. You are advised to move with a walking stick and wear sturdy hiking shoes. You will get thirsty hence ensure you pack enough drinking water. Expect the trek to be strenuous but once you encounter the gorillas, it is worth your effort.
When you encounter the Gorillas
There is nothing as relieving and rewarding as renting the jungle to trek gorillas and finding them playing and feeding their young ones. The bushes will be cleared by the trekkers, inorder to get clear spots and views as you watch and taking photos of the gorillas. It is an unforgettable experience!
Never beat your chest while with the lowland or mountain gorillas because they might charge at you all they need is respect and submission from you. Just in case you look a gorilla straight in the eye and it begins to charge, do not run, just stay still and lower your head, this will show it that you submit and respect it.
What to carry for trekking Lowland Gorillas
-Camera (waterproof with no flash)
-Sturdy shoes or boots for the trek (some can be bought from Bukavu)
-Picnic lunch or Snacks
-Long trousers/pants (to be worn during the hike)
Kahuzi Biega was established in 1939 and by 1989 was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park is home a number of eastern lowland gorillas hence remains last stronghold with such species. This area is the 2nd most important tourism site in terms of specific diversity and endemic species in the region.
The park is enormous covering an area of 6,000sqkm, it is covered with rolling hills, tropical forests with a thick jungle and two vast extinct volcanoes known as Kahuzi and Biega which is where the park derives its name.
It is located close to the Rwandan border and the Western shore of Lake Kivu. Kahuzi Biega is a well conserved national park neighboring Bukavu town which is in the east of DR Congo. As almost everyone talks about Mountain gorillas in Bwindi, Mgahinga, Virunga and Volcanoes; Lowland Gorillas are not to miss out, they are more eye-catching and worth each of your dollars and time. The hour spent with these gentle giants is unforgettable.
Kahuzi Biega harbors over 136 species of mammals as well as around 23 primate species, also forest hogs, colobus bai, eastern chimpanzees, owl-faced monkeys, leopards the African climbing mouse of mount Kahuzi, bush buffaloes and elephants among others. According to 2003 reports, the park harbors over 349 species of birds with around 42 endemics. The park also has over 1,178 species which it conserves and protects.
Furthermore, among all the animal species found in the park, the eastern lowland gorillas dominate with the highest percentage. Before the 1990’s conflicts the park had over 600 gorillas but according to 2008 status reports of the country, they showed a reduction of gorillas to around 125 lowland gorillas. By April 2011, basing on the census survey carried out, the Wildlife Conservation Society recorded at least 181 gorillas.
In Kahuzi Biega National Park are 9 gorilla families of which 2 families named Mugaruka and Chimanuka are habituated for tourists. They derive these names after the dominant male silverback. In the family of Chimanuka there are 36members including him (Chimanuka a male silverback), 18 infants aging between 6months and 9years old and 17 females. And the amazing thing about this family is that it has 4 that of twins which is a rare marvel in Eastern gorilla populations.
Kahuzi Biega is located in the East of DR Congo close to the Rwandan border neighboring Lake Kivu, it covers an area of 6,000sqkm. And most tourists travel to this park from either Rwanda via the Rusizi border or Goma. The park consists of two zones; a larger sector found in the Congo central basin and the smaller in the eastern side along the Mitumba Mountains, these two are joined by a narrow corridor. You can enter the park from the Eastern side at Tschivanga.
Concerning the International Airline travels, people that visit Kahuzi Biega often fly into Kigali Airport in Rwanda and drive to Rusizi at the border which is a 7hours drive. The international flights regularly in the afternoon or evening. Hence if one arrives during this time they are advised to spend a night in Kigali and set for the next day for Bukavu.
There are different ways of accessing Kahuzi Biega National Park and these basically depend on the tourist’s interest. Of course the most popular means used by visitors is Road transport, this requires a 4X4 Fleet which gives you a great time during your safari.
Roads to the Park are bumpy ad in most cases you are required to pay toll fees especially when you are connecting from a certain province to another.
It takes approximately 1 to 1½hours to get to Kahuzi Biega which is situated 40km away from Bukavu. As you drive you will keep following the road when you approach Kavuma Airport just turn left at the junction in Miti town. Continue driving without turning until you get to Tschivanga Visitor Information center. You can access the park via the routes below;
-When you start from Goma in DR Congo, there is a road you can use which takes you about 5 to 6hours to reach the Park, it is covered with great spectacular landscapes and also amazing views of Lake Kivu. This route is not recommended and unsafe.
