Tours & Travel

Guide to Mountain Gorilla trekking in Congo

Gorilla trekking

Virunga National Park is popular a national park in the Albertine Rift Valley in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo  known for Gorilla Trekking (PHOTO/Courtesy)

VIRUNGA – Gorilla trekking is one of the most popular wildlife activities while on a safari in Africa become a very popular activity on the African continent. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is arguably the best place to track gorillas in Africa. It is only in the DRC that you can find both mountain and lowland gorillas. The endangered Mountain gorillas attract more visitors because they can only be seen in the wild.

Mountain gorillas can also be spotted in Uganda and Rwanda. In DR Congo, the primates are found in the Virunga National Park. This is the oldest national park and arguably the most scenic. People from all over the world travel to the Virunga National Park not only to witness its natural beauty but also to see the mountain gorillas. Virunga National Park lies along the border between three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can join a group of experts and enthusiasts like you for the best wildlife experience ever. Here’s all the information you need to know about Congo Gorilla tours at the Virunga National Park:

Arriving at the park

The closest town to Virunga National Park is Goma (32 km away from the park). As the park lies close to two other countries, there are three entrances. You can access the park from Uganda and Rwanda. Many travelers find it more convenient to fly to Kigali in Rwanda and then drive to Goma through the Congo – Rwanda border. Ethiopian Airlines and Uganda Airlines have a direct flight to Goma each week. From the airport, you can hire a shuttle from the airport to pick you up and take you to the park. Flights from Entebbe airport to Goma are also available but you can also cross to Congo from through the border with Uganda.

Make sure you arrive early in the morning as the trekking begins at around 8 am. The activity starts with a briefing for the whole group at the park offices before the search for the gorilla groups begin. There are 8 habituated gorilla groups in DR Congo and only 8 tourists may track one in a day. Gorilla permits in Congo need to be booked months in advance. Your tour company should be able to secure one for you before you show up for the safari.

You need to be fit

Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park is not always easy. Depending on the gorilla family assigned, the trek could prove very demanding. Some gorilla families live in remote sections of the park with terrain that is very irregular especially during the wet seasons. So you need to be physically able to walk and climb at times. There’s the option of hiring people to carry your belongings and help you along the road. While tracking the gorillas, It’s very important to follow instructions from the rangers at all times and do as they say. Feeding the gorillas, making loud noises, or making sudden movements may alert the otherwise gentle creatures. You cannot track the gorillas while having a communicable disease. Keep a distance and do not make fun of these amazing creatures.

Gorilla trekking expensive

We’re not going to lie to you, it is an expensive activity. But there’s a reason for that. More than two decades ago, mountain gorillas were an endangered species. They were on the verge of disappearing. Today, with all the money that is raised from tourism, the government in Congo has been able to collect money for conservation efforts. Permits are scarce as the government does not want too many people at the same time. The aim is to conserve the park and the community that surrounds it’s.

Necessary permits

The first thing you should do is to plan on booking a gorilla permit in advance. The authorities don’t issue too many permits, only 8 a per gorilla group each day. Because it is a popular activity, permits can be difficult to find even if you are planning on trekking many months ahead. You should buy it at least 2 months before the trek. In Congo permits cost 400 US Dollars. You can buy permits through your tour operator or directly with the Virunga Conservation Office. Visitors must be older than 15 to enter the park.

Best time of the year

You can go for gorilla trekking any month of the year. But the best months are December to March and June to December. During these months the weather is usually dry and sunny. The temperatures can reach up to 30 degrees Celsius. The rest of the year, the weather is very rainy which can make the terrain uneven. For this reason, tourists tend to avoid the wet season.

Tips for taking photographs

One of the best parts of the hike is photographing the gorillas. But it is the rainforest, so the vegetation is really thick. It’s sometimes hard to take good photos and you cannot be changing lenses all the time. You can’t be moving around too much or you may frighten the animals. Plus, you can’t take photographs with flash. So you should bring medium or short lenses and just take one camera with you. Even if you have a porter to carry your cameras, you have to leave your backpack at least 100 meters away from the sighting spot.

Pack what you need

For a gorilla trekking experience, it is better if you just carry a few things. Water, energy bars, and binoculars are a must! You don’t want to be dehydrated, so make sure you drink water all the time. Whatever you take with you, you will have to carry it on your back. So make sure your backpack is a light one and not a liability.

What you wear is also very important. How comfortable and waterproof your shoes are can determine the quality of the whole trek. If your feet and wet and hurt, you won’t be able to enjoy the experience. Plus, you shouldn’t wear shorts or sleeveless shirts. In the rainforest ants and mosquitoes are waiting to bite you. You should bring insect repellent and protect yourself. Plus, wear sunscreen.

At the beginning of the trek, you can hire a porter to help you carry your things who will charge you around 15 US Dollars.

Rules you should follow

Whenever you visit the park, you have to make sure you are 100% healthy. If you have the slightest doubt about your health please do not visit the park. Anyone with the flu or other contagious disease can infect the gorillas. These animals are very sensitive to disease. To prevent this situation, visitors cannot get too close to the gorillas.

Also, try not to move too fast or yell. These animals may feel threatened by you and will try to defend each other.

Visiting gorillas in Congo is a life-changing experience. The wildlife tours offered by the Virunga National Park are amazing. You can visit these animals and learn about their lifestyle and eating habits. Plus, you will be surrounded by beautiful scenery. What are you waiting for?

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