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Gorilla Watching: The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Spots

by Diane P. Vanover
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gorilla watching

Travelers from all over the world want to have an exciting experience with gorillas in the wild. Though it’s thrilling to witness these magnificent creatures, getting around their territory can be challenging.

To find the hidden gems of gorilla watching, you must be brave and willing to venture beyond ordinary tourist destinations.

From the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, each destination promises unforgettable experiences for all enthusiasts looking to fulfill their dream of witnessing gorillas in the wild.

Keep reading to know some of the top places worth exploring for gorilla watching.

Top Destinations for Gorilla Watching

Location matters a lot when it comes to gorilla watching. Since gorillas stay in the wild to survive, exploring their homes is the only way to catch a peek.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these places.

1. Volcanoes National Park

volcanoes national parkLocated in northern Rwanda, over 30% of the world’s mountain gorillas live at Volcanoes National Park. You can also see five of eight volcanoes situated within the 160-square-mile park, the Muhabura, Sabyinyo, Gahinga, Karisimbi, and Bisoke volcanoes.

There are 10 habituated mountain gorillas in the park. Tourists may see the Titus, Amahoro, Umabano, and Susa families.

Currently, gorilla-watching permits in Rwanda cost $1,500 for foreign non-residents. You may book travel permits from Rwanda Development Board or through a travel agency.

On the other hand, the permit cost covers just a portion of gorilla watching’s total price. This portion benefits Rwanda’s local projects and conservation initiatives.

Through these initiatives, locals learn to take control of their natural resources. Furthermore, it instills pride and accountability in the locals as they see their community treasure – gorillas, being preserved and protected.

2. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

bwindi impenetrable national parkThe park, situated in southwest Uganda, covers more than 128 square miles of forested mountains. Bwindi, a UNESCO world heritage site, is home to over 400 mountain gorillas. Additionally, CNN named Bwindi as the top tourist destination in the world for 2019.

Generally, a gorilla-watching permit in Uganda costs $700 for foreigners. Note that the price of gorilla watching in Bwindi also depends on your length of trip and the type of accommodation you’ll be staying in.

In addition to gorilla watching, visitors can take forest hikes, watch birds, visit the Batwa pygmy community, and witness different primates like chimpanzees.

Interestingly, you may also catch gorillas in four other regions of Bwindi: Buhoma in the North, Ruhija in the East, and Nkuringo and Rushaga in the South.

3. Virunga National Park

virunga national parkThe park covers approximately 3,000 square miles and is home to many species, like gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, and hippos.

However, the park recently faced challenges due to political instability and clashes. Yet, conservation initiatives are continuous.

Tourists can watch gorillas after securing a permit. For peak seasons, a travel permit costs $400. While during the off-season, it costs $200.

Moreover, Virunga National Park has tropical weather all year, given its spot in the tropics. It’s best to visit Virunga during the dry seasons, which run from December through February and from June through September.

Tour guides don’t encourage visitors to watch gorillas during the rainy season because the trails are slippery and rugged.

Additionally, you can see eight different habituated mountain gorilla families in the park. These gorillas are more accommodating of people than those in Uganda and Rwanda since they were exposed to tourists for a long time.

Alternatively, tourists may also partake in activities like the Mount Nyiragongo hikes, chimpanzee trekking, birdwatching, nature walks, and cultural visits to the local communities.

4. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

mgahinga gorilla national parkWith about 13 square miles, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest gorilla-watching location. Given the park’s land area, it’s the best location to visit if you only have a few days in Africa but want to meet the gorillas.

The park is also home to 80 mountain gorillas. Even so, only one gorilla family, the Nyakagyezi, is accustomed to and open to the public. Besides that, you can also see four silver-back gorillas within the park.

For an enjoyable one-day trip in Mgahinga National Park, you need a valid gorilla-watching permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Foreign residents usually pay $600, while foreign non-residents pay $700.

On the actual day of the trek, you’ll be given a set of rules to follow while watching gorillas. Park rangers are also on the site to guide you through the rainforest and up the mountainside.

Even though gorilla watching is a stand-alone activity, you may still enjoy other activities like visits to Lake Bunyoyi, Kibale Forest National Park, and Queen Elizabeth National Park to make the most out of your short travel there.

What’s the Best Time to Watch Gorillas?

It’s exciting to plan your first gorilla-watching adventure. But, it’s also ideal to make plans ahead when you’ll be traveling.

In that case, we recommend choosing a time that fits your preference because the season and gorillas’ behaviors may affect your overall experience.

To successfully watch gorillas, here are the pros and cons to consider.

1. Wet Season

The wet seasons in these African regions are between March to May and October to November.

Pros

During wet seasons, there are fewer tourists, which means the forest or the mountains are less crowded. Thus, your gorilla-watching experience is more exclusive and intimate.

Since the grasses are mostly wet, nature boasts lush and breathtaking sceneries.

Cons

During rainy seasons, the trails are slick and rugged. Thus, watching gorillas can be a little tricky.

Besides, gorillas often migrate to the top of the mountains, which makes it even harder to catch sight of them.

2.   Dry Seasons

The dry seasons in East Africa are from late June to September and April to June.

Pros

The dry season is the ideal time to watch gorillas in action because the skies are clear. Plus, it’s also easier to trek into the forest or the mountains.

Likewise, gorillas tend to hang out on the land and are quicker to spot during this time of the year.

Cons

Like other tourist spots, this is also the peak season for gorilla-watching. Because of this, securing travel permits can be challenging.

On top of that, accommodations are in demand and pricey. Booking in advance is a good idea.

Summary

Ultimately, there are four top destinations for gorilla watching. This includes the well-known gorilla parks in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Each route has its unique experience with differences in trails, gorilla group sizes, historical places worth visiting, and other species to witness.

Furthermore, consider the pros and cons of visiting during the wet and dry seasons when planning for gorilla watching.

The dry season allows smoother trekking and greater visibility, while the wet season offers a more peaceful experience with lush scenery but a more strenuous trek.

It wouldn’t hurt to research each country’s season before traveling as they can differ sometimes.

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