Where is the best place to do gorilla trekking in East Africa

JUAN MARTINEZ

October 19, 2022

Where is the best place to do gorilla trekking in East Africa

I did gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. These are the pros and cons of each one of these locations.

“Here they are!”. These are the most comforting words you can hear during a gorilla trekking, and they are the rewards for adventuring in the jungle and hiking until you find these primates. Once you see a gorilla family in front of you, time stops and turns into a short moment of peace and intimacy. You keep quiet for a full hour and simply become an observer of nature.

A gorilla trekking in Africa is one of the most memorable experiences one can do in their lifetime – not just for the time travelers spend with the gorillas in the wild but also for the excitement of going deep inside the African jungles.

East Africa is the most popular region to see gorillas. With different prices, levels of security, and comfort, I traveled to Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo to do gorilla trekking and find the most comfortable, the best, and the most fun of all.

Photographing my first gorilla in Uganda
Photographing my first gorilla in Uganda

What types of gorillas can you track, and where to find them

There are only two types of gorillas: Lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas. Depending on which part of Africa you are in, they can be classified as Eastern or Western gorillas.

Lowland gorillas can be found in the east and the west of Africa. Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and Angola are home to the western lowland gorilla. In contrast, the eastern lowland gorilla can only be found in DR Congo.

On the other hand, the mountain gorilla (known for living in altitudes above 2200m) is considered one of the most endangered species by the IUCN. With less than 1500 species roaming free, they can only be found in the following three locations: the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in DR Congo, and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.

Mountain Gorilla in Uganda
The difference between a mountain and a lowland gorilla is very minimal for the standard traveler

Permits and costs

Regarding gorilla trekking in East Africa, the total price plays a significant role in deciding where to go. Africa is generally a costly destination to travel to independently. Still, for those planning to go gorilla trekking, prices can double or triple very easily.

Tour guides, vehicles, accommodation, and permits are some of the costs you must consider before doing a gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, or DR Congo.

These are some costs you need to calculate before planning your gorilla trek.

Visas

  • Uganda: 50 USD single entry or 110 USD for the East African Visa
  • Rwanda: 50 USD single entry or 110 USD for the East African Visa
  • DR Congo:  100 USD for the Kivu tourist visa (only allows you to travel around the Kivu region) or 200 USD for a DR Congo visa
Kivu Visa Stamp - visa on arrival Congo
Kivu Visa Stamp – visa on arrival Congo

International and local transportation

Generally, Uganda is the most affordable country to travel from Europe or USA (600-700 EUR for a round trip). However, Rwanda and DR Congo are not far behind (700 -1000 EUR). Most travelers combine an entire trip around the region and do different activities in all three countries until they finally decide where to go for their gorilla trekking.

This is also the most affordable way to travel around. For example, you can start your trip in Uganda and do chimpanzee trekking (100 EUR). Later travel to Rwanda and visit the Akagera National Park (300 EUR) and the Nyungwe National Park (200 EUR). And finally, finish your African trip in DR Congo, where you do the gorilla trekking either at the Virunga National Park or the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park.

Unless you want to spend whole days traveling from one destination to the next, hiring a driver is a must to move around the region. Multiple tour operators offer drivers and tour guides starting at 100 EUR per day, and the cost can be easily shared between 3-4 people.

Entrance Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Entrance to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Accommodation and tours:

Fortunately, you can find accommodation in all price ranges in all three countries: from luxurious lodges going for thousands of dollars a night to basic guesthouses for budget travelers.

If you plan to book a tour that takes care of everything, inform them what kind of accommodation you want and what budget you are prepared to spend. By giving more information to your tour operator or even researching independently on Booking.com or Agoda.com, you might be able to save some money. 

Gorilla Trekking Permits (1 hour with the gorillas + 4-5 hours of trekking)

  • Uganda: 700 USD
  • Rwanda: 1500 USD
  • DR Congo:  400 USD or 200 USD with a student ID

INSIDER INFO:

In general, Uganda is the most affordable country to travel around. Even though permits are less expensive than in DR Congo, moving around is cheaper. Combining your gorilla trekking with different activities will give you the best value when traveling to Uganda.

In my opinion, if you want to travel to this part of Africa and gorilla trekking is not your priority, Uganda is your destination to visit.

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda  - Best place for gorilla trekking in Africa
In all three countries, climate and biodiversity are very similar. Which one is the best place to do gorilla trekking in Africa

Security and risks

Regarding security and potential risks, Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo are three completely different worlds. Rwanda is considered one of the safest countries – even safer than some European cities. Uganda is relatively safe – although some caution should be applied, and some parts of Congo are considered warzones and should be avoided at all costs.

During my visit to Uganda, basic precautions were necessary to avoid petty crime. I used only private transportation to move around and rarely left my hotel at night and only with a companion. Additionally, I asked beforehand which parts of the cities were safe for me to go to independently.

In Rwanda, I could move around independently at all times. Renting a car or a motorbike to travel around the country by myself was not an issue at all, and public transportation works excellently. I felt secure and even walked at night most of the time to catch some fresh air.

Meanwhile, security was a big concern in Congo. We were only able to move using private transportation. Outside cities and specific locations, we needed to proceed with a private security escort, and we could not leave our accommodation once the sun sat down.

