Small Group Safari

DRC Gorilla Tracking & Photographic Safari with Brent Stirton

Accompany world-renowned photojournalist Brent Stirton on a one-of-a-kind expedition to the DRC, tracking two species of gorilla in two national parks and honing your photography skills in this remarkable frontier destination.

Duration 9 days
Price From $7,497
When Sep 2019
Destination DRC

Safari Overview

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a true frontier destination, a land of spectacular natural beauty and heart-wrenching human conflict. It is exactly the type of place that world-renowned photojournalist Brent Stirton has been drawn to his entire career. On this one-of-a-kind safari you’ll accompany Brent to the eastern border of this schizophrenic nation, delving deep into two national parks in search of two critically endangered subspecies of gorilla, passing through a flurry of noise, colour and culture on either side of the DRC-Rwanda border. The recipient of a plethora of awards for his photographic and humanitarian work, Brent will be on hand throughout this trip to provide a truly unique perspective on what you’ll witness both from behind your lens and with your own eyes.

What makes this trip extraordinary

  • Accompany multi-award-winning photojournalist Brent Stirton on a unique journey into the raw, wild side of the DRC.
  • Spend two days tracking mountain gorillas accompanied by the rangers of Virunga National Park, made famous by Brent’s work with National Geographic.
  • Ascend the 11,380 ft peak of Mount Nyiragongo, and sleep on the crater rim of this active volcano high above Virunga’s forests.
  • Spend time in a tented camp on the idyllic Tchegera Island, the remains of a collapsed volcanic caldera within Lake Kivu.
  • Board a ferry and travel the length of Lake Kivu – one of Africa’s Great Lakes – on your journey between the bustling Congolese cities of Goma and Bukavu.
  • Venture into Kahuzi-Biéga National Park and become one of the few people to track eastern lowland gorillas in this seldom-visited corner of the DRC.
  • Benefit from Brent’s decades of experience working in the field of investigative frontline photojournalism.
  • Hone your own photography skills as you learn from Brent’s experiences covering wildlife, conservation and conflict around the world (including Virunga).
  • Bookend your trip with drives through Rwanda, the “Land of a Thousand Hills”.

This transformative expedition is tailored for those with a desire to see the world differently.

Ask us a question about this trip

Day by day

Day 1

Arrive Kigali – Virunga National Park

Your journey begins in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, where you’ll be met by your guide and driver who will transfer you to the border with the DRC. Note that your arrival in Kigali should be made before 9am, so if you’re planning to arrive on a later flight, please book a night at a Kigali hotel beforehand to ensure a prompt departure in the morning. The drive should take around four hours, during which you’ll be supplied with a packed lunch to be enjoyed while watching the sights go by. After being assisted on the Rwandan side with your visa and paperwork, you will then be met on the other side of the border by your Congolese guide and vehicle, provided by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation. With the documentation behind you, it will then be time to join rangers from Virunga National Park on the short journey to your first overnight accommodation, the intimate Mikeno Lodge. The remainder of the day is yours to spend at your leisure, preparing for the coming week’s adventures and enjoying your first hours here in the forest.

Overnight: Mikeno Lodge L, D

Day 2

Gorilla Tracking

Today marks your first of four gorilla tracking excursions, accompanied by your expert guide Brent Stirton. Following your introductory briefing, you will then set off into the forest in search of Virunga’s elusive mountain gorillas. With only eight habituated gorilla groups in the park and less than 900 individuals thought to exist in the world, this is a privileged experience that will make the long trek through the undergrowth more than worth it. Spending time with these amiable apes is an experience that will last long in the memory. To safeguard the gorillas, tourists are able to spend just one hour with the group each day, making every minute precious. Make sure to bring all of the camera equipment you need, and hang on Brent’s every word as he shares the lessons learned from his decades of photographic experience. Pay close attention to the play of light and shadow among the foliage and watch how the gorillas interact with one another, from the smallest baby to the mighty silverback. After your hour with the gorillas concludes, you’ll begin your journey back to Mikeno Lodge where you can rest and reminisce on the day’s events.

Overnight: Mikeno Lodge B, L, D

Day 3

Gorilla Tracking

Another early start this morning as you set out for your second gorilla tracking excursion. Many of those who have spent time with gorillas urge others to experience things differently during your second day with these great apes. By all means, take your camera, your batteries and your equipment, but try to take to time to truly immerse yourself in your surroundings, and connect with these intelligent primate cousins of ours as they go about their lives mere metres away from you. Watching a gorilla through a lens is magical enough in itself, but to look into one’s eyes with your own is to truly get a sense of our place in the world. On the journey back to your lodge, look down, look up, look to the side; few can say they’ve walked through the trails of Virunga after coming face to face with mountain gorillas, so drink in the atmosphere while you can. Brent has spent time here before, so don’t be afraid to ask him to share his stories. He was here in 2007 when the body of Senkwekwe – a giant silverback thought to have been shot dead by those involved in the illegal charcoal trade – was carried back to Virunga headquarters. Brent’s photograph was chosen as one of the 100 most influential images of all time by TIME Magazine. Close to Mikeno Lodge, you can watch orphaned mountain gorillas play in a centre named after Senkwekwe, attend a demonstration by the anti-poaching dog team, walk through a local coffee plantation or visit the Widows’ Workshop, a project that provides for the wives of fallen park rangers by teaching them valuable craft skills.

