Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is Congo’s most sought after tourist activity that sees a number of travelers visiting the country. Virunga National Park depicts a true African wilderness that most travelers would love to visit. Being one of Africa’s oldest parks, Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was recognized for its contribution to the conservation and protection of the endangered mountain gorillas and its ecological contribution. Virunga National Park inhabits not only mountain gorillas but also other primates like chimpanzees, many mammals, and various bird species most of which are endemics. It is, however, the mountain gorillas that has a number of travelers visiting Virunga National park despite the on-and-off unrests in the country to take part in the thrilling gorilla trekking activity.
Virunga National Park has 8 gorilla groups that are fully habituated that travelers can visit on a gorilla trekking safari. The gorillas just like the humans with whom they share a 98% DNA live in families that can have between 7-25 members or more. A dominant silverback is the head of the family and they are the ones in charge of protecting, guiding and leading the family/group in the right feeding areas.
Gorilla trekking involves travelers hiking deep into the forest cover and hilly terrain of the Virunga National Park in search of the mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park starts very early in the morning with travelers meeting the park rangers at the park headquarters from where they are briefed on what they should expect and rules and regulations laid out to them to follow. They are then placed in groups of 8 and allocated a gorilla group to track. passports or their copies are required for cross-checking purposes in the allocation of gorilla groups, say according to languages spoken by a traveler. Fitness levels and also a traveler’s personal interest is considered during gorilla group allocation. In the process of gorilla group allocation, travelers may be entertained by traditional local dances.
Travelers then head out on the much-anticipated gorilla trekking adventure in the lush forest cover with the guidance and protection of rangers. Be on the look-out for other inhabitants of the park while trekking says mammals, other primates and lots of birds. Once the gorillas are encountered, a dominant silverback may scrutinize the group to detect if there is any form of threat to his family and when content he just lets you be. You have one full hour to spend with the gorillas as they go about their day-to-day life and you can take pictures and videos of them if you want to. You get to trek back to the starting point after the encounter. Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park can take between 30 minutes-4 hours or more depending on the location of the gorillas.
Rules and guidelines are strictly followed and travelers are advised to follow them all through for the conservation and protection of the gorillas and their natural habitat plus a traveler’s own safety. Some of the rules include not looking straight in the eyes of the gorillas, maintaining a 7-meter distance from the gorillas, not littering the park, not tracking if one is sick, not using flash cameras among others. these gorilla trekking rules and regulations should be adhered to at all times.
For a successful and wonderful gorilla trekking experience, travelers are encouraged to carry the essential gorilla trekking gear which includes among others;
- Good hiking shoes
- Waterproof jacket
- Long-sleeved shirts to cover your arms
- Long safari pants that allow stretching
- A hat
- Garden gloves
- Waterproof backpack
- Insect repellant creams
- Good cameras
- Energy giving snacks
Travelers are also encouraged to hire the services of a porter who will help with carrying your luggage which even when light can seem heavy during the long trek. Make sure to carry the hiking stick provided from either your lodge of stay or at the start of the trek, even if you think you are fit enough to manage the trek.
To take part in gorilla trekking, one must be 15 years and more. Gorilla permits are required to be allowed to do gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park and they can be purchased from the park headquarters or through a reputable tour company. The gorilla permits in Congo cost $400 only.
Travelers planning a gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park safari can be rest assured of great accommodation options that range from luxury to basic, thus catering for all sorts of travelers. Booking in advance is important to secure one’s desired lodging option.
Apart from gorilla trekking, travelers have other activities that they can do in Virunga National Park, say, chimpanzee tracking, bird watching, nature walks, hiking the Nyiragongo and other volcanoes, cultural encounters among so many other activities. Travelers can also include visiting islands like Tchegera, or do game drives or walking safaris in the Ishasha plains.
Virunga National Park can be accessed from the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda or directly flying into Goma and be transferred to the park. Travelers can fly into Kigali Rwanda and then transfer to Goma town via Gisenyi on a road drive. The drive time from Gisenyi to Bukima, the park headquarters is only 2 hours. Travelers can also use the Uganda and Congo border of Bunagana and have a one-hour drive to Bukima. The drive from Kampala or Entebbe to Kisoro is about 8 hours though, travelers should keep this in mind when using this route option.
Proper documentation is required to enter into the Congo, irrespective of the route used. A valid yellow fever vaccination card, valid passport, and a Congo visa is required to be allowed access and entry into the country. Failure to present any of those will have you not entering the country. The Congo Visa costs $100 and must be applied for 2 weeks before arriving into the country from where you will receive your visa. The visa allows stays for up to 14 days only. Travelers are encouraged to also purchase travel insurance.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is an adventurous activity that any traveler can do if well prepared for it and your tour is well organized. Get in touch with a trusted tour operator to help you plan the best Congo safari that will have you longing to return to the Congo.