Gorilla trekking is the only opportunity for travelers to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Possibly the biggest draw appealing to responsible travelers, are the mountain gorillas. And the fact that, Uganda, with the largest gorilla population and Rwanda are most popular for gorilla safaris, it makes DR Congo appealing for travelers who want to get off the beaten trail as well as go on a gorilla trek in the remote parts where the Virunga massifs meet the Congo basin forest biomes.
Going on a gorilla safari to a post conflict area requires safety assurance for visitors. Thanks to rangers, their conservation efforts and maximum security for travelers. Virunga gorilla population has recovered and its wildlife population in general. This UNESCO world heritage site home to an estimated 200 gorillas is also one of the most biologically diverse regions in Africa. Virunga has the active Mount Nyiragongo volcano and forms habitat for 218 mammals. Many which are endangered wildlife such as elephants, okapi, 10 species of primates including chimpanzee and over 400 birds. There are a lot of things to do which can be included in your itinerary. Most tourists after their gorilla treks also hike for an overnight on top of the volcano.
What sets DRC apart is the cheaper gorilla trekking permits at $450 which almost half price for Uganda and triple for Rwanda. Most importantly, an organized tour is the best way. Consider your transfer, accommodation and other optional excursions which are best done by your local tour operator.
Virunga national park is located in the eastern part of the democratic republic of Congo on the border of Rwanda and Uganda. From these countries, which are most popular for gorilla treks and security is stable and well developed infrastructure. It is therefore easier for travelers to access Virunga by road or charter for gorilla their trekking safaris to DRC.
And most visitors prefer getting to Goma city in DRC from Kigali Rwanda. It takes only 3 hours, you’re able to obtain your local visa on arrival via Gisenyi border. Tourists travelling from south western Uganda, expect some rough and dirt roads. After crossing border at Bunagana where you can also get your visa as well as reach southern Virunga within 3-4 hours.
The starting point for your gorilla trekking adventure is Bukima patrol post, which about 11/2 hours drive from Goma city. In the area around Bukima, 6 gorilla families have been habituated. They include Rugendo, Kabirizi, Humba, Mapuwa, Lulengo and Munyaga families. You’re likely to trek those with up to 30 individuals including gorillas that survived poachers during the crisis. And the story has been told in Virunga the movie which is best to watch before your safari to DRC for a better understanding of their eco-tourism experience.
Virunga Park has gorilla trekking rules and regulations and trekkers will be asked to wear surgical masks. To reduce the risk of disease transmission or disturbance, no sick tourist is allowed and only 6 visitors are allowed to trek gorillas for one hour. Keep a distance of 7 meters away when taking photos and listen to your guides. These and armed rangers ensure daily monitoring and security and gorilla doctors who carry out observations regarding any disturbance or threat of infectious human diseases. Gorillas share 95% of their DNA with humans and highly vulnerable to infectious diseases such as flu, diarrhea and fever.
Trekkers wake up early, for breakfast and head to Bukima with appropriate clothing, packed lunch or snacks and enough drinking water. You meet the guides for briefing at 08am and thereafter escorted by armed rangers into the forest. Guides usually anticipate longer treks and advise you hire porters. Trails you go through thick jungles and steep ridges that you have to pull yourself up. This is why wearing gloves is recommended for every trekker.
Depending on the movement of the gorillas, as they do their daily feeding, some treks may be short while other too long. Always remind yourself of the gorilla guidelines. Your guides ensure safety and also explain the behavior and lifestyle of gorillas.
Virunga national park receives few travelers and so are the numbers that go for trekking. Therefore, you need your operator to get all your requirements for Gorilla Safari to Democratic Republic of Congo.
Only 6 tourists are allowed to visit one habituated family of gorillas per day. It implies no crowds to compete for gorilla photos and a high chance for gorillas to give visitors more attention.
To gain entry, you must first apply for DR Congo tourist visa through their embassy. Visa processing can take long so apply in advance of your trip.
Travelers are recommended to vaccinate against yellow fever and without proof you cannot be allowed to enter DRC. Malaria is also rampant and needs anti-malaria medication as well prevention for typhoid, cough and meningitis.
A gorilla permit is also required and should be booked in advance of 3-4 months. But first you are required to make confirmation for your trip to DRC.
It is done by booking for accommodation or Mount Nyiragongo hike. Thereafter, you are able to use your receipt to purchase your gorilla permit. This can be done with a tour operator or directly with through Virunga national park.
Travelers are required to come with a yellow fever vaccination card. You’re also advised to vaccinate for other diseases such as malaria, hepatitis B, typhoid. Ensure you have a first kit and medications in your backpack.
Best time to visit DRC
Gorilla treks are conducted all year round. But due to tropical climate, rainy seasons in April to May and November to December, and weather is wet and the forest can be difficult to hike through. You should have many layers, rain gears and boots. Note, that vegetation can be chest high, so thick canopies block sunlight. Definitely, your camera should be forest ready. One of the most important things to note, in this season, price for gorilla permits is reduced from $450 to $350 per person. Most lodges also tend to offer discounts. Because many visitors avoid the rains and demand is low.
International flights land in Kinshasha the main capital of DRC. From there to Virunga is Travel is quite a long distance. We recommend using scheduled charter flights to Goma city which is one hour drive to the park.
Travelers who are in Rwanda or Uganda, road trips are more convenient ways to get to DRC. Thanks to the general levels of safety experienced in those countries. Short drives approximately 3 hours from Kigali via Gisenyi border to Goma city in DR Congo. If you’re in southwestern Uganda, cross the border at Bunagana, the roads are dirt and rough and require 4*4 vehicles.
You should travel with your passport or identification documents all time. Avoid travelling with large sums of cash and have contacts for Virunga park security.
Where to stay
During your gorilla safari to DRC, you want to decide whether you want accommodation inside the park or in the city of Goma. Although the city has a lot of lodges and guest houses, and worth to stay in. Its historical volcanic eruption and what daily life style is really like in the area are also interesting. However, visitors must wake up early drive to Bukima for gorilla treks.
Those who stay closer to the park’s gorilla trekking center may not need to wake up too early.
Mikeno lodge best for luxury visitors is nestled in the scenic landscape at the foothills of Mikeno volcano. Those who want waterfront relaxation, Tchegera island tented camp is on the northern shore of Lake Kivu. Lulimbi tented camp is situated in the savannah area of the park, here you can do game drives to spot wildlife such as forest elephants and hippos.
Bukima tented camp is just located near the main trekking center; here you’ll just wake up at your own pace.