Gorilla Safaris in Africa: Everything You Need to Know

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The gorilla is the largest living primate in the world. It’s an animal that has long captured the imagination of human beings, as it is an animal that is strangely similar in habits to people, yet vastly different at the same time. This is what makes gorilla safaris in Africa so special.

These majestic creatures are highly intelligent but brutally strong, and despite their almost human-like nature, they have become a critically endangered species in the wild.

The gorilla is found in few remaining habitats in the world and their distribution is almost entirely confined to certain parts of Africa, namely the Congo and the mountains of Rwanda and Uganda.

They are not an easy animal to find and the best way to actually spot them is to join the gorilla safaris that take intrepid travelers out into the African wilderness in search of the small populations found in the highland forests.

With continual threats to their habitat and to the gorillas themselves, seeing these creatures in the wild will give you a new appreciation of why they need to be protected.

To help you to plan your expedition, here’s our guide to the best gorilla safaris in Africa.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Africa (Travel Guide)

Gorilla Safaris in Africa

Uganda Gorilla Safari

Gorilla Safaris in Africa

Uganda is one of the most popular countries in Africa to visit for gorilla safaris. There are two main locations within the nation that are home to sizeable populations of gorillas, and these are Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Bwindi is by far the most well known and popular choice for gorilla safaris, while Mgahinga is less known and much less frequented. Uganda is home to one of the last Mountain Gorilla populations in the world, but due to incredible conservation efforts, numbers are steadily increasing.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Gorilla trekking in Africa

Bwindi is a high altitude mountain region that is covered in dense forest, that as the name of the park suggests, seems almost impenetrable. The park is located along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mountain gorillas found here will frequently range between the two countries.

Permits must be arranged far in advance with the government in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and they are likely to set you back several hundred dollars in fees alone, not counting any travel costs too.

You must pick up your permit in Kampala, before making the long overland journey to the park itself via the town of Kabale, which is a journey of at least 8 hours.

You will be based at the camp in Bwindi itself, from there, you trek out on gorilla safaris to actually find the animals themselves in the forest.

This is a rugged and wild national park, but once you have the permit it’s very much likely that you will see the gorillas, as they are found so close to the base camp.

Our top recommended tours of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park:

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Baby gorilla in Africa

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Uganda’s second gorilla trek option. The national park is found in the south-west of the country in the high Virunga Mountains that straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The park is very small, being just 13 square miles, but it’s an important territory for a small population of mountain gorillas who call the area home.

The three extinct volcanoes found within the park give the region altitudes that vary from 2000 meters to over 4000 meters, meaning that this is not a place for the inexperienced.

This is remote and Mgahinga is extremely isolated, ensuring that the gorillas are conserved and that few visitors actually make it this far. You will need to arrange your permits and your gorilla safaris in advance with the government and with a reputable tour agency.

Our top recommended tours of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:

Rwanda Gorilla Safari

Gorilla in Africa

Rwanda is another popular gorilla safari destination, as the Virunga Mountains on the tri-country borders are home to a famous family of gorillas.

This is where the iconic naturalist Diane Fossey carried out her groundbreaking research into mountain gorillas, within what is now the Volcanoes National Park.

Diane Fossey pioneered conservation in the region and made the world aware of just how endangered this species was during her almost twenty years spent in the mountains, until her unfortunate death in 1985 while working here.

Considering Rwanda? Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda: Is It Worth It?

Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Thanks to exceptional conservation efforts there are now several gorillas that live within Volcanoes National Park, making this an excellent location to spot them in the wild.

Permits, however, are extremely limited, with only 80 people per day being allowed within the park at any one time. With soaring popularity, you will need to plan far in advance to secure a much sought after spot on a trek here.

The national park is surprisingly easy to travel to as well, as it’s located just a two-hour drive from Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali. Volcanoes National Park is very accessible and many travelers on a whistle-stop tour will even travel here and back to Kigali on the same day. 

Our top recommended tours of Volcanoes National Park:

The Democratic Republic of Congo Gorilla Safari

Baby Gorilla in Rwanda

The most off the beaten trek location for gorilla safaris are most certainly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Congo has a reputation for war and violence, a reputation which is certainly not unwarranted as this is one of the most unstable countries in Africa.

To visit and travel here is not for the inexperienced.

Gorillas in Africa

Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park was one of the earliest attempts in Africa at conservation. The park was established in the mid-1920s to protect the unique ecosystem found here.

The national park has, however, had a mixed history and at times has been completely off-limits to travelers during armed conflicts, insurgencies and civil wars that seem to wrack the Democratic Peoples Republic of the Congo all too often.  

The national park is located along the borders of Rwanda and Uganda, allowing the mountain gorillas that are found here to cross between the different countries freely, a vital factor in their overall conservation.

Humans, however, are not allowed to cross so freely and you will need to ensure that you have arranged both visas and permits in advance.

Although the Virunga National Park is generally a safe haven within the turmoil of the Congo, the rest of the country can be difficult to access, so most travelers will choose to fly into neighboring Rwanda, before making the journey overland from Kigali to the border.

The main city in the region is Goma, which is located around 20 miles away from the park. From here you will need to arrange four by fours and local guides to take you into the mountains and forests to find the gorillas.

Our top recommended tours of Virunga National Park:

Divergent Travelers Gorilla Trekking in Africa

Making a Decision

How you to choose between the gorilla safaris in Africa and which one is right for you, will largely depend on your budget, travel experience and preferences. There is no right answer, remember that. 

The one thing we can guarantee is that being able to spend time with these endangered animals is something you’ll never forget. It is truly a life-changing experience. 

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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.

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