Travelling to watch mountain gorillas in Africa offers visitors a wonderful wildlife encounter in Africa. The chance to go gorilla trekking in Africa out standing as a once in a life time travel experience any travel expedition shall ever wonder about the overlap montane thick rain forests that straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hiking through the jungles and forests when you become conscious to stare into the eyes of a rare mountain gorilla is as rewarding as it is demanding.
The exhilaration attached to setting eyes on a wild mountain gorilla is difficult to describe but more impressively as their unforgettable attitude to people which greatly differs from that of any other wild animals you will ever encounter in your life. This calls for you to better friend a gorilla because almost every body who visits those gentle giants who share 95 % of their genes with human beings, experiences a supernatural sense of recognition that there are less than 800 individual mountain gorillas surviving in the wild.
Where to go Visit with Gorillas in Africa
The critically endangered Mountain gorillas as listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature can only be found in the Virunga mountains region that is shared by the three countries of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, one tends to associate with equatorial East Africa and the great western arm of the Albertine rift valley. The mist covered chain of volcanoes of tangled thick and pristine rain forests act as a home to the remaining population of mountain gorillas about 800 left in the wild whose encounter and consequent eye contact is the most exciting and poignant wildlife encounter in the whole of Africa. There are only 4 national parks where mountain gorillas live and can be tracked; these include Bwindi impenetrable forest and Mgahinga National parks found in the South Western Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga Mountains National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these national parks offers a unique trekking experience with its own rewards as you will be likely to enjoy a close view of adult gorillas feeding, groom and resting as the juveniles frolic and swing from trees branches in a delightful display is indeed a life changing and unforgettable experiences on planet earth. As you plan to undertake a visit to one of the countries for gorilla tracking be on the alert to face the challenging steep ridges of thick undercover rain forests at a relatively high and varying altitude of the Chain Mountains of Virunga.
Tracking Mountain Gorillas in Uganda, Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks
In Uganda, also known as the Perl of Africa, gorilla safaris can only take place in the far remote forests of Bwindi and Mgahinga National parks found in the South Western Uganda on the edge of the great western arm of the Albertine rift valley. Currently there are 14 gorilla groups in Uganda which have been habituated for tourism of which 12 groups inhabit the Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park and the other group of gorilla lives in the Mgahinga National park.
Trekking gorillas always commences early in the morning, meeting your guides at the visitor centers to understand the Do’s and don’ts of tracking which can last for 30 minutes to more than 8 hours depending on how fast the trackers locate a particular group of gorillas.
Bwindi Impenetrable forest covers an area of about 321 km of thick rain forests located in the South Western Uganda over 512 km of driving from the capital city Kampala. Charter flights are can fly from Entebbe International Airport to the beautiful sceneries of terraced rolling hilly areas of Kisoro and kabale airfields at Kihihi. Bwindi means “impenetrable” as the name suggests, the thick montane and evergreen forests ranging at an altitude of 1,160 meters to 2,607 meters above sea level, is regarded as Africa’s most ecologically diverse area.
Like any other national park in Uganda managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority which takes responsibility of forming tourism sectors to increase eco- tourism in the park. Buhoma sector located in the northern part of the park, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga have got excellent and specific accommodation facilities which are closely situated near the visitor’s reception center.
Buhoma sector has got four habituated groups of mountain gorillas that can be tracked; they include Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura provided you have a Uganda wildlife Authority experienced guide you can hike to see those amazing creatures in the wild.
Ruhija tourism sector has three gorilla families named as Kyaguriro, Oruzogo and Bitukura, however this area is difficult to trek due to its steep and slippery ridges that most trekkers find challenging.
Nkuringo sector located in the southern side of the park, has got only one family of gorillas called Nkuringo and the Rushaga sector consists of 5 gorilla groups that are available for tracking, they include Bweza, Mishaya, Nshongi, Busingye and Kahungye.
Bwindi impenetrable forest national park can be reached by road from several directions full of en route soothing attractions that include:-
Through Queen Elizabeth national park to Mweya-Kihihi via Ishasha sector where one can stopover to see the tree climbing lions. Bwindi impenetrable national park is about 64 km from Ishasha. You can also access the park through different routes:-
Kampala– kanungu- Butogota- Kihihi which may take 5-6 hours of road driving covering over 400 km following a murram road from Butogota kanungu to Buhoma may take 120km.
Kampala –Ntungamo – Rukungiri via Kihihi to Buhoma covers about 390 km and about 5-6 hours of driving. This is regarded as faster and direct route
The Kampala –kabale –Nkuringo route is a 6 -8 hours journey
Kampala –kabale –Ruhija route can also take up to 8 hours of driving. From kabale to Ruhija the roads pass through great ascents and descents of rocky hills.
Remember that roads leading to the national parks can get dusty or wet, thus a 4WD is highly advisable to use.
Mgahinga National Park
The park was mainly formed to protect the rare mountain gorillas that in habit the dense forests; sitting high in the clouds at an altitude of 2,227 meters to 4,127 m above sea level, Mgahinga national park is an important habitat that features 3 extinct volcanic mountains of Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhavura that straddle across the borders of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Owing to the mountainous nature of the park, it’s a home to part of the 300 gorillas as part of the Virunga conservation area; the volcanic mountains are deeply eroded with jagged crown and deep gorges, crater lakes and swampy depressions on top of the summits the stunning views gives a cool breeze of freshness while setting your foot in all the three countries at the same time.
