Face to face with Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo

If you love adventures and animals, then surely like me have at least dreamed of the possibility of seeing gorillas. Even if I’ve been lucky enough to have been traveling for the last 3 years and seeing some amazing things, this experience was a really special one for me.

One thing is to see images of gorillas on a screen, another thing is to see them in person from up close in their natural habitat. Seeing them naturally in their territory is a rare opportunity since mountain gorillas are only in central Africa and in 3 Countries: Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I went to see them in DRC and it was a once in a lifetime adventure.

From the city of Goma you go around 2 hours away to the legendary Virunga National Park where you are briefed on the protocol for safety for both you and these endangered species of mountain gorillas who have gotten used to the presence of humans (this part I didn’t feel as good about), so it makes it easier to see them and less risky.

After the briefing and splitting people up into groups (there were 5 tourists in our group) we set off to make an ascent into very green and dense vegetation that is tricky to advance in as it is full of vines and lush nature where you a ranger with a machete has to often make room for you to pass the impenetrable and beautiful cloud forest.

 After almost 2 hours of trekking through this beautiful park and often just missing them and seeing their tracks and areas where you saw the plants sunk where they had been lying or eating, we finally caught up to one of the families we were tracking. I’ll admit that I was so excited and anxious not exactly sure how the interactions with them would be.

Silverback Mountain Gorilla Virunga National Park
Absolutely beautiful creatures

Our first encounter was seeing one of the adult males (Silverbacks as they are called as like us humans their hair grays as they grow older) taking a rest with one of the small and young one’s playing around him. We observed a few minutes and then he got up and we saw how incredibly big and powerful he is, and he passed very near us… it was amazing! We spent one hour with them (the maximum amount of time allowed) following them as they walk around and stop to eat or rest, or even play.

Mountain Gorilla Virunga National Park
This was absolutely beautiful as he just sat a few minutes like this with his eyes staring blankly as he was thinking…he looked like he was meditating 🙂

 

As for the Democratic of Congo, it is a HUGE country that has its problems like any other country (OK, maybe more than others), but is safe to visit. I spent a week there and walked around at night by myself in cities and villages and never had any problems. The people are friendly and tourism plays an important role in supporting the lovely hard working people of Congo.

The funds that the gorilla permits create have helped prevent the loss of this species which was endangered due to poachers and loss of habitat. There remain less than 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild. Visiting the gorillas was really a once in a lifetime experience. It is so special to be able to see these majestic animals in their habitat, and to see how beautiful they are. To see their pensive eyes and expressions, to see them caress their babies, to see the babies jumping and playing, is something amazing.

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Cost of Gorilla Tracking Permits (includes your visit to the gorilas,
except for the transportation to the park)
Rwanda: $1,500 USD
Uganda: $600 USD
DRC: $400 or $200USD in the rainy season (March 15-May 15)

What to pack for your Gorilla Tracking
-Hiking footwear or sneakers/trainers
-Rain jacket or poncho or things to keep you dry in the rain
-A set of dry clothes to change into after if you want as you’ll probably be wet when you get back
-Food and snacks if your tour doesn’t provide it

How to get to Goma (DRC)
The town is situated on the border with Rwanda and the border city there is called Gisenyi. The border opens as early as 6am, but if you need a visa you must wait until 8am to get it and cross into Goma. While in Goma you can get around by motorcycle taxis that are affordable (less than a dollar).

baby Mountain Gorilla Virunga National Park
I think he was showing off that he had a snack and I didn’t 😉

What to do in Goma
Seeing the gorillas and visiting active volcano Mount Nyiragongo and are the best activities to do in this region. I did my gorilla tracking with Kivu Travel (full contact information at bottom of the post) and I had an amazing experience with them and recommend them. While Goma is usually just the place people pass through or as their base for the Volcano trek and the Gorilla Tracking, it is a really colorful place to explore. My favorites were the market surrounding the mosque near the city center. It is incredibly raw and colorful . People are selling charcoal with the soot on their faces, next to the people selling grains and spices and even selling live chickens they hold by their legs.

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Photobombed! When our time with them was finished as I was walking away I took this last picture. Later when I looked at it I realized he was very much watching what I was up to! And the mask is to prevent them from getting sick from us!

Where to stay in Goma
There are several accommodation options in Goma, but most are not so budget friendly. I was terrified before going as people said you couldn’t find anything for less than $50 USD. However I found that wasn’t the case. Tony’s Guesthouse which is the most affordable option I found ($15USD for a room with external shared bathroom), and for something nicer Bravoure Hotel which is much nicer and has rooms with private bathroom starting at $30 USD.
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My gorilla tracking experience was sponsored by Kivu Travel as were my stays
at Tony’s Guesthouse and the Bravoure Hotel, but of course all views are my own.
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Check out some recent posts:
Climbing Active Volcano Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Chimpanzee Sanctuary, and Western Uganda
Whitewater Rafting, Volunteering and Chasing Waterfalls in Eastern Uganda
Spending some Days with a Maasai Tribe in Kenya
Adventures on the Kenyan Coast
Maasai Mara Safari Experience
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Kivu Travel:
www.kivutravel.com   —  info@kivutravel.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/kivutravel/about/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kivutravel/?hl=en

 

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  1. must have been a superb encounter!! 😀 I am thinking about going to Goma to climb mt. Nyiragongo end of this year – did you organize a visa for Congo before going there or did you get it at the border? Do you have advice what is the best idea? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi there! definitely go! Did you also see my post about climbing the volcano? Might be useful for you. The visa takes a week and the tour company you do any activities with can process the visa for you and meet you at the border with it. I did my volcano trek with Ubuntu Voyages and my gorilla tracking with Kivu Travel and recommend both!

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