On the other hand, security during the gorilla trekking was the same in Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. We were guided by a ranger at all times, and when we spotted the gorillas, two more gorilla guardians joined. I felt as safe during my gorilla trekking in DR Congo as in the gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda.

Best places to see gorillas in Africa
In DR Congo I had to walk with a military escort each time I left my base camp

INSIDER INFO:

When it comes to security and risks, nothing compares to Rwanda. This was by far the safest country in Africa, and for travelers concerned about insecurity, corruption, and petty crime, Rwanda is the place to visit.

For those who like travelling off the beaten path, DR Congo is way more adventurous and you need to understand the risk you are getting when visiting this country. you should be able to handle uncomfortable situations. Finally, having a good guide in DR Congo will improve the experience, but you have to keep in mind that this is one of the most volatile countries right now.

The gorilla trekking experience in Africa

Even though each gorilla trekking experience and each country were individually exceptional, each destination offered something different.

As one of the most touristic destinations in Africa, I felt the experience in Uganda was a bit overcrowded. We started as a big group of 100 people during the briefing, and later we were divided into groups of 8. Uganda also puts a lot of effort into attracting tourism. At the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, you will be welcomed by the Batwa community of this region; you will be offered fresh coffee from local farmers and can see a small dance before the briefing.

The trek in Uganda felt more like a path we had to follow, and the experience felt like a walk the rangers had done thousands of times before.

Trekking paths in Uganda - Bwindi
Trekking paths in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Rwanda was very similar to Uganda. However, you quickly noticed that the tour was for a traveler with a higher budget. Rangers offered a wider variety of trekking levels, and you were welcomed in a prettier reception with baristas preparing coffee for you.

Additionally, you could see how all the communities around are benefiting from tourism. Local porters wait at a specific spot in case you want to hire one, and the trek is as adventurous as in Uganda but more carefully structured.

Tourism is also a bit lower in Uganda (due to the high costs for permits), and therefore the experience feels more personalized.

Finally, DR Congo was the opposite of what I expected. The experience is way more extreme. Dirt roads, rangers walking with big guns, and untouched nature were extremely appealing to me as a traveler. Instead of feeling like someone participating in a tour, I became an explorer looking for gorillas in the deep jungle.

Tourism is nonexistent here, so accommodation is pretty basic (and expensive), roads are in terrible conditions, and the experience is less planned and more exciting. The best part was that I was the only traveler doing the gorilla trekking that day.

Read more: How To Plan A Trip To Kahuzi-Biéga National Park In Congo

Photographing gorillas in Congo
Only my friend Emanuele and I were the only travelers observing gorillas that day- DR Congo was my favorite place to do gorilla trekking in Africa

The moment with the gorillas felt so personal and unique that it made me forget all the discomfort of traveling there.

This was the best gorilla trekking experience by far. I was able to spend the night at the national park. There, I learned a lot about the people who are involved in the protection of these animals. I left Kahuzi-Biéga with a big smile and hoped to return another day and explore the Virunga National Park.

NOTE: Due to instability in the region surrounding Goma (DRC), visits to the Virunga National Park are not allowed. There are rumors that permits will be issued in the first quarter of 2023. However, this news has not been confirmed, and local tour guides do not seem very optimistic. Travelers can go to the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park and visit the eastern lowland gorillas – which offer an experience as spectacular as in Virunga National Park.

Read more: How to plan a trip to the Volcanoes National Park

Overtourism gorilla trekking
Even though the maximum amount of tourists during a gorilla trekking is 8, sometimes it felt too overcrowded.

Where should you go

It is difficult to determine the best place for gorilla trekking in Africa. Each of these destinations offers pros and cons that can be more important depending on which kind of traveler you are.

Still, each of these destinations fascinated me in its own way, and I was thrilled and thankful that I could see gorillas in these three beautiful locations.

No matter which destination you choose and what gorilla trekking you plan to do, I can assure you that the experience will be priceless. For one hour, you will forget about costs, security, itineraries, and any other concern you had.

Read more: How to plan a trip to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

baby mountain gorilla being playful
baby mountain gorilla being playful

Planning a trip to DR Congo independently is fun. However, if you want to arrange everything with tour operators beforehand from the comfort of your home. SafariBookings is the best platform for it.

They have the largest database of tour operators in Africa and you can simply send a request and negotiate a tour and a price directly with the operator. You don’t have to pay any additional fees.

These are some of the most popular tours in DR Congo at SafariBookings.

How do I find cheap flights to East Africa?

Finding a cheap flight anywhere around the world is not always easy. It’s about comparing platforms, selecting the right routes and booking at the right time. Fortunately, platforms like Skyscanner became known as an all-in-one tool for booking flights at the lowest cost possible.

They analyse every potential company and sub-contractor in order to find the lowest price available for you. Not only that, but you can also select the option “Travel Anywhere” and let Skyscanner find the cheapest place to travel at any selected date.

I check all my flights first at Skyscanner, and in 90% of the cases, I find the best option for me to book.

Also, by booking here using Skyscanner, you will support my blog and help me create more amazing and useful content.

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