From the Journal

Gorilla trekking in the Congo


A Guide to understanding the Congos and where is best for your next gorilla adventure.

Democratic Republic of Congo

More affectionately known as the DRC, the largest (by far) of the two Congos also goes by "Congo Kinshasa", after its capital city. The Democratic Republic of Congo is considered a more turbulent destination to visit as a result of political instability, corruption issues, and a lack of infrastructure. However it boasts some of the most impressive endemic wildlife.

With about 600 species of animals and more than 1,185 bird species, the DRC is a treasure waiting to be discovered. Famous as one of the 4 countries in the world to experience gorilla trekking, the DRC has revealed very little of its magnificence to the world. Home to the second largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon, the most active volcano in Africa and the rare Okapi species (can only be spotted here). The Congo has great potential to become one of the must-visit destinations in Africa. The DRC is also the only place in the world where one can trek for and see the Bonobo chimpanzee.

There are two recognized subspecies of eastern gorilla which reside in this Congo, the well known Mountain Gorilla (also found in Rwanda & Uganda), and the Grauer's gorilla (a low-land gorilla only found across the forests of the Albertine Rift - eastern DRC).

Congo Volcano aerial view

Virunga National Park

It is in the Virunga National Park, on the Eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo where you will have the opportunity to experience the thrill of gorilla trekking. Home to approximately a quarter of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, Virunga is also a haven for lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and the okapi species. The okapi is an endangered species, endemic to the Congo, which resembles a zebra crossed with an antelope, but is in fact the giraffe's last remaining cousin.

Congo wild Okapi

Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa and consists of 3000 square miles of lush forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, active volcanoes and mountain ranges. This variety of landscape makes your experience all the more intriguing and incredible.

It is important to note that of June 6th 2018, Virunga National Park will be closed until early 2019 for tourist safety.

The Republic of Congo

The Republic of Congo, more commonly referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, is the DRC's neighbor to the left. Their capital cities, Brazzaville and Kinshasa respectively, may look across the Congo River at each other but are vastly different. Brazzaville has long been considered an established major city in Africa, as well as one of the safest. Vibrant, lively, and french-speaking it is also called the Little Paris of Africa. The RC also boasts beautiful parks and impressive wildlife and while there are some overlaps with DRC, it too has it's own endemic species.

With 400 mammal species, 1,000 bird species, 10,000 plant species (3,3000 of which are unique to RC), there are no shortage of sightings to have in these tropical rainforests, savannahs, large rivers, swamps and baies (natural forest clearings which are great for wildlife sightings). The RC is where you'll find the western low-land gorilla.

Gorilla trekking

What separates gorilla trekking in the two Congos is the fact that the encounters are more spontaneous, which ultimately leads to closer encounters of the beautiful creatures.

Virunga National Park in Congo

While Rwanda and Uganda permits allow up to eight travellers to observe each gorilla family per day, the trekking groups in the DRC consist of merely 4 travellers. This allows for better photographic opportunities as there are less camera competitors and, thus, less distractions for the gorillas, giving you the chance to take photographs which you will treasure forever.

It is also important to note the difference between "trekking" for gorillas and a gorilla "habituation" experience. Trekking allows 1 hour with the gorillas, regardless of how long the actual trek to finding them took, whereas Habituation allows 4 hours. Normally habituation is only offered in areas where the family groups are less exposed to humans and therefore spending more time with them won't impede their way of life or have them become overly accustomed to humans. The main place for habituation experiences is in the southern area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda.

Congo mountain gorilla

If you are planning to go on a Gorilla trekking adventure, download a copy of our East Africa Guide to make sure you are prepared, or get in touch with one of our experts for some tips and insights on these destinations. 

Joey Cameron
Written by
Joseph Cameron

NYC based, South African transplant, Joey Cameron, is a freelance writer, travel-nerd, natural food enthusiast, personal trainer and brand owner. Characterised by an insatiable hunger for passport stamps and a somewhat strange (non)sense of humour, he can found regularly scanning the skies for ways to up, up and getaway.

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