Where to see Mountain Gorillas in Africa?
East Africa has got four mountain gorilla National parks where these endangered species are found. These parks are found in different countries of Rwanda, Uganda as well as DRC. These national parks include; Bwindi impenetrable national park, Volcanoes National Park, Virunga National Park as well as Mgahinga National Park. This unique activity has to be booked in advance so that the gorilla permits are secured. Uganda is a great primate region and gives you the choice of gorilla trekking in the Virunga volcanoes or the Bwindi impenetrable Forest. With in Uganda, You are free to trek in two different national parks and the cost for double-tracking is actually cheaper that one gorilla permit in Rwanda.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi offers you a great outstanding trekking experience while on your safari in Uganda. This national park is located in south western Uganda a great forest that crosses the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift valley. This rain forest is one of the few forests in Africa that harbors half of the remaining endangered mountain gorillas. Coming face to face with these unique species is so impressive.
The Forest was gazette in 1942 and upgraded to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1992 and was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1994. Its 327km of tangled vegetation draped over the fissured land scape of slippery, steep as well as ridges. A gorilla trek through this forest is worth paying since Bwindi ranks among the World’s premier Wildlife destination. The average temperatures of this forest range from 70 to 200 degrees celicius with the coldest period being June and July. The warm clothes and the wet weather gears are recommended for the trek since the Bwindi forest receives up to 2390mm of rainfall per year. This is mainly concentrated during the two wet seasons ie; the short rains in March – May and heavy rains of September to November.
Gorilla trekking is a fascinating and unforgettable experience that repays the effort needed to trek Bwindi and trek through the forest. Bwindi has 18 habituated gorilla groups that are tracked by tourists. These are located in different sectors including; the Buhoma sector, Nkuringo, Rushaga, & Ruhija sector. A gorilla trek should be booked in advance and gorilla permits bought at least 6 months in advance. Gorilla trekking is sometimes challenging and you need to be fit. Registration and briefing starts at 07: 45 hours and tracking starts by 8:30 am which lasts a few hours to a full day depending on where the mountain gorillas are in the forest.
Gorilla trekking can be accompanied by any other optional activities like the Gorilla Habituation Experience that takes place in Rushaga and gives you an opportunity of meeting the mountain gorillas for four hours, Other primate species like the monkeys including the red tailed monkeys, De brazza monkey, L’Hoest Monkeys as well as the chimpanzees, there are cultural encounters to the Batwa people, Hiking through Bwindi Forest, Hikes and trails in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Bird watching, Mountain Bike Rides, Village walks like the Buhoma village walk.
Getting to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
The park can be can be accessed with a 9 hour drive from Entebbe International Airport. The long drive can be broken into smaller drives by incorporating different parks and activities.
The park can as well be accessed through flying into Kigali Rwanda and then trekking mountain gorillas in Uganda. There is a 4 hour drive to Rushaga or Nkuringo in the Southern end of Bwindi impenetrable forest
The fly-in safaris are also present. Trackers can fly from Entebbe to Kihihi and stay in Buhoma area of the forest or can flying from Entebbe to Kisoro and stay in the southern region of the forest.
Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is the smallest national park and one of the most dramatic for the park lies on the northern slopes of Mt Mgahinga, Muhabura, as well as Sabyinyo, which are the three volcanoes that mark the southern limit of the Albertine Rift valley and it’s shared by three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. These Virungas are home to more than half of the World’s mountain gorillas. There are 400 mountain gorilla individuals that live n the slopes of the Volcanoes while the remaining 380 live in Bwindi impenetrable National Park. Mgahinga national park has got one Gorilla group called Nyakagezi gorilla family.
Even though gorilla tracking is the main activity in the park, the volcanoes offer great scenery, as well as a choice of hikes that allow for all abilities, ranging from the 8 hours, return Trip to the summit of Mt. Muhabura, to going through the lower slopes beneath the wonderful three peaks back drop. This national park experiences two rainy seasons: March – May, and September- November. October is the wettest month with July being the driest.
This park is home to the world’s mountain gorillas making gorilla trekking the most carried out activity in the park. The trek starts at about 8:00 am and lasts 2 to 4 hours and the duration mostly depend on the location of the gorillas or how far they moved in search for food. There are guidelines to put in mind before going for gorilla trekking that you are acquainted with at the orientation and we picked a few to keep in mind. These are endangered species and they catch human disease so if you have a cold or another infectious disease, it’s advisable that you don’t go for the trek until recovery; Waste must be buried 30cm deep. Flash photography should not be used and trekkers should be at least 15 years of age. There are only 8 people that are allowed per trek and many more.
How to access Mgahinga National Park
This national park lies in the southwestern corner of Uganda and its 540km from Kampala. The journey takes 7 to 8 hours minus the stops passing via Kabale and Kisoro. The section between Kabale and Kisoro is a mountainous drive on murram that takes at least 2 hours and the park gate at Ntebeko lies 14km south of Kisoro. The charter flights can be arranged from Entebbe or Kampala to Kisoro airstrip.
