Magnificent and bold, