The Best 5 Places To See Gorillas in Africa
Countless intrepid adventurers say that encounters with Africa’s gorillas make the bucket list of the top 50 travel things to do before you die. Amen to that!
Africa is home to the only two species of gorillas in the world, with the eastern gorilla found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, and Rwanda, and the western gorillas found in Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Angola, and DRC. For those looking to experience gorilla trekking adventures in Africa, the best five countries to visit are Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, the Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic (CAR), as they offer the best tourism infrastructure.
Of these destinations for gorilla tours, the best places to see gorillas in Africa are Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. These parks have outstanding conservation and sustainable programs wrapped around gorilla trekking adventures, as well as excellent safari infrastructure, including some of the best forest lodges for a memorable vacation getaway in the remotest parts of Africa.
Trekking into Africa’s untamed forest jungles to find the largest living primates on earth is an experience worth having. Gorillas are giant primates with a gentle character, possessing many human-like behaviors and emotions like laughter and sadness. Like chimps and bonobos, the other closest living cousins, gorillas share 98.3% of the human genetic code. They live in primal family groups of usually 5 to 30 plus, led by a dominant adult male called a silverback. The bond between the silverback and his females forms the basis of the gorilla’s social life, which has become a magnet for gorilla safaris in Africa.
Where do gorillas live?
Two gorilla species still survive in equatorial Africa, separated by about 560 miles of Congo Basin forest. They are subdivided into lowland and highland sub-species. The smaller lowland gorillas are the ones you see in zoos around the world, while the larger mountain gorillas, with long dark hair, are taller and heavier than the lowland gorillas and can’t survive anywhere outside their natural habitats.
Gorillas live only in the tropical rainforests of Africa and nowhere else. Mountain gorillas live in the rift valley mountains of East-Central Africa in two separate populations; one occupies the lush Virunga volcanic mountain slopes of Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo, and the other lives in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Lowland gorillas live in the tropical forests of central and western Africa in Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Massive work by governments, conservation organizations, and natural scientists has gone into preserving their natural habitats while protecting the gorillas. Scientists have habituated a few groups for tourism out of the many wild gorilla family groups roaming Africa’s tropical forests. That means people can book gorilla treks and safely see them on eco-friendly tours in their natural environment.
If you are planning your next summer adventure, consider visiting these best five countries to visit gorillas in Africa.
Where to visit gorillas in Africa
1. Uganda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest & Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
If you’re planning a trip to Africa to see mountain gorillas, Uganda is a top destination, especially Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park. These two parks are responsible for protecting over half of the world’s endangered mountain gorilla population. Located in southwestern Uganda, they are approximately 491 km (305 mi) from the capital city. To reach the gorilla destinations, visitors can either drive for 10 hours or take a 1-hour local flight.
For those who prefer to avoid the rugged landscape, there are two small airfields about two hours outside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park’s north and south sections. However, the drive through southwestern Uganda’s beautiful landscapes is worth the experience.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority has habituated twenty gorilla families for tourism. By obtaining a gorilla permit from UWA for about $700 each, tourists can join gorilla treks and encounter any of these 20 habituated gorilla groups.
For a more in-depth experience, tourists can book a four-hour gorilla habituation experience permit for $1,500, which is only offered in the Rushaga sector and is limited to a few gorilla permits. Nkuringo Safaris can assist tourists in booking theirs within a manageable schedule.
Mgahinga National Park offers one Habituated gorilla family that some tourists prefer. The park shares the Virunga slopes with Rwanda and DRC’s gorilla parks and is the only place tourists can trek endangered golden monkeys in Uganda.
Gorilla Safari Extensions in Uganda
For those interested in more wildlife viewing after their gorilla trekking experience, Uganda’s wildlife safari destinations are worth adding to their itinerary. Queen Elizabeth National Park, a few miles north of Bwindi, offers tree-climbing lions, hippos, elephants, buffalo, and crocs on Kazinga Channel banks. Kibale Forest is home to human-habituated chimpanzees and a dozen other primate species. Murchison and Kidepo Valley, further north, offer incredible creatures roaming the untamed savannah plains.
