How to Pick a Gorilla Trek in Africa

After an hour of walking on a proper trail carved through lush jungle, our armed guards and guide led us into the bush. There are rolling hills on each side us, with more valleys on the other sides. Using machetes, they carve a path. We bushwhack over to the next valley before heading over to the next valley once again.

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View from the Start of the Hike

The guide is staying in constant contact with the trackers who are one mile ahead. Eventually we get close enough to the trackers that we can hear their calls over in the next valley. The Gorillas are close. The excitement builds. Just minutes away, we see a huge tree shaking. When we first saw the gorilla, panic ensues. Everyone rushes in, pointer fingers erect, cameras out, ready for a show.

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On the Trail

Seeing the gorillas is not just everything we could have hoped for, it’s also more. To see their movements, their massive size, their interaction with one another, their facial expressions, their hands, and most of the time, their eating habits, is an experience we will never forget. The gorillas are stunning creatures that left us a lasting impression and wanting more.

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Hiking through the Jungle

About Gorilla Trekking:

These treks are to see the rare and endangered mountain gorillas. While there are lowland gorillas throughout Central and parts of Western Africa, there are only three countries in Africa to see the mountain gorillas. Only 880 in the World remain. You can find them throughout the Virunga mountains which border Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries offer gorilla treks, within their own respective national parks, Volcano’s National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Virunga National Park. The gorillas all live within families, which can range in size from just a few to about 20 gorillas.

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Silverback Male Gorilla

How to Get There:

Rwanda is the easiest place to access all four parks. While possible to fly to Kampala or Goma, Kigali is easiest to get to these parks. As a result, trekking in Rwanda is most common and the easiest from a logistical standpoint, but it is the most expensive. Just a 2 hour drive from Kigali is Volcano’s National Park. Congo (D.R.C.) is not difficult to get to, where you can take a bus or car 3-4 hours to Gisenyi, Rwanda. From Gisenyi you cross the border to Goma, where the Virunga trek starts from. Congo (D.R.C.) is the cheapest option, but of course requires you to go to Congo and can come with some safety risks. Uganda is priced in the middle, but the most difficult to get to. Both Mgahinga and Bwindi are remote in the Southwest corner of the country. Both are a 6-7 hour drive from Kigali. However, Uganda contains the most gorillas, half of the remaining 880 mountain gorillas.

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Male Silverback Eating

How to Pick a Gorilla Trek:

Location is obviously the first decision to make. Pick the National Park of choice then specific arrangements can follow. Tours can be arranged starting from Kigali. Private transfers can be hired or public buses (matatu) can be taken to each of the National Parks. Due to high demand for these treks, it is recommended to always book before arriving to have permits set for your specific dates of interest. Each park has different arrangements. In some cases you can book ahead the exact family you are going to see. In other cases, you arrive the morning of your trek and the park will assign groups and your family for the trek.

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Male Silverback

Websites for Assistance with Picking Gorilla Families:

How to Pick a Gorilla Trek in Africa, Mountain Gorilla's, Mgahinga Gorilla Park, Bwindi, Virunga, Volcano's, Trek, Hike, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo

Male Silverback

National Park Options for Gorilla Trekking:

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Young Gorilla Hanging Out in Bwindi

Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo:

Just across the border of Gisenyi, Rwanda is Goma, the base for all activities in Virunga National Park. The D.R.C. comes with some safety risk as every few years there has been risk of rebel groups, however besides a period in 2012 and 2013, Virunga has been safe and heavily protected. Goma likewise has been safe and with thousands of U.N. soldiers present. Virunga is the cheapest option and easiest to get permits, especially with shorter notice. Goma is a large city with accommodations, restaurants and supermarkets, yet surprisingly it is expensive.

COST: Gorilla permits cost $400 USD per person

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Male Silverback

Volcano’s National Park, Rwanda:

Volcano’s is just next to the city of Ruhengeri more commonly known by its prior name of Musanze. A large town in Rwanda, Musanze caters to budget backpackers and high end customers alike. Tours originate from Musanze just 16km from the National Park in the village of Kinigi. Kinigi also has some lodging available. Rwanda is the busiest of these parks for Gorilla Trekking so make sure to book well in advance for your Gorilla permits.

COST: Gorilla permits cost $750 USD per person

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Female Gorilla

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP, Uganda:

Bwindi is a gem in the Southwest corner of Uganda. Africa’s oldest rainforest is a few hours from the border of Rwanda, Bwindi is beautiful rolling mountains surrounded by valleys rich in agriculture. Only a small village sits outside the park with options for accommodation from budget backpackers to upscale lodges.

COST: Gorilla permits cost $600 USD per person

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Silverback Male Gorilla on Guard

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda:

Mgahinga is the smallest of these parks. Bordering Rwanda, this park has three scenic Volcano’s including Sabinyo, which borders all three countries. Mgahinga only has one habituated family, however due to its less dense vegetation is known for better photography.

COST: Gorilla permits cost $600 USD per person

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Young Gorilla Playing

Where to Stay on a Budget:

Gisenyi, Rwanda has many options for rooms in town or lakeside, with rooms ranging from $12 USD to $20 USD.
Goma D.R.C. is a large city with many options, but stay at Tony’s Guesthouse right in the center of town, with rooms from $20 USD to $35 USD.

Musanze has several options for budget rooms. Fido’s Guesthouse offers rooms for $25 USD which includes a wonderful breakfast.

Bwindi – Bwindi Backpackers offers camping at $10 USD, dorms $15 USD per bed and rooms starting at $30 USD. If you add the full board meal plan ($25 per person per day) and stay two nights, they will include private transfer one way to or from Kigali.


If visiting Virunga National Park in the D.R.C, don’t miss the amazing trek to the Nyiragongo volcano, one of only five active volcanic lakes in the World. Nyiragongo has the World’s largest lava lake and is active 365 days a year.

Nyiragongo Volcano Trek

 

 

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How to Pick a Gorilla Trek in Africa

 

 

 

Published on 08/30/2016 by Beard and Curly. Visited each these three National Parks and surrounding area’s in August 2016.

 

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2 comments on “How to Pick a Gorilla Trek in Africa”

  1. acheerymind Reply

    Going to Uganda to see the Gorilla in their natural environment is number 1 on my bucket list. Your post is so detailled I did not even know there were also all these places where we could meet them.
    Definitely pinning your article for our future trip there 🙂

    • Beard and Curly Reply

      Hey thanks. It is a truly a once in a lifetime experience. Mostly because I don’t want to have to pay the fee again. >;)

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