A trek to view a group of gorillas in the jungles of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rewards trekkers is one of the most emotional experiences that come once in a lifetime. Gorilla trekking in the DRC is conducted mainly in the Virunga National Park where over 200 mountain gorillas thrive and in Kahuzi Biega National Park which offers refuge to more than 270 Eastern Lowland gorillas. The lowland gorillas are also found in the Maiko National Park but gorilla trekking isn’t that vibrant compared to the two destinations in the DR Congo. Amazingly, Congo features among the only 3 destinations in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live and tracked by visitors while in their natural habitat. However, note that the DRC is still recovering from political instability.
What to expect while on gorilla safari in Democratic Republic of Congo
Gorilla trekking is undoubtedly a strenuous experience and it involves hiking through the jungles of Virunga National Park or Kahuzi Biega National Park to see a group of impressive rare mountain gorillas and the Eastern Lowland gorillas respectively. You will be required to report to the Virunga park headquarters (Bukima Patrol Post) for early morning briefing from the park office who will give a highlight of dos and don’ts to be followed while in the forest, geography, behavior, activities to participate, historical background and many more.
During the briefing you will also be assigned one gorilla group to track in groups of eight people that are allowed to track each day. Visitors are accompanied by the park guides or park rangers to ensure that they are safe while in the wild. You will therefore be required to follow the guide’s instructions, paths along the steep slopes and also while in the forest as you navigate through the thick forest. Unlike other wildlife species in the savanna protected areas, a trek in Virunga’s jungles allows visitors to strike their imaginations with these Great Apes while they are in their natural habitat and a face to face encounter with them is ideally dramatic experience.
Gorilla trekking takes about 30 minutes to 8 hours but this depends on many factors some of which include the visitors’ physical fitness, the altitude, weather and location of the group that you are tracking in the course of the day. This means that the trekking time differs based on various factors.
You should also expect strenuous and uncomfortable flights, drives on potholes especially with untarmacked roads that lead to most of the protected areas where these great apes live in Democratic Republic of Congo. The travel experience on the dusty roads alone is worth not forgetting while on your safari. The trek is breathtaking but rewards with lifetime encounters.
What you pack for gorilla trekking
A gorilla safari to see the mountain gorillas or the lowland gorillas in DRC isn’t like traveling for a picnic tour in the city. You will be in the forest and nature of habitat may require different dressing cord or clothing and most importantly, you shouldn’t forget your rain jackets, waterproof hiking boots, backpack, pants, long sleeved shirts/T-shirts, a bottle of water, energy giving snacks, gardening gloves, walking stick, sun glasses and sun screen, hat, long socks, insect repellent, camera, first aid kit and many more.
Setting into the forest will make you be amazed by spectacular views of these rare creatures as they play and the mother gorillas feeding the babies all of which makes part of your experience. The tour guides will also be there to help you clear the path and as you watch them clear way with their machetes, you will certainly be thrilled by the adventure and you won’t really regret spending your time in the jungle. You will have an hour to take the pictures of the apes and the guide will be there to explain to you the behavior of these great primates in the wild.
Given the fact that the gorillas are wild creatures, you should therefore expect that they can also be irritated just like humans. These species share about 95% of their DNA with humans making them our closest relatives in the wild. Just in case they get irritated, visitors are expected to stand still and lower their eyes down to show sign of submission to them.
The Virunga National Park is located in Eastern DRC and features as the oldest protected area in African continent. It was established in 1925, situated in the southern shores of Lake Kivu and at the border to Rwanda. It is proud to be a home to over 200 mountain gorillas that thrive in the southern area of Virunga National Park which is part of the Virunga Mountains range. The other protected areas that form the Virunga Massifs include the Volcanoes National Park in Northwestern Rwanda, and Mgahinga National Park in Southwestern Uganda. The park is designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site and the managed by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature and the Congolese Park Authorities. At the park, be vigilant and sight various species including birds and various primates like monkeys. While on your trek, sure that you put on your surgical masks before you set off to the forest.
Gorilla trekking in DRC costs $400 per person and for visitors who are planning their safaris to Virunga National Park or Kahuzi Biega National Park for lowland gorillas make sure that you book your permit in advance. Note that self drive safaris in the DR Congo are not allowed and never safe. Also, if you have flu, cough, fever, diarrhea or any illness, you are encouraged not to go for the trek given the fact that these species are very susceptible to human infectious diseases and they are highly at the risk of extinction.
Getting to Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is accessible about 32 kilometers from Goma town and there are very many local tour operators to help you arrange your safari. You can connect from Kisoro in Uganda or Bunagana border which is only around half an hour drive to Bukima patrol station where the usual treks start from, if you set off from Rwanda-Kigali, it is about 3 to 4 hours or more to Gisenyi in DR Congo and this is the nearest place to Goma town where you will spend another one hour and half driving to the park headquarters. If you are at Bukavu in DRC, you will spend about five or six hours driving to Virunga National Park.
You can land in Goma that acts as an international airport at a moment but usually visitors land in Kigali International Airport and in case you land in late you can spend a night within Kigali and the next day you set off to DRC. The following international flights can help you reach Virunga National Park; Swiss Airlines, Air France, Brussels Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and many others.
In case you are in Bukavu, you can reach Virunga National Park using ferries from Bukavu on Lake Kivu to Goma and you have spectacular views of the Idjwi Island. You can hire a speed boat that takes about three hours and the other public boats for about five hours to reach Goma and then be transferred by 4by 4 Safari Car to the park.
In conclusion, there a lot more things in offer waiting for you to catch a glimpse while on gorilla safari in Democratic Republic of Congo. Besides enjoying the glimpse of the rare mountain gorillas and the eastern lowland gorillas, you can also sight most of incredible bird life, primates and others.