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GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO – – A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO CONGO LOWLAND & MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING

Gorilla trekking in Congo is done in Virunga National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park. The best place to go for Congo gorilla trekking safaris is the best place to trek and see Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo Virunga National Park, one of the great Virunga Ranges.

Congo gorilla safaris also offer encounters with the Eastern Lowland Gorilla trekking in Congo or Grauer’s gorillas which reside in Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Maiko National Park but are only trekked in Kahuzi-Biega.

GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated in the Virunga volcanoes and encompasses 3 of them: – the dormant Mount Mikeno volcano, the active Mount Nyamuragira, and Mount Nyiragongo (which is one of the world’s most dangerous active volcanos) last erupted on 22nd May 2021 – Read more about the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo Volcano 2021. Hiking Mount Nyiragongo is one of the most exciting things you can do in Africa.

Covering an area of about 8,090km², this wonderful park also encompasses part of Africa’s highest Mountain range, the 5109m-high Rwenzori Mountains which boasts permanent glaciers and snow on its peaks. It is Africa’s oldest National Park set aside in 1925 and easily the most biodiverse national park on the continent, if not in the whole world.

Over 706 bird species and 216 mammal species have been recorded in the park including Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Forest elephants, Savannah elephants, Cape buffalos, Forest buffaloes, Lions, Leopards, and 21 species of monkeys including the endangered golden monkeys.

Congo Gorilla Trekking Families In Virunga National Park Congo

There are 10 habituated gorilla families in Virunga National Park you can trek during your gorilla safari in Congo;

  • Rugendo gorilla family
  • Humba gorilla family
  • Munyaga Gorilla group
  • Mapuwa gorilla family
  • Lulengo gorilla family
  • Kabirizi gorilla family
  • Bageni gorilla family
  • Nyakamwe gorilla family
  • Baraka gorilla family
  • Wilungula gorilla family

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO

  • Climbing/Hiking Mount Nyiragongo in Virunga National Park

Mount Nyiragongo is a striking stratovolcano featuring the largest lava lake in the world. It is also one of the world’s most dangerous active volcanoes last erupting in 2021. This beautiful volcano stands over 3,470 meters above sea level and is the hottest mountaineering destination in Africa. Hiking to its top to stare down into a bubbling lava lake in the massive crater below is indeed an experience of a lifetime. It will not only test your fitness level but will also leave you with strong memories of your African gorilla safaris in Congo. The average climbing time is between 4 and 6 hours, with the descent of the volcano taking around 4 hours.

  • Chimpanzee Tracking in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park also offers opportunities for chimpanzee trekking safaris in Congo near the park headquarters at Rumangabo. Unlike the gorillas, chimp trekking starts much earlier in the morning to have better chances of seeing them as they start the day before they scatter in search of food especially fruits which they enjoy immensely.

  • Bird Watching in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park offers visitors a birding tour in Congo a checklist of 708 bird species. Several bird sightings are found in the park’s varied vegetation, mountainous areas, swamps, rainforests, and other landscapes. Rare birds of the park include Rockefeller’s sunbird and Nectarinia Rockefeller found in the bamboo, the Grauer’s swamp warbler, and shoebill storks.

The park’s southern sector host about 20 bird species that are endemic to the Albertine rift including the Rwenzori batis, Archer’s ground robins, Rwenzori turacos, Red-throated athlete, Rwenzori Double-collared sunbirds, Dusky and Shelley’s Crimsonwing, Kivu ground thrush, Collared Apalis, Mountain masked Apalis, Blue-headed sunbirds, Regal sunbirds,  and Strange weavers.

  • Visiting Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage

Visitors on a Virunga National Park gorilla trek can also undertake a tour to Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center. It is the only mountain gorilla orphanage center in the whole world. This center was established in 2010 to help in taking care of orphaned gorillas that were rescued from poachers. It is named after one of the silverbacks that were killed in 2007. The orphanage is located in Rumangabo near the park headquarters and Mikeno lodge.

Senkwekwe orphanage center started with 2 orphan gorillas Ndakasi and Ndeze. Today, the number has increased to about 6 gorillas; Ndeze, Ndakasi, Kaboko, Yalala, Matabishi. They have been habituated and a visit to the orphanage is an extraordinary part of the safari. Access to the Orphanage is free.

GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO KAHUZUI BIEGA NATIONAL PARK

Covering an area of 6000km2 Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the eastern DR Congo is the best place for lowland gorilla trekking safaris in Congo. This UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and the only place on Earth where the wild Eastern lowland Gorillas, the biggest gorillas in the world live. These great apes are capable of weighing up to 250kg. They are believed to number around 5,000. About 12 eastern lowland gorilla families live in Kahuzi-Biega National Park and 3 of them have been habituated to gorilla trekking;

  • Chimanuka gorilla family
  • Mpungwe gorilla family
  • Bonane gorilla family

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN KAHUZI-BIEGA NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING

  • Mountain Climbing in Kahuzi-Biega National Park

While on your lowland gorilla trekking tour in Congo’s Kahuzi Biega National Park, mountain climbing is another activity that will give you an exceptional experience. The park features two extinct volcanoes where travelers enjoy hiking experiences in the jungle.  This Congo adventure safari activity offers incredible scenic views of Bukavu town and Lake Kivu among other beautiful views of the tropical rainforests of Kahuzi Biega.

  • Visiting Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre at Kahuzi-Biega

If you are looking for an activity to do after your gorilla trekking in Congo, you can visit Lwiro Rehabilitation Center. Located close to the park headquarters a visit to the sanctuary can be easily combined with a Congo gorilla trek.  The sanctuary is home to 92 chimps and 108 monkeys of 13 different species are kept in excellent conditions. These primates have been rescued from poaching. The sanctuary allows travelers while on their gorilla safaris in Congo to encounter a lot of primates as well as participate in the conservation practice of the touched primates.

  • Cultural tours around Kahuzi-Biega National Park

After your Congo lowland gorilla trekking adventure in Kahuzi-Biega, you also explore the daily life of the local people in Bukavu city through village walks. You can also visit the Royal court of the Kingdom of Kabare the most powerful kingdom south of Kivu. Here the traveler can learn about its traditions and secrets, and can also spend time with the Mwami’s wise men who will present some of the objects of symbolic importance to the court. Visits will finish with an enthusiastic Ntole dance performed by the Bushi villagers.

Bordering the park is the cinchona and tea plantations of Mbayo. Visits can also be taken to this area to learn about the history of cinchona cultivation in DR Congo, including its collapse due to disease and its current slow recovery. Brave (or foolhardy) visitors may accept to chew on some of the cinchona bark.

WHY GO MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA CONGO/BENEFITS OF GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO

Gorilla trekking in Congo is a profound wildlife-watching experience and one that tops many travelers’ bucket lists – with good reasons;

  1. Mountain Gorillas Are So Rare and You Can’t See Them in Zoos

So rare are the mountain gorillas that they can only survive in the wild. These great apes are among the most endangered primates in the world with about 1,063 in existence which makes a gorilla safari to Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo to see the rare mountain gorillas in their natural habitat a-once-in-a-lifetime journey.

  1. Mountain Gorillas Are Among Our Closest Living Genetic Relatives

A big part of what makes the gorilla trek in Congo so special is that these big apes are so closely related to humans (the difference in DNA is only about 1.6%). And aside from the DNA, it is hard not to find gorillas eerily similar to humans by just staring face to face with them. They live in family groups and gorilla mothers take very good care of their babies. Each gorilla family is led by one giant Silverback male.

Gorillas are also extremely intelligent primates and communicate with each other through vocalizations like grunts and barks. They are capable of feeling emotions like we do. Witnessing these great apes expressing typically human gestures and emotions is a truly profound experience and one of the reasons that gorilla trekking is such a life-changing adventure.

  1. Gorillas Are the Largest, Most Powerful, And Impressive Primates on Earth

Gorillas are the strongest and largest primates on earth, almost 3 times as bulky as an average man. Despite their immense size, strength, and fearsome appearance, mountain gorillas are remarkably peaceful creatures. More impressive even than their great size is their unfathomable attitude to people, which greatly differs from that of any other wild animal you know.  This makes a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo to encounter these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat the most intimate wildlife encounters you can have in Africa, if not the world.

  1. Congo Gorilla Trekking is a Great Chance to Taste Your Physical Fitness

Mountain gorilla trekking destinations of Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC have challenging terrains. The trek to see our giant cousins usually involves hours of navigating uphill and downhill through dense forest with thick tangles of vines, roots, and muddy areas. It is relatively difficult, but a face-to-face encounter with the majestic mountain gorillas will gift you with soul-stirring memories that will stay etched in your mind forever.

