When it comes to mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda tend to be more popular destinations than Democratic Republic of Congo based on a number of factors that influence trip planners who select a gorilla expedition depending on a given location of the parks where gorillas can be found.
Travel time distance and what to see on your way to the Gorillas
The advantage of tracking gorillas in Rwanda is that the close proximity of Volcanoes National park to Kigali Rwanda’s capital city enables visitors to reach gorillas within a short period of time but with few en route attractions. For time bound trekkers volcanoes can be quickly accessed and track gorillas within the same day and be able to return back to Kigali. The rain forests of volcanoes are not thick due to the extensive tracks of bamboo forests thus gorillas can be easily found within short hikes than Uganda and DRC.
In contrast to Uganda, the long distance from Kampala to Bwindi forest national park and Mgahinga national park attach additional costs of traveling either by road or flight from Entebbe International Airport which rather gives Rwanda an advantage to be preferred by time bound trekkers. However the longer distance offers an opportunity to enjoy variety of attractions including other big game wildlife encounters. Visitors can make different stopovers at the equator line in Masaka, through Lake Mburo or Queen Elizabeth National parks and the magical Ugandan rural setting of terraced hills of kabale and Kisoro rather reward with breathtaking scenic views that make the long journey pleasurable. Gorillas in Bwindi and Mgahinga tend to difficult to trek due to the impenetrable thick under covers that make hikes more tiring than in Rwanda.
Trekking for gorillas in Congo on the other had requires visitors to cross to Goma via Gisenyi Rwanda then Virunga national park. Its should be noted its quite safe to cross into Congo and back into Rwanda the following day after the trek.
The Cost of Gorilla Permits
Uganda takes advantage of the relatively low priced gorilla permits at US $ 600 per person per permit. In Uganda gorilla trekking permits can be purchased from Uganda Wildlife Authority directly from their offices or indirectly via their email. Alternatively local tour operators also sell permits though you might incur additional costs. During low seasons, permits in bwindi and Mgahinga parks tend to be reduced from 600 to 350 US $ per person.
While in Rwanda a gorilla permit is expensive at US$ 750 per person and it can be purchased through the Rwanda Development Board. In Democratic Republic of Congo Virunga National park permits are cheaper a US$ 450 which is the cheapest alternative.
Trekking experience in Congo – Since many visitors prefer visiting Rwanda and Uganda, for visitors who choose to trek gorillas on the Congo side usually trek few – about 3 – 4 people trekking a single gorilla family hence visitors are less crowded. You have a chance to observe your group closely.
In terms of travel safety, Uganda is more stable and politically safe for tourists traveling within the country and this explains why Uganda has dominated gorilla tracking expeditions. Uganda is also well known for its friendly people who give a blend of traditional cuisines while staying in one of the accommodations near the Bwindi or Mgahinga national parks.
Rwanda has also stabilized since the end of the 1994 genocide, thus volcanoes national park can be visited safely and there is no any threat posed to tourists for the last two decades. This is because of the efficient Rwanda a park management ranger who regularly monitor the gorillas to ensure continuity of gorilla tracking.
Although many people fear Congo could be unstable, the conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has long stopped and today Goma is a city picking up from the long period of instabilities. Visitors have been traveling into Congo entering via Goma into Virunga to see gorillas in Congo and hike the famous lava mount Nyiragongo Volcano.
Gorilla Trekking tips and Park Regulations
Gorilla tracking is a highly restricted eco-tourism activity where a group of 8 people maximum can be allowed to hike in search for a single gorilla group order to protect mountain gorillas healthy and safe. Gorillas are very vulnerable to human diseases therefore a maximum number of 8 people can only visit gorillas.
Once gorillas have been found, you can only interact with gorillas for only one hour in order to reduce trouble and risk of human diseases that might be transmitted to gorillas.
Before you start off on your gorilla safari, its very important that all participants are healthy and free from cold and other infectious diseases
Human waste must be buried in the ground about 30 cm
When you with the gorillas, a 7 meter distance away from the gorillas must be maintained and incase gorillas come close, you are advised to stay in one place and never touch a gorilla.
Eating and smoking while with gorillas is strictly prohibited and flash photography is not allowed so make sure to switch off flash lights.
Visitors are advised to cover the mouth or turn your face from gorillas whenever you want to sneeze since they are vulnerable to catch colds and coughs from humans.
Gorilla trekking is not easy given the nature of the rain forests and the fact that you are never guaranteed to see them, visitors should be prepared with hiking gears in order to get the most out of tracking;-
Trekkers must have solid walking shoes, long pants, walking sticks, warm clothing that include waterproof jackets, gloves to protect you from stinging nettles. This shall enable to cope with wet and sometimes rainy conditions given the high altitude.
Visitors must carry packed foods or snacks or enough drinking water to keep hydrated and energized along the hikes. Porters are always present at the starting point of trekking that can be hired to carry that backpack and give you a push as you might get tired.
Hikers should be practically fit to walk through steep ridges, wet grounds which are slippery and challenging by the time you get to the gorillas, walking sticks are highly recommended.
Mountain gorilla trekking still remains one of the life changing experiences on earth.