Gorilla Trekking: An Essential Guide

Where To See Mountain Gorillas

Where To See Mountain Gorillas
By Charlotte Beauvoisin

The world’s entire mountain gorilla population can be found in just three locations: Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park.

The opportunities to track mountain gorillas in the DRC are extremely limited and are thus not covered in this guide.

In December 2019 it was announced that the world’s population of mountain gorillas numbered 1,063—the highest in three decades.

This figure combines the census results for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and Sarambwe Nature Reserve in the DRC. (This was the first census to include Sarambwe). The combined population total also includes gorillas from Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda that were counted in a separate census of the Virunga Massif. Records show that Uganda has more mountain gorillas than both Rwanda and the DRC.

Best places to see mountain gorillas

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022 Gorilla Rwanda 2

Meeting a gorilla family in Rwanda

Where to see mountain gorillas

Best places to see gorillas in Rwanda & Uganda

Where to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda

Rwanda is an excellent option for those with limited time when it comes to seeing mountain gorillas. All Rwanda’s habituated gorillas reside in Volcanoes National Park (VNP), which is just a two-hour drive on good roads from Kigali International Airport. Although you still need to be fit to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda, the terrain is slightly easier going than in Uganda (unless you opt to track one of the remoter gorilla families).

VNP occupies 160 km² and is situated in north-western Rwanda where it borders the DRC’s Virunga National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Together, these three parks form the Greater Virunga Conservation Area.

Volcanoes National Park is distinguished by five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains that sit along the park boundary: Karisimbi, Bisoke, Gahinga, Sabyinyo and Muhabura. The park is bordered by farmland, with the local community cultivating land right up to the park boundary.

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is quite different from gorilla trekking in the dense jungle of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Whereas trekking in Bwindi takes you straight into the dense, dark forest, in Rwanda the trek starts with a gentle ascent for thirty minutes through open farmland with breath-taking views (on clear days) of the Virunga volcanoes.

Here the forest is predominantly bamboo, which means less canopy to block the daylight. The bamboo canes sway several metres overhead, cracking and groaning under the weight of the gorillas shifting around in search of tender shoots. Elsewhere, the gorillas may be found out in the open, lazily munching vegetation.

Where to see mountain gorillas in Uganda

Uganda is home to over half of the mountain gorilla population. They live in two national parks in the country’s south-west: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is 331 km² and supports almost half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. It is one of Africa’s richest rainforests and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bwindi is more than 25,000 years old and ranges in altitude from 1,160m to 2,607m above sea level.

The forest’s age and altitude give Bwindi abundant biodiversity. More than 320 tree species have been recorded here, which are home to 310 butterflies, 88 moth, 51 reptile and 120 mammal species, including a further nine primates, such as chimpanzees, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey and blue, red-tailed and L'Hoest monkeys. The forest is alive with birdsong (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has been named as one of Africa’s top 10 birding destinations by the African Birding Club).

In comparison to Bwindi, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a relatively tiny 33.7 km² and is Uganda's smallest national park. Mgahinga is just one part of a larger Virunga conservation area which covers 434 km² of volcanic mountains linking Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC.

Where To See Mountain Gorillas

Charlotte Beauvoisin

Charlotte is a travel blogger based on the edge of Kibale Forest, Uganda. She is a contributor to the Bradt Uganda Guidebook and has written for Lonely Planet, The Daily Telegraph and Fodor's. She first arrived in Uganda in 2009 as a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer with the Uganda Conservation Foundation.

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