Gorilla Trekking in Congo – Virunga National Park
Planning a gorilla trekking safari in Congo can be confusing without knowing the country and national parks. Formerly known as the Belgian Congo and more recently Zaire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has endured a series of wars that have led to civil unrest. But as Africa’s second-largest country with a population of 78.74 million, the country has vast untapped human and natural resources. Her great future wealth potential is due to her large reserves of oil, gold, diamonds, and other minerals.
In addition, Congo is rich in tourism resources, including vast untouched Congolese rainforests, mountains, bubbling crater lakes, bodies of water, and rare birds and animals such as okapi and pygmy chimpanzees (bonobos), many of which have not been discovered. Although some of her neighbors boast that they own most of the remaining mountain gorilla family, Congo is the only country in the world where both lowland and mountain gorillas can be found. They even quietly owned the endangered golden monkey. Congo is probably the last country where you can still experience Africa as it used to be – untouched. With peace and good governance structures, DRC can easily become a top tourist destination in Africa.
Mountain Gorillas in Virunga National Park
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the only country where tourists can track mountain gorillas and their lowland cousins in the wild. It is the best country to see wild eastern lowland gorillas. Although lowland gorillas can also be seen in zoos around the world, mountain gorillas can only thrive in the wild. Lowland gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be tracked in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, while mountain gorillas can be found in Virunga National Park. Mountain gorillas are generally larger than lowland gorillas, and their fur is deeper and thicker to help them survive the cold and high altitudes.
Both subspecies feed on leaves, twigs, and fruits. Both subspecies live in households/groups led by a dominant male silverback who is responsible for the safety of other group members and controls unruly individuals. Mountain gorilla groups are usually larger, sometimes with more than 30 individuals. Males in both gorilla species stay in groups longer, while females usually leave after maturity to join other silverbacks or groups. Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park Congo.
Mountain gorilla trekking tours are only possible in three countries – Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking in Congo is currently the most popular and attractive activity among tourists visiting Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is mainly because mountain gorillas are close relatives of humans and are an extremely rare and endangered species. These reasons combine to make seeing a family of mountain gorillas a very special wildlife activity. Gorilla trekking in Congo – Virunga National Park starts early in the day.
Trekkers need to get up early, have breakfast and bring everything they need when tracking gorillas. These include long-sleeved shirts, raincoats, hiking boots, thermal socks, gloves, cameras, water, passports, visas, and Congo gorilla trekking permits. Once everything is in order, visitors will go to the park headquarters for a briefing from the park rangers and rangers. Briefings cover several topics, including the history of each gorilla group, gorilla habitat, and gorilla trekking rules.
A Passport Is Required For Gorilla Trekking in Congo.
Passport checks help rangers assign gorilla groups based on the language of the trekkers. Other criteria such as fitness levels and personal preferences are also taken into account when assigning Congolese tourist gorilla families. You can entertain yourself with traditional local dances while you wait to be assigned to a particular group of gorillas. After the briefing and gorilla group assignments, you will go on the course in groups of 8 per gorilla group under the guidance of park guides and armed rangers.
The chance of seeing gorillas on a gorilla trekking safari in Congo is high because the trekkers always know their last location. However, there are challenges along the way that can extend the time it takes to find a team. These challenges include bad weather, terrain, and the distance from the starting point to the location of a particular gorilla colony. Once you’ve found a gorilla colony, expect to be scrutinized by the dominant silverback. Silverback usually lets you after a thorough scan for any threats.
How Long Does Gorilla Trekking in Congo Last?
You will be given one hour with a gorilla family. Here you can see and photograph the dominant male silverback, other members of the group grooming each other, nursing mothers, children at play, stubborn teenagers climbing up and down the bushes, and other male silverbacks (if present). You can even see some members getting ready for bed or getting ready for the night. You will witness amazing things and sights that will remind you of how we humans behave – take enough pictures. You may find our 2-Day Congo Gorilla Trekking Tour Package interesting.
Tips for Planning a Gorilla Trekking Safari in Congo
Gorilla trekking in Congo – Virunga is a very exciting experience, but keep in mind that tracking can make you tired, sweaty, and hungry. From the moment you enter the forest in search of a family of gorillas, there are some simple tips and things to keep in mind to enjoy the whole experience. you need:-
- Be mentally fit and healthy before tracking gorillas. When you are physically and mentally prepared, navigating difficult terrain can be easy. If you are unsure of your general fitness, exercise by walking in the sun or walking long distances before your trip.
- Stay warm and wear garden gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. Long, thick synthetic socks also help keep you warm at high altitudes.
- Gorilla safaris take place throughout the year, but the dry season is the best time for gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park Congo. Heavy rains from October to November and from March to April can make the roads muddy and slippery.
- Hire a well organized and organized travel agency to prepare everything for booking. A good tour company will provide you with detailed travel information and remove the burden of doing everything yourself, leaving you free to do tasks that only appear on a walking tour.
- A well-planned gorilla trekking tour to Congo is a well-equipped trip with a quality camera, sufficient water, snacks, a waterproof backpack, and insect repellent.
- Hire porters if you have excess luggage that can tire you out tracking the gorillas.
- Gorilla permits must be ordered in advance – at least 3 to 6 months before the planned trek date.
- Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required before entry into many African countries. Without this vaccination, it would be very difficult for you to travel to the Congo. It is said that there is a backdoor method for people who do not have a vaccine card, but it is time-consuming and generally inconvenient for everyone. Although not required, you can bring medicine for malaria, meningitis, typhoid, hepatitis A/B, and malaria.
- Be sure to apply for a Congolese visa before entering Congo. The Congo visa fee is 100 USD.
- Arrange for travel insurance if possible. It’s hard to find companies that cater to tourists traveling abroad, but there are a few that do.
