Gorilla trekking Guide in Africa’s Rain Forest
Gorilla trekking in Africa is mostly done in three countries namely; Uganda, Rwanda as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Seeing these mountain gorillas in the wild is one of the most fantastic wildlife encounters on earth. Kwita Nzina is the naming ceremony of mountain gorillas which is carried out in Rwanda. Gorillas are critically endangered species which makes life experience of viewing them in their natural habitants more extraordinary and beautiful.
The mountain gorillas are less than 900 individuals remaining in the wild, even though according to national geographic, the exact number of mountain gorilla remaining in the rain forests is 700. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the number of mountain gorillas remaining is 880 individuals. The opportunity to trek mountain gorillas with in rainforests is a once in a lifetime adventure and is one of the wildlife experiences in Africa.
Best Place to Track the Mountain Gorillas -Reviewed
The main three countries which offer gorilla trekking safaris in Africa include; Rwanda, Uganda as well as Democratic Republic of Congo. These three countries are all found in central Africa. These are naturally found in dense rain forests and are also found in moist tropical as well as subtropical forests of the Albertine Rift within central Africa. These are also two forested mountainous places which are inhabited by the African Mountain gorillas. The three national parks where gorilla trekking is done include; Bwindi impenetrable National Park, Virunga national Park, Mgahinga National park, as well as volcanoes national park in Rwanda. These are also the four main national parks where gorilla trekking takes place.
Gorilla tracking in Mgahinga & Bwindi impenetrable National Park (Uganda)
Bwindi impenetrable national park hosts 13 gorilla groups and it’s located in southern Uganda. Mgahinga National Park hosts one gorilla family. The gorilla groups found in southern part of Uganda in Bwindi impenetrable National Park include; Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura which are found in Buhoma area, Rushaga area which has;Mishaya, Nshongi, Busingye, Kahungye as well as Bweza.Nkuringo family which has one group in Nkuringo area, and Ruhija area which has three families including; Oruzogo, Buitukura, and Kyaguriro. More so Mgahinga National Park has one gorilla family which is called Nyakagezi. This group moves between Uganda and Rwanda, at the time of writing, the gorillas are now in Rwanda.
Bwindi impenetrable National Park is known to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it lies in south western Uganda, it harbours half of the wild mountain gorilla population totalling to 400 which is half of the remaining mountain gorillas in the world. The park covers an area of 331km of this thick montane as well as lowland rainforest.
Mgahinga National Park is also located in the Far East western part of Uganda and it borders Rwanda near volcanoes national park as well as Democratic Republic of Congo near Virunga National park. This is also a gorilla territory which falls in Virunga volcanoes region and spans three main central African countries. This park is also the smallest national park and is about 34km2 forming part of the bigger virunga Conservation Area, which is 434km of the bigger volcanic mountains. The park is also home to one gorilla family which moves between Uganda and Rwanda and this has made it difficult for trekkers to trek this family in the wild.
In Uganda these national parks are managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), and it takes over 12 hours to drive to both Bwindi impenetrable national Park as well as Mgahinga National park. This drive gives guests the real picture of what a rural area looks like and also passes through the most beautiful scenery which is so fantastic to the eyes of the viewer. There is also an alternative way of reaching these parks in time, this is by taking a domestic flight from Entebbe international Airport by charter to Kayonza Air strip which is near Bwindi, and here the guests can be driven for a short while in order to access the park.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda – Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes national Park covers an area of about 125km2 of this unique scenic forest covered with mountains as well as six volcanoes, this is why Rwanda is referred to as a land of a thousand hills. Over a total number of 480 mountain gorillas are found along the border of Virunga Conservation Area which are the Virunga Mountains. The conservation area also includes Volcanoes national Park which is well managed in Rwanda. This is where the great primatologist Dian Fossey lived and worked with the mountain gorillas. The mountain gorillas that live here are habituated more than in other areas and these are used to Human being around them. The national park has got over ten gorilla families including; Susa Gorilla family, Karisimbi gorilla family, Sabyinyo gorilla family, Amahoro, Agashya, Umubano gorilla family, Kwitonda , Hirwa, Ugenda and Bwenge gorilla family.
Volcanoes National Park is also located in northern Rwanda and its 80kms away from the city of Kigali. Access this national park is easy and quick than getting to Bwindi impenetrable National Park. Which is located in Uganda. This park is also two and half hour’s drive from Kigali. And in case you are traveling on a tight budget, you can opt to take a mini bus to Ruhengeri town which is situated at the park entrance or you can also take a tax.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is more strenuous than in Bwindi impenetrable National Park, this is mainly because these gorillas move around less some times. The park’s open terrain amid the bamboo forests allows light in the environment, which makes an opportunity for taking photos than in Bwindi Forest which is so thick. Trekking gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda is completely different. In Uganda, a purchased gorilla permits gives you chance to track that real gorilla family, while in Rwanda, the permit is not specific to a particular family and the gorilla group allocated to you depends on several dependant factors. After, the briefing about gorilla trekking, the visitors are also split into groups according to fitness level, age, as well as the location of the gorilla family at the same time.
