Gorilla trekking in Congo
Gorilla trekking in Congo is done in the Eastern part of the country in Virunga National Park and Kahuzi- Beiga National Park. This activity is one of the most sought after tourist activities in this landlocked country that has been smeared with a lot of political turmoil in the past years.
The eastern part of DRC is home to both the mountain gorillas and the lowland gorillas; and this makes it the only country among the three countries with gorillas to have both the mountain gorillas and the eastern lowland gorillas.
The parks with the gorillas living in their natural habitat in DRC are Virunga National Park and Kahuzi- Beiga National Park with the latter harbouring low land gorillas and the former mountain gorillas.
The mountain gorillas are more popular than the low land gorillas and tourists normally visit the country to see the mountain gorillas. The lowland gorillas are usually trekked by gorilla enthusiasts or as an additional activity to mountain gorilla trekking.
The mountain gorillas are trekked in Virunga National Park that is part of the Virunga conversation areas and is home to about 250 gorillas that’s are all habituated in 8 families and available for trekking all year round. The park sits on an area of 7800 sq kilometres that have two active Volcanoes within the park Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. The gorilla trekking experience in DRC’s Virunga National Park is somewhat similar to that in Uganda’s Mgahinga trekking experience because of being part of the virunga conservation area.
Kahuzi – Biega National Park is strategically close to the Rwandan border and along the banks of Lake Kivu sitting on 6000 sq kilometres with two dormant volcanoes within its bounds that is Mt Kahuzi and Mt Biega. The park has both mountainous and lowland landscapes with the lowlands harbouring the Eastern low land gorillas; this makes this park one of the few natural habitats of these endangered species.
The whole gorilla trekking experience in DRC, takes you through the mountainous or low land forest in a search for the endangered gorillas and when you find them you spend an hour in their presence and after you go out of the forest.
Going mountain gorilla trekking in the evergreen Virunga rain forest is such thrilling experience for all gorilla lovers. The hiking adventure alone through the forest trails is very rewarding and gives you a very refreshing experience as you see numerous birds, butterflies and other forest creatures along the hiking trails. The hiking takes about 5 hours as you search for the mountain gorillas and when you find them you spend an hour with them and then get out of the forest.
In Kahuzi – Beiga National Park the gorilla trekking experience takes you deep into a low land levelled forest in search of the huge eastern low land gorillas. Trekking in Kahuzi- Beiga is longer than the one in Virunga but it’s in a low land forest so there are minimal hikes or climbs; however the low land gorillas normally go deep into the forest that you have to walk for quite some time before you find them. When you find them too, you spend one hour with them and they head out of the forest.
The rules that govern gorilla trekking in Congo for both mountain gorillas and low land gorillas are the same and they are:-
- Only 8 people are allowed to visit a gorilla family at a time; this will reduce on communicable disease transmission and behaviour disruptions for the gorillas.
- Keep low voice tones in the presence of the gorillas.
- Don’t litter the gorilla habitat; this compromises the biodiversity of the forest in turn affecting the survival of the gorillas in the habitat.
- Always keep a 7 meter distance between you and the gorillas to minimises chances disease transmission and behaviour disruptions
- Always keep in your group.
- When you’re in the presence of the gorillas don’t smoke drink or eat. This will interrupt the gorillas’ minds causing them to react in unexpected ways. Also this reduces on disease transmission.
- If the gorilla charges at you, stay still don’t run, running just worsens the situation, follow the rangers guidelines.
- Avoid direct eye contact with the gorillas or touching them. It irritates them.
- No flash photography is allowed.
- Don’t trek when you’re ill, and if you have to cough or sneeze don’t do it directly into the gorillas.
- For bathroom, breaks ask a ranger to dig a 30 cm deep hole for you to use and after fill it with soil.
On gorilla trekking experiences in both parks the trekking rangers are usually armed to protect you and all the others taking the trek with you.
Gorilla trekking permits in Congo cost 400 USD per person per trek and are acquired at least one month in advance. The permit is the one that gives you access to the forest and the gorillas. The DRC permit rate is the lowest gorilla trekking permit rate in the region and among the three countries that have gorillas and gorilla trekking activities.
To go for your trekking experience in DRC, it’s advisable to access the country through Goma, which is a safer place than the rest of the immigration points in the country. You can access Goma through Gisenyi in Rwanda, meaning you fly to Rwanda and drive to DRC or you can fly directly to Goma airport; a couple of international airlines have flights to the airport. The DRC Tourist Visa costs 105 USD per person, doing gorilla trekking and can be applied for at least two weeks in advance with evidence of gorilla trekking safari bookings.