Did you know that there are only about 880 mountain gorillas left in the world? Do you know that meeting eye to eye with the mountain gorillas in the wild is one of the most unique wildlife encounters one can ever experience on the African continent. There are a few places where one can experience this lifetime thrilling moment. No wonder the cost of a mountain gorilla safari is far higher than other wildlife viewing experiences.
Here is practical information that you may need to plan a gorilla watching safari in Africa.
Where to trek gorillas
It is always very important to decide where to go and enjoy gorilla tracking. There are only three countries where mountain gorillas can be found in the world. Surprisingly there are unique features in each of these three countries that host these rare species in the world. Experience shows that most travelers looking for short trips opt for Rwanda while those looking for gorilla tracking combined with game viewing opt for Uganda.
A gorilla visit to many travelers in Africa is the single largest expenditure they make in the region. Not only having the best experience but it is also worth knowing the security side of it. For most of travelers it comes down to a choice between volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Bwindi national park in Uganda and as the Mgahinga gorillas always cross they boarder to Congo so before booking you need to confirm with your tour company the group is there and Djomba in democratic republic of Congo has been closed for years due to insecurity in the country which doesn’t favor safe gorilla tracking. So Rwanda and Uganda offers the best sighting areas for gorilla tracking, since Rwanda has about 10 gorilla habituated gorilla groups and Uganda has about 13 gorilla groups which are ready for tracking.
Bwindi impenetrable national park
This is the most visited Uganda national park. It is located in the South-western part of Uganda in just a drive of about 8-10 hours on the road from Kampala Uganda’s capital and largest city. Or by a plane it’s just about an hour from Kajansi air strip to kisoro air strip then from there to the park. The park covers an area of about 331 square kilometers. It borders the Republic of Congo border and the Virunga National park on the edge of the Albertine Rift. The park is most known because it hosts the rare species that’s the mountain gorillas almost a half of the world’s population about 400 individuals are estimated to live only in this park about of 880 individuals left worldwide making it the best safari destination for gorilla trekking in Africa. Bwindi impenetrable national park is a dense forest with steep slopes, so this sometimes makes gorilla trekking hard, due to it’s being dense, visibility is also some how tough, and a fast film or push-processing is necessary for good photographic results. Not being dense it’s also a tropical rainforest and in such a background it can rain at any time so you are advised to carry rain gears such as jackets, strong shoes/boots long sleeved shirts or blouses, gloves, other tracking gears include sticks these can be provided at the park headquarters, packed lunch and bottled water. Not only gorillas that are found in the park the is also a home to over 346 species of birds, 202 species of butterflies, 163 species of trees, 100 species of fern, it’s also the only park in the world where the chimps and gorillas co-exist in the same environment a very good experience at the park.
The park has 11 habituated gorilla ready for tracking including Mubale Gorilla Group Nshongi Gorilla Group, Mishaya Gorilla Group, Habinyanja Gorilla Group, The Rushegura Gorilla Group, Nkuringo Gorilla Group, The Oruzogo Gorilla Group, Bitukura Gorilla group, Busingye Gorilla Group, Bweza Gorilla Group, kyaguniro gorilla group, kahungye gorilla group. Only eight members are allowed to track in each group. Arranger guide is every time available to accompany the trackers in the forest and he is armed to guide the trackers in case of anything, he also help to give relative information to visitors to any forest flora and fauna they found on the way to make tracking more interesting. Porters are also available they are hired at a fee of about 10-15 USD they help in caring clients, bags and sometimes packed food in case a visitor gets tired during the tracking.
Mgahinga gorilla national park
This is another Uganda’s gorilla national park, it’s is located in the far south- western corner of the country it covers an area of about 434sqkm; it takes part of the Virunga volcanoes, which span the boarder of Uganda, Rwanda and democratic republic of Congo. The park was formed to protect the rare mountain that inhabit its dense forest and is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey. However gorillas to this park are not guaranteed as gorillas tend to migrate to the Virunga national park or Rwanda in search of different adventures although ever since they returned back in the park in 2012 they have stayed a while. However it’s advised to confirm with your tour company to know which side of the boarder the gorillas are on before you confirm your safari. There are only one gorilla group in Mgahinga gorilla national park and that’s Nyakagezi Gorilla Group. Gorilla permits are also at a cost of US$600 in the high seasons and 350 USD in the low seasons.
Volcanoes national park (Parc Nationale des Volcas, Rwanda
It’s just a 2-3 hours drive to the park (volcanoes national park) from Kigali Rwanda’s capital and its largest city. The park covers an area of about 160km2. It is located at the border with Uganda in the North and in the west by Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The park is known for its rare species mountain gorillas and it is refers to as the best gorilla tracking destination owning almost a half of the world mountain gorillas over 380 individuals are found at the park. The park was made famous through the works of Diane Fossy who studied the behaviors of these giant species for a period of over 20 years and it was a base where the film about her works was made (gorillas in the mist).
Due to her works of habituating gorillas, gorillas become the major tourist attraction in Rwanda and one of the major sources of revenue to the country. Not only gorillas but the forest is a home to golden monkeys, various species of birds, plants, butterflies among others. If you want the most real experience; this may be the place to come as the towering volcanoes form a breathtaking background.
Mountain gorilla tracking in Rwanda can be accessed easily as when you compare gorilla tracking in Uganda. Rwanda gorilla permits are at a fee of US$1500 per person per tracking, gorilla permit is a guarantee for tracking however it’s not a guarantee for seeing gorillas although chances of seeing them is at 95% and the park has well experience guides good at sighting them and there most of the time know where they allocate them.
The Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda has about 10 habituated gorilla group and only 8 members are allowed to track in each group. Rwanda gorilla groups include Susa Group (Susa A Family), Karisimbi FamilySabyinyo Gorilla Group, Amahoro Gorilla Group, Umubano Group, 13 Group (aka Agasha Group), Kwitonda Family, Hirwa Group, Bwenge Family, Ugenda Family. Like its counterpart Uganda, tracking gorillas lasts for only one hour and people below the age of 15 years are not allowed to track.