There is only one place in the world to see the Eastern Lowland Gorilla in the wild.
This is at the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in DR Congo.
Mornings are cloudy, and tourism is almost nonexistent at Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is hard to believe that not many people visit the home of the largest amount of eastern mountain gorillas in the world (250, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre).
After signing the log book at the national park entrance, I realized how untouched this part of the world is. Five to ten visitors come to Kahuzi-Biéga National Park every week, and this area is so remote and unexplored that some of the names on the log book were familiar to me. There was even another Colombian who visited some years ago – and I also knew him.
Travelers visiting Kahuzi-Biéga will not only have the chance to see giant gorillas in the wild but also get one of the most personal encounters with wildlife. During my stay here, I spend an hour observing gorillas with just a couple of people around me – something in countries like Uganda or Rwanda would be unthinkable or too expensive.
Understanding Kahuzi-Biéga National Park
Located in eastern DR Congo near Lake Kivu and the city of Bukavu, Kahuzi-Biéga is a gem in Africa. It is one of the largest national parks in Congo and home to large species of mammals like the African forest elephant, leopards, hippos, and of course, the eastern lowland gorilla.
It is the only place in the world where travelers can see eastern lowland gorillas in the wild while also being in a safe environment and not needing special permits or additional security.
After visiting the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Bwindi impenetrable forest in Uganda, Kahuzi-Biéga National Park was my favorite spot to see gorillas.
Unfortunately, the situation in eastern DR Congo is not the best. Constant political revolts, terrorism, corruption, and rare diseases are common in this part of the world and scare tourism. However, with proper planning and a knowledgeable contact to travel around, visiting Kahuzi-Biéga can be the highlight of a lifetime.
Here, I will explain everything you need to know before visiting the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park and give you tips on planning your trip better.
The situation in Congo is unstable. Even though some travelers use public transport or their own vehicles to travel around, this is something I don’t feel comfortable recommending. Yes, everything can go according to plan, and you will travel back with some adventurous stories to tell. However, cases of kidnappings and armed robbery are widespread, and it would be sad that one of the best experiences you can have in Africa can easily get spoilt by such an encounter.
The most comfortable way to plan your trip to Kahuzi-Biéga is through one of the several reputable companies in the area. They know precisely when and where to go and understand how to handle any uncomfortable situation.
Tours can be either organized directly at the city of Bukavu or online weeks in advance.
No matter which option you go for, Bukavu will always be the starting point. It is relatively safe and gives you a good introduction to life in DR Congo. Additionally, this is the city where your guide has to arrange your permits to visit Kahuzi-Biéga and welcome you if you are arriving from Rwanda.
With the introduction of the Kivu Visa for DR Congo, travelers can now get a document that certifies their visa on arrival. This visa option is handled by tour operators, costs 100 USD, and takes 7 days to process. The only condition is that you do any activity at one of Kivu’s national parks (Kahuzi-Biéga or Virunga).
We drove around 2-3 hours from Bukavu to the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park (40 km). This off-road drive passes through several small villages and beautiful nature. Along the way, we also spotted several UN vehicles and tanks. DR Congo is the country with the most UN presence in the world, and this is something you will see right away. Most non-African foreigners in Bukavu usually work in some way or another with the United Nations.
Once at the national park, we opted for accommodation inside it. We paid 50 USD for a large tent with a double bed and an external shower. Other options inside the national park are cabins located next to the reception, ranging from 100 to 120 USD per night.
Gorilla trekking in Congo
Even though there are many activities offered at Kahuzi-Biéga, observing gorillas is by far the highlight. This country has the lowest permit fees in the world (400 USD in comparison to 700 USD in Uganda and 1500 USD in Rwanda). However, don’t judge the quality by its price. The experience in Kahuzi-Biéga is as extraordinary and unique as in the neighboring countries.
There are two gorilla-habituated families in Kahuzi-Biéga – with nine families living inside the national park. Trackers will inform you which one is the closest to visit and give you a quick briefing on how many members you will see and what is the social structure of this family. They will also introduce you to the national park itself and what you need to remember when trekking and being with the gorillas.
Read more: How to get ready for your first gorilla trekking
Unlike gorilla trekkings in other countries, there is no rush at Kahuzi-Biéga. Since there is a significant probability you are the only traveler visiting the national park, everything can be done at your own pace. You can decide how long you want to trek and make many stops.
Unfortunately, time with the gorillas is not negotiable (1 hour). Still, this was something I expected from the beginning and didn’t affect my experience.
Once with the gorillas, regulations are basically the same as in any other gorilla trekking worldwide. You can’t get closer than 8 meters from the animals, you need to wear a disposable mask during the viewing, and you can’t eat or drink anything while spending time with the gorillas.
NOTE: Kahuzi-Biéga is one of the few places where gorilla habituation tours are possible. On these tours, you will spend 4 hours with the gorillas and see their morning behavior in more detail. It is an excellent opportunity to understand these primates more intimately. However, if you have never done a habituation tour, you should do the trekking and then decide on a different time.
Read more: Where is the best place to do gorilla trekking?
These are the current prices for permits at Kahuzi-Biéga National Park
- Gorilla-trekking (1 hour): 400 USD for adults/ 200 USD for students.
- Gorilla-Habituation (4 hours): 600 USD for adults/ 400 USD for students.
- Hiking (Mount Kahuzi, Mount Biega): 100 USD for adults/ 70 USD for students.
- Trekking and waterfalls: 35 USD for adults/ 25 USD for students
- Camping: 50 USD for adults/ 25 USD for students
NOTE: International students also get this discount. However, it is not to the benefit of the tour operators to inform you about it. This information is given on the official website, and if you show your student ID, you will get the discount.
Keep in mind
A gorilla trekking tour at Kahuzi-Biéga is a lifetime adventure. It’s a personal moment between you and wildlife. Here, you can see one of the most endangered species before you and observe their life without affecting or damaging it.
I’m thrilled I went to this national park to see gorillas, and if you ask me where you should plan your only gorilla trekking, Kahuzi-Biéga is the place to go.
Here is a list of some of the most reputable local companies in DR Congo
- Congo Gorilla Safaris
- Africa Safari Vacations
- Congo Gorilla Tours
- Gorilla Trekking
- GO Congo
- Ubuntu Voyages
- Tanganyka Links Tours
Read more: How to cross from Rwanda to DR Congo overland
Planning a trip to DR Congo independently is fun. However, if you want to arrange everything with tour operators beforehand from the comfort of your home. SafariBookings is the best platform for it.
They have the largest database of tour operators in Africa and you can simply send a request and negotiate a tour and a price directly with the operator. You don’t have to pay any additional fees.
These are some of the most popular tours in DR Congo at SafariBookings