I have been to Africa a number of times and always gravitate towards the sub-Saharan eastern part of the continent. One of the greatest thrills on the planet is to be on a big game safari in Africa. The wildlife is prolific at times from parts of Kenya down through South Africa but especially in the Serengeti – with herds of wildebeest, plenty of giraffe, elephants and other rarer sightings.
But until now, a visit to see gorillas in the wild has eluded me.
I am hoping 2020 will be the year I finally visit Uganda for a Uganda safari curated by the reputable Uganda based African Jungle Adventures. Uganda, along with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are three of the most popular countries on the planet for gorilla safaris. Seeing gorillas up close in the wild has been at the top or near the top of my bucket list for years.
There are numerous ways to get to this part of Africa. During my previous trips to Africa, depending on my departure location I typically make one connection often in London or select other big cities in Europe or sometimes through the Middle East (Dubai being a popular connection point). Johannesburg is the rare airport that offers non stop flights to every continent on the planet other then Antarctica. From here one can find shorter flights up to either Kigali, Rwanda or Kampala, Uganda.
Because from the USA, flights are so long to Africa – I often try to spend a few days in a ‘connection’ city before continuing.
Which Country to Visit?
A select number of African countries are home to either mountain or lowland gorillas or both. The primary habitats in the most popular countries for gorilla trekking are in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But other types of gorillas also live in Angola, Congo, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Malawi and Nigeria.
And it is important to also take into consideration the time of the year to visit. Dry seasons generally last from the middle of December to early February and again from June to September
Arguably, this is the most popular of these three countries for gorilla trekking based on the countries’ preservation efforts and the ease of access from Kigali. The permits are priced higher than neighboring countries; the price actually doubled in 2017 in efforts to reduce impacts on the gorilla’s habitat. And in addition only 80 coveted permits are issued daily.
Part of the revenue collected supports the local community including schools and health clinics. More then 30 hotels including a number of luxury lodges cater to those seeking to see the gorillas are located near Volcanoes National Park. This 16 Days Uganda Rwanda safari would be epic!
The country offers two national parks for gorilla trekking but logistics can be more complicated and travel distances are are a bit further then in Rwanda. And trekking is not for out of shape couch travelers – as elevation gains are significant. But the permit fees are significantly lower then Rwanda.
Because of the longer times needed for treks in Uganda I’ve seen most people recommend at least 5 days minimum for the trekking and perhaps a few more days to tack on visits to other Uganda attractions like Murchison Falls and the Nile River.
Democratic Republic of Congo
It is estimated that of the 800 mountain gorillas still living in the wild, 300 of them live in the DRC.
This is perhaps the most challenging of the three countries to visit based on poor roads and logistics of reaching the gorilla habitats. Formerly called Zaire, it is also the second largest country on the entire continent. But of the three countries, the cost of the permit is by far the lowest. And I’ve read that during the rainy season, the cost drops by half.
There are numerous aspects to consider when visiting any of these countries for gorilla trekking, especially logistics, visas and costs – I am leaning towards Uganda but when I’m in this part of the world, I fully intend to visit Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well. Stay posted!
Have you been fortunate to see gorillas in the wild? Drop us a note below.