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Where to Go in Africa to see Gorillas

You follow a narrow hiking trail through the lushness of a tropical rainforest, wiping sweat from your eyes and feeling grateful for your gators. Suddenly, a tracker returns from scouting ahead and excitedly halts your group - it's time to drop your backpack and move forward slowly with nothing but your camera and the thrill of anticipation. Grinning, your guide turns and whispers the words you've been waiting to hear: ‘There they are.’

Glossy black against the rainforest’s luminous green, a family of mountain gorillas headed by a brooding but benevolent silverback male. The discomforts of your jungle trek evaporate in an instant and for the one enchanting hour you spend with them, an odd sense of familiarity settles on you. Young gorillas rough and tumble like wrestlers, maternally-minded females gather in grooming groups, occassionally reprimanding the kids, while the patriarchal silverback keeps a wary eye on the surroundings.

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Gorillas are vegetarians, spending their time foraging for favourite plants.

Gorilla trekking offers one of Africa’s most profound wild encounters, perhaps fuelled by the unhappy knowledge that gorillas are extremely endangered - their populations even in protected reserves are counted in hundreds rather than thousands.

The world’s largest primates survive in what little remains of their natural habitat, in the deepest and most remote African forests. Thanks to the conservation resources earned by gorilla treks, at least one population is on the increase. Africa Safari Expert Anza suggests that you can kill two birds with one stone: do two gorilla treks in different destinations! That way you'll be doubly contributing to the conservation of gorillas as well as enjoying the opportunity to trek a different mountain path with a new guide, and see a different gorilla family engaging in their own unique set of behaviours.

So where are the best places for you to support gorilla conservation and experience this magical encounter? Here’s where to go in Africa to see gorillas:

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Gorilla trekking means hiking on rough trails through dense rainforest.

#1 Rwanda: Easy In, Easy Out

Africa’s most straight-forward gorilla trekking is found in Rwanda, the tiny Central Africa country that punches way above its weight in sheer natural beauty. Its flagship reserve, the Volcanoes National Park, lies only 80 kilometres from the capital’s airport and is home to about half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

This is authentic Gorillas in the Mist country – you can even pay your respects are Diane Fossey’s grave. It's a well protected and monitored reserve full of monkeys and forest birds where the chances of encountering gorillas are a reassuring 90%. Speaking of statistics, some 10% of the revenue from tourism goes to community projects around the park, reinforcing the positive effects of gorilla trekking and making conservation of the great apes meaningful to rural communities in a very practical way.

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Gorilla babies can be as endearing as human toddlers.
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Treks begin with a detailed briefing to prepare guests for the experience and getting the most from a gorilla encounter.

How to do it: Fly into Kigali to start your organised gorilla trekking tour. You’ll be driven straight to the Volcanoes National Park and one of its trekking lodges and be guided into the forest by expert local guides and rangers. The 8-day Amazing Rwanda Gorilla Adventure combines Rwanda and Uganda’s top gorilla destinations to ensure incredible sightings as well as opportunities to visit local Batwa Pygmy communities. For something shorter, check out our 4-day Fly-in Rwanda Gorilla Trek.

#2 Uganda: Big Apes & Big Game

Uganda’s gorillas live in the epically named Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest, a cloak of tangled green that covers the country’s south-west mountains. It’s more than a day’s drive from the capital Kampala or a quick flight so you’ll work a little harder to get here, but it’s worth it! Bwindi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 350 bird species and 200 kinds of butterflies – and, thanks to gorilla trekking, its mountain gorilla population has grown by a third in recent years.

Trekking in Bwindi is well-established and if you have a couple of days to work with, gorilla sightings are more or less assured. Bwindi’s trump card lies in tailoring your Uganda itinerary to include nearby Kibale Forest and Queen Elizabeth National Park. You’ll add chimpanzee trekking and big game viewing to your bucket list gorilla encounter.

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Silverbacks can be as intimidating as Marlon Brando's The Godfather.
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Chimps happily climb trees to reach sweet fruit.
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Gorilla moms nurture their babies tenderly.

How to do it: After flying into Entebbe International Airport, you’ll arrive for your tailor-made gorilla trekking tour. Accommodation, trekking permits and guides are all included. But why not mix it up a bit? The 9-day Chimp, Gorillas and Wildlife safari is a 4X4 guided tour that delivers Africa’s most iconic forest and savannah animals in a single itinerary.

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The terrain is unforgiving and dense, but it is also wild and beautiful.

Whichever destination you choose, you’ll need to prepare well. Trekking through mountainous, equatorial rainforest is muddy work. There’s heat and humidity to deal with, occassional downpours, and strict trekking protocols to adhere to. But the experience is utterly unique, leaving even seasoned safari-goers struggling to describe its impact. With less than 2% genetic difference between humans and the great apes, this is one of the world's most engaging wildlife encounters.

Find out more about a gorilla trekking holiday, or view our recommended gorilla trekking tours & safaris.

Written by Dominic Chadbon. 

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