Gorilla Trekking: Volcanoes National Park Vs Virunga National Park

Looking forward to doing gorilla trekking safaris in Africa Volcanoes and Virunga National Park should be included on your bucket list as there are commonly known for the shy endangered mountain gorillas. These two national parks one is located in the Eastern Part of the African Continent and other one in the central part of the African Continent, Virunga National Park is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Volcanoes National Park is located in Rwanda.

Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda:

This is a protected area located in the north western part of Rwanda, it borders Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. It is home to five of the eight Volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains including Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo. It is characterized with both rain forest and bamboo forest. This park was first gazetted in 1925 as a small area to protect gorillas from Poachers, it was the very first park to be created in Africa. In 1929, the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Belgian Congo, to form the Albert National Park, which was a huge area of 8,090 km2 run by the Belgian colonial authorities who were in charge of both colonies. In 1958, 700 hectares of the park were further cleared for a human settlement.

After Congo’s Independence in 1765, the park was split into two, and upon Rwandan independence in 1962 the new government agreed to maintain the park as a conservation and tourist area, despite the fact that the new republic was already suffering from overpopulation problems. The park was halved in area in 1969.Between 1969 and 1973, 1050 hectares of the park were cleared to grow pyrethrum.

It later became the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. From then on, she spent most of her time in the park, and is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. She was murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985, a crime often attributed to the poachers she had spent her life fighting against. She is buried in the park in a grave close to the research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life.

Volcanoes National Park became a battlefield during the Rwandan Civil War, with the park headquarters being attacked in 1992. The research centre was abandoned, and all tourist activities like visiting the gorillas were stopped. They did not resume again until 1999 when the area was proved to be safe and under control.

Therefore, currently Volcanoes has over twelve Gorilla families for trekking and research residing in the rain forest and Bamboo forests of Volcanoes. Some of the Gorilla families in Volcanoes we have the Amahoro, Susa, Kwitonda, Umubano, Sabyinyo, Agasha, Hirwa, Bwenge and Ugenda Gorilla family. It’s always about 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali to reach Volcanoes National Park. To visit Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes you must buy a Gorilla permit which costs $1500 USD per person and in most cases once this money is paid its non-refundable unless a clear reason is presented to the responsible authorities. Usually a group of eight people is allowed to go for the trekking per gorilla family and allowed a one-hour stay with them after discovering them in the jungle.

Virunga National Park:

This is the DR Congo’s top destination to visit formerly named Albert National Park and is rated to be the oldest national Park in Africa. It covers over 7800km2 of Area that stretches from Virunga Mountains in the South to the Rwenzori Mountains in the North, bordering Volcanoes National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo plus Rwenzori Mountains and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. It was established in 1925 to protect the shy endangered Mountain Gorillas living in the Virunga Mountains by King Albert I of Belgium, it later expanded northwards to include the Rwindi plains, Lake Edward and Rwenzori Mountains.

In the first 35 years the boundary of the park was brought into shape and poaching came to a minimum, sustainable tourism was boosted in the park. Land remuneration and the use of park resources such as fishing and hunting by the local population became an ongoing problem and attempts were made to solve them. After Congo gaining independence in 1960 the new state deteriorated rapidly. It was only in 1969 when President Mobutu began to gain a personal interest in conservation, that the park was revived. In the process of Mobutu’s Africanization campaign, it was renamed Virunga National Park, and the first Congolese Wildlife Authority was established to manage the parks.

This park is commonly known for the shy endangered Mountain Gorillas which reside in the forests of the Virunga Mountains, Virunga has wide range of Gorilla families for trekking named Kabirizi, Rugendo, Humba, Mapuwa, Lulengo and Munyaga gorilla family. To visit these apes in the jungle you must buy a permit which costs $400 USD per person and this money is paid in advance before your trekking dates, this money paid part is used in the conservation programs which lead to the long stay of these apes plus the place where they live for future generation through funding the Conservation organizations like Gorilla Doctors, friend a Gorilla and more. Please you should be infectious disease free to be allowed for the trekking.

Apart from the Shy endangered Mountain Gorillas Virunga has other wildlife primates to sight like Chimpanzees in Tango forest, rare monkeys, reptiles & Insects and more plus different bird species. Mountain Nyiragongo Volcanoes is another attraction inclusive of the Virunga Massif to hike up to the top of it and sight the night view of its burning Lava. This adventure in DR Congo usually takes two days and really, it’s a great experience you should not miss out on your safari in Democratic Republic of Congo.


Guide to Planning Gorilla Safaris in Rwanda

Rwanda is also known as Republic of Rwanda. It is located a few south of the Equator. It is bordered by countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. The capital of Rwanda is Kigali. A Rwanda safari is very famous among the tourists who visit Rwanda. This is the best way to experience scenic beauty of Rwanda. If you’re thinking about going on a Rwanda safari, then you will find there are many options available for you to choose from.

One of the most popular tours is one where you watch gorillas out in the wild in their own natural habitat. Rwanda safari is the most captivating safari one can experience in their life time in the great country of Africa. It is the precious homeland of one of the most endangered species in the world, the mountain gorillas. Rwanda is also called as the Land of a thousand hills!

