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An adventure every animal lover should have on their bucket list is a trip to see gorillas in the wild. Spending time with these magnificent primates is even more time sensitive than you might think: They’ve been on the critically endangered species list for the past decade and might not be around forever. Currently, there are only about 800 of these beautiful animals left in the world, but your visit could help them survive.

Conservationists in Africa have set up programs where visitors can trek into the national parks with rangers to come face to face with a family of gorillas. The money generated from the visits is used to protect them with additional rangers and park expansions. Since the start of the program, the population has seen significant improvement. Here’s our guide on how to plan a trip to see the mountain gorillas in the wild.

 

Mountain Gorillas - GettingStamped

Some gorillas are actually a little shy | Photo by GettingStamped.co

Where to see them:
Mountain Gorillas can only be found in the highlands of central Africa inside the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Most visitors choose either Uganda or Rwanda to see the gorillas due to the instability of the DRC.

Mountain Gorillas - GettingStamped

Uganda is full of lush green hills and natural beauty | Photo by GettingStamped.com

Uganda
Around half of the known population of mountain gorillas call the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in southwestern Uganda home. If you choose Uganda as your gorilla destination you’ll likely pay a visit to the dense forest of Bwindi along with a group of Uganda Wildlife rangers and trackers.

Your trip to Uganda will likely start in Kampala, the country’s capital where most international flights land. From Kampala there are many options to make your way to see the gorillas, however, it’s advised to arrange this far in advance because permits are very limited. In Uganda, only a group of 8 people each day can visit one of the 7 habituated families. The cost for the permit alone is approximately $600 which goes directly to Uganda Wildlife for the protection of the gorillas and to maintain the park. Most choose to have a safari outfitter organize a gorilla visit from Kampala, including applying for a permit and all other details. A recommended company is Acacia Africa who can arrange a great tour around Uganda and beyond.
 
More to see in Uganda
Besides the gorillas, Uganda has a lot to offer visitors including great wildlife, adventure activities and plenty of beautiful nature. Adventure seekers should make their way to Jinja, which is home to Class V rapids, bungee jumping and jet boats. Jinja is also situated right on Lake Victoria and great for a sunset boat ride (you can even see the source of the Nile River here). Other highlights to see are wildlife in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the rural beauty around Lake Bunyonyi, and of course the many Equator crossings in the country. If your schedule allows, you should also cross into Rwanda for a day trip. The Kigali Genocide Memorial and Hotel Rwanda give a lesson on the history of 1990s genocide.
 
Mountain Gorillas - GettingStamped

“Hotel Rwanda” was made famous by the movie based on a true story | Photo by GettingStamped.com

Rwanda
Another great option to see gorillas in the wild is via tiny Rwanda. In Volcanoes National Park there are 7 families of gorillas that on most days can have up to 8 visitors each. The amount of permits makes the logistics of a visit to Rwanda a bit easier. It’s still advised to obtain permits far in advance and it will be much easier if arranged through a safari company. The fee for the permits is higher in Rwanda, coming in at around $750 per person, but again, the proceeds benefit conservation efforts.

International flights to Rwanda will land in Kigali International Airport (KGL) in the country’s capital. A night or two in Kigali will allow you get over your jet lag before visiting the gorillas and there are some sites that shouldn’t be missed. In order to understand the country and its relatively recent history, a visit to Kigali Genocide Memorial and Hotel Rwanda is a must.
 
More to see in Rwanda
This small country packs a lot of natural beauty into its borders. Besides visiting the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, there’s also more wildlife to see in Nyungwe Forest, Akagera National Park and beautiful Lake Kivu.
 
Mountain Gorillas - GettingStamped

Get this close to a silverback! | Photo by GettingStamped.com

The gorilla experience
To reach the gates of the park before dawn requires an early start to the day. Early mornings in this part of the world are stunning. There’s a heavy mist that hangs over the rolling green hills—which is where the title of the movie Gorillas in the Mist comes from

Mountain Gorillas - GettingStamped

Trek in a group of 8 visitors and rangers to find the gorillas | Photo by GettingStamped.com

 
Once inside the park, you’ll meet the rangers who use their knowledge of the park and patterns of the gorillas to find them each day. The animals make a new bedding nest every night and move daily to find food. Everyone is on the lookout for last night’s nest—a sign that you’re close. From there, the rangers hack through the bush with machetes to find the gorillas. Some days the family is found within a couple hours, sometimes it takes all day. There is a small chance that you won’t find the family, in which case the rangers allow a second chance the following day at no cost.
 
Mountain Gorillas - GettingStamped

If you’re lucky you might even see a fuzzy little baby gorilla | Photo by GettingStamped.com

No matter which country you choose to visit, once you’re only a few feet away from a 400-pound Silverback gorilla, all the details fade and you’ll just watch in awe. The rangers will get you closer than you thought was possible to these huge primates. According to scientists, gorillas share 98% of their DNA with humans, so you’ll notice many resemblances. You can snap the obligatory picture of yourself super close to a wild gorilla. If you’re lucky, the family may even have a little baby!
Each country/park has a select few families that have been “habituated”, meaning the rangers have followed a strict procedure of visits to the family for many months to get them used to seeing humans. The majority of the gorillas in each park can not be visited, but the rangers will bring you to a family who has learned that humans don’t pose a threat and therefore won’t charge visitors. The rangers are trained and equipped to handle the gorillas if they become aggressive, which is very rare.
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Tagged: Africa

Hannah & Adam | Getting Stamped Bloggers
Hannah & Adam are travel writers & photographers who have called the road home since 2013. Their passion for adventurous travel has brought them to 60 countries and counting. They blog about their adventures on their travel blog GettingStamped.com.
Hannah & Adam | Getting Stamped Bloggers

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