Silverback Gorilla Trekking – Amazing African Wildlife Experiences
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Mountain gorillas are the largest primates in the world. They live in troops under a dominant male Silverback. The chance to see the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is one of the most memorable experiences any lover of nature could have.
Whereas it’s common to see the more numeric (over 100,000 in number globally), lowland gorillas in zoos around the world it is estimated that about 900 mountain gorillas are left in the wild.
This article gives important information regarding where to go mountain gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. You can also find information about the cost of tracking gorillas as well as the best lodges on offer.
In which countries are mountain gorillas found?
Mountain gorillas can only be found in the three countries of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo.
Rwanda: In Rwanda, mountain gorillas are found in the volcanoes national park – an area with six volcanoes where the American researcher Dian Fossey the gorilla guardian settled. Tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda is considered much easier than in Uganda as the gorilla families are located within a smaller geographical range hence making it a more manageable to reach the gorillas especially for those with lower fitness levels. In comparison to the other two countries, the government of Rwanda has an admirable marketing strategy for its gorilla population and general tourism resources.
Uganda: Uganda has more mountain gorillas than each of the other two countries Rwanda and Congo individually. The gorillas are located in Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. About 400 gorillas can be found in Bwindi alone. The beautiful thing about gorilla safaris in Uganda is that one can more easily combine gorilla tracking with Chimpanzee trekking or sightings of other animal species like golden monkeys, leopard, buffalo among others in Mgahinga and Bwindi. The Bwindi impenetrable national park is covered with thick trees, bamboo and over 300 bird species – a bird watching paradise. The dense forest cover, however, makes it more difficult to locate the gorilla group.
The Democratic Republic of Congo: Mountain gorillas are found in the Parc National des Virunga which is an extension of the Virunga mountain region. One can also go trekking up the nearby Nyiragongo active volcano. The DRC is still plagued by insecurity in certain regions brought about by the different rebel groups. If total peace prevailed in the country, the DRC could easily become the number one destination for tourists given its vast tourism resources. Compared to Uganda and Kenya, the country contains a far greater variety of wild animal and plant life which is found in its vast forests and terrain. Despite the civil wars, gorilla tracking in the DRC has gone on unabated and the number of tourists taking advantage of the lower prices keeps increasing. The DRC is also blessed with two lowland Gorilla parks. The Odzala National Park is home to the densest population of Western lowland gorilla that can be seen in the open grass.
The cost of viewing mountain Gorillas
Trekking mountain Gorillas in Rwanda cost 1500 USD, 600 USD in Uganda and 400 USD in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In order to see the gorilla, an official permit is required at the entrance of each of the parks. Mountain gorilla trekking permits are limited and must be secured in advance personally or through a tour operator. It is recommended that you plan your tour in advance with your tour operator. Your Tour operator will book the permit and accommodation well in advance of your arrival. You need to book the tour first before the permits can be secured.
In Uganda, permits can be obtained through the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). In Rwanda, permits are got through the Rwanda Tourism Board whereas a tour operator can help you secure a gorilla permit in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
How will I reach the Gorilla parks?
Each country has its own rules, logistical and infrastructural challenges. Your tour operator/company will include transportation in the package offered to you. The journey begins from either Kigali in Rwanda or Entebbe/Kampala in Uganda
Virunga National Park in the DRC: When compared to Uganda or Rwanda, the tourism infrastructure in the DRC needs improvement. The roads to the park can be rough. Your tour company should provide a strong 4X4 car and a knowledgeable guide.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: Your tour company will send a guide to pick you at the airport in Entebbe or your hotel in Kampala. You will then travel from Kampala to Butogota town, then to Buhoma which is near the park.
Mgahinga National Park: The journey to Mgahinga starts from Entebbe or Kampala through Kabale and finally Kisoro District. This particular journey is a whole new experience in itself. Your guide/driver will help you spot the green and beautiful hills and valleys in the two districts. The road from Kampala to Kabale is tarmac, but that to Kisoro is not as smooth.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda: The route to the park is only 3 hours of driving from the capital Kigali by car.
Things to consider before tracking Mountain Gorillas
You need to be 15 years and above to track gorillas. Mountain gorilla trekking usually involves walking through difficult terrain that includes dense forests and steep hills – Carry water and a light snack. Ensure that you have proper footwear designed for difficult terrain. Hiking boots and gloves can be acquired from your starting point. About 6-12 groups of people are allowed to see the gorillas in a day. Every group is given about one hour per day of viewing and advised to stay at least 5 meters away from the gorillas. Select a particular gorilla family based on your overall fitness. Remember some of the gorilla families may be located in the deep, steep and dense forest. Moreover, you must be fit and shouldn’t go trekking while sick or with an infectious disease.
You will also need to take into consideration that some of the guides, porters and rangers are reformed poachers. Reserve about a 10usd tip for the guides, porters and rangers who do an amazing work of ensuring you have an exciting experience. Involving them in trek related activities provides a better source of income and keeps them from backsliding.
Listen carefully and follow other instructions given by your guide. They may include:-
- Staying calm and never making sudden movements.
- Not drinking or eating in the view of the gorillas.
- Not taking flash photos.
- Not touching or pointing at the gorillas.
The Best Time to Go Gorilla Tracking
Gorillas are tracked throughout the year. However, the rainy seasons (March-April and October-November) make tracking gorillas more difficult. The other months are best preferred and referred to as peak seasons.
Accommodation during Gorilla trekking
Your tour company will usually arrange for you where to stay after sharing with you a list of lodges and hotels. If you are making the arrangements yourself, you might want to take a look at these hotels and lodges:-
- Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Rwanda: Located just near the gate to Volcanoes National Park provides a breathtaking view of the Virunga Mountains.
- Virunga Lodge in Rwanda: A true luxury lodge and one of the best in Rwanda. The lodge is built on a ridge with views of the Virunga volcanoes.
- Bisate Lodge, Rwanda. This newly constructed lodge is ideal for luxurious trekker. Designed with style and glamour in mind, the lodge has beautiful interiors with great views of the boiling volcanoes.
- Kinigi Guesthouse, Rwanda: Built at the bottom of the Sabyinyo volcanic mountain.
- Buhoma Lodge. Located at the very entrance of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the lodge is made of local material and craftsmen – ideal for those desiring a different experience from the usual glamorous city hotels.
- Bwindi Lodge, Uganda: Overlooks the park and is perhaps the finest luxury lodge in the area.
- There is also the Mantana Luxury Tented Camp at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
- Clouds Lodge, Uganda: Located high above sea-level, is a great choice for the luxury traveler. The lodge offers massages and has got stylish and luxurious interiors.
- Mount Gahinga Lodge: Found in Mgahinga National Park, Uganda.
- Mikeno Lodge, DRC: This lodge is located at the Virunga National Park headquarters in the DRC. The lodge looks stunning with its twelve lava-stone chalets. The glow of the Nyiragongo Volcano is visible from your room.
Planning to go; Select comprehensive tour packages from Mission Africa Safaris – customize your tour with them Ugandan based tour operator.