- Book accommodation near the start of the trip. Virunga National Park Gorilla Trekking is recommended for an overnight stay in Goma and Bukima.
How to Get to Virunga National Park?
After booking your Congo gorilla trekking permit, accommodation, and visa, you may be wondering how to get to the Democratic Republic of Congo, or more specifically, a large country like Virunga National Park. The first step is to land at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda or Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
Flights to Kigali usually arrive in the late afternoon or evening, which means you may have to sleep in a hotel in Kigali before traveling to the Congolese border, as the border crossing is not open 24 hours a day. You have to start your journey to the border early the next morning. The journey from Kigali to Gisenyi takes about 4 hours. Renting a private car will cost you $100, while public transportation will cost you much less. You can take a local taxi from Gisenyi to the Congo-Rwanda border for less than $1.
If you use a tour company like Deks Safaris & Tours Africa, simply meet at the airport and your guide will meet you and take you to your hotel and in the morning to the border and the park. You will need proof of yellow fever vaccination, a passport, and a Congolese visa to transit to Congo. The border guard on the Rwandan side stamps your passport, then you are re-stamped at the office on the Congolese side. After finishing, you are free to go to the Congolese city of Goma and then to Virunga National Park.
After landing at Entebbe airport, use the new highway to reach Kampala in less than an hour. It takes about 8 hours to drive from Kampala to Kisoro, the town closest to the Congolese border. The long road to the Bunagana border at the expense of the state is tiring. If you decide to use public transport, be prepared to pay between $15 and $20 depending on the season – public transport increases prices during holidays such as Easter and Christmas. There are many bus operators on the Kampala – Kisoro route such as Bismarkan, Post Bus, Jaguar, and Horizonn. Travelers found the mail bus more convenient. The preferred way to get to Kisoro is to hire a private car or use the services of a travel agency such as Deks Safaris & Tours Africa. Using a travel company is faster, safer, and more convenient. Kisoro can also be reached by air via the Kajjansi Airport along the Kampala-Entebbe highway. Located in Bunagana, it is only a 30-minute drive from Virunga National Park.
For the adventurous, there is another way to reach Goma, Congo. You can take a boat trip on Lake Kivu to Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The cruise costs between $300 and $400 and takes about 5 hours. More expensive speedboats take 3 hours to Goma. Speedboats are in high demand and you need to order them in time. Due to the security situation in the area, we recommend using a public boat instead of a private boat.
Note. If you have all the necessary documents, transit from Rwanda or Uganda to Congo usually takes less than 10 minutes. Make sure you have your visa and yellow fever vaccination card before booking your flight.
Cost of Gorilla Trekking in Congo
A Congolese mountain gorilla license costs $400, which is less than Rwanda ($400) or Uganda ($600). You can even get them at a discount in the off-season. Gorilla permits can be booked through a travel agent or directly at Virunga National Park headquarters. A gorilla permit is only part of the total cost of a gorilla trek in the Congo. Transport, accommodation, and visa costs must be taken into account.
Deks Safaris gorilla tours are divided into three different categories – Deluxe, Mid-Range, and Budget. The final fee depends on the chosen category. The approximate cost of a 3-day gorilla trip is $1,500 for budget and $2,000 for luxury. For those planning their budget gorilla trek, you don’t need to book more expensive accommodation in Goma. The city has cheaper accommodation but still offers good service.
Accommodation During Gorilla Trekking in Congo
Gorilla Trekking in Congo – Virunga National Park includes a variety of accommodation options depending on your budget and preferences. Different forms of accommodation are divided into luxury accommodation, mid-range accommodation, and economy or basic accommodation.
Budget Accommodation for Gorilla Trekking in Congo
These moderately priced accommodations offer basic amenities such as modest bedding and a restaurant where you can enjoy cooked meals. However, they may lack services such as bars, televisions, and hot showers. But that’s just a generalization. Most budget hotels will surprise you with the quality and personal service that is not at all budget friendly.
These are the so-called 2- or 3-star rooms, which are slightly more expensive, between $100 and $290 per night. They offer a wider range of services than budget accommodation. They usually have private rooms, better bedding, in-room TVs, food service, restaurants, and bars.
Classified as 5-star hotels or lodges, most of them are strategically located, allowing visitors to admire breathtaking views of the Virunga National Park. Prices range from $250 to $500. These facilities provide quality services including first-classrooms, restaurants, and bars.
Let’s take a look at some of the more populated lodges in Virunga National Park
Kibumba Tented Camp and Lodge:
Kibumba Lodge is one of the newest lodges in Virunga National Park. Located at the foot of Mount Nyiragongo along a rough road into the park, Kibumba Lodge offers tented camps and beautifully appointed permanent accommodations for budget, mid-range, and luxury travelers. Budget rooms cost $200 per night. Expect to find full bathrooms, 24-hour hot showers, linens, and dining and lounge services.
Built near the city of Goma, this luxurious lodge consists of twelve luxury rooms with thatched roofs, built of mahogany and decorated with lava. Mikeno Lodge is ideally located close to Virunga National Park, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with wildlife such as chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, and several species of birds. The lodge has a spacious bathroom with a stone shower and curved bath. In addition, there is a restaurant, a bar, and a lounge area with a fireplace.
Lac Kivu Lodge:
Located in Goma, on the shores of Lake Kivu, one of the most beautiful lakes in Africa. Decorated in an African style, the hotel has 20 rooms overlooking the landscaped gardens on one side and Lake Kivu on the other. In addition to the beautiful view, they also have a private bathroom with a Nespresso coffee machine and an Italian shower. There is a large swimming pool, meeting rooms, WiFi, a fitness/beauty center, and constant power.