Mountain gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is only conducted within the jungles of the Virunga National Park. The park is located east of DR Congo just at a border with Rwanda and Uganda and covers an area of about 7800 square kilometers. Virunga National Park was established around 1925 making it one of the oldest parks with the most diverse natural wonders in the world. It offers refuge to most of the savanna, lava plains, swamps, forests, erosion valleys, active volcanoes and the ice of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges. About 200 individuals of rare mountain gorillas call this park their home making it one of the only four national parks in the world where these critically endangered apes are protected and tracked from. The park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Despite the political challenges, the park’s tourism sector has kept on improving especially from 2008 where it had started from zero to an estimate of 2000 in 2010 with steady increase in the number of visitors. Besides mountain gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking is also conducted within the Tongo forest and there is a luxury lodge that is strategically situated next to center where the 3 major tourist attractions in the southern part of the park, north of Goma.
Virunga National Park’s rare mountain gorillas thrive mainly within the Mikeno areas, part of the forest that is located at the base of volcano mountain ranges. For visitor experiences, there are about 8 (eight) groups that are habituated for visitors to track each day. Like the rest of the gorilla habitats, tourists on gorilla safari to DR Congo are also given one of face to face encounter with these critically endangered species and a distance of 7-8 meters must be kept at all times from the gorillas. The usual treks in the Virunga National Park start from one of the 3 patrol posts Bukima plus a park ranger and a tracker who accompany visitors through the pre determined areas where the gorillas can easily be traced. Bukima post is the most famous station with visitors and the nearest to Goma town. The post features a number of basic tented camps for visitor stay over. Usually, treks start early in the morning and last for half an hour to 3 hours depending on location of gorilla group that will be assigned to you, nature of the habitat and the physical fitness. Gorilla treks in the DR Congo involve hiking through the thick forest, steep slopes to look out for a group of gorillas.
Virunga National Park experiences both sunny and warm weather and cold and rainy weather and visitors have to be prepared for all these weather conditions.
Accommodation in Virunga National Park
Mountain gorilla trekking is only complete with availability of accommodation facilities for visitors to spend a night after or before their actual trek at the park. The notable accommodation facilities for visitor stay in Virunga National Park include Mikeno Lodge-the first lodge to be opened for visitors in August 2011. This is strategically situated within the 3 major tourist attractions (mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and Mount Nyiragongo). Visitors can also pay a visit to the orphan gorillas at Senkwekwe Centre. Bukima Tented Camp is located within Bukima areas where most of treks begin from just outside the perimeter of Virunga National Park. The camp accommodates about 16 visitors at a time and this camp site first acted as camping ground for gorilla researchers before becoming a basic facility. Other accommodation facilities include Hotel Cape Kivu, Lac Kivu Lodge and Ihusi Hotel in Goma.
Cost of gorilla trekking permit in Congo
Just like any gorilla habitat, gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) requires visitors to have permits. Gorilla permits in DR Congo can be purchased at $400 per visitor and this is a bit cheaper compared to Rwanda’s permits that cost $1500 per visitor and Uganda which sells permits at $600 per tourist. Visitors who are planning to undertake this lifetime adventure, you are required to book for your permit in advance to avoid any disappointment.
Getting to DR Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo can be reached through Gisenyi from Rwanda then cross to Goma town. Intending visitors are encouraged to apply for visas as early as possible about 48 hours earlier. Visas in the DR Congo cost $100 per visitor and to apply for one, you can download it and then fill the required details and you send it back. You must have up to date copy of a yellow fever certificate, copy of your travel plan or hotel booking verifying what you intend to do in country. Other vaccinations that you need to take before undertaking your trip to DR Congo include Hepatitis A, typhoid, meningitis and rabies.
Packing list for mountain gorilla tracking in Congo
Treks at the Virunga National Park are moderate and takes visitors through the thick forests with trees, bushes and vines. Visitors are therefore required to come with waterproof hiking boots, rain jackets, long sleeved shirt/T-shirt, long socks, gardening gloves, insect repellents, camera, binoculars, energy giving snacks and adequate drinking water.
In conclusion, mountain gorilla trekking is a breathtaking adventure that requires visitors to be well prepared to hike through the dense forest and steep slopes to look out for the group of gorillas in the wild.