Wildlife

Guide to Short Gorilla Tracking Safaris

discover the differences between these short but sweet safaris

For the traveller short on time who wants to fit in a truly awe-inspiring wildlife experience in under a week, these short safaris to track gorillas in Africa are just the ticket. After flying in to your destination, you’ll spend one, two or three days tracking either mountain gorillas or western lowland gorillas in their natural habitat, accompanied by expert guides. But which country’s safari is the right one for you? Rwanda, Uganda, the Republic of Congo and the DRC all sit near the equator, meaning you can embark on your trip year-round, regardless of your destination. However, as each country offers a unique experience, this guide outlines the specific differences which will make it easy for you to choose the right safari for you.

Short Gorilla Tracking Safari in Rwanda

Rwanda offers the slickest operation out of all four countries. Transport links and facilities are of high quality and the boutique hotel on the outskirts of Volcanoes National Park serves as a comfortable base of operations. Although still a trek, the terrain is less steep and the vegetation less dense here than in neighbouring DRC and Uganda. The extensive road network also means that you may be able to drive to the start of the trailhead, and cut down on required trekking time as a result. In terms of the mountain gorillas, around half of the world’s population live in Volcanoes National Park, including 10 habituated groups. All this makes the whole gorilla tracking experience easier, but perhaps not as stimulating for the more intrepid traveller.

From your base near Volcanoes National Park, you also have the opportunity to track golden monkeys, hike to the grave of Dian Fossey, visit local villages and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, or participate in community walks. For those wanting to combine their gorilla tracking safari with another trip, Rwanda offers perhaps the best option for this. Whether you want to fit in some time on the beach or a few more wildlife sightings, nearby Kenya and Tanzania are perfect choices. The opportunity to take a tour of Kigali on the last day of your trip is also a plus point for travellers hoping to experience some culture before their departure. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre is found here, which honours those who died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and features three permanent exhibitions.

Uganda Fly-in Safari

Uganda has the largest number of habituated gorilla groups out of these three destinations, with 12 living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and one in nearby Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. This makes our fly-in safari a popular choice, but, as with the DRC, travellers will have to contend with steeper terrain and denser vegetation than in Rwanda. With a less developed infrastructure, you may be required to trek longer and harder to get a glimpse of the gorillas, but this of course allows you to see more of Bwindi and contributes to a real sense of adventure.

From Bwindi you’ll also have the opportunity to go on forest walks or birding excursions around the national park, giving you the chance to spot the resident chimpanzees, elephants and other wildlife that can be found here. Cultural experiences are also available: you can visit the Bwindi Community Hospital or the Ride 4 A Woman Community Sewing Project, or take a trip down the Batwa cultural trail in Mgahinga and experience the traditional forest life of the local Batwa pygmy peoples.

DRC Short Mountain Gorilla Tracking Safari

As the destination most recently opened up to gorilla tracking, the DRC offers both the cheapest permits and the most adventurous itinerary. Virunga National Park is a place of astounding natural beauty, but accessing its resident gorillas means hours of trekking through mountainous terrain and dense vegetation. There are fewer mountain gorillas living in the DRC than in Rwanda and Uganda, with eight habituated groups calling Virunga home. However, these groups have been habituated longer than those in the other two countries, with the process beginning even before the arrival of famed primatologist Dian Fossey to Rwanda in 1967.

The DRC’s history of political instability means all but essential travel isn’t recommended by most countries’ Foreign Offices, and this makes it more difficult to acquire travel insurance than it is for Rwanda, Uganda or the Republic of Congo. However, the travel required for the safari is relatively straightforward. After your flight to Kigali in Rwanda, you’ll be met by our trusted local representative who will then drive you to the border with the DRC, where you will be assisted with your visa and paperwork. Your second day will see you travel from the shores of Lake Kivu to Virunga, where you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Senkwekwe Centre for gorilla orphans at Rumangabo, before beginning two back-to-back days of gorilla tracking.

Short Gorilla Tracking Safari in the Republic of Congo

This safari to the Republic of Congo is set apart from the other three in a few ways. Instead of mountain gorillas, you will be tracking western lowland gorillas, the smallest of all gorilla subspecies which move much further and faster than their cousins in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. They are also much more likely to be seen moving through trees than mountain gorillas. This means you may need to trek harder and further to find the gorillas, but the terrain won’t be as steep. This safari is also more expensive than the other three, but as recompense you’ll be able to spend a third precious day with the gorillas.

There are two habituated family groups who you will be tracking through Odzala-Kokoua National Park, starting each day from your base at the intimate, sustainably built Ngaga Camp on the park’s outskirts. Gorilla tracking isn’t the only activity available on this safari, with night walks offering the opportunity to spot nocturnal creatures like palm civets and the lemur-like potto, while elephants, buffalo and other forest animals may appear on the edge of a forest waterway. If you’re lucky, you may even get to spend time with German Illera and Dr. Magda Bermejo, who have been studying the Republic of Congo’s gorillas for over 15 years.

overview

The rainy seasons in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC are more or less the same - March to May and August to November (December for the DRC). Visiting during this time will make the trekking harder due to the muddiness underfoot, although there will be fewer visitors, lusher vegetation and better conditions for photography. Rwanda’s less steep terrain and less dense vegetation makes it the most accessible destination for these months. The rainy seasons in the Republic of Congo are slightly different, occurring from March to April and October to December.

The treks in the DRC and Uganda are more physically demanding than those in Rwanda, but this does make the trip more adventurous, and you’ll be able to immerse yourself further in the wonderful forests located within these countries’ national parks. The infrastructure in the DRC and Uganda is less developed, but this is reflected in the lower price for the countries’ mountain gorilla permits. Our Republic of Congo safari is also somewhat off the beaten path, but crucially allows for three days tracking its gorillas rather than the usual two, through lowland rather than mountain terrain.

All of these safaris are tailor-made, meaning you can adjust them to your specifications and also add on extra days if you wish, either within the same country or in another. For an in-depth rundown of what to expect from a gorilla tracking safari in general, download our free guide below.

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