Generally, you need at least 7 nights in Uganda to capture its wildlife safari highlights, including watching Africa’s mountain gorillas.
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2. Rwanda – Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park in the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda’s far northwest is a popular destination for wildlife adventure seekers who want to visit gorillas in Africa. This natural habitat is home to the world’s most precious primates.
Rwanda is the second-best place in Africa to see gorillas after Uganda. Almost half of the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains, shared between Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park protects Rwanda’s side of the mountains, where twelve human-habituated gorilla family groups are available for tourism.
To experience Rwanda’s wild gorillas, visitors can drive northwest for about two hours from Kigali on a well-surfaced road and spend a night in Kiningi, a small town on the foothills of the gorilla park. There are a variety of safari lodges to choose from, ranging from budget homestays to luxurious forest getaways.
Tourists who want to avoid the long drive to Uganda’s gorilla destinations prefer encountering Africa’s wild gorillas in Rwanda. Although the gorilla trekking experiences in Rwanda and Uganda are similar, the $1500 price tag on Rwanda’s gorilla permit is selective to only those who can afford the hefty charges.
In addition to Rwanda’s varied cultural experience, tourists can extend a few activities to their Rwanda gorilla tour, like hiking the Virunga Mountains, visiting Ellene DeGenere Diane Fossey Campus, tracking chimps in Nyungwe Forest, and a wildlife viewing safari in Akagera National Park.
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3. The Democratic Republic of Congo
DRC could be one of the best places to visit gorillas in Africa, but most operators will advise against traveling to the country due to its ongoing civil wars on the borders with Rwanda and Uganda where gorillas live. However, DRC is a wild and affordable destination for adventurous people, offering some of the best opportunities to see gorillas in Africa.
DRC is the only country in the world with western lowland, eastern lowland, and mountain gorilla species, and it has sufficient tourist infrastructure to support gorilla viewing. While logistics can be challenging, the chances of spotting wild gorillas in DRC are high, with a 20% chance of seeing western lowland gorillas, 60% for eastern lowland gorillas, and 98% for endangered mountain gorillas.
Lowland gorilla trekking safaris in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park
You can visit Western lowland gorillas in the far west of DRC, in the Mayumbe Area of Bas-Congo, near the Angola border. Due to security concerns in the far east of DRC, you’re better off visiting western lowland gorillas in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo, Lopé National Park in Gabon, or Monte Alen National Park in Equatorial Guinea.
Eastern lowland gorillas Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Visit Eastern lowland gorillas, also known as Grauer’s gorillas, in the forests and swamplands southwest of the Virunga Volcanos. The Kahuzi-Biega National Park is the best location to see eastern lowland gorillas, and visitors can access the park from Bukavu town, near the Rwanda border. However, it is essential to check the security situation before traveling to the area, if you don’t mind.
Visiting mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park, located on the DRC side of the Virunga Mountains, is one of the best places for mountain gorilla treks. The park’s security has improved significantly, and visitors can access Virunga from Kisoro in Uganda or by flight through Goma town on the northern bank of Lake Kivu.
The park’s accommodation options, including Mikeno Lodge, Tchegera Island, and the newly built Kibumba Tented Camp, offer stunning views and a chance to unwind after a day of gorilla trekking. Virunga gained international attention after Netflix’s documentary “Virunga,” which tells the story of the rangers who risk their lives to protect the national park and its endangered mountain gorillas.
4. The Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville)
The nonviolent Republic of the Congo (aka Congo-Brazzaville), a central African nation sandwiched between Garbon, Cameroon, CAR, and DRC, is one of the best places to visit western lowland gorillas—definitely, one of the best countries for gorilla tours in Africa.
In Congo’s largely unexplored rainforest reserves, about 125,000 western lowland gorillas roam the swampy rainforests alongside chimpanzees, forest elephants, and hundreds of species of birds—a perfect African jungle adventure destination.
