Where to See Gorillas in Africa: Rwanda vs Uganda vs Congo

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

There are only about 900 mountain gorillas left on Earth and trekking into their native forests is the only way to see these critically endangered gorillas, as they cannot survive in captivity. Trekking for gorillas in Africa’s emerald rainforests and observing the everyday interactions of these vulnerable primates is arguably one of life’s greatest privileges. Follow gorilla families as they go about their daily lives. Observe how a mother tenderly feeds her young while being cognisant of the cautious stare from a 200kg (440lbs) silverback as he keeps a protective eye over his troop. Locking eyes with a distant relative is a profound experience that makes spending time with gorillas in Africa an unsurpassable wildlife encounter.

But where are the best places to see gorillas in the wild? Based on our first-hand gorilla trekking experiences in the continent’s most far-flung destinations, we’ve created an extensive guide to where to see gorillas in Africa:

Quick overview

Overview: Rwanda vs Uganda vs Congo

Rwanda Uganda Congo
Gorilla species Mountain gorillas Mountain gorillas Western lowland gorillas
Best gorilla trekking destination Volcanoes National Park Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park Odzala-Kokoua National Park
Best time to go All year round, but driest from June to September and December to February All year round, but driest from June to September and December to February All year round, but driest from June to September and December to February
Cost of gorilla trekking permit (USD) $1 500 $700 $350 (included in gorilla trekking package)
Trekking time Up to 5 hours, depending on weather, fitness levels of guests, and proximity of gorilla families Up to 5 hours, depending on weather, fitness levels of guests, and proximity of gorilla families Up to 5 hours, depending on weather, fitness levels of guests, and proximity of gorilla families
Trekking terrain Hiking at altitude through thick forested slopes Hiking at altitude through thick forested slopes Hiking on ground level through thick rainforest
Time allowed with gorillas (excluding trekking time) 1 hour 1 hour 1 hour
Protocols
  • Max 8 guests per trek
  • Minimum age: 15
  • Guests must be healthy – no cold or flu symptoms
  • Max 8 guests per trek
  • Minimum age: 15
  • Guests must be healthy – no cold or flu symptoms
  • Max 4-6 guests per trek
  • Minimum age: 15
  • Guests must be healthy – no cold or flu symptoms
  • Trekking with face masks is compulsory

** Updated COVID-19 Protocols for Rwanda (26 August 2020) **

  • Wearing a mask while gorilla trekking is mandatory.
  • Maximum number of guests on a gorilla trek = 6
  • It is possible to book a private trek for USD 15 000.
  • Body temperatures will be scanned prior to the trek to ensure all visitors are in the recommended temperature range advised by the Ministry of Health.
  • If visitors cannot go on a trek for medical reasons, their trekking permits will be refunded.

In Uganda there are various areas in which you can trek, and accommodation can be booked according to where you’ll get a trekking permit. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda only happens in Volcanoes National Park – everyone starts from the same visitors centre (which can get very busy during the dry seasons) and are dispersed into specific trekking areas based on fitness levels and the length of the trek. In Congo, you and your guide simply walk straight into the forest from camp and start searching for gorillas. – Anja Naude, Africa Safari Expert

Rwanda

Rwanda

Delivering Africa’s most accessible gorilla trekking, Rwanda is a tiny country that punches way above its weight in sheer natural beauty. Its flagship reserve, Volcanoes National Park, lies only 80 kilometres (50 miles) – about three hours by road – from Kigali International Airport.

Where to See Gorillas in Rwanda

The stunning Volcanoes National Park is situated in north-western Rwanda and covers 160 square kilometres (62 square miles) of prime rainforest, encompassing five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains range. Gorillas are critically endangered primates and highly sociable creatures that spend most of their waking hours searching for food on the ground, moving less than 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) a day – which makes them easily trackable. You’ll be guided by an experienced gorilla tracker through the park’s towering African redwoods and bamboo, weaving vines, and flowering lobelias to the area where you’ll experience a soul-stirring, face-to-face encounter with one of mankind’s closest living relatives.

