The reason for this blog is to try and help you decide which kind of gorilla trekking is best for you, so I have outlined below the pros and cons of each country to ensure you are getting the most from your trip. Whilst I hope you find this useful, it is still no substitute for getting in touch with me.
Steppes have been offering gorilla safaris since 1997 and put simply, our experience is second to none. We helped to re-establish gorilla trekking in Rwanda when the country re-opened its doors to tourism in the mid-90s, have been given unique access to the headquarters of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project near Virunga and have also been approached by the Uganda Wildlife Authorities to help habituate a new group of wild gorillas in Bwindi. In addition to this, we were one of the first tour operators in the world to offer pioneering gorilla tours to the Congo and the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) having worked with researchers from the W.W.F and the Wildlife Conservation Society (W.C.S.) in these remote areas. All this results in some fantastic and very unique experience for our clients and is what sets our tours apart.
There are currently 4 different countries where we offer gorilla trekking, all of which I have been lucky enough to visit many times – Rwanda, Uganda, C.A.R. and the Republic of Congo (NOT to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which I have also visited but that’s another story…!)
Rwanda – Mountain Gorillas
Still the best place to see gorillas if this is the main focus of your tour and time and budget are important. The Parc National des Volcans (sometimes known as Virunga Park or Volcanoes National Park) is easy to reach from the capital, Kigali and offers the chance to see a variety of gorilla groups in a mountain rainforest environment. There is also a great range of accommodation, from luxury lodges to good mid-range hotels.
The forest here is a younger, bamboo forest so (in theory at least!) it is easier to track than in Uganda, with more light coming through the canopy and therefore easier for photography. The park, however, is very steep in places although as it is mountainous it is NOT humid. Gorilla permits are currently U$750 per permit, per person.
Uganda – Mountain Gorillas
An excellent option for those looking for a more comprehensive wildlife experience who are more flexible on time and budget. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the only place you can see gorillas, but this is a much older rainforest so the trekking can be a little tougher. However, the diversity of wildlife and the actual setting is much more dramatic than Rwanda, although the park is harder to get to and requires an overnight stop en-route. Like Rwanda, the trekking here is done on steep, muddy paths, but is NOT humid due to the altitude. In addition to the gorillas in Uganda there are also excellent opportunities for chimpanzee trekking, Big 5 game viewing, boat safaris and some of Africa’s best birding. It also has the added benefit of cheaper gorilla permits than Rwanda at U$600 per permit per person.
Central African Republic (C.A.R.) – Lowland Gorillas
Not for the faint-hearted and recommended only for those clients who have already seen gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda, or for those who have travelled in Africa extensively. Access is by charter flight (so is best done as part of a group) and the lodges are very remote – so once you are there, everything is included, which is reflected in the price. You will find lowland gorillas in the Dzanga Sangha National Park (sometimes called Dzanga Sangha Special Reserve) and on our tours you will join wildlife researchers as you track them through thick, dense and very humid tropical lowland forests, wading through streams and plenty of mud! Accommodation is simple, but comfortable and there are other activities such as visiting the Bias (forest clearings) where you find forest elephants, as well as pirogue fides and forest walks with the local Ba’Aka community. A very wild adventure!
Republic of Congo
Almost identical in environment to C.A.R., the lowland tropical forest is home to gorillas in Odzala and Nouabalé-Ndoki national parks and Mbeli Bai. Access is still difficult, but there are now regular charter flights in and out, particularly for trips to Odzala where a new upmarket lodge has been built, but costs still remain high. Ndoki and Mbeli Bai are only really accessible as part of our longer 13 days Congo and C.A.R. tour.
The thing to bear in mind is that travel in the C.A.R. and the Rep. Of Congo is full of challenges – things change at the last minute, flights can be seriously delayed and it is hot, and very sweaty trekking. That aside, it still allows for one of the most thrilling wildlife adventures in the heart of Africa and is not to be missed!