The mountain gorillas can only be seen in three African Countries; Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. These countries share the Virunga ranges where the mountain gorillas reside in the tropical and montane forests. All the three countries give travelers chances to encounter with the gorillas face to face, simply a lifetime experience.
Uganda, the pearl of Africa hosts half of the population of mountain Gorillas in its Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park with about 16 gorilla families open to travelers to trekking as well as four hour gorilla habituation experience.The Mgahinga gorilla national park is part of the tri national Virunga conservation area and the gorilla group in this park used to cross to D.R. Congo and Rwanda but now it settled in Uganda.
With these destinations, Uganda is currently the top mountain gorilla destination in Africa. The four gorilla regions in Bwindi national park present un-regrettable opportunity to trek the gentle apes in the jungle. Trekking the gorillas in Uganda’s gorilla homes involves simple hikes into the jungle to search for the elusive gorillas. On meeting them, spend a full hour watching the mighty silverbacks play with each other from one tree branch to another and taking photos of this thrilling moment. This is indeed a magical hour.
Note that Uganda does not only offer gorilla safaris, but also chimpanzee tracking in Kibale forest, Budongo forest, Kyambura gorge, Kalinzu ecotourism site and many others. Still in Uganda, visitors enjoy game-drives in the hidden beautiful savannah parks, boat cruiseson the shiny water bodies and strenuous yet exciting hikes to the top of numerous mountains and hills.
Rwanda, also known as the land of a thousand hills is another gorilla home in Africa. With only 10 habituated gorilla groups in volcanoes national park; the prime home for gorilla trekking in Rwanda, the country furnishes ape experiences that are not experienced anywhere else in Africa. Rwanda is the ancestor of gorilla tourism in Africa where gorilla tracking was first initiated in the campaign to save the great apes by Dian Fossey.
Travelers on gorilla tracking in Rwanda still consider exploring Akagera national park for wildlife viewing, the best park for game drives in Rwanda and a boat cruise on Lake Ihema. Other visitors opt to explore Nyungwe forest national park for the only canopy walk in east Africa and chimpanzee tracking.
While on a safari in Rwanda, trotters also enjoy comfortable boat cruises on Lake Kivu with pleasant relaxation. Cultural safaris in Rwanda are one thing one can never go wrong on.So if anywhere in or around Rwanda, a combined gorilla safari with other tourism products in Rwanda is worth every single penny.
Talking about gorilla destinations in Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo cannot be left out. The country also got a fair share of the mountain gorillas in Virunga national park and eastern lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega national park. D. R. Congo would have offered the best gorilla trekking experiences in Africa because its gorilla permits are relatively cheaper than those in Uganda and Rwanda, but, the country has for long been mulled with wars and political instabilities limiting the number trekkers that flock the country.
Note that D. R. Congo’s Virunga national park is the only park in Africa where the mountain gorillas meet with the lowland gorillas, so primate lovers can simply trek both the ape species in one park for lifelong experiences.
Something important to remember is that mountain gorilla trekking and habituation experience in these destinations is an all year round activity, though the best seasons to trek the gorillas would be the dry seasons of December, January and February and from June to September. If you have not yet trekked the mighty apes in their natural habitats, it’s high time you booked a gorilla safari in Uganda, Rwanda and D.R. Congo.
What To Expect on a Gorilla Trek in Volcanoes National Park?
One hour on a face to face encounter with a family of rare mountain gorillas while in their natural habitat is remarkably the most magical and breathtaking experience of a lifetime! A trek to see these wild creatures comes with lots of happiness and joy however; there is need for trekkers to pay maximum attention to most of their traits, behaviors, social structure. In the whole world, there are fewer than 1000 mountain gorillas left and yet their lives are still threatened. In order to minimize on likely risks that may claim their lives, a distance of 7 to 8 meters has to be observed at all times, cover the mouth when coughing and avoid spit or eat while in the forest. These are some of the simple rules and regulations that will be briefed to you while at the park headquarter prior embarking on actual trek.
In Rwanda this lifetime primate adventure is only carried out in the Volcanoes National Park in the northwest. It entirely involves hiking/walking through the dense tropical rainforest, steep slopes as you search for a habituated gorilla troop that will be assigned to you. Rwanda’s habituated gorilla groups are widely spread around Virunga Massifs like Gahinga, Bisoke, Karisimbi, Sabinyo and Muhabura. The trek usually ranges from 1 to 8 hours depending on factors like visitor hiking speed, nature of the habitat, location of gorillas and many others. Trackers are sent to the forest to trace the location of gorilla families before the next group of trekkers sets off for their actual trek and this has eased visitors’ work. While tracing gorillas, guides look through hand and footprints, remains of plants that they ate; bent vegetation and other significant signs and they are used for directions. Note that gorilla trekking can’t be easily predicted as the gorillas keep moving from place to place.
An hour with mountain gorillas is incredibly the most magical experience. You will be astonished to see a group of these beautiful primates as they blend themselves with the thick vegetation and when you come closer to them, you will be amazed by their massive sizes. However, they are humble, huge and weigh over 180 kilograms with silverbacks featuring gray hair on their backs and they are huge in size compared to females.
A direct eye contact is good but may also mean something else so try to avoid it as much as you can. You are advised to lower down your eyes as away of submission especially when they charge against you despite them being habituated. You will be reminded of dos and don’ts for gorilla trekking by your guide and most especially maintaining a distance of 7 to 8 meters at all times. Mountain gorillas largely depend on plants mostly leaves, roots, shoots, stems, fruits and flowers as part of their food as well as ants whereas this rarely seen. They consume up to 40-80 pounds of vegetation daily and they usually come closer as they feed and pig grunts sound is always made to communicate to others. After feeding, they take a rest and this is the best time for you to catch a glimpse at them.
- Behavior of gorillas
Mountain gorillas interact with each other using various ways and vocalizations, gestures and particular actions are some of the ways. And this can easily noticed when one is displaced by the other especially in their resting or feeding area. Usually field researchers take note of this important information to assist them observe their behavior. Grooming one another is another behavior that you will observe and gentle posture includes cleaning the hair and mothers do groom infants. While resting, they can be sleeping, chilling, playing and grooming. They tend vocalize at the time that they are enjoying the best of their food and trackers and guides also imitate them. Silverbacks are leaders of the gorilla group and not all of them are peaceful, as they are emotional just like humans. Up on getting your gorilla family, you have only an hour with gorilla take photos and observe every kind of behavior they display in the wild.
To track gorillas in Africa, you must have a permit. In Uganda, it costs $600, Rwanda it is obtainable at $1500 and in DR Congo it can be purchased at $450. Gorilla habituation in Uganda (Bwindi National Park) on the other hand is at US$1500 per person and enjoy 4 hours in the Jungle! While packing for gorilla trekking, start with long sleeved shirts/T-shirt, hiking boots, socks, insect repellents, gloves, sunglass, sun screen, daypack, sweaters and many more.