Volcanoes National Park was the base for pioneering primatologist Dian Fossey, which makes it authentic Gorillas in the Mist country – you can even pay your respects at Fossey’s grave. It's a well-protected and monitored reserve full of monkeys (including the rare golden monkey) and forest birds. At least 10% of the revenue from tourism goes to community projects around the park, reinforcing the positive impact of gorilla trekking in Rwanda and making conservation of these great apes meaningful to rural communities in a very practical way. Reformed poachers are employed by conservation projects that allow them to earn a legitimate income.

Where to Stay:

When to Go: Best Time to See Gorillas in Rwanda

Although gorilla trekking in Rwanda is regarded as a year-round activity, the country’s dry seasons offer by far the easiest hiking conditions and the lowest risk of malaria.

Rwanda's long rainy season lasts from about March to May. The long dry season then kicks off in June and lasts until about mid-September – this is generally the preferred time to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda. October to November sees a shorter rainy season, which is followed by a brief dry season from December to February. This is also a good time to see gorillas in Rwanda, although it can get a little more humid than the June to September period.

Gorilla Trekking Permits

The price of a permit is $1 500 USD per person for spending one hour with the gorillas in Rwanda. These are often sold out up to a year in advance for a trek during the long dry season (June to September), so we recommend booking your trip as soon as you know you want to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

Traveller Types: Best For…

If you have limited time, then Rwanda is where to see gorillas in Africa. You can simply land in Kigali, be driven to your lodge, trek the next day and leave for the airport the following morning, making it possible to wrap up your gorilla trekking trip in five days or less.

Other Wildlife Experiences

Not only are you able to track gorillas in Rwanda, you can enjoy close-up encounters with Africa’s iconic Big 5: elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard. In 2015, lions were released in Akagera National Park, followed by Eastern black rhinos two years later. These successful reintroduction programmes have made Akagera a celebrated Big 5 safari destination for the first time in almost 20 years.

Uganda

Uganda

Mountain gorillas can survive only in their natural habitat, so trekking into their native forests like Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is your only chance to see these gorillas in the wild. There are strict regulations in place – like the Uganda gorilla trekking permit requirements – to ensure the health and safety of these animals. Daily viewings of each gorilla group are very limited, so we recommend you book your Uganda gorilla trekking trip about a year in advance. The good news is that the country’s trekking permits are among the most affordable, so Uganda is where to see gorillas in Africa if you’re on a tight budget.

Where to See Gorillas in Uganda

Uganda’s mountain gorillas live in the epically named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, a cloak of tangled green that covers the country’s south-western mountains. It’s a day’s drive (about 10 to 11 hours) from the capital Kampala or a quick (but more costly) charter flight – so you’ll work a little harder to get there than in Rwanda, but it’s worth it!

Bwindi is a World Heritage Site of both montane and lowland forest that provides a verdant habitat for about 120 species of mammals, 350 bird species, 220 butterfly species, plus many more reptiles and amphibians. Thanks to the income generated from tourism, the park’s endangered mountain gorilla numbers have seen positive growth to about half of the world's population. And, if you’re interested in seeing primate species other than gorillas in Africa, Bwindi will offer fantastic encounters with colobus monkeys and chimpanzees during your Uganda gorilla trekking adventure.

Bonita-Gorilla-Trekking-in-Bwindi-Impenetrable-Forest-Bonita-and-Tracy

After our briefing, we got in a vehicle and drove for between 30 and 45 minutes before we started our gorilla trek in Uganda. We got the “difficult” gorilla group to track, but we were only in the forest for a total of three hours. The guides try to get you as close to your designated gorilla family as possible. You don’t need to be seriously fit – my fitness level is not great and I managed quite easily. I think the search and the chase get your adrenalin levels up and help motivate you to keep going. – Bonita Cronje, Africa Safari Expert

Where to Stay:

When to Go: Best Time to See Gorillas in Uganda

The country experiences two dry and two wet seasons in a year. Although a Uganda gorilla trekking expedition is considered a year-round activity, most visitors prefer the drier months of June to September and December to February, when trekking conditions are more favourable.

Uganda’s parks are less crowded and accommodation facilities are more affordable due to the few visitors during the low seasons (March to May and October to November). This is the best time for budget-conscious visitors interested in a Uganda gorilla trekking trip.

Gorilla Trekking Permits

The price of a permit is $600 USD per person to spend one hour with the gorillas in Uganda. You can also opt for a habituation permit of $1 500 USD, which allows you to go out with the researchers and spend up to four hours with the gorillas in the wild.