  1. Congo Gorilla Trekking Contribute To The Protection Of These Endangered Creatures

Anyone visiting a gorilla perk for a gorilla trekking tour is by definition, ensuring the survival of these endangered primates. If you, for example, buy a Congo gorilla trekking permit, you not only buy a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with charismatic apes, you’re providing the economic incentive for the protection of the endangered mountain gorillas. Without gorilla tourism, mountain gorillas might have gone extinct.

Many scouts, who were once poachers of gorillas and other primates, are now their protectors and earn their livelihoods safeguarding what they once killed. It’s a conservation success story and continued gorilla trekking tourism is vital to the species’ continued existence.

PREPARATION FOR A GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO

  1. Book a Gorilla Permit

If you want to undertake a Congo gorilla trekking trip, you will need to book a gorilla permit. The gorilla permit is a document/card issued by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), or Virunga National Park office and allows any traveler above the age of 15 to trek gorillas.

Gorilla trekking permits grant access to one trek and one hour with the gorillas. The length of the trek may vary, depending on where the gorillas are on any given day. It is possible to book the permits directly from UWA or RDB but the most convenient way is to use a reliable tour operator. Book at least 6 months ahead of travel to ensure availability.

How Much is an Uganda Gorilla Trekking Safari Permit?

The Uganda gorilla trekking permit price is USD 700 per person for foreign nonresidents.  The cost of a gorilla permit in Uganda for foreign residents (with work permits) is USD 600, and for East African (EAC) Citizens is UGX 250,000 per person. Rwanda gorilla trekking permit cost USD 1,500 for all visitor categories and it is the most expensive permit for gorilla trekking. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a gorilla permit costs USD 400.

  1. Congo Gorilla Trekking Fitness Preparation

How fit do you need to be for gorilla trekking in Congo? Gorilla trekking in Congo, requires a fair fitness level as you will be hiking in humid conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, mountain tracks. As with any strenuous activity, the fitter you are on your gorilla trek, the better. However, this does not mean that you need to be super-fit or be able to complete a bench press three times your body weight to go for a Rwanda gorilla safari trip

Also before starting a Rwanda gorilla trek, you will be divided into groups of similar age and fitness levels, and the oldest and least fit people are generally allocated the gorilla family group that is nearest the starting point.

Don’t worry, you won’t be split up from your family members or friends but – obeying the golden rule of hiking – the fastest walkers will have to slow down to the pace of the slowest so that the group stays together safely. The fittest and youngest people will be chosen to find the gorilla family furthest away. Your ranger guide is very experienced in assessing how the group is coping and will stop when necessary for a break, to drink water, admire a view or even have a snack.

Packed lunches contain water and perhaps energy-rich items like roasted cashews or peanuts, bananas, apples, chocolate bars, muffins, small sandwiches or bread rolls, and local treats like ‘rolled eggs’ – a kind of omelet eaten cold.

It’s always easiest to trek Uganda gorillas, Rwanda gorillas, or Congo gorillas in the dry season. In the rainy season, the trek can be tougher as the forest trail is muddy and slippery. Gorillas may also seek refuge from the rain in the nest or trees, making them harder to find and see.

  1. Consider the Packing List for Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tours

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda involves hiking in wet conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, mountain tracks. Therefore, you need to prepare for your gorilla trip by packing essential clothes, shoes, and other gear. And as prepare your gorilla trekking safari packing list, don’t forgettable COVID-19 prevention items.

Best clothes for gorilla trekking/What to wear for gorilla trekking in Africa?

  • Neutral color clothes including greens, greys, and browns blend in with nature. Camouflage should be avoided- it is illegal for civilians to wear it in many areas. And don’t wear animal print as the gorillas may become alarmed at seeing a ‘leopard’, for example.
  • Long trousers and long-sleeved shirts protect your legs and arms from scratches and bugs.
  • Gardening gloves to help you grab onto plants and branches for support without worrying about hurting your hands.
  • Strong waterproof hiking boots/shoes that provide ankle support.
  • Thin moisture-wicking socks and thicker cotton socks to cover them  to prevent blisters
  • Broad-breamed hat to protect you from strong equatorial sunshine
  • Hooded waterproof jacket
  • Buff to act as a dust mask and keep your neck warm and sweat out of your eyes.
  • A pair of gains to prevent bugs, water, dirt, and pebble from entering your boot.
  • Face mask