Gorilla trekking In Congo
Gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo is done in Virunga National Park, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and borders both Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga National Park covers an area of about 7800km and is home to over 200 of gorillas living mostly in the southern part of the park. This park is also managed by Congolese National Park Authorities with the Institut Congolais Pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), these also partner with Africa Conservation Fund. After, the decline in these mountain gorillas numbers due to the brutal attacks which killed atleast 10 gorillas, the gorilla population has increased and more stable now. Many thanks are given to the brave efforts of the rangers who live within Virunga National Park.
Virunga National Park is also 32km west of Goma which is the capital city of North Kivu province. Transportation from Goma to Virunga National Park can also be arranged with Virunga National Park. The roads to the park are so bad and it’s also best to travel with someone who knows the place. The other option might be to join a guided tour since tourism infrastructure is not well developed as in Uganda and Rwanda. It also advisable that the best way to reach Goma is by passing via Rwanda on a well maintained roads from Kigali. This is also a three hours’ drive to reach the border of DRC which is near Goma. This border crossing is unproblematic and from there, it’s a short walk of 10 minutes to Goma. Another option would be to cross the border of Bunagana in south western Uganda, where you can access an affordable local Visa which can be purchased.
Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, Which is the best destination for Gorilla trekking.
The exact location of mountain gorillas living in Virunga Volcanoes keeps on shifting as these apes keep on moving between the forests of Rwanda, Uganda as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking is mainly selected based on the location of gorilla populations at the time of the safari. This is usually done by the professional tour operators, and therefore you might find yourself trekking the gorillas in either Rwanda or Uganda which are the most popular destinations.
- Difference in Prices
The bad side of choosing Rwanda is that its gorilla permit costs $750 As opposed to the $600 in Uganda. Also in terms of costs, same safaris in Uganda and Rwanda can be competitive and one can find good deals in either of the countries. However, you can get a better deal in Uganda due to the cheap gorilla permit. The advantage of trekking in Rwanda is quick and easy given that the park is located near the Airport of Rwanda. It’s just 116km from Kigali city to Volcanoes National Park.
- Cheaper gorilla permits in Uganda and variety of what to do and see
The main advantage of trekking in Uganda is the cheap gorilla permits and here you can also combine both gorilla trekking as well as other wildlife highlights. A gorilla trekking tour can be combined with lake Bunyonyi which is close to Bwindi , game viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park , chimpanzee trekking in Kibale national park , bird watching in Ssemliki national park, mountain climbing on the Rwenzori mountains as well as wildlife viewing in Murchison falls national Park.
- Distance in Driving & accessing the gorillas.
Bwindi impenetrable national Park is located far away from Entebbe international Airport and this adds more traveling costs on the side of Uganda. Even though the drive to Bwindi is long, but it’s scenic and offers great insights into rural areas. The short drive in Rwanda is not as scenic as that of Uganda but the visitors can easily access the park. In case, you find the long drive devastating, then you can fly from Entebbe to Bwindi and land in the nearby towns of Kisoro and Kihihi. Aero link has got cheap and affordable rates that can facilitate these domestic flights.
- How to get to the mountain gorillas
Within Uganda, the gorillas are found deeper in the forests in groups of Between 10 and 20 individuals, with one silverback. In Rwanda, the gorilla groups range from 9 to 39 individuals including 1 silverback. Trekking in Bwindi is more challenging given that the gorillas are away and after the treks, the visitors normally have to take steep slopes out of the forests to access their lodges or hotels. Rwanda’s gorilla groups are found close to the park entrance, which requires shorter hikes. However, in Rwanda, you can’t request for a gorilla group to track and the groups might shift further into the forests.
- The political considerations
Political stability is an important factor to consider when deciding where to go gorilla trekking; these also include the local political conditions in these three countries as well as the availability of the gorilla permits.
Uganda; this country is stable and safe, this is because it has rebuilt itself after the many years of conflict and unrest especially in northern Uganda. Travelling in southern part of the country is so safe and the country is generally a peaceful country.
Rwanda; Rwanda in the recent years is also politically stable after recovering from the genocide which took place in the early 1990s, its Volcanoes national park can be visited safely and is well managed by Rwanda development Board, its gorilla permit system is functioning efficiently and effectively.
Democratic Republic of Uganda; In this country, civil wars as well as conflicts are still a problem, and the safety conditions need to be checked well before visiting the country. There are militant groups as well as the army still fighting in the Virunga area, and the poachers are a great threat to the gorilla population as well as poverty of the people near the national park leading to habitant destruction. This is the main reason why many advisory organisations consider this area to volatile for the travellers and therefore recommend the tourists to avoid visiting DRC at present.