Overnight: Mikeno Lodge B, L, D

Day 4

Mount Nyiragongo

After two days spent with Virunga’s mountain gorillas, it is time to visit one of its other famous residents, the active volcano of Mount Nyiragongo. It’s another early start as you enjoy a hearty breakfast before departing your lodge at around 8am, where you’ll meet an armed ranger and then make your way to Kibati, the starting point of your climb. Here you’ll have a short briefing and finalise your paperwork before beginning the ascent, which will take around 4-6 hours depending on the fitness level of your group. This is a truly stunning climb as you pass through four different vegetation zones on your way to the summit. Beautiful vistas of Virunga’s rainforest, Lake Kivu and the city of Goma spread out below you, but it is as you approach the crater rim that you begin to feel the rumbling power of the volcano emanating from within the earth itself. Tonight is a truly memorable experience as you peer down into the pulsing heart of the lava lake at the centre of Nyiragongo, which will set the night sky aflame as darkness descends. You’ll even be sleeping here – 12 simple huts lie just the other side of the crater rim. They may not be built for luxury, but you’ll be thankful for the shelter from the cold air here at 11,380 ft. Make sure to capture some once-in-a-lifetime photographs during your time atop Nyiragongo (with the able assistance of Brent of course, who has made this climb before).

Overnight: Mount Nyiragongo Summit Huts B, L, D

Day 5

Mount Nyiragongo – Tchegera Island

Take one last chance to peer down into the crater before a quick breakfast and hike back down the volcano. Arriving back in Kibati toward mid-morning, you’ll meet your driver and transfer to the lakeside city of Goma, leaving the hills of Virunga behind you. From here you’ll board a boat and take to the waters of Lake Kivu, with the idyllic island escape of Tchegera awaiting you. This crescent-shaped island is in fact the remains of a collapsed volcanic caldera, long since reclaimed by nature. At your tented camp here you’ll be able to relax, be served a delectable lunch and enjoy a hot shower – very welcome after your trek up and down Nyiragongo. You’re free to spend the afternoon at your leisure or perhaps take a paddle around the island in one of the camp’s kayaks. Keep an eye out for Tchegera’s birdlife as you do so – cormorants, pied kingfishers and egrets are just a few of the frequent visitors to the island.

Overnight: Tchegera Island Tented Camp B, L, D

Day 6

Tchegera Island – Bukavu

After heading back across the water to Goma on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, it’s time to board the ferry to Bukavu, situated on the far southern edge of the lake. Enjoy your time traversing one of Africa’s Great Lakes and observing the local fishermen reeling in their daily catch. Your home for the next three nights will be Orchids Safari Club, a pleasant waterside haven from which you’ll embark on your final two gorilla tracking excursions, this time tracking the eastern lowland gorilla.

Overnight: Orchids Safari Club B, L, D

Days 7-8

Gorilla Tracking

Over the next two days you’ll join Brent and an accompaniment of local guides and rangers as you delve into the forests of Kahuzi-Biéga National Park. Eastern lowland gorillas – also known as Grauer’s gorillas – are the largest of the four gorilla subspecies, and are distinguished by their stocky body, large hands and short muzzle. As their name suggests, this subspecies tends to live and forage at lower altitudes than their cousins to the north. Mountain gorillas tend to occupy dense rainforest, making them more difficult to track but also inclining them to a more sedentary lifestyle than eastern lowland gorillas due to the amount of vegetation available to them. Eastern lowland gorillas, who live where terrain is more open and food is scarcer, are much more mobile. Once your guides have located a habituated group, expect to follow the gorillas at times as they make their way through their lowland habitat. A different experience will pose different challenges to the photographer, but also reap different rewards. Brent will be on hand to advise you how best to capture images of these fascinating primate.

Overnight: Orchids Safari Club B, L, D

Day 9

Bukavu – Kigali

It’s now time to bid farewell to the remarkable natural landscapes of the DRC and make your way back to Rwanda. After catching the ferry from Bukavu to Goma, head to the border and clear customs, where you’ll meet your guide and driver on the other side in Rwanda. As you travel through the Land of a Thousand Hills, watch for the passing locals bedecked in brightly coloured kitenge fabrics, flashes of bright reds and yellows and oranges that mark their wearers out against the lush green landscape. Upon arriving in Kigali, you’ll then catch your onward flight home, leaving the gorillas to their lives in the forests.

Trip Details

This is a small group safari with photojournalist Brent Stirton departing on a single set date in September 2019. Please enquire for further information. Please also be advised that solo travellers will be required to pay a single supplement of £480.

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