How to travel out to where the gorillas are.
Gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park is one of Africa’s unique wildlife safari experience and to most eco-tourists on Congo gorilla safari, it is of no doubt a bucket list adventure. Unlike other wildlife safari experiences in Africa, trekking to see mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park is remarkably the most sensational experience and what makes sets it from the rest of adventures is the fact that it is the only unique primate adventure that draws you closer to a group of the endangered mountain gorillas while in their natural habitat. Trekking to view mountain gorilla isn’t an ordinary experience and to be part of this lifechanging experience, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Northern Province of Rwanda are the only gorilla destinations available to make your dream come into reality.
With only 1004 mountain gorillas that are left on earth today, about 300 of them thrive within the tropical rain-forests of the Virunga National Park. Mountain gorillas share about 98 percent of their DNA with humans and it is of no doubt our closest relatives in the wild. Scientifically, they are known as gorilla beringei beringei and they are listed among the most endangered species on planet earth that is why more efforts are needed to ensure their survival in the wild.
Virunga National Park straddles in the Eastern side of the DR Congo and occupies an area of about 7800sq.kms. It forms part of the extensive Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) which also covers Mgahinga National Park and Volcanoes National Park. It was founded in 1925 making it the oldest and undoubtedly the most biodiverse protected area in East-Central Africa. In 1979, it was designated as a UNESCO site due to its rich biodiversity which makes it an exceptional safari destination. Visitors on Congo gorilla safari in the Virunga National Park can explore anyone of the park’s eight habituated gorilla groups.
Gorilla groups in Virunga National Park
There are eight habituated gorilla families set for visitors on Congo gorilla safari to trek in the Virunga National Park. Each gorilla group offers a unique experience and they include Humba, Mapuwa, Rugendo. Munyaga, Kabirizi, Lulengo and Bageni gorilla families.
How is gorilla trek like in the Virunga National Park?
Trekking to view mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park is entirely a process and it begins with visitors’ early morning breakfast at their respective gorilla lodges then they gather at Bukima Ranger Post for briefing by the park official on the set gorilla trekking etiquette. What follows briefing is actual trek to view mountain gorillas and it may take you about 2-6 hours although this usually depends on trekkers hiking speed, nature of habitat and where these apes are in the course of the day. When you come across them, you are given only an hour of magical encounter, learn their behaviors and take as many pictures as possible. Because it involves winding through the lush rain-forest, you will also come across other unique wildlife species, birds, plants of medicinal use. To enjoy this adventure well, you need some energy giving snacks and bottled water since it is unpredictable.
Trekkers are accompanied by professional park ranger guides, trackers and porters and once you done with your fun-filled gorilla experience, you return to where you began your trek from (Bukima Ranger Post).
Gorilla trekking etiquette
During briefing, the park ranger guide/official takes you through the set guidelines or safety measures also known as etiquette or dos and don’ts that you have to observe while on search for mountain gorillas. They include among others;
A maximum of eight trekkers are allowed to trek one habituated gorilla family each day.
On finding mountain gorillas, visitors have only an hour with these rare creatures.
A distance of 7 meters should be maintained at all times from mountain gorillas.
Non flashlight camera is what is accepted for photography and in case your camera has flashlight, please turn it off to avoid irritating these creatures something which may result into harm to you or other trekkers.
When coughing, please cover your mouth and noise when sneezing. However, every trekker in the Virunga National Park is required to put on surgical masks before they set off to the jungles to search for mountain gorillas. This is to avoid transmitting human infectious diseases to these species. Remember, they share about 98 percent of their DNA with humans and this makes them very susceptible to human infectious diseases.
In case you are not feeling well, you may not be allowed to go to trek mountain gorillas.
Always keep your voice low while on trek to see mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park.
What to pack for gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park
There are a number of essential items to include on your packing list for gorilla trekking tour in the Virunga National Park. They include among others the waterproof hiking boots, camera plus extra batteries but should have no flashlight, long sleeved shirt or t-shirt, sweater, trousers, insect repellent, rain jacket or poncho, energy giving snacks, bottled drinking water, long socks, gardening gloves, valid Congo visa, yellow fever certificate, passport, waterproof daypack and walking stick which you may find at the park headquarters so no need to carry one from home.
Cost of gorilla trekking permits
Every trekker on Congo gorilla safari in the Virunga National Park is required to have a valid gorilla trekking permit. A gorilla permit is what lets you trek one of the eight habituated families in the Congo Virunga National Park. Each gorilla permit in DR Congo costs $450 and this is relatively affordable compared to other gorilla destinations. You can secure your gorilla trekking permit in Congo through our reservation team and to be on safer side, you can do so at least 4-6 months earlier prior embarking on actual trip.
Best time to visit Virunga National Park
Mountain gorilla trekking safaris in the Virunga National Park are best conducted during the dry season because it is when the park receives low/no rainfall and the ground remains drier. The dry months in the Congo Virunga National Park begin in June, July, August, September and December, January, February. The disadvantage with the rainy or wet season is that there is too much rainfall which makes the habitat slippery and challenging for trekkers on Congo gorilla trekking safari to hike to search for these rare apes. However, plenty rainfall comes with plenty forage which these apes depend and they don’t move to long distances like it is a case during the dry season. The wet or rainy season in the Virunga National Park starts in March, April, May and October, November.
Where to stay in the Virunga National Park
What makes Congo gorilla trekking safaris in the Virunga National Park complete is availability of accommodation options for visitor stay. They range from budget to luxury and they include Bukima Tented Camp (Mid-range), Mikeno Lodge (Luxury), Kibumba Tented Camp (Budget).
How to get to the Virunga National Park
Visitors on Congo safari can get to the Virunga National Park by road or by air. By road, you can reach Virunga National Park via Goma Town about 32 kms drive. From Rwanda, drive through Gisenyi Town and it is 2 kms drive to Bukima Ranger Post. From Uganda, drive via Kisoro Town and spend about an hour to Bukima Ranger Post.
The other option is for you to take flight services and preferably use Ethiopian airline which serves Goma Airport of the DR Congo on daily basis.