Gear for gorilla trekking in Congo

  • UV-filter sunglasses
  • Gaiters to keep water, stones, mud, and sand out of your boots
  • Twin trekking poles for balance on uneven grounds
  • Mini first aid kit with antiseptic, plasters & moist towelettes
  • UV-filter sunglasses
  • Water bottle or hip flask. Be sure to keep hydrated, especially at altitude.
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • High SPF sunscreen & bug repellent
  • Microfiber towel for rinsing hand and face

Other essential things to carry for your gorilla trek

  • Hand sanitize
  • Energy-giving snacks for a quick energy boost.
  • Light day pack with a camelback for hands-free hydration. If you are offered the option of a porter to carry your pack, please consider employing (and tipping) him. Many porters are reformed poachers and rely on the income from trekking to support their families (and not slip back into lucrative poaching).

GORILLA TREKKING RULES IN CONGO

Before you visit the gorillas

  • If you are sick you cannot visit the gorillas. This is to prevent exposing the gorillas to human diseases that they may not have any resistance to (the permit fees will be refunded).
  • A maximum of 8 people per group is allowed to track one particular gorilla family per day to void behavioral disturbances in the gorillas.
  • The minimum age for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is 15 years. This is because anyone below this age is considered a young and vulnerable person and therefore does not fit trek the gorillas. In most cases, persons below 15 have unpredictable characteristics that may lead to a change in the primates’ behaviors. An example is when a gorilla tries to fume or come near a visitor in the presence of a child, she may decide to run or scream hence disorganizing the gorillas.
  • Always wash your hands when heading into the forest and when out of the forest

On the way to the gorillas

  • Please always speak in a low voice in the forest. This will also enable you to observe other natural treasures in the forest such as birds and other mammals.
  • Don’t throw away garbage in the forest. Whatever you enter into the forest with, must be brought back out when you are living in the forest. This is to preserve the ecology of the park and to avoid the spread of diseases.
  • If you need the toilet whilst in the forest, you must dig a hole at least 30cm deep. This is to avoid the contamination of human germs. Therefore it is important to first go to the toilet before starting the gorilla trek.

When you are with gorillas

  • One encountered, trekkers should not approach the gorillas more closely than 10 meters, a rule often contravened by curious youngsters and sometimes adults approaching their human visitor. In this case, you will need to slowly and calmly move backward to regain the 10 meters distance.
  • Gorillas don’t like flashlights, so flash photography is forbidden since it may cause the gorilla to charge at you. You should also note that gorillas are tricky photographic subjects, on account of their sunken eyes, the gloomy habitat in which they are often found, and the jet black coat that tends to distort light readings. So carrying a tripod or monopod will help you to get sharper results.

It is worth programing your camera to a relatively high ISO (around 800), and pushing it even higher if conditions demand it.

  • It is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, urinate or defecate in the vicinity of the gorillas. Gorillas can easily can your diseases.
  • Speak in a low voice. However, it’s ok to ask the guide questions
  • Don’t feed gorillas
  • Sometimes the gorillas charge. Follow the instructions of the guide. Don’t run away, it will increase the risk of a gorilla chasing you.
  • Don’t touch the gorillas, they are wild animals.
  • If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth to minimize the spread of bacteria or germs.
  • Visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group per day. However, if the gorillas become agitated or nervous, the guide will finish the visit early.
  • After the visit, remain silent or speak in a low voice until you reach at least 200 meters away

SOPS FOR GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO DURING COVID

Gorillas share around 98.4% of our DNA and are therefore highly susceptible to many of the viruses that we carry, and coronavirus is no exception. To keep these wonderful primates safe, the Ugandan, Rwanda, and Congo governments have established several safety protocols/Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for gorilla trekking tours:

COVID-19 Gorilla Trekking SOPs For Democratic Republic of Congo

  • All guests will have to have a rapid COVID-19 test before they depart from Goma as well as a negative PCR test certificate. If the results are negative, they will be allowed to proceed on the trek.
  • At the gorilla trek briefing, all guests will have their temperature taken and will be checked for coughing and sneezing.
  • Facemasks are required to be worn during briefings.
  • Before guests leave for a gorilla trek, all guests and rangers are requested to wash their hands.
  • Before entering the forest, all guests will be requested to use hand sanitizer and put on new facemasks that will be provided.
  • Whilst walking into the forest and before finding the gorillas, guests are requested to maintain a 1.5-meter distance between the next person in front or behind.
  • Normal gorilla trek protocols will also apply with the exception that a facemask will not be allowed to be removed or lowered at any time during the gorilla trek.
  • A 10-meter distance should always be maintained from the gorillas.
  • Bring your facemasks and hand sanitizer.

