Trekking the critically endangered African gorilla is by far the most exhilarating activity for most adventure travellers to Africa. For most tourists, it’s one of those completely extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Currently numbering about 1,000 individuals, the African gorilla can be found in only four places in the world: Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla national parks in southwestern Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda, as well as Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
But this once-in-a-lifetime experience normally comes at a very high price. In Rwanda, for instance, gorilla trekking is a reserve of high-end travellers; spending one hour with these majestic species will set you back a whopping $1,500!
Uganda charges $600 while in DR Congo it’s $400. And Uganda’s low season permits, which used to cost $450, were scrapped at the end of last year – perhaps due to increased demand following a decision by Rwanda mid last year to increase its gorilla permit price from $750 to $1,500.
Cheap African gorilla trekking permits
But the good news is that you can now trek mountain gorillas for as low as $200 – albeit only between now and June 15, 2018 – in DR Congo’s Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park and the country’s star attraction.
Yet, aside from the mountain gorillas, Virunga, which is arguably the most biologically diverse national park in the world, has a lot more to offer: a variety of wildlife, a savannah, lakes, forests, more than 700 bird species, as well the only active volcano in the region, Mount Nyiragongo.
The other motivator for trekking mountain gorillas in DR Congo is the humanitarian factor; a portion of the money raised from selling gorilla permits goes to community projects that aim to uplift the lives of the locals, most of whom live in extreme poverty due to the many years of armed conflicts in DR Congo.
The discounted mountain gorilla permits are meant to counterbalance the low number of trekkers during the low season and to offer budget travellers the rare opportunity to go on a gorilla safari. What’s more, during this season permits are not only cheaper, but also easy to obtain due to low demand, hence saving the trekker both time and money.
But you’ll still get “high-quality services at a half price,” according to Greg Bakunzi, the founder of Red Rocks Rwanda, one of the few tour operators offering discounted DR Congo trips during this low season.
How to get to Virunga National Park
For most international visitors to DR Congo, the ideal starting point is Kigali, the capital of neighboring Rwanda. A three-hour drive will then lead you to the DR Congo/Rwanda border, near the city of Goma and the Virunga National Park.