Traveller Types: Best For…

The country offers animal lovers who want to go on a Uganda gorilla trekking expedition a wonderful opportunity to combine it with a safari in one of Africa’s up-and-coming safari destinations. And thanks to Uganda’s low cost of trekking permits, it’s a great choice for travellers looking for budget-friendly options to see gorillas in Africa.

Other Wildlife Experiences

Bwindi’s trump card lies in tailoring your itinerary to include nearby Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park, allowing you to add chimpanzee trekking plus big game viewing to your Uganda gorilla trekking encounter.

Congo

Congo

The Republic of the Congo is not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): the two are distinct countries in Africa. While the DRC is enormous, Congo is compact. But it’s by no means a lightweight when it comes to gorilla trekking experiences.

Trekking for gorillas in Congo is unique: you and your guide can walk straight into the forest from camp and start searching for gorillas in the wild; sometimes you can find them within an hour. This is different from other gorilla trekking destinations like Rwanda and Uganda, where you must first take a road transfer into the national park and then hike into the mountains for about two to five hours. The flatter terrain and lower altitude in Congo also means that it’s warmer in Congo than in Rwanda and Uganda. There is also the opportunity to go trekking for three consecutive days – an activity limited to only one day in the other countries. This allows you to spend more time with the various gorilla families and compare the fascinating differences in personalities and group dynamics.

Where to See Gorillas in Congo

The country’s Odzala-Kokoua National Park is still relatively unknown and comprises 13 500 square kilometres (5 200 square miles) of undisturbed equatorial rainforest – a sanctuary for about 100 mammal species and one of Africa’s most diverse primate populations. The park is renowned for its successful conservation of western lowland gorillas, which makes Congo the best place to see these gorillas in the wild. Unlike their mountain cousins found in Rwanda and Uganda, lowland gorillas are smaller and less shaggy, with softer fur, narrower faces and rounder nostrils. But as with their larger altitude-dwelling relatives, they are always a joy to behold.

Trekking for gorillas in Congo delivers the ultimate ‘Heart of Africa’ experience. Follow expert guides as you navigate dense forest paths clouded with dazzling butterflies, identifying the calls of monkeys and tropical birds while you step closer to one of the most profound wildlife encounters on Earth.

Watch a Video of Our Gorilla Trek in Congo:

Where to Stay:

When to Go: Best Time to See Gorillas in Congo

Rain is an essential part of the precious ecosystem in the Congo Basin’s equatorial rainforest, planet Earth’s ‘green lungs’. Which is why its seasons can be aptly described as wet, wetter and wettest.

Trekking for gorillas in Congo is easier during the ‘low rainfall’ season that runs from June to September, and the ‘gentle rainfall’ season from December to February. July to August is considered the least wet and coolest time of the year.

Gorilla Trekking Permits

The cost of a permit for trekking gorillas in Congo is $350 USD per person and is included in the price of your tour package.

Traveller Types: Best For…

Congo is a truly remote, ‘get away from the crowds’ destination that is ideal for intrepid travellers and experienced visitors to Africa who love the continent and have ticked off all the other major destinations.

Other Wildlife Experiences

Another boon to Congo is that you can package your gorilla trek with very different big game viewing or highly satisfying birding. Odzala-Kokoua is scattered with bais, swampy forest clearings that offer important nutritional benefits to many animals. These attract shy forest elephants and buffalos, large antelope known as bongo as well as bush pigs. Kayaking in the bais is a must-do activity here, topped off with a delicious barbecue on the riverbank.

Trekking for gorillas in Congo was a more intimate experience than in Uganda and Rwanda – quieter and less clicking of cameras, and smaller trekking groups mean you can get a better view of them. – Liesel van Zyl, Product Manager at Go2Africa

Ready to Start Planning Your Gorilla Trekking Adventure?

Whichever destination you choose, it pays to prepare well for your trek. Hiking through mountainous rainforest can be muddy work. It can be hot and humid with occasional short downpours too, so appropriate clothing, sturdy hiking boots, and gear like trekking poles and gaiters all add up to a more comfortable trek. It's a bucket-list experience precisely because it isn't easy to get close to gorillas in the wild but, when you do, you'll be more than thrilled. And we can help you get there…