CHANCES OF SEEING GORILLAS IN CONGO, ON A CONGO GORILLA SAFARI

Because mountain gorillas are so closely monitored, and either researchers or trackers are in touch with them every day, guides know more or less where the different families are, and you probably have a 99% chance of seeing them. Of course, there are no guarantees with wild animals, and an overnight thunderstorm or an unexpected encounter with a predator may cause a troop to move unexpectedly in a completely different direction, but scouts will likely pick up their trail again soon. It is very seldom that travelers don’t find the apes during a gorilla trekking expedition.

BEST TIME TO GO GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO

The best time to go gorilla trekking is during dry seasons, although a gorilla safari can be undertaken at any time of year. Rwanda and Uganda share common weather and climate with both having two dry seasons. The first dry season runs from about the middle of December to the end of February and the second dry season is from early June to September.

These times of the year offer comfortable gorilla trekking adventures. However, conditions are still very humid and wet in the gorilla parks with plenty of mud, so don’t forget your gaiters!

Also, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a year-round gorilla trekking destination. But as you plan your Congo gorilla safari tour, note that rain is an essential component of the Congo Basin’s tropical rainforest’s unique ecology, and the country’s seasons are properly defined as wet, wetter, and wettest. The ‘low rainfall’ season, which goes from June to September, and the ‘gentle rainfall’ season, which runs from December to February, are the best times to go gorilla trekking in Congo. July and August are generally the least rainy and coolest months of the year.

IS GORILLA TREKKING IN CONGO SAFE?

Gorilla trekking in Congo is safe. Regardless of their size, fearsome appearance, and unfair reputation, gorillas are not dangerous creatures. All Gorilla treks are done in the company of expert local ranger guides who spend most of their time with the mountain gorillas. Also, the gorilla families you are allowed to visit are those which have been habituated to the presence of a human, meaning they are used to having people near them and understand they are generally not a threat.

Mountain gorillas are typically shy and gentle, usually spending the majority of their time feeding and looking after their young. However, like any other wild animal, gorillas can show defensive behaviors if they feel threatened or uneasy, especially around their young ones.

Your expert ranger guide can recognize the signs; which may include mock charging, aggressive chest-beating, and grunting. You are advised to always follow your guide’s instructions, however, if faced with an aggressive gorilla, crouch down, look away and try to act relaxed. You will be advised by your guide further during the gorilla trekking briefing.

OTHER ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO BEFORE OR AFTER YOUR GORILLA TREK IN CONGO

  1. Congo Wildlife Safari Experiences
gorilla trekking in Congo Uganda Rwanda

The Okapis in Congo

A gorilla safari to Congo can also be packaged with very different Congo safaris and wildlife experiences. The country is home to unique wild animals in Bonobos/pygmy chimpanzees in Salonga National Park and Okapi (with similar stripes to those of Zebras yet more closely related to giraffes) in Okapi Wildlife Reserve. These animals only live in DR Congo in the wild in the whole world.

Congo is also home to the unique Forest Elephants, African bush elephant, Cape Buffalos, Forest buffalos, Lions, Leopards, Chimpanzees, Hippos, Topis, African Civet, African golden wolf, Banded Mongoose, Blue duiker, Bohor reedbuck, Bushbuck, Greater Kudu, Giant forest hog, Oribi, Spotted and many more which combine to make the wildlife safaris in Congo memorable.

The wildlife safaris in Congo also present an unmatchable exploration of the Congo River – the world’s second-largest river in terms of discharge after the Amazon and the world’s deepest river with an adventure Tiger Fishing experience. The famous Virunga Volcanoes to the East of Congo are part of these wildlife safari packages and the popular Nyiragongo Volcano climbing is always availed to enable one to explore the world’s largest and most violent lava lake.

Are you ready to begin planning your gorilla trekking safari in Congo?

Gorillas are endangered the treks are carefully regulated in Congo’s Virunga National Park, and Kahuzi Biega National Park.

Gorilla permits are not easy to secure and expensive and traveling to such a remote gorilla trekking destination and ensuring the best chances for a successful gorilla trekking tour needs the kind of direct experience and local knowledge that you get from an African safari expert.

You can get in touch with us to plan your gorilla trekking tour to the Democratic Republic of Congo.