Tropical forest reserves in East and Central Africa are getting much attention from nature lovers who hope to set eyes on endangered giant apes roaming the forest floor. The best places to see gorillas in Africa are Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Congo Brazzaville’s Odzala-Kokoua National Park. However, there are other destinations we will explore in this post.
Trekking in the central African rainforest to encounter the giant mountain gorillas is the ultimate wildlife experience, whether you’re out to find the mountain gorillas of East-cental Africa or Western lowland gorillas and the rare Grauer’s gorilla in the central African tropical forests. Watching the sheer majesty of the silverbacks, the playfulness of the young apes, and the tenderness of mothers a few feet away from you is just intriguing.
Mountain gorillas get the most attention, and it’s debatable as to which destination offers the best mountain gorilla trekking experience. However, you must know that mountain gorillas are found in three countries (Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC) sharing the same border in the East-central Africa mountainous rift valley region. A little above 1000 mountain gorillas roam the forested mountains of this region, with numbers steadily increasing due to robust conservation programs backed by funds from gorilla trekking safaris.
The western lowland gorilla population oscillates at about 100,000 individuals in the dense rainforests of West and Central Africa. IUCN classifies them as critically endangered, with a few groups habituated for tracking. Unfortunately, they are less accessible than the mountain gorillas.
Nonetheless, your travel budget greatly determines which place best suits your sense of adventure. Here is our list of the best five places to see gorillas in Africa.
Rwanda, a landlocked country known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, is a top destination to see mountain gorillas. When you visit Rwanda for the gorilla trekking adventure, you’ll drive about three hours to the northeastern border with DRC and Uganda at the base of the Virunga Mountains in Volcanoes National Park. Here, you’ll spend at least two nights and join the early morning gorilla trekking excursions into the rainforest to find a Habituated gorilla group.
Rwanda has about 12 Habituated gorilla groups available for trekking in various parts of Volcanoes National Park, with some hiking up the mountain involved. Here, the celebrated primatologist Dian Fossey pioneered her influential studies on mountain gorillas, so you’ll be trekking in her footsteps.
Rwanda hosts an annual gorilla baby naming ceremony in September, Kwita Izina, attracting thousands of visitors to Musanze, the base town of Volcanoes National Park. Visiting during that time will have you rubbing shoulders with big names from faraway places.
The con to seeing gorillas in Rwanda is that it offers the most expensive gorilla trekking permits at a whooping US 1500 per person, coupled with super-priced luxury accommodation. Although traveling around Rwanda is easier and the gorilla trekking experience is awesome, a trip to see gorillas in Rwanda is super expensive for an ordinary traveler.
Uganda has two national parks offering gorilla trekking safaris: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the best place to see gorillas in Africa, and Mgahinga National Park sharing gorilla habitat with Rwanda’s Volcanoes and DRC’s Virunga National Parks. With these two gorilla parks and five trekking centers, Uganda has more than half the world’s mountain gorilla population, making it the best place for affordable gorilla trekking safaris.
As in Rwanda, gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda are a very smooth operation, with excellent rangers and trackers and local communities benefitting from gorilla tourism. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest offers about 20 Habituated gorilla groups, some intermediate and others really tough to trek. Remember to talk to your safari planner about this before you book your gorilla permit.
Gorilla permits in Uganda cost just US 700 per person, which is quite affordable compared to Rwanda’s permits, yet giving you the same 1-hour experience. Additionally, Uganda offers the Gorilla Habituation Experience of spending up to four hours with a semi-habituated gorilla group which is more endearing and less docile than the regular trekking experience. Besides, the Habituation Experience permit costs $1500, the same price as the Rwanda permit, but offers a more intimate experience with the gorillas.
As one of the best places to see gorillas in Africa, DRC is the least visited destination, yet it’s the only country with both lowland and mountain gorillas. DRC also offers the cheapest gorilla permit at $400 per person in Virunga National Park, sharing habitat with Uganda’s Mgahinga and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Parks on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains.
Virunga National Park is the most adventurous of all the four mountain gorilla parks but receives the least visitors because of the unending civil wars that have infested the region for decades. Although visitors are highly protected during gorilla treks, most people want to avoid taking the risk considering some visitors have been abducted.
What will mainly attract you to DRC are the eastern lowland gorilla species, also called the Grauer’s Gorilla. The Grauer’s subspecies are found in DRC and nowhere else. With numbers reaching about 5000, Grauer’s gorilla subspecies can best be seen in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, home to about 250 Grauer’s gorillas. The park offers great gorilla trekking experiences basing out of Bukavu lakeside town, which offers reasonable accommodation in colonial mansions.
DRC is volatile, be sure of the security before you. We highly recommend using a tour operator to get into Congo on an organized gorilla trekking safari.
Congo Brazzaville, also known as the Republic of Congo (Not DRC), is one of the best places to see western lowland gorillas in Africa. Visit Congo Brazzaville and head northwest to the quieter and more peaceful Odzala-Kokoua National Park. This remote rainforest park has two Habituated gorilla groups for tracking. However, it’s a costly destination but offers an immersive private experience, with small groups of four tourists visiting each gorilla group. Although gorilla trekking is tough crossing large rivers, what’s enticing about seeing gorillas in Odzala-Kokoua are the rustic splurgy forest lodges that give you the authentic African safari holiday.
In Congo Brazzaville, you can see Western lowland gorillas in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. Some visitors who’ve stayed at the camp in Mbeli Bai have reported the resident silverback often showing up for surprise visits. However, Brazzaville is more suited for seasoned adventurers.
Lastly, the raw wilderness of CAR (Central African Republic) offers the best experience to see gorillas in Africa for hardened adventurers. Besides Brazzaville, CAR is the only other country with Habituated western lowland gorillas. Head to Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, a tropical rainforest within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sangha Trinational Reserve spanning across the Congo and Cameroon borders.
Dzanga-Sangha has the world’s highest concentration of western lowland gorillas and forest elephants. If you can handle the country’s tough travel logistics, head to Dzanga Bai and book into Sangha Lodge, the best place to see western lowland gorillas in the Central African Republic.
It’s important to note that CAR is pretty insecure, so find up-to-date travel advice before heading there.
There you have; the five best places to see gorillas in Africa, and at least one of them suits your travel style and budget. We organize gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC, including permits, accommodation, and transport reservations. We handle all the local logistics so that you spare all for the once-in-the-lifetime experience in the African rainforests.