The park has only one group of habituated mountain gorillas called Nyakagezi family which in the recent past used not to pay attention to the borders between Rwanda and Uganda but luckily for the last 2 years the group has consistently remained in Uganda although its not guaranteed that the gorillas may not to Rwanda which rather makes it challenging to trek.
Nyakagezi group has 10 individual gorillas including four Silverbacks which can be tracked in the smallest park covering an area of about 34 km located in the south western Uganda just adjacent to volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
For one to track mountain gorilla in Mgahinga national park, you will need to travel for more than 10 hours a day from Uganda’s capital Kampala to the park driving on road for 482 km journey that offers an opportunity to understand a typical Uganda rural setting viewing beautiful cultivated hills and the shorelines of Lake Bunyonyi and the rocky cliffs along the different routes to the park. The most commonly used route is the Kampala-kabale Kisoro, from Kampala to kabale it can take 8 hours and thereafter drive further on a murram road for about 76 km of steep ascents and descents of hills to Kisoro town near the park.
The other route leaves the main kabale road to pass by the shorelines of the stunning lake Bunyonyi to rejoin the Kisoro road to the main park entrance Ntebeko point which is 14 km from Kisoro. Alternatively visitors can fly form Entebbe International Airport with arranged charter flights to Kihihi or Kayaonza airfields in Kisoro just near Mgahinga National park.
Once you have reached the park, you can be assured with 95% chances of viewing gorillas during your trek on foot deep in the forests. Other lots of wildlife such as big mammals, primates such as the rare golden monkeys and a variety of Albertine rift species of birds can be encountered as well. This is the only place where mountain gorilla and golden monkeys live together in the same forests and the park has been regarded to be a spot where silver meets gold.
Uganda has irresistibly scenic and stunning landscapes full of big game mammals that make it an ideal destination besides the mountain gorillas. On your way to the bwindi and mgahinga nationalparks forgorilla trekking, you will enjoy lots of attractions temmed with wildlife encounters such the famous tree climbing lions in ishahasha sector of queen elizabeth national park or take abot trip on lake bunyonyi in kabale the lake of a thousand islands for the breathtaking vlake side views dominatedby rolling terraced hiils.
Mountain Gorilla Tracking in Rwanda
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are only found in volcanoes national park which is located in Northern Rwanda commonly referred to as the land of a thousand hills. The park covers an area of about 160 km of montane and bamboo forests ranging at an altitude of 2,400 m to 4,500 meters above sea level makes it an ideal habitat for about 300 mountain gorillas that are part of the great Virunga massifs. A number of 10 gorilla families have been habituated in the park mainly for tourism and research purposes. In an attempt to increase gorilla conservation and increase their population, Rwanda introduced an annual gorilla naming ceremony branded as “Kwita Izina” therefore making Volcanoes National park popular Destination for gorilla trekking. Volcanoes nationa lpark became a ground for the popular Dian Fossey an american natural scientist who dedicated most of her life to carry out research on mountain gorilla conservation and successfully established a research center at kirisoke one of the volcanoes in the park. Her book called gorillas in the mist was feautured in a popular film of the same name in 1988. Today one can hike to the dian fossey tomb to appreciate her work that saved life of what drives us most among the primates, the moutain gorillas.
Volcanoes national park is not far from Kigali international airport which presents the best quick trekking experience for time bound travelers in contrast to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo which makes gorilla trekking in Rwanda much more preferred as compared to other destinations. It takes about 2 and ½ hours drive from Kigali to the small village of Ruhengeri the park’s main entrance therefore lucky visitors might track gorillas and return back to Kigali International Airport within a day making it easier and faster than getting to Bwindi or Virungas in Congo.
Gorilla Trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga Mountains National Park is found in the Eastern side of the Democratic Republic of Congo just on the Ugandan and Rwandan borders. The parks moat prized inhabitants are 300 of the 880 world’s remaining mountain gorillas which inhabit the slopes of a number of extinct volcanic mountains that stretch from the south eastern edge of Virunga mountains to the north and east across borders Rwanda and Uganda. The park covers an area of about 7,800 km of spectacular montane landscapes in Africa comprised of steep valleys, low altitude marshlands, unique afro alpine vegetation of rare species of plants such as giant lobelias, moorlands and heathers and tree ferns making Virunga top Africa’s national parks for biological diversity as a result the park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
Gorilla trekking is the popular activity in the park but given the varied range of habitats, the park is also a home to other wildlife such as 128 species of mammals, Albertine rift endemic species of birds as well as other primates that live in the park. The park has of recent became a safe area to visit after the decline of civil strife led by numerous rebel groups that have been contained by the park’s management the Congolese National park Authority, consequently gorillas in the park have recovered and are steadily increasing with less threat of civil wars in the pars forested mountains.
Travelers interested to track gorillas can access Virunga national park from Kigali Rwanda by a 3 hour drive to the town of Goma on border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. From Goma the route continues for about 32 km to the park. Alternatively the park can be reached from southwestern Uganda via Bunagana border although the roads leading to the park will require a 4WD vehicle and an experienced gorilla trekking guide.