he world’s largest primates survive in what remains of their natural habitat, in the last protected stretches of Africa’s central rainforest. Thanks to the income earned from gorilla trekking tourism, Uganda’s mountain gorillas population is on the increase. Africa Safari Expert Anza recommends doing gorilla treks in two different destinations because you’ll be contributing twice to gorilla conservation as well as spending time with two different gorilla families.
Here’s where to go in Africa to see gorillas:
#1 Rwanda: Easy In, Easy Out
Africa’s most straight-forward gorilla trekking is found in Rwanda, the tiny Central African country that punches way above its weight in sheer natural beauty. Its flagship reserve, Volcanoes National Park, lies only 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the capital’s airport and is home to about half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
This is authentic Gorillas in the Mist country – you can even pay your respects at Dian Fossey’s grave. It’s a well protected and monitored reserve full of monkeys and forest birds where the chances of encountering gorillas are a reassuring 90 percent (as with any activity involving wild animals, there are no guarantees). Speaking of statistics, some 10 percent of the revenue from tourism goes to community projects around the park, reinforcing the positive impact of gorilla trekking and making conservation of the great apes meaningful to rural communities in a very practical way. In fact, in some cases, reformed poachers are now employed by conservation projects that allow them to earn a legitimate income.
#2 Uganda: Big Apes & Big Game
Uganda’s gorillas live in the epically named Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest, a cloak of tangled green that covers the country’s south-west mountains. It’s more than a day’s drive from the capital Kampala or a quick flight so you’ll work a little harder to get there than in Rwanda, but it’s worth it! Bwindi is a World Heritage Site with over 350 bird species and 200 kinds of butterflies – and, thanks to income from gorilla trekking, its mountain gorilla population has grown by a third in recent years.
Trekking in Bwindi is well-established and if you have a couple of days to work with, gorilla sightings are more or less assured. Bwindi’s trump card lies in tailoring your Uganda itinerary to include nearby Kibale Forest and Queen Elizabeth National Park, allowing you to add chimpanzee trekking and big game viewing to your gorilla encounter.
Silverbacks are the group’s protectors & are very inquisitive about newcomers.
Chimps climb trees to reach sweet fruit.
#3 Congo: New Kid on the Block
Congo is not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): the two are distinct countries in Central Africa. And while the DRC is enormous, Congo is small but perfectly formed. Odzala National Park is still relatively little known but is attracting deserved renown for its conservation of lowland gorillas. Unlike their mountain cousins, lowland gorillas are smaller and less shaggy, with softer fur. But like their altitude-dwelling relatives, they are always a joy to behold. Another boon to Congo is that you can bracket your gorilla trek with big game viewing or highly satisfying birding. Congo is scattered with ‘bais’, a kind of clearing in a forest wetland where the plentiful water and good grazing attract forest elephants and buffalos, large antelope known as bongo and bush pigs.
Whichever destination you choose, it pays to prepare well for your trek. Hiking through mountainous, equatorial rainforest is muddy work. It can be hot and humid with occassional short downpours too, so appropriate clothing, sturdy hiking boots and gear, like poles and gaiters, all add up to a comfortable trek. It’s a bucket list experience precisely because it isn’t easy to get close to gorillas in the wild, but when you do, you’ll be more than thrilled…
Find out more about a gorilla trekking holiday, or view our recommended gorilla trekking tours & safaris.