Trek through the Virunga Mountains to come face-to-face with the mountain gorillas
With only 800 or so mountain gorillas left wild in the world today, it is becoming higher on a lot of travellrs bucket lists. There are three countries that home these majestic animals: Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The gorillas in Rwanda and the DRC straddle the Virunga Massif mountain range whilst in Uganda, gorillas reside in Mgahinga National Park and more famously, Bwindi National Park.
Although each gorilla is a unique experience, there are arguably, pros and cons to trekking in each destination. In this section, I will outline the logistics, price and accommodation in all three countries.
Located on the western border of the country, the Volcanoes National Park is the Rwandan section of the Virguna Massif Mountain Range. This park homes around 150 of the world’s 800 remaining mountain gorillas left in the world today. Rwanda gorilla trekking is the most historical and established.
Logistics - The benefit of gorilla trekking in Rwanda is that logistically, it is very easy to do, especially if you are combining it with an East African safari such as Tanzania. Volcanoes National Park is only a two-hour drive from Kigali so you only really need 2 or 3 nights available to do the gorilla trek. The park hosts around 150 habituated gorillas split into 12 groups and several wild ones and issues 96 gorilla trekking permits every day to visitors. The whole set up of the Volcanoes National Park is svery smooth as each of the lodges route via the headquarters for safety briefs and discussions, and then you are off on your trek.
Price - In May 2017, the Rwandan Development Board doubled the cost of gorilla permits. This went from $750 per person per trek to $1,500 overnight! This makes it the most expensive destination to do gorilla trekking but from our experience, it has not stopped people going. In fact, based on the fact that there are more lodges being built in the Volcanoes National Park, it seems that gorilla trekking has become more popular. This price, although pretty costly, gives you an unforgettable gorilla trek and one hour with a habituated family.
Accommodation - Rwanda definitely offers the most luxurious experience. There are several lodges in the Volcanoes National Park that are very comfortable and have established reputations, such as Virguna Lodge, Gorilla Mountain Lodge and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (owned by the Governors’ Collection). There are also incredibly high-end lodges which have simply breathtaking accommodation, service, food and overall experience. These include Bisate Lodge (Wilderness Portfolio) which opened in June 2017. Coming later this year are two more luxurious lodges – One & Only Gorilla Nest (owned by the One & Only portfolio) and Kwitonda Lodge (owned by Singita). If you are not familiar with these names, they are one of the most top-end companies and lodges in all of Africa!
Summary - In summary, although gorilla trekking in Rwanda is more expensive, you will be guaranteed an incredibly well organised trip. The facilities, accommodation and infrastructure makes for a pleasant and sustainable experience. The country as a whole is very safe, peaceful and clean.
There are several destinations to include in a Uganda itinerary (Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Mburo and Kibale Forest to name a few), but highest on most travellers list is Bwindi National Park. Located on the south-western border of the country, this is where you head to do gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Logistics - Bwindi National Park can be accessed via road or plane. It is a 3 to 4 hour to the northern part of the forest from Queen Elizabeth National Park. Alternatively, the forest is served by three airstrips which you can fly from Entebbe or Kampala. As there are no roads inside the park, flying is often the preferred route of travel in the safari world, however this does add to the overall cost. In comparison to Rwanda’s logistics, Uganda is a little more complex.
Price - A big draw to gorilla trekking in Uganda is that the cost of the permits is $600 per person per trek. This is less than half of the cost of Rwanda gorilla permits. The permit offers you one hour with the mountain gorillas in a group of 8 people. Only 80 people are allowed to see the gorillas in their natural habitat each day to respect and protect the natural habitat.
Summary - This is a good option for those looking for a less expensive of an option, but be prepared for extra logistics and a harder and longer trek.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Since May 2018, gorilla trekking in the DRC has been closed as it was regarded too dangerous.