Top Three Great Spots To Track Gorillas In East Africa : Mountain gorillas can only be found in East Africa along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the volcanic Virunga Mountain range. The best places to see them are in Uganda and Rwanda, respectively, in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Volcanoes. Without further ado, here are the world’s largest primates:
Mountain gorillas live in family groups called “troops,” which can contain up to 40 members. Despite their intimidating exteriors (and King Kong media stereotypes), these highly intelligent primates treat one another with respect. Their thick coats of hair shield them from the chilly conditions in their habitat at a high elevation of 2,200 to 4,300 meters (7,200 to 14,100 feet). The gorilla forages in the dense rainforest using its strength, which is thought to be 4–10 times greater than that of the average human.
The troops move less than half a mile a day and are easily tracked as they spend most of their time foraging in the lush bamboo forests. 29 groups of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable and Volcanoes National Parks have been habituated and are comfortable with humans, making them safe to approach. Tourists don’t bother habituated gorilla populations because they have been gradually exposed to humans over many years. Although it is necessary for visitors to keep a safe distance of 5-7 meters from the gorillas (so they don’t expose them to human-borne diseases), curious gorillas may come closer.
If you do happen to come across one of these gentle giants, you’ll probably see it munching happily on fruits, roots, and shoots while the young cling to their mothers’ backs and the juveniles chase each other around the trees. You won’t likely observe any aggressive behavior from the males, who reserve this behavior for when they feel threatened, such as pounding their chests. The gorillas generally ignore the tourists who are watching them and continue with their regular activities of grooming and playing with one another in the lush rainforests.
WHAT ARE THE BEST PLACE TO SEE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN EAST AFRICA?
The best areas to look for mountain gorillas are listed below.
- Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a biodiverse rainforest that is over 25,000 years old and is renowned as one of the best places in the world to go gorilla trekking safari tour. The park’s elevation ranges from 1,190 to 2,607 m (3,904 to 8,553 ft) above sea level, so be prepared to navigate through carpets of vines as you make your strenuous ascent. Time will stop once you see the gorillas’ enormous forms. The last of these gentle giants is protected by Bwindi Impenetrable, also known as “The Place of Darkness” because of the dense vegetation.
You almost certainly will see one of the 400 gorillas that live in this misty, old forest in southwest Uganda—nearly half of all mountain gorillas in existence. There are 18 habituated gorilla groups in Bwindi that you can safely approach from a distance of 7 meters. Step into your galoshes and get ready for your first encounter with 400-pound silverbacks after driving for two days to get to the forest. Aside from the other equatorial African wildlife, it’s also possible to see African elephants in the park, so keep an eye out for them.
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda
Between the Virunga volcanoes, Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Sabyinyo, is Mgahinga, the smallest national park in Uganda. There are 80 gorillas in the park, but only the Nyakagezi family is a habituated gorilla group. The less dense vegetation of Mgahinga makes for more photo opportunities than the larger parks, and it is the only park in Uganda where the endangered golden monkeys are found.
Because it is smaller, it receives fewer visitors and allows you to fully experience the hushed awe of the misty forest. Reach the Nyakagezi troop by following your scout and the machete-wielding park rangers far into the undergrowth. Despite the park’s altitude range of 2,227m to 4,127m, challenging hiking is worthwhile. The Nyakagezi is unlike any other troop because it has five silverbacks coexisting peacefully. You’ll be grateful for the amazing pictures you took of the majestic primates after your brief encounter with the gorillas, which went by very quickly.
- Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
In the shadow of five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga chain, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda’s far northwest has a remarkably biodiverse ecosystem. 300 gorillas, golden monkeys, hyenas, elephants, numerous amphibians, reptiles, and more than 200 different species of vibrant birds live in the evergreen and bamboo forests. Even though Rwanda is much smaller than the nearby countries where one can go gorilla trekking, it is much more accessible and simpler to get around in (it takes only two hours to get there from the Kigali International airport).
There are many sights to see in the park, including crater lakes, volcanic caves, and the Nyange community’s village life. The famous American primatologist Dian Fossey’s gravesite is where you can pay your respects. Dian Fossey spent 20 years working in the park, and her efforts were crucial to gorilla conservation. With fewer hills and 11 habituated gorilla groups, Volcanoes National Park is thought to be the easiest place to go gorilla trekking because you can get there in about an hour. Knowing that we share an astounding 98% of our DNA with gorillas makes encountering them an unforgettable and thrilling experience.
TIPS FOR PLANNING MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING SAFARI
Here are some additional useful details to be aware of before you begin planning your gorilla trek!
Due to the popularity of these treks and the scarcity of permits, reservations must be made 6–12 months in advance. Plan your trek for June to August or December to February to avoid the rain and to see the endangered primates well. Make sure the length is correct; depending on the price, the treks can last an hour or four hours with the gorilla troops. It is highly advised to hire a porter because trekking at a high altitude can be challenging and because doing so helps the local economy and deters poaching. Consider Gorilla trekking in Uganda rather than Rwanda if you’re trying to save money on your trip because the permits there are up to $700 less expensive. In the DRC, permits cost only $400, but there is significantly more political instability than elsewhere.