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Whereas gorilla trekking has been described as a life experience, it requires one to adequately plan for his or her safari in Africa. A face to face encounter with the rare mountain gorillas is the most captivating and emotional experience in life. They feature as our closest relatives, sharing about 98 percent of their DNA with humans and this makes them to be susceptible to human diseases.
Due to endless threats, they are at a risk of extinction in the wild. They are only inhabited within the Virunga Volcanoes, which come with spectacular peaks that stretch to cover the popular Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda and the Virunga National Park in Eastern DR Congo. The Virunga hosts over a half of the mountain gorillas. The remaining population lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda. This park alone holds 459 of the estimated 1000 mountain gorillas left in the whole world.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC is restricted with the view of conserving these endangered primates in the wild and therefore intending tourists should plan well for their safaris in advance.
Where to Go Gorilla Trekking
In Uganda, gorilla trekking safaris are only conducted within two national parks of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park. In Rwanda, gorilla treks are conducted in the Volcanoes National Park while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is done in the Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park. They feature as the only four national parks in the entire world where these endangered wild creatures thrive.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
To track these apes, visitors need to book their trekking permits in advance. In Uganda the gorilla permits are obtainable at US$700 per visitor for foreign non residents, US$600 foreign residents, UGX 250,000 for East Africa residents. These fees always apply to the months of June to September and December to February which is also referred as peak season. At times, Uganda also offers discounted permits especially during the low season in the month of April, May and November where permits can be sold at as low as US$450 for foreign non residents, US$400 for foreign residents and UGX.150,000 for East African residents.
Given the far distant protected areas to trek these charismatic apes, you are advised to use a four by four wheel drive vehicle up to Bwindi Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda. Driving from Kampala to Bwindi takes visitors nearly 8 to 9 hours. This denotes that if you are to par take gorilla trekking, you will need at least three days.
You will spend one day traveling to the park and second day to track these rare species and the 3rd day return to Kampala or Entebbe.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Rwanda is the best destination for short gorilla treks in Africa. Thousands of tourists travel to Rwanda to see the endangered mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park in Northern Rwanda. Of all the national parks, Volcanoes National Park is the most accessible to tourists! It takes just 3 hours on a smooth road from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.
Currently, twelve habituated gorilla families can be visited by tourists every day. This means that a total of 96 tourists can go gorilla trekking in the park. A gorilla permit for Rwanda doesn’t come cheap! A gorilla permit cost US$1500 per trek. If you are looking to a luxury gorilla tour, Rwanda is the ultimate destination to visit.
Gorilla Trekking in DR Congo
The Virunga National Park is a popular spot for gorilla watching! It is home to about 200 mountain gorillas and a great diversity of mammals, birds and reptiles. The park is the oldest national park in Africa and it is a designated UNESCO world heritage site since 1979.
For a truly amazing experience, a gorilla tour in the Virunga National Park is a rewarding trip that will enable you see the world’s most biodiverse treasures. Though the park has been affected by several incidents of political instabilities that affect the Eastern Part of DR Congo, it now relatively safe for gorilla trekking.
Most visitors to the Virunga National Park access the park from Rwanda. You can either fly to Kigali International Airport and travel by road to the Rwanda – Congo border or fly to Goma in Eastern Congo. Travelers on Rwanda tours can access the park via the Gisenyi – Goma border. Infrastructure has been improved in the park with several up-market lodges including Mikeno Lodge, Bukima Tented Camp, Kibumba Tented Camp and Tchegera Tented Camp.
The Virunga National Park has six habituated groups of gorillas and each family can be visited by a maximum of six people per day.
How to book for a Gorilla Trekking Permit
You can either use an authorized tour operator/travel agency to help you book your gorilla pass in Uganda, Rwanda or DR Congo. There are several tour companies to help you do this in simplest way and this has become the widely used means.
Local safari operators are under their umbrella associations and about 80% of the gorilla permits are given by park authorities to tour operators to sell to packaged safaris. This means that if booked directly higher chances are you will miss getting a permit because only 20 gorilla permits are sold directly to prospective tourists.
You are therefore required to contact a reliable tour operator that is registered with the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) for Uganda or Rwanda Tour and Travel Agents (RTTA) so that you can avoid scam. However, you can also book direct through Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Uganda, Rwanda Development Board but this involves a longer process.
For visitors to Uganda, in case you book your trekking permit privately, make sure that you pick it from the reservation office in Kampala before heading to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park. This also applies for those who book in Rwanda you can also visitor the booking office for Rwanda Development Board. You will be required to present your permit and passport on gorilla trek to be permitted to track one group of these unique primates.
If you booked through a tour agent and you are taking a safari with them you may not need to think about getting the permit from since they will handle all the aspects and logistics of the trip.
Practical Tips to Help You Plan Your Safari
You will need a strong 4 by 4 vehicle to travel to Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park as well as the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and the Virunga National Park of DR Congo.
Good 4X4 safari vehicles can be in position to traverse through the rough and rough roads of Uganda roads most especially during the wet season. For independent travelers, depending on the car rental company you choose, you may get a car for hire at US$150 per day for a car and driver excluding fuel.
The other option is public buses that can take you up to the nearest town but you will have to get a car to transfer you to the park and to the hotel.
You have to be at the park headquarters for check in at 7:00am. Any method that you will use, make sure that it is reliable if you don’t turn up at the appointment time you risk invalidating your gorilla trekking permit and having to pay again.
Gorilla trekking is unpredictable and you may as well take from two to nine hours. This means that the lodge that you will spend a night in should also be near for you to connect to visitor center.
You also need packed lunch, bottled drinking water, rain jacket, waterproof hiking boots. You may need to hire a porter to help you incase of heavy luggage and walking stick to help you during hiking.
Tips on Where to Stay During Your Safari
In Uganda the lodges you choose will depend on the gorilla permits you book given that the habituated gorilla groups are distributed over 4 different sectors that arelocated differently! Be careful to select lodging that is located in the sector which you have booked with the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
For the Volcanoes National Park, you can stay anywhere close to the park. The available lodges range from luxury to budget travelers.
In conclusion, planning for gorilla trekking is the most hectic thing in life. While planning for your safari, you need to consider several factors as listed above in order for you to have the best out your safari. Enjoy your safaris with us and you won’t regret in life!