-Starting from Rwanda, it takes 6-7hours to drive from Kigali to Cyangugu city also known as Kamembe(the Rusizi Station border). This is the closest town to Bukavu and when you are done crossing the borders, it only takes about 1½hours to arrive at Kahuzi Biega headquarters and the accommodation facilities near the Park.
-From Burundi, it is the shortest way to reach the park since you have to cross the borders; Ruwa and Rusizi. Driving takes only 3 hours to get to Kahuzi Biega.
-When you start from Uganda and you are connecting to the Park it is quite tedious since the tourists may need to have an overnight stay in Musanze, visitors that cross to Rwanda through border of Cyanika will always have a long drive to get to Bukavu town.
You can quickly get to Kahuzi Biega by using Air transport, this requires you to board from Kigali to Kamembe Airport(Rusizi border) on a domestic charter flight. Then proceed and cross to Bukavu in DR Congo and take your safari vehicle on a 1½hours journey to the Park.
Tourists who have been on Safari in Goma and they want to have an experience in Kahuzi Biega, there are a number of ferries that pass via Idjwi Island on Lake Kivu from Goma to Bukavu. One can also opt for a speed boat or a public boat which takes about 3hours and 4 to 5hours respectively. On reaching Bukavu, you can board your 4X4 safari vehicle to the park. You can hire boats on special order from the shores of the lake, but it’s more secure when you opt for pubic boat except if your boat is been hired under a tour operator.
The costs of using a shared boat is between USD 50 to USD 70 and slow boats cost USD 35. It is advisable to make prior bookings of special tickets and Speed boats to avoid disappointments.
With all these means of transport you should not miss out on visiting Kahuzi Biega because of transport!
Meeting the Eastern Lowland Gorillas in this Park – How does it feel like
Lowland gorillas are endangered mammal species unique to Kahuzi Biega and Maiko National Parks all found in DR Congo. In this country is where trekkers can watch these species at a closer range while on a gorilla trekking safari. These giants stay mainly in bamboo forests and different Central African vegetation types of the lowland forests. These gorillas feed on bamboo shoot and the park has two groups that are habituated.
This trek is amazing since it has no age limit to who treks and also the number of people that trek is not limited. The gorilla permit costs USD 400. Trekking these gorillas is an unforgettable experience!
LowLand Gorilla Trekking in Dr Congo
Trekking lowland gorillas in DR Congo is among the highly rewarding gorilla safaris in the country and this amazing experience can be obtained from Kahuzi Biega National Park. A 3 days gorilla safari to this park can create unforgettable experience for trekkers.
And below is an itinerary that will guide you how the safari will be;
Day 1: Arrive at Kigali International Airport
Basing on the time you arrive at the airport you will be picked up by our company guide who will brief you about your trip and transfer you to Bukavu a town in Congo. You will pass via Butare with a stopover to visit the King’s Palace in Nyanza or Rwanda National Museum or Genocide Memorial Centre. Thereafter continue with your journey and cross through Cyangugu border into Bukavu. Upon arrival you will drive to your lodge of choice in Bukavu, have dinner and an overnight.
Day 2: Lowland Gorilla trekking-Kahuzi Biega NP
Be early to rise and enjoy breakfast before setting off to the park headquarters. Upon arrival at the headquarters you be briefed together with other trekkers about the park rules and regulations. Thereafter set out into the forest guided by the park ranger for this unique experience looking for these enormous lowland gorillas
it is surely a memorable adventure that usually takes 1 to 4 hours. You can take as many photos as you watch the gorillas in their habitat before going back to the lodge.
After this experience head back to the lodge, relax and have lunch. After lunch, head out for a nature walk through the Park in the afternoon. Return to the lodge for an Overnight.
Instead of having a nature walk you could visit the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre (CPLR), this visit can be done on the same day as the gorilla trek. It is important to ask more about this sanctuary such that we organize for you this visit as part of the gorilla safari. Entry fee for foreign non-residents is USD 25 and this goes towards the support of this sanctuary.
Day 3: Return back to Kigali
After breakfast from the lodge drive back to Bukavu as you plan for your flight back home. Spend a night there and the next day head to Kigali.
Note: Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre was founded in 2002 with the aim of taking care and rehabilitation of orphaned primates and ensuring that they survive in the wild. Situated at the grounds of Congolese Government Scientific Research Center, found in an old colonial Belgian building, CRSN.
This primate Sanctuary works hand in hand with the ICCN and over 50 chimpanzees and over 70 monkeys are being taken care of currently. Other species include the porcupine, hyrax, parrots and the turtles. All these animals are survivors from pet trade and poaching.
Other activities that can be done while at CRSN are; having exhibitions in the Old Belgian Research Centre, education programs for the tourists, local people, military and children.