A gorilla safari which enables you to sit with a wonderful gorilla for sometime can become the best highlight for any trip to Africa. Given the opportunity to trek the endangered Mountain Gorilla, and there is no doubt to have a direct encounter with these great apes. In order to participate in a gorilla trek, viewing permits must be obtained in advance, and they are extremely limited in number, so advance booking is essential to ensure permits can be obtained. The mountain gorilla is perhaps the World’s most endangered ape, with approximately 700 animals, and they are only found in small portions of protected afro-montane forests in north-west Rwanda, south-west Uganda and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gorilla trekking is tightly controlled and regulated for the safety of the visitor and importantly for the safety of the Mountain Gorillas. A maximum of 8 visitors may visit a group of habituated Gorillas on any given day; this minimizes behavioral disturbance and the risk of their exposure to human-borne diseases. When you go on this type of tour you will get the chance to see different groups of gorillas that are extremely rare. The skilled guide will teach you all about the different kinds of gorillas and what is unique about the jungle they are in. Whether you are on a three day, five day, or two week safari, you will not be staying close to the gorillas. The animals are always moving so they must be tracked.

Once found a tourist can only get as close as twenty feet and can only take photos without flash.There are safaris available for all types of different budgets, so everyone can find one they can afford to go on! One can also visit many cultural centres, genocide memorial and the beautiful twin lakes of Ruhundo, Bulera and the great Nyungwe Forest National Park. You can view the grand herds of buffaloes and elephants in the wonderful Akagera National Park.

A Guide to Going on a Gorilla Trek in Rwanda

Of recent, gorilla travel is one of the amazing adventures one can take in East and Central Africa. After seeking for advice on how to plan a perfect gorilla safari in Rwanda here are some tips and information i would like to share with the TA community. First and foremost the experience of meeting the gorillas is in-explainable. It is a magical, heart pounding and thrilling experience – a reward for trekking through the thickets to see the endangered mountain gorillas.

For most travelers to Rwanda, gorilla trekking is the main highlight of a safari in Rwanda. Though the country has many other tourism attractions most travelers opt for gorilla trekking in the northern part of the country. I also definitely recommend people to take an amazing trip to the gorillas. She said, Rwanda is an incredible country, safe and stable, clean with a realistic governance and hospitable people.

Gorillas in Rwanda are found in Volcanoes national park which is situated in Musanze province at the foot hills of the Virunga Volcanoes. Trekking gorillas was a well arranged activity that begun as they reported at the park headquarters to be briefed about the gorilla trekking including all the dos and don’ts while with the gorillas. Afterwards she was assigned a gorilla group to visit; however she wasn’t sure if anyone can request a gorilla group of his or her own interest.

To our experience, it’s possible to request for a visit to a particular gorilla group that you could prefer to track. This is always done earlier mainly through your safari guide as he will approach the park officials and addresses your issue which is fine if done in time. This is done to some clients who need a specific gorilla experience such as gorilla groups that involves much hiking while others want those which are easy to find. She added that, it is unpredictable on how long the trekking will take because it varies from 2-6 hours depending on the movement of gorillas in the forest.

On her first visit; she trekked the Amahoro Group made of 18 gorillas varying through all ages. It was a 30 minutes drive on a rough road from where she had spent a night to the park headquarters. On reaching, they spent 20 minutes being briefed and later had to put on the trekking gears such as the water proof-type pants gumboots among others.

Afterwards, they started off the trekking in a forested bamboo area, it was a sunny morning but they still continued to a reasonably open grounds area but with less light where they got the gorillas as they were running their daily activities.She was happy because she trekked in a good weather with no rain. She went on and recommended all trekkers to put on layers due to the fact that the weather is unpredictable however you can get quite hot after walking.

On her second Visit; she trekked the Kwitonda Group consisting of 17 gorillas including 3 Silverbacks. It was a 20 minutes drive on uneven road from her place of accommodation to the park headquarters. It took them 1 hour trekking in the forest, walking up and down the steep forest through a worn path. The path had little stinging nettles. On reaching the gorillas, they spend 1 hour with the gorillas as it is the maximum time allowed while taking some memorable photographs. She went on and advised on the best type of camera required in taking photos;

  • Fast lenses are needed in order to take clear pictures since the gorillas are always in areas without direct sunlight however sometimes gorillas can be found in places with direct sun light. Most of her photos were taken around ISO800, f2.8-5 and shutter speed of 1/10-1/240
  • Though some travelers come with a monopod it may not be useful during the gorilla trek because gorillas where all around and the guide was regularly making them move to make sure they maintain a 7m buffer distance between them and the gorillas.The monopod takes a little while to set up, the space can often be cramped as you will have 8 tourists and the guides all stuck in the jungle and the gorillas may be in a pose position that you may want for just a short period of time.
    In her group, there were two keen photographers who had full sized tripods2 full frame cameras,70-200mm lens plus a wider fast lens. However both of them left it and shot hand held cameras or occasionally with a monopod when the gorillas started resting after eating.
  • She used a D90 (1.5x crop sensor) and 70-200mm VR lens which looked to be fine for over 85% of the shoots she wanted. Their guide on the second trekking was more strict on the distance between the them and the gorillas however it could reduce from 2-5meters since the gorillas where mobile. This made her 70-200 mm lens on a Nikon crop sensor some how long but a bit ok for most of her photos.
  • A zoom lens is better since it becomes too difficult while taking steps forward or backwards while in the jungle.
  • It became tricky for her to get a clear view of the gorillas due to the little light in the jungle as well as the dark colour of the gorillas, so she advised all trekkers to keep checking while shooting.
  • Her first sight on gorillas was really amazing. ”I couldn’t hesitate the urge to blaze away with the camera taking memorable photos (particularly knowing I only had 1 hour with them), however later on I found it was nice to sometimes just stop taking photos and enjoy the little time with these beautiful creatures, watching their behavior e.g. eating, playing and grooming each other.” She added.
  • It wasn’t all that way easy for her as she was aiming at one or two gorillas at a time so as to get the best shot. The hour didn’t last for so long and by all means she took the most incredible photos to treasure and also show to her friends.

Hope the above tips and experience will help you while planning a tour. Don’t miss trekking the gorillas as it is the best experience for a life time!