There are now more than 1000 mountain gorillas living in mountainous tropical rainforest national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. Gorilla tourism and conservation have helped gorillas recover from extinction. And today mountain gorillas are well protected and those which have been habituated and can be visited by tourists in 4 national parks which include Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda, Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in DR Congo.
Some of the gorilla families that are well habituated for tourists to see include 17 gorilla families in Bwindi and Mgahinga Uganda, 10 gorilla families in Rwanda’s volcanoes national park and 6 families in Virunga national park DR Congo.
Coming eye to eye with a mountain gorilla family in the wild can be a magical wildlife encounter. But the adventure will also take you through some of Africa’s most beautiful tropical rainforests.
Gorilla trekking is an experience where tourists guided by rangers go hiking through forests and searching for the gorillas. Any travelers with little fitness can see gorillas regardless of the challenging terrain and thick vegetation. Put your worries down, there’s an option to hire porters at the gorilla centers. The porter can give you a push in the forest, carry your pack and if at all you can’t walk, you can be lifted and still be taken to the gorillas.
There are rules and regulations that apply which every tourist needs to read before planning for gorilla tracking safari. The rules such as keeping 7 meters distance are meant to protect gorillas from tourist disturbance.
Looking at which national parks to visit for gorilla tracking safari, there are factors that will help you determine one place where to go. Look at the cost of a gorilla permit, transport and accessibility, the terrain of the gorilla park for those with hiking preferences and other attractions to add in your itinerary.
Travelers, who can’t narrow down their gorilla tracking place of choice, need to contact a registered tour operator for more explanation. Once you have decided on the destination to visit, then you should plan for your gorilla tracking safari which starts with booking a gorilla permit. The chance to see gorillas is 100% guarantee once your gorilla permit is confirmed by the park, and registered in your names. The permit allows tourists to spend 1 hour up close with gorillas thereby taking pictures and observing how they feed and interact with each other. Gorilla trekking is such an amazing wildlife experience.
Uganda, Rwanda, or Democratic Republic of Congo which is the best for gorilla tracking
Rwanda and Uganda are most popular destinations for travelers to see gorillas due to their well-developed gorilla tourism, modern roads, lots of accommodations and wildlife viewing as well as safety and security. While DR Congo’s Virunga National Park is currently closed due to security issues but it is set to reopen in 2019.
Though it depends on a traveler’s budget and time, Uganda’s gorilla trekking safari is very affordable with a permit at $600 USD and adventurous than Rwanda which just hiked its gorilla permit price to $1500 USD. Uganda has two places to see gorillas, which are Bwindi and Mgahinga which are 10 hours’ drive journey away from the airport while Rwanda has got only volcanoes national park located just 2 hours’ drive from Kigali. For those going to Uganda, there’s a lot to expect en route to Bwindi, such as equator experience, overnight trips in other wildlife parks like chimp tracking in Kibale forest or Queen Elizabeth or Lake Mburo. For Rwanda it just straight forward go to the gorillas which makes her counterpart Uganda best place for gorilla trekking.
Best time to do gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking can be done any time of the year. However, given that you will be hiking through dense tropical forests where your guide often cuts through dense foliage with a machete to create a path. Then it would be important to understand how the dry season and wet season may affect your gorilla tracking.
Generally the dry season is the best time to travel to see gorillas is between December to February and June to September when it is the dry season. Dry season implies that there’s less rainfall which makes it easier for hiking in the rainforests on foot. However one of the downsides is that longer and tough treks should be expected as gorillas are likely moving deep into the forests looking for fresh vegetation. Longer treks we mean hiking for 3-5 hours before you actually get to see the gorillas. As the sun can be intense, it is recommended to wear light clothing for day treks.
On the other hand, the rain season does not affect gorilla trekking at all. But April to May and October to November the rain is more frequent and can be quite heavy. This means trails are muddy and you will experience slipperiness while hiking in the forests. But rain has its own advantages. There’s possibility for tourists to find the gorillas within few hours of hiking is high as opposed to longer treks in the dry season.
Packing for gorilla trekking
Know the months of the year you are coming to trek gorillas and so pack according to the kind of weather conditions you expect to find. The forests like Bwindi are humid and wet places and also full of biting insects, thorny and stinging plants. So you will dress to protect your body. Light weight long pants, long sleeve shirts, hiking boots, long socks to tuck your pants into, gloves, mosquito repellant, hat are some of the important items that you need to pack for gorilla trekking.
If you trekking gorillas in the rain season, it might rain on you so you should pack rain jacket, gators which cover from the ankles to knees. Quick to dry clothing are a great idea if you get wet. You should also have a pair of clothing to change when you get back to the lodge or right after the rain stops.
A day pack is important to carry all you need including camera and its accessories, packed food, drinking water to stay hydrated and other essentials.
How to book gorilla permits
Uganda has many gorilla permits but they tend to sell out quickly due to high demand especially in the peak/ dry season. The same applies for Rwanda or DR Congo. So you have to book a gorilla permit at least 3-4 months in advance.