Leading Gorilla tracking Destinations in Africa : Uganda, Rwanda and DR congo.
Gorilla trekking is becoming over and over again a house hold name on every ones what do list when in Africa and particularly to the East African region. Gorillas are gentle and special specie of primates that share aver 98% of human DNA.These splendid and highly endangered great apes still live only in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Uganda these endangered mountain gorillas are tracked in two national parks that’s Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla forest national park both located in the south western part of Uganda in a distance of about 8-10 hours’ drive from the Kampala the capital city. In Rwanda these species are found in the Volcanoes national park located in the northwestern part of Rwanda in Ruhengeri Musanze district just about 2-3 hours’ drive from Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali and in DR Congo these giant apes are tracked in the Virunga National park.
Cost of the Gorilla trekking permit in Africa
Mountain gorilla tracking experience is the same in all countries however when it comes to gorilla tracking fees; charges totally differ depending on tourism boards of each country. Mountain gorilla tracking is most expensive to see in Rwanda as a permit here costs a whooping USD 750 per person per tracking to 1500$$$$, in Uganda a permit costs USD 600 per person while in the Democratic republic of Congo a permit costs $400 USD inclusive of park entry fee and ranger guides.
Uganda offers the most permits with up to 12 gorilla families 2 groups are for research purpose(at most, 96 permits would be given out each day) followed by Rwanda which has 10 gorilla families and two gorilla families are research purpose, Democratic Republic of Congo has only 5 gorilla family with only three groups that are most tracked by travelers (The number of families accessible to travelers changes each year depending on how governments balance the need for tourist income and the need for research.). However, to avoid distressing the shy animals, only eight members are allowed to visit in each group per day to hike in search of each gorilla family habituated to human observers sharing almost 95% of human genes. In DRC, sometimes six people only allowed to track inn each group each day in order to reduce the chance of gorillas catching human diseases.
In all countries having a gorilla permits is a guarantee for tracking, however sighting is not a guarantee, but since gorillas are followed on a daily basis, sighting in all locations is up to 98% and above. Tracking in both locations may be sometimes herd as the path to meet these giants may involve passing through muddy, steep mountain slopes for several hours so a reasonable degree of fitness is needed as tracking, may go from a half to full day and don’t forget tracking gears like sturdy pair of walking shoes, long sleeved shirts or blouses, walking sticks, this is provided at the park headquarters, bottled water and sometimes packed lunch. But if lucky you may find these giant apes feeding on the lower slopes or even raid farmers fields outside park boundaries, you may encounter them within 45-1 hour of the trail head. Once they are met of course you will forget all the troubles you’ve gone through during the process of searching them and utilize the one hour you are allowed to stay with them while observing and taking photography and you reminded to keep a distance of 23 feet (7metres) from each animal.
In terms of sighting, Rwanda offers the best clear photography because the upper slopes of volcanoes national park have open fields and stands of bamboo forest where leafy vegetation is not so thick. Since Bwindi is an impenetrable forest clear views are not always possible, mothers and baby gorillas can be high up a tree feeding or playing and huge silverback always like to take nap inside dense thickets, but of course on each day you have find gorillas in their habitat and photography can be possible and whatever the case may be gorilla tracking experience remains the same.
In terms of distance to the Rwanda’s park is the most closest when you compare it to Bwindi and Mgahinga Uganda national park and Virungas national park in DRC. Its two hours by car and on good roads from Kigali Rwanda’s capital and largest city to volcanoes national park and also it is the closest to an international airport Kanombe, this means that a one day gorilla safari to Rwanda is possible, if you sleep in Kigali and you want to track gorillas, you have to drive very early in the morning and report to the park headquarters ( kiningi) before its 7:00 then join other trackers to receive short briefing before you head into the jungle for the activity. To reach Bwindi national park is ten hours by road from Entebbe, or a two-hour charter flight from Entebbe to Kihihi airfield , The Virungas National Park can be reached by a half-day road drive from Kigali, but you might encounter delays at the border securing a DRC tourist visa.
When it comes to accommodation option, each country offers good places to stay from up market to budget accommodation. To mention some of the accommodation facilities in Bwindi include Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Chameleon Hill lodge, Silverback Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Lake Mutanda Lodge, Gorilla safari Lodge(Luxury), Gorilla Mist, Ruhija Gorilla Friend camp (mid -range), Wagtail (budge). Rwanda has Sabyinya Silverback Lodge, Gorilla Nest Lodge (luxury), Le Bombou Lodge (mid-range), Kinigi Guest House (budget). In the DRC you can sleep at Coco Lodge (Mid range)/Orchid safari Lodge (luxury)/ Hotel Horizon (Budget).
To avoid harassing the shy animals and disturbing them in their habitat, just eight travelers per day are permitted to hike in search of each gorilla family habituated to human observers. Rwanda offers the most permits, with up to ten gorilla families allotted for tourism (at most, 80 permits would be given out each day); Uganda, up to eight families; the DRC, five families. The number of families accessible to travelers changes each year depending on how governments balance the need for tourist income and the need for research. To reduce the chance of gorillas catching human diseases, the DRC sometimes limits the size of trekking groups to six people.
Because gorillas are followed on a daily basis, a sighting in all the locations is virtually guaranteed. You need to be fit because your path may take you up to muddy, steep mountain slopes for several hours. Sometimes gorillas feed on lower slopes or even raid farmer’s fields outside park boundaries. Once gorillas are located, travelers are limited to one hour of observation and photography, and they must try to keep at least 23 feet from each animal.
Because foliage can be dense, clear views are not always possible. Gorilla mothers and babies might be high up a tree feeding or playing. Like human dads trying to escape the kids and grab some shut eye, the huge, charismatic silverbacks that everyone wants to photograph inconveniently like to nap inside dense thickets. Although it’s a crapshoot in what kind of vegetation and in what lighting conditions you will find gorillas on a given day, Rwanda offers the best prospects for unobstructed photographs because the upper slopes of Volcanoes Park have open meadows and stands of bamboo forest where leafy vegetation is not so thick.
When it comes to hospitality, Uganda is a force to reckon with. Ugandans are very hospitable and they welcome whoever comes into their country with widely open hands. The other 2 countries welcome visitors but not to the extent of Ugandans. The other attribute with Uganda is that they widely speak English which aids so much communication between them and any visitor unlike Rwanda and Congo which mostly use their local dialects and French. So this gives Uganda an upper hand over those countries due to the fact that the greatest numbers of visitors speak English more than French.