The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has in the past suffered instabilities resulting from war, political and military instabilities due to rebel activities. This has greatly affected the image of the country. Even up to date, when you mention DRC, what come in the minds of many people are poverty, war, instability and hunger. What is still not known and remains a mystery to many is that Congo is rich with incredible natural attractions and biodiversity is at its peak in this country.
One of the interesting and fascinating attractions in DRC is the mountain gorillas. Several people have put that travelling to Congo for gorilla trekking is a great risk. They forget that living in this world itself is a risk. But travelling to Congo is not for the faint hearted, because it is hard to predict anything, it is always advisable to first check the security of the country before booking for your gorilla trekking safari in Congo. In the entire world, mountain gorilla trekking can only take place in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. But due to the strategic location of Rwanda and Uganda and relatively peaceful tracking conditions, these two countries are always preferred. Much as the Eastern Part of Congo has been affected by conflicts, the past 4 years has been peaceful and Virunga National Park is widely open for tourism.
Virunga National Park is situated in Eastern side of the country, astride Uganda and Rwanda and covers an area of 7800 square kilometers. This wonderful Park is an UNESCO world Heritage Site that was gazetted in 1925 (making it one of the oldest National Parks in Africa). This unforgettable adventure starts from Bukima ranger post where tourists are briefed on the tracking guidelines and what to expect during the activity. Virunga National Park is a home to 200 of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas that are found in the Southern part of the Park
Gorilla families/groups in Virunga National Park
Virunga has 8 habituated gorilla families that can be visited for tracking and they include Mapuwa family, Rugendo family, Munyaga group, Humba family, Lulengo group, Nyakamwe group, Kabirizi group and Bageni group.
When to visit Virunga National Park for gorilla trekking
Every day and month can be visited for gorilla trekking. However, the wet season in April/May and October/November is not preferred because the trails are always muddy and slippery hence more difficult to navigate. The dry season and other normal seasons are the best for gorilla trekking because trails/paths tend to be drier hence hiking is not so difficult.
Get your equipments ready for gorilla trekking in Congo, and these include Strong hiking boots, rain jacket/poncho because Virunga National Park is situated within a rainforest, first id kit, a waterproof backpack, camera and binoculars, long trousers and long sleeved shirts, and a hat to protect you from the strong sunshine.
Cost of a gorilla permit in Virunga National Park
Gorilla permits in DRC are the cheapest compared to Rwanda and Uganda. A permit costs $400 for International tourists and $150 for Congolese Nationals. Just like Uganda, gorilla permits in Congo are also discounted during the wet seasons which ate also the low seasons (April, May and October/November).A permit costs $350 per person.
Gorilla trekking guidelines in Virunga National Park
The rules include; All trekkers are advised to wear masks (that are provided by the Park rangers) when in the presence of the gorillas to safeguard their heath.
Trekkers have to be 15 years and above for them to be allowed to track mountain gorillas.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Pak is strictly conducted from 8:00am to 7:00 pm.
You are not allowed to visit these Giant Apes if you have flue or cough to avoid transmitting these diseases to the mountain gorillas because they share 98% of their DNA with humans hence are susceptible to these diseases. If you realize you are sick before the scheduled trek, please cancel the activity. Always turn away from the mountain gorillas or use a handkerchief or cover your mouth if you want to sneeze or cough to prevent them from catching human diseases.
Visitors are allowed to spend a maximum of one hour with the mountain gorillas to avoid straining/stressing them. Once your one hour with them has elapsed, please do not over stay.
When with the mountain gorillas, it is important to maintain a distance of 7 meters away from them to avoid transmitting any diseases to them and also because they are wild animals no matter how friendly they may be.
Only 8 persons are allowed to visit a gorilla family per day to reduce on the risk of transmitting human diseases to the mountain gorillas.
Avoid direct eye contact with the mountain gorillas because they may perceive it as confrontation. When these mountain gorillas charge by shouting or beating their chest, remain calm and avoid eye contact.
Avoid making noise when tracking or watching them because it might scare them away. Even if you want to communicate with your colleagues, just murmur or speak silently. Do not use flash cameras when taking photos.
Do not smoke and avoid eating when with these animals. Since there are no toilets in the jungle, your guide will dig a hole for you to ease yourself after which it will be covered properly.
Always wash your hands clean before gorilla trekking because you might spread germs to the mountain gorillas and avoid touching them.
Tour operators to book with.
There are few tour operators in Democratic Republic of Congo compared to Rwanda and Uganda. It is therefore important to book with tour operators within Uganda or Rwanda. Some of the tour operators you can book with include Congo Gorilla Tours, Primate Safari Experiences, Amahoro Tours, Green Hills Ecotours and Kivu Travel among others.
Accommodation in and around Virunga National Park
There are facilities in and around Virunga National Park that offer comfortable accommodation and they include Tchegera Island Tented Camp, Bukima Tented Camp, Mikeno Lodge and Virunga Lodge among others.
How to access Virunga National Park
When in DRC especially Goma, this Park is in the West direction of Goma (the capital of North Kivu province). It is always difficult to travel to this Park from the Congo side because the roads are in poor condition. Tourists are advised to use 4WDs vehicles and connect to this Park from Rwanda or even Uganda. The roads in Rwanda are well developed and comfortable for travelers who are heading for a tedious activity like gorilla trekking. It is just 3-4 hours drive from Kigali Airport to Goma that is near the border of DRC. Tourists connecting from Uganda can access this Park from the South-western part of Uganda by crossing through the Bunagana border (you will be required to purchase a Visa for crossing especially a tourist Visa is at $100). Before you consider travelling to DRC, first get a yellow fever vaccination.
In conclusion, besides the bad things like poverty, war and conflicts that the Democratic Republic of Congo is known for. The country is elegant due to its natural beauty and attractions, and yet few tourists visit it. One of the key attractions is the mountain gorillas and therefore tourists can visit this beautiful but unexplored destination for a wonderful gorilla trekking safari and have a memorable experience