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes national park is located in the far northwest of Rwanda and protects the steep slopes of the great mountain ranges; home of the rare mountain gorillas. It’s 15,000 feet above sea level and it’s rich with montane ecosystems that cuddle the evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp as well as heath. A thrilling trek through the cultivated foot hills of the Virungas gives great views in all directions. This national park is home to Mountain gorillas, rare golden Monkeys, buffalos, as well as elephants. Just with in the gaps of the forest canopy, the peaks are seen easily and accessed among the highest in Africa. The park is filled with many tourist attractions including Musaze caves, a visit to Dian Fossey tomb, Golden monkeys, birds, and many more. Just near Volcanoes national park, you can tour Lake Kivu, Lake Burera, Ruhondo as well as Karago. Ruhengeri also offers much priced small hotels and guest houses and this carter for clients.
Volcanoes national park has got many habituated gorilla families that live in the forest and these can be tracked only when one buys a gorilla permit of $1500 per person per day. What to note is that the time of tracking each of these groups varies from one group to another. You as well get an opportunity of seeing the rare golden monkeys, bird species, elephants as well as buffaloes. The park covers an area of 160km and holds Rwanda section of the Virunga Mountains; including the six extinct and the 3 active volcanoes which overlaps the national borders of Uganda with Rwanda and DRC.
Mountain Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
When you meet with the mountain gorillas, it’s advised that you don’t make movements since these might be interpreted as a threat. You are advised to always speak soflty and not to use flash when taking photos since it can startle them. It’s also advisable that when the gorilla charges towards you, don’t run but simply calm down in a submissive manner and the gorilla will stop and retreat. The gorilla trekking practice starts so early in the morning with a briefing about the dos and don’ts gorilla trekking, after you are led by the rangers as well as porters who will help with your bags as you travel. Once you meet with the gorillas, you are given one hour to interact with them as you take photos. When you are done with trekking, you are escorted back to the head quarters.
Volcanoes national park is so safety and peaceful to all tourists. Tourism being a vital part of the economy of Rwanda, political stability has been maintained and the country is safe and security is emphasized.
How to get to Volcanoes National Park
This national park is located in a very small village Musanze which was previously known as Ruhengeri and it can be accessed by public transport from Kigali or Gisenyi. This drive to volcanoes national park is only 2 hours hence gorilla trekking can be done in one day. You are required to reach at the park entrance gate by 7:00 am and this means that trekking the gorillas in one day requires you to wake up so early. The park has got many different activities including; gorilla trekking, hiking the karisimbi volcano, Mount Bisoke hike, Visiting Dian Fossey tomb, visiting the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera.
Virunga National Park
This is one of the best parks in Africa with more than half of what is in sub Saharan Africa concentrated in one park. The national park boosts two active volcanoes. The park has been threatened by political conflicts in DRC and its still surviving. It was established in 1925 by the king of Beligium, King Albert and was first called Albert National Park. The main aim of opening the park was to protect the endangered mountain gorillas, and many other wildlife species. It covers 9800 square km and extends from Virunga Mountains in the south to Rwenzori in the north. This national park is famous for many bird species, buffaloes, giraffes, mountain gorillas and many more. This is oldest wildlife protected area in Africa and its main aim is to protect these endangered species.
Mountain gorillas in Virunga have been the major attraction given the fact that this is among the few national parks in the region with these endangered species. Many tourists prefer tracking mountain gorillas here due to the low cost of the gorilla permit at $400 per person. The national park is still fresh for many new discoveries due to less tourism activities that are carried out there. The rebel activities have reduced in the park and it’s considered safe to travel for tourists willing to track mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to her ecological importance though political upheavals have had a negative impact on the conservancy.
The process of gorilla trekking in Virunga national park involves waking up so early for briefing at the park headquarters about the rules and regulations of gorilla trekking. You are accompanied by the rangers that help you search for these endangered species. Once they are found, you are strictly given one hour for interaction as you take photos of these special species. After, the rangers will take you back to the park head quarters for recognition. Gorilla trekking can be accompanied by other activities including; climate, Wildlife species, & mammal species. The park has got 6 gorilla families that are open to tourism and Kabirizi family is the famous one to the travelers on gorilla trekking safaris to DRC.
How to access Virunga National Park
The park is located in eastern DR Congo. You can travel by road to Virunga though it’s challenging from the rest of DR Congo except Goma Town which is 32km close. Some travelers to Virunga national park fly to Kigali international Airport and then connect to Gisenyi town and cross to Goma in DR Congo by the dirty road. From Gisenyi , it’s a 2 hour drive to reach the park head quarters at Bukima.
The tourists from Uganda cross at Bunagana border post in Kisoro town and take an hour drive to Bukima which is the mountain gorilla trek starting point.
Ethiopian Airline also operates single flights each week to Goma. The park arranges private transport for the travelers arriving by air at Goma Airport.
In conclusion, detailed above are the four main mountain gorilla parks in East Africa and many tourists have traveled from all over the world to track these unique species.