Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park- Yes, mountain gorilla tracking activity is only done in three countries in the world that is to say, Democratic republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. In Uganda, the activity is carried out in Bwindi & Mgahinga national park while in Rwanda it is only done in Volcanoes national park.
Gorilla trekking is the most popular and attractive activity among tourists visiting Virunga national park in DR Congo at the moment. This is mainly because the DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95 to 99% depending on what is included, they are also extremely rare and are one of the endangered species. These reasons jointly make encountering a gorilla family in the wilderness very special to primate enthusiasts!
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park commences in morning hours usually at 8:00am. Gorilla trekkers wake up from some designated lodges like Kibumba tented camp or Mikeno lodge for breakfast and get ready for a transfer to the starting point for gorilla trekking. At this point you are reminded to put on long sleeved shirts, hiking shoes, warm long stockings, a rain jacket, hand gloves and also pack cameras, mineral water, passport, VISA and your gorilla permit before leaving your hotel.
After, head to Virunga park headquarters for briefing session by a professional ranger guide or a warden. Briefing covers several topics such as the history of each gorilla group, gorilla habitats, gorilla trekking rules and regulations.
The park authorities will then cross check your passports and later allocate you to a certain gorilla family for tracking.
Before you start your trail, you will be entertained by local people through music, dance and drama.
After the briefing and gorilla family allocation is concluded, you will be put in a group of 8 per family and head to the forest to start your trail under the guidance of park guides and armed rangers.
The chances of seeing the gorillas in Virunga national park is high and stands at 99%. This is because the rangers always know their last location however, expect to encounter some challenges during tracking such as bad weather conditions and trailing longer distances on steep terrain in processing of searching for a gorilla family.
Once you meet the gorilla family, the dominant silverback will thoroughly scan for any possible threats from the trekkers, later if he sees no threat, he will warmly welcome you! You will then be allowed to watch the family for a full hour. Take as many photos as possible while seeing the family members grooming each other, females breastfeeding infants, family individuals playing with each other and stubborn adolescents climbing up and down the short trees. On lucky day, you may witness some members making nests for an afternoon nap or in preparing for the night.
Getting To Virunga National Park for gorilla trekking by road, Water and Air
Gorilla trekking tours are carried out throughout the year in Virunga national park but the dry season is always the best time to visit the park. The heavy rains in the wet season of October to November and March to April can make trails muddy and slippery hence giving a challenging moment to most of the trekkers.
After booking your gorilla permit, accommodation and Visa, you may wonder how you can get to Virunga national park in DR Congo. Yes, travelers may access the park by air, water and road.
Connecting to Virunga national park by road will depend on where you are coming from and where you wish to enter from.
If you are coming from Kigali Rwanda the journey is shorter than from Kampala Uganda by road. It takes approximately 5 ½ hours connecting to the park from Kigali international airport via Gisenyi- Goma border. This time is inclusive of visa processing and clearance with DR Congo immigration office.
From Uganda, you may drive to Kisoro town and connect through Bunagana border and then proceed to Bukima starting point for gorilla trekking experiences. This route is good for tourists with some activities in southwest Uganda otherwise, entering through Entebbe international park to connect to DR Congo takes a full day driving to Kisoro where you will have an overnight stay before heading to the park the next day via Bunagana border.
If you book a safari to DR Congo with local tour operators such as Africa Adventure Vacations, ground transportation is by 4×4 safari vehicles with enough leg room, AC and sliding windows. However, the park management can arrange ground transportation from the Gisenyi-Goma border to Virunga national park if you booked a gorilla trekking tour with them.
In most cases, a number of tourists interested in visiting Virunga national park fly via Kigali international airport in Rwanda. It is easier and more reliable to access the park through Kigali because other main airports to DR Congo such as Kinshasha are far away from Virunga national park. When you fly via Kigali and arrive late, the driver guide picks you and transfers you to your booked hotel for an overnight stay before being driven to DR Congo through Gisenyi- Goma border to Virunga national park for gorilla trekking and other activities.
Alternatively; you may opt to fly directly to Goma international airport and then get transferred to the park however, there is a challenge of limited airline companies operating flights to this airport. The Airlines that fly to and from Goma airport are Ethiopian airlines, Air France, Brussels, Turkish Airlines and Kenya airways
Water transport on Lake Kivu is mainly used by tourists who want to connect from Bukavu to Virunga national park by use of a ferry. Ferries move from Bukavu via Idjwi Island to Goma and this takes approximately 6 hours
Visitors may opt to use a speed boat that takes 3 hours whereas a public boat takes about 5 hours to arrive at the landing site of Goma. From Goma, you are then driven to Virunga national park and the journey takes about 1½ hours.
Riding on a slow boat costs you $50 while the private boat ride costs between $300 to $400. You can as well make reservations in advance for swift boats. These swift boats require advance bookings to obtain tickets
The cost of gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park DR Congo
Of all the gorilla trekking destinations in Africa, Virunga national park offer the cheapest gorilla permit at $400 per person per trek. In Uganda and Rwanda, the permit goes for $700 and $1500 per person per trek. Tourists who visit during low season may get discounted permits in DR Congo.
Gorilla trekking permits can either be booked directly through Virunga National Park headquarters or from a trusted local travel agency like Africa Adventure Vacations. The cost of a gorilla permit is just a sub total to a grand total of a gorilla safari in Virunga national park. You need to consider other costs on transport, accommodation and Visas while planning for a trip to DR Congo.
Most travel agencies categories a gorilla safari into 3 levels that is, budget, Mid-range and Luxury gorilla tour. An estimated price for a 3 days gorilla tour to Virunga national park for a single traveler ranges between from $1500 for budget to $2000 for Luxury.
Those planning on do a budget gorilla trekking tour in Virunga national park on their own, don’t reserve expensive hotels in Goma, several cheaper accommodations are available in the city and offer good services.