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How to Plan a Mountain Gorilla–Spotting Safari

Africa,Virunga National Park,national park,gorilla,silverback mountain gorilla,mountain gorilla,silo

Photo: Michael Lorentz

The Destination: The ideal option for value and almost guaranteed sightings is Uganda, where you’ll find the mist-capped Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, while Volcanoes National Park, in Rwanda, is traditionally known as the best place to track.

The Climate: In both countries, rains are heaviest from March to May, with a lighter rainy season from October to mid-December. Rwanda is at a higher altitude than Uganda, making temperatures slightly cooler.

Packing Essentials: Hiking boots with ankle support; a dry pack for camera gear; waterproof pants and jacket; gaiters; gloves; binoculars.

Safety Tip: Both countries were free of U.S. State Department travel warnings at this writing, though caution is recommended near the Congolese border because of civil unrest. Visit travel.state.gov for the latest information.

Outfitters: Passage to Africa (four nights from $3,695 per person, all-inclusive) leads customized trips with the best guides to Bwindi and Volcanoes parks; Explore Inc. (three nights from $3,290 per person, all-inclusive) offers itineraries to Bwindi with seasoned local trackers. Volcanoes Safaris (4 nights from $2,389 per person), a gorilla-trekking pioneer in Uganda and Rwanda, has four distinctive lodges, employs expert guides, offers scheduled departures or customizable itineraries, and lets you visit the unique community projects the company supports.

For more on primate safaris, see T+L’s Global Vision Awards.

What to Know Before You Go

Michael Lorentz, owner of the custom-safari operator Passage to Africa and cofounder of safarious.com, a social-media platform for wilderness enthusiasts, shares what he’s learned from his 30 gorilla treks.

The Best Approach: The point of your trip is to view gorillas, but Bwindi is rich with other flora and fauna. Between tracking days, look for white-bearded L’Hoest’s monkeys, hike to waterfalls, or visit a local village.

Book Park Permits First: Only 64 permits are granted per day in Bwindi. Plus, it can take a day to travel from the lodges to one of the three entry points. Make sure your outfitter books the lodge closest to the entry point noted on your permit.

Hire Your Own Porter: Though they are typically not included in your permit or guide price, hire one at the park gate. For just $20 a day, he can assist you with your backpack and your water, or help give you that extra push up a hill (a $15 tip at the end of your trip is customary).

One to Watch: Democratic Republic of the Congo The 12-bungalow Mikeno Lodge just opened in Virunga National Park in the D.R.C. While political instability currently impedes travel to the country, Virunga has the highest biodiversity of any park in the world.

Put the Camera Down: Take all the photos you want, but remember you’ll only have about an hour with these amazing creatures, and this will probably be your one chance to see them in the wild.

Fast Facts

When to Go: Jan.–Feb., July–Aug.

Getting There: Outfitters take you from Rwanda’s Kigali Airport to Volcanoes park; reach Bwindi by chartered plane from Uganda’s Entebbe Airport.

Visas: Required for Uganda (available upon arrival)

Vaccines/Medicine: Yellow fever required; hepatitis A, typhoid, meningitis, rabies, and antimalarials recommended.

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