Gorilla Trekking in Central Africa

Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he gets up close and personal with gorillas in the wild.


An up-close-and-personal encounter with the mountain gorillas of Central Africa is more than a strenuous day hike with a few great apes for company. For most visitors it is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition. All the hard work is worthwhile for some time spent observing these gentle giants in their natural habitat. No cages here, just you and the world’s largest primates, deep in the jungle.

Silverback gorilla

Silverback gorilla

How to see gorillas in the wild

Viewing the gorillas is not cheap or easy. There are thought to be less than 700 in the wild making them critically endangered. Three countries – Uganda, Rwanda and Congo – share the thickly forested hills they call home. Each country offers a small number of permits each day to trek with guides to the gorillas.

Given the security situation in Congo it’s no surprise that Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the most popular starting point. It’s also the only place in the world where you can see chimpanzees and gorillas in the same park.

Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, where Dian Fossey was based, offers a breathtaking alternative, with fantastic views of volcanoes as a backdrop to your trek. Permits are easiest to arrange for the Virungas National Park in the Congo, security situation dependent.

Getting to the gorillas involves a long, sweaty hike through near-impenetrable rainforest. You need to be fit and determined to make it. It may be raining in May but this is a good time to score a permit at shorter notice than other times of year.

Planning your trip to Central Africa

Whether you make your own arrangements, book from the UK or reserve a place with a travel agency in central Africa you’ll pay at least £150 for a permit – more in Rwanda and Uganda.

Going through a UK-based company is more straightforward but independent travellers with flexible itineraries may find making their own arrangements more convenient, especially if trying to see gorillas as part of a longer visit to east Africa.

Further information

The Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rwanda Tourism offer guidance on those destinations. Before considering a visit to Congo see the advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

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