Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park / virunga gorilla trekking is one of the best activities that travelers engage in when they visit Congo and the Virunga areas in particular. Gorilla trekking takes place in only three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Democratic Republic of Congo is blessed with a variety of tourism resources that are not so much tapped and yet with a whole lot of potential if fully exploited. From the country’s vast virgin tropical rainforests, bubbling crater lakes and lava lakes, rare bird and animal species like the pygmy chimpanzee and so many more that are yet to be discovered. It is only in the Congo that there are both the endangered mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas all that tourists can head for a gorilla trekking expedition if they booked in advance. In the Congo, mountain gorillas are in Virunga National Park and it is from there that tourists can do gorilla trekking from.
Gorilla trekking is an activity that involves tourists hiking deep into the jungles and mountainous areas of the Virungas and Bwindi in search for the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park starts very early in the morning with tourists waking early and having breakfast before they head to the park headquarters. Tourists are expected to be at the park headquarters at 7 am for a briefing by the park rangers. The park rangers will share with tourists what they should expect on the trek that awaits them and also outline a number of rules and guidelines that tourists are advised to follow for their own safety and conservation of the mountain gorillas. After the brief, travelers are then placed in groups of eight and allocated appropriate gorilla families to track. Virunga National Park has 8 gorilla families open for tracking to tourists. Tourists are allocated gorilla families to track depending on their fitness levels.
Tourists then embark on a gorilla trekking expedition with armed park rangers and guides who are knowledgeable of the park and all its inhabitants. Along the way while in search of the mountain gorillas, the guides and rangers share important information of whatever they deem worth sharing and also answer all of your questions that you might have. Be on the lookout for other wild animals like the forest elephants, bush pigs and so many others including a variety of bird species. Upon nearing the mountain gorillas location, rangers notify the tourists of it and on encountering them, tourists are allowed only one hour with them. During this time, tourists can take pictures and videos and also take time to physically enjoy the moment where often these mountain gorillas are found feeding on shoots, grooming each other and juveniles playing around the silverback. These juveniles are inquisitive and curious and they might decide to come up-close to the humans. After an hour elapses, tourists along with the rangers trek back to the starting point from where they’d meet their driver guides and proceed with their schedule. The gorilla trekking expedition can take from 30 minutes to 5 hours or more, depending on the location of the mountain gorillas.
Rules and guidelines are very much emphasized during gorilla trekking and tourists are advised to follow them at all times, say maintaining a 7meter distance from the mountain gorillas, to not touch the gorillas, not tracking if sick with infectious illnesses like flu and cough, not to stare at the mountain gorillas, stay calm if charged at by the mountain gorilla and pay attention to the rangers’ instructions, and so many more.
To be able to take part in gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park, tourists need to purchase gorilla trekking permits from the park offices way in advance by booking at least 3 months in advance to secure one’s spot. Gorilla permits in Virunga National Park cost $400 only for both foreign residents and non- residents while the Congo citizens only pay $150. For a successful gorilla trekking experience, tourists are advised to pack right. It is these items that help one have a memorable gorilla trekking experience and they include;
- Good hiking boots with a good grip and preferably waterproof
- Long safari trousers
- Long sleeved shirts to protect your arms from prickly and reactive vegetation cover plus insect bites
- Waterproof jacket or rain jacket. This should be lightweight that it doesn’t become burdensome during the hike but also not too light that it can easily be pricked and torn by the tree branches and thorns in the forest.
- Waterproof backpack to safe-keep your items from the rains that fall at anytime
- Waterproof hat to cover your head from the rains but also shield you from the scorching sun that sometimes becomes unbearable.
- Garden gloves to cover up your hands that you may not have bruises from very rough vegetation and to also have a firm grip onto your hiking stick.
- Insect repellent creams
- Good cameras to take pictures that you will show off to your friends and family when you return home
- Energy giving snacks and water for refreshment during the hike as it can be strenuous and long.
Wondering how to best plan for gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park, find below some tips;
- Mountain gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is carried out throughout the year but it is best done during the dry season where the roads are more passable and vegetation cover is not so overgrown. The dry season runs from June to September and from mid-December to February.
- Have a good and well-organized tour operator to help you get everything ready, from gorilla permits, accommodation booking to the very last bit of it all. A good tour operator will provide all the information you need for your Congo safari and unburdens you from everything that all you need to do is present yourself on the start of gorilla trekking safari.
- Gorilla permits should be booked well in advance that you do not miss out on gorilla trekking during the time that you wish to do it in
- Gorilla tracking, though exciting, can be hard to do with you getting worn out, sweaty and hungry. Remember to pack some energy giving snacks
- Also, prepare mentally and try to be a little fit. The terrain can be manageable if one tries to do some bit of physical preparedness like jogging and skipping the rope.
- Hiring a porter to assist you with the trek is possible. They help with the pull and push and also carry your luggage that you have your strength concentrated on having a hike.
- Make sure to apply for the Congo Visa before you do come to the Congo and it costs on $100
- Have a yellow fever vaccination documents ready with you to present to officials for you will not be allowed into Congo without one
- Try and arrange for travel insurance
- Make sure to pack items to keep you warm while in Virunga National Park as there are some really high altitudes that get really cold.
Travelers interested in gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park often times access the park by flying in at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda and then transfer by road through Gisenyi to Goma town. It is only 2 hours of driving from Gisenyi to Bukima the park headquarters from where the trek starts from. Travelers transferring from Uganda cross Bunagana border post in Kisoro and drive for one hour to Bukima. Travelers can also fly into the Congo direct in Goma Airport and then transfer to the park. Whichever way you’re getting into Congo, just make sure you have the right documents with you.
There are a number of accommodation facilities that tourists can stay in, depending on one’s budget. Lodgings near the starting point of the gorilla trek are most recommended that tourists do not have to drive long distances to the start of the gorilla trek. Have a trusted tour operator handle your Congo Safari and gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park safari.