Visit gorillas in Odzala-Kokoua National Park
If you’re looking for an extraordinary gorilla trekking experience, consider visiting Odzala-Kokoua National Park northwest of Congo. This park offers some of the best western lowland gorilla tracking and viewing adventures. The park was reopened in 2012 after being devastated by the Ebola outbreak. Within its dense forested jungle are two human-habituated gorilla family groups available for tourism. The best adventures with these wild primates are in the swampy areas that contain a rich blend of salty minerals, water, and sweet grass.
Tours to see gorillas in Odzala consist of 3-4 tourists, an expert tracker, and a guide. These small groups head out every morning on foot from Ngaga Camp and Sangha Lodge, which are the best lodging options for exploring Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Visitors will spend an hour with the gorillas, creating unforgettable memories.
Mbeli Bai in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park
In the north of Congo—contingent with Cameroon’s Parc National de Lobék and CAR’s Dzanga-Sangha National Park—is the famous Mbeli Bai in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, a true untamed African wilderness for the intrepid traveler. The park’s swampy tropical rainforests are filled with animals, including a population of about 100 western lowland gorillas and the highest number of forest elephants in the world. Opportunities for unique wildlife encounters in Dzanga-Sangha are undeniable. Gorilla groups can be seen wading into the marsh to forage for water plants alongside forest elephants, buffalo, and antelope such as sitatunga.
Mbeli Camp and Mondika Camp provide the best and most affordable rustic gorilla safari accommodations. Amazingly, visitors can view the massive silverbacks on a forested island from a boat. From here, tourists can also head out to view rescued western lowland gorilla orphans being rehabilitated back into the forest in the Léfini Reserve (two hours’ drive north of Brazzaville).
5. The Central African Republic (CAR) – Dzanga-Sangha National Park
In the Central African Republic’s Dzanga-Sangha National Park, tourists can encounter two of the three human-habituated western lowland gorillas, the other being in DRC.
The country protects the highest concentration of western lowland gorillas and forest elephants worldwide, making it one of the best places to visit gorillas in Africa. Journey to the remote rainforests of the Dzanga Sangha Reserve, track endangered western lowland gorillas, observe forest elephants, bongos, and mangabey monkeys, and join the local Ba’Aka people on a net hunt in the dense jungle rainforests. It is an adventure that is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.
However, gorilla treks into the undiscovered wilderness of the Central African Republic’s southern tip are not for the faint-hearted. Searching for wildlife can be quite challenging, although it is equally one of the wildest and most rewarding African jungle encounters on the continent.
How to book a gorilla trip to Africa
Nkuringo Safaris (local safari operator) conducts gorilla safaris in Uganda and Rwanda with wildlife safari extensions in Kenya and Tanzania. We take care of the nitty-gritty of planning your gorilla safari itinerary so you don’t have to, like booking your gorilla permits (which can be cumbersome for many travelers), booking your accommodation, and organizing your local transport and transfers.
Although DRC and other central African destinations provide cheaper gorilla tours, the best gorilla tours in Africa are in Uganda and Rwanda because the two countries have a robust gorilla tourism sector. Logistics, accommodation, and transport for gorilla viewing experiences in Rwanda and Uganda are well cultured towards the most rewarding jungle experience and sustainable goals for the conservation of gorillas.
Additionally, gorilla treks in Uganda and Rwanda profoundly benefit the communities around the gorilla sanctuaries, and that’s what modern leisure travel is all about.
Best Gorilla Safaris in Africa
If you’re planning a gorilla safari in Africa, some places offer the best experience. The lush rainforests of Uganda, particularly Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, provide a unique and immersive setting for gorilla trekking. You can stay in affordable yet idyllic forest cottages that are truly amazing. Another renowned destination is Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, where mist-covered volcanoes create a dramatic backdrop to encounters with the endangered mountain gorillas. These destinations offer the best gorilla safaris in Africa and the opportunity to contribute to conservation efforts and gain a profound appreciation for the importance of preserving these majestic great apes and their habitats.
Permits, Accommodation, Meals, Transport.