Out all of the epic adventures I’ve done in my life, I have to honestly say that mountain gorilla trekking in D.R. Congo is one of the best of them! Anyone who has done it will tell you that words cannot describe how magical of a moment it is!
To see another creature that shares 90% of our human genes, who looks deep into your eyes, and even tries to approach you, is just utterly unreal. But it is in fact very real, and you’ll want to relive those moments over and over again!
I chose to go mountain gorilla trekking in D.R. Congo for several reasons. First was that my guide Obed, whose family is originally from the Virunga mountains, had reached out to me inviting me to come last year (the virus prolonged it). I also strive to go to countries that the media gives a negative reputation to, in order to show the beauty of it, and encourage tourism there. And finally, I just really wanted to see those gorillas!
You can see mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda as well (I saw them in Uganda too), and I’ll explain the differences below!
Here is my Mountain Gorilla Trekking in D.R. Congo Guide:
Where is D.R. Congo?
D.R. Congo is located in Central Africa, and it shares the Virunga Mountain Range (where the gorillas are) with Uganda and Rwanda.
It’s a HUGE country, with lots of beautiful things to see and do, but keep in mind that some places are a no-go zone for tourists due to safety concerns. Which brings me to the next section…
Is Gorilla Trekking in D.R. Congo Safe?
According to the internet and people who read bad things then repeat them without having gone to the destination themselves, D.R. Congo is insanely dangerous. However as someone who traveled there solo, with a local as a guide, and also who met tons of awesome people, I can tell you with full honesty that I felt very safe the entire week and a half that I was there.
The reason why people say D.R. Congo isn’t safe, is because of their past civil war, and also the Rwandan rebels that fled there after the genocide. It’s true that these rebels can be violent, however they only can be found in certain areas of the northern Virunga mountains — where tourists don’t go.
Aside from that, there is very little crime in the main city of Goma, where you will likely be staying. I felt very safe and comfortable walking around there by myself, however always remember to be a smart traveler and remain vigilant!
See my full post about “Is D.R. Congo Safe?” here.
Where are the Mountain Gorillas in D.R. Congo?
Mountain Gorillas are a specific type of subspecies of gorillas that ONLY exist in the Virunga mountains. As I mentioned before, this mountain range is shared by D.R. Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
In D.R. Congo, the National Park where you can see mountain gorillas is appropriately called; Virunga National Park. In Rwanda it’s called Volcanoes National Park, and in Uganda it’s called Mgahinga, but you can also see them in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Virunga National Park has a North, Central, and South area. You will be visiting the South area, and you will stay away from the North, where the rebels are (yes, it’s dangerous).
What Makes Mountain Gorillas Unique?
As I mentioned above, mountain gorillas can only be found in the Virunga Mountains! There’s about 1,000 of them total, and about 300 of those live in the D.R. Congo part of the mountains.
Mountain Gorillas are also unique in that they live at a high altitude. And here’s a fun fact; they do not drink water! They eat so many plants per day, that the water in the plants is enough to sustain their entire bodies!
In each family of mountain gorillas, there is one alpha male “silverback”. There can be other silverbacks in the family, but always one alpha. Each silverback has anywhere from 10-30 female mates.
What is a Silverback?
The term silverback is used to describe the mature male mountain gorillas, because that’s when the backs of their hair turn silver. Super clever, I know. Before reaching maturity, they are just called black backs. Makes sense, right?
Silverbacks get their grey hair (AKA reach their sexual maturity) at around 15 years old. Then they start mating non-stop. The females have one baby every four years. After her fourth baby, she goes into menopause!
It’s very true that silverbacks can get defensive and charge. In fact the one in the photo above charged right past me! You can tell when they are about to charge, because they will beat their chest (like in the movies). Then, you’ll hear the thunderous pounding of their massive hands and feet as they
How Much Does it Cost to Go Mountain Gorilla Trekking in D.R. Congo?
Mountain Gorilla trekking is one of the most expensive wildlife activities, but for a good reason. The cost of the permit largely goes towards the rangers that protect them, and a small portion goes back to the local communities and villages near the National Parks.
In D.R. Congo, the gorilla trekking permit alone is $400, and it’s the cheapest of the three countries that offer it. It costs $1500 in Rwanda, and $700 in Uganda. I did it in Uganda as well, and honestly thought Congo was better.
However you also need to pay for the entire tour package, which includes staying at the lodge, meals, transportation, park entry, and a guide.
If you dont feel like handling all those logistics yourself, check out one of my Group Trips to D.R. Congo!
How Long is the Trek and What is the Difficulty?
My mountain gorilla trek in D.R. Congo only took a total of about three hours. There’s a pro system in place where the trackers go out and, well, track, the gorillas hours before you go out, so it’s super easy for your ranger and guides to lead you to them.
You leave directly from the lodge, and it takes about 1-1.5 hours to get to them, and the same mount of time back.
You only get 1 hour total near the mountain gorillas, in order to reduce the chances of disease transmission (both to them and to you).
The trek is moderately difficult. It requires a lot of climbing on sticks and fallen bushes, plus some areas where you will be walking through bush as well. The rangers and guides will create the trail leading the way, and you will simply just follow behind them.
Are Mountain Gorillas Dangerous?
All wild animals are potentially dangerous, and mountain gorillas are no exception. You have likely heard or read that silverbacks can be super aggressive, but keep in mind, that’s only if you threaten them or their family.
You’ll be fully briefed by the rangers on what to do if the silverback decides to charge. They actually charged about three times when I was sitting on the floor in front of them, but it wasn’t at me. It was at a noise they heard past us. So it was almost like they had accepted that we were fine and not a threat, but that there could be a potential threat still behind us.
If a gorilla is about to charge, you will hear him beat his chest (it sounds more like someone dropping hallow coconuts than pounding), then will hear or see him just stampede forward. If this happens, DO NOT RUN.
Stay very still, and if he’s coming in your direction, crouch down on the floor and look down. Avoid eye contact. And also do not show your teeth, as it can be mistaken as a sign of aggression.
What are the Safety Protocols for Gorilla Trekking in D.R. Congo?
I’ve just realized I pretty much already listed some safety protocols above, so I’ll make an easy list here instead. These are mostly general, but some are in effect due to covid, and could change by the time you go!
- You must get a rapid Covid test the day before seeing them
- You must wear a mask when near them (they can catch human diseases)
- You’re supposed to stay 30 feet away (but they get curious and come closer)
- If a male charges DO NOT RUN. Stay still or crouch down on the floor, avoiding eye contact
- No eating, drinking, or smoking near the gorillas
- You must leave your bag and walking stick in an area away from them
- Avoid showing your teeth (it may be taken as aggression)
What is the Overall Gorilla Trekking in D.R. Congo Like?
Despite how easy it may look from my photos, don’t be fooled. I put my dress on over my trekking clothes, after hiking and climbing over and through thick jungles!
You’ll wake up early at the lodge, and fill up on breakfast before heading out. Be sure to check my gorilla trekking packing list below for everything you should take. Don’t forget plenty of water!
After breakfast, you’ll walk down to the briefing area for your second briefing by the guide who will be leading you. He’ll tell you about th especific family of gorillas you’ll be meeting, how long it should take to find them, and the safety protocols again.
Then it’s off into the jungles of Virunga National Park! The trail is unmarked since the gorillas change direction daily, so the rangers will chop the path with a machete and create one for you to follow.
You’ll pass through beautiful landscapes and dense forestry, with some areas having a view of the volcanoes in the distance. You’ll stop for water and a rest a few times, and if you need to go to the bathroom, you can go in a bush.
When you start getting close, you’ll see gorilla nests! They make new ones every single night, because they also poop in them, and prefer clean ones every day.
The rangers communicate with the trackers, who are already near the gorillas and waiting for your arrival. When you get close, the rangers will designate a spot for you to leave your bags and walking sticks.
Then it’s just a few more meters until you see your first gorilla! Try to keep calm and not freak out, like I did!
The rangers will lead you to a safe distanced area, and from there your hour will start! Take all the photos and videos you can, but be sure to spend a few moments simply admiring our distant relatives!
If the gorillas move, or if there are more silverbacks to see, the rangers will quietly lead you to different viewing spots.
Once your hour is up, the rangers will guide you back to the bags, and you’ll hike back out, then back to the lodge! It sounds so simple for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Be sure to bring cash to tip the trackers and then when you get to the lodge, the guides and rangeres as well! Usually $3-5 per person is good, and there’s usually around five trackers, and 2-4 rangers.
What Tour Company to Book for Gorilla Trekking in D.R. Congo
Obviously I am biased because I absolutely loved my guide Obed from Kumbukumbu Tours, but I really do believe he is the perfect guide for your trip. Obed has made a great name for himself in the small tourism industry in D.R. Congo, and is one of the young leaders there.
You can get the best of both worlds and book one of my group trips with him and other like-minded travelers on certain dates (October 2021, or the first or second week of July 2022). My trip is longer, and includes 7 days 6 nights, including stays at the Serena, market shopping, a donation for water filters, and also airport assistance.
However if you can’t go on my dates, or want to go on your own, below are his prices, and I have a discount code for you as well!
Kumbukumbu Gorilla Tour:
Duration: 4 Days 3 Nights
Cost: $1630/person (for 2 or more people) or $1810 for solo travelers
*Get 10% off using the code ‘AfricAlyssa’
- Gorilla trekking permit
- Gorilla trek & associated fees
- 2 nights at Virunga lodge
- 1 night on Tchegera Island
- Tchegera Island transport and entry
- Ground transport
- Full time guide
- Obed’s Book!
Click Here to Fill Out a Booking Form!
Mountain Gorilla Trekking in D.R. Congo: GEAR
Here’s what I used and recommend for gorilla trekking gear! You can also check out my full Gorilla Trekking Gear Guide for explanations on why you’ll need these items, and a few tips you’ll definitely want to know!