I had already tracked Mountain Gorillas in Uganda back in Summer 2011, but somehow I wanted to live this unique experience once again. This was actually one of my main motivations to go back to Rwanda & Uganda in January 2017. And yes, even a second time it is pure magic, a very privileged hour spent with those majestic creatures in their natural habitat… An experience that should be high on anyone’s list!
Rwanda, Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo?
You can go Gorillas Tracking in Rwanda (Parc National des Volcans), in Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park) or in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Virungas National Park): this National Park is shared between 3 countries, each one giving a different name to the same place. Gorillas actually do not bother about those theoretical borders and often cross from one country to the other…
Rwanda (750 USD for the “permit”) is the most expensive, followed by Uganda (600 USD) and last but not least the DRC (400 USD). It seems that expeditions to the Virungas National Park & the DRC are easily organized from Rwanda, and the people I met who went there said it is absolutely safe, and significantly cheaper… I would personally favor Rwanda for several reasons:
- You can purchase yourself your Gorillas Permit through the Rwanda Development Board and the process is relatively quick and straightforward. That way, you do not depend on an Agency that will ask for very high prices for other services.
- I actually find it really bothering that Ugandan authorities do not sell directly permits to foreign visitors (at least online), claiming that the many entrances to the National Park can be misleading! This is probably one of the reasons why prices quoted by the agencies I contacted have gone through the roof in Uganda…
- The infrastructure is excellent, and the Parc National des Volcans can be easily reached. True, you need a 4WD the day you go Tracking, but this can be easily organized the day before at Musanze or Kinigi (80 USD for the day).
- The walk itself seems to be significantly easier in Rwanda than in Uganda, at least in my experience.
- Last but not least, we could come much closer to the Gorillas in Rwanda than in Uganda, but that obviously really depends on the “mood” of the animals, and we were especially lucky that day in Rwanda…
Is It Worth The Money?
Yes, 750 USD is a LOT of money… I spent actually more for Gorillas Tracking than for my whole stay in Rwanda (13 days)! I would nonetheless argue that a trip to Rwanda (or Uganda) is not complete without this experience, one of the most stunning Wild Life watching moment I had in my whole life, and I have visited quite a few National Parks in Africa, but also in South America & in Asia.
Parc National des Volcans
The Virunga Mountains, a chain of eight volcanoes along the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, are the home of various gorilla groups. Rwanda prides itself being the home of 17 groups: 9 are visited by researchers only while 8 are “habituated”, which means they allow humans to come near them.
Meeting the Isabukuru Gorillas Family
There is nothing more soothing then watching these beautiful creatures. Peacefully sitting and munching away, then move a few meters and continue eating. The mighty Silver Back, Isabukuru, was first out of sight, but quickly we could catch a first glimpse at this impressive creature. Finally Isabukuru showed his black face by sitting up, then after a while casually walked along the mesmerized tourists to go and sit quietly in the shade and check on his large family.
First lesson, gorillas are quiet animals. All we could hear was the noise made when they rip the vines from the bushes and trees. Then, the leaves are pulled off with hand or mouth and devoured. Besides the repetitive feeding ritual, there was always something happening and I never knew where to look first. The young ones played, smacked each other, rolled over each other or climbed up vines often not strong enough to hold their weight. A female was looking after a tiny, 3 month old baby, more inclined to play and fool around than anything else. And the whole happens under the careful supervision of the mighty Silver Back…
It was hard, almost heart-breaking, to leave this peaceful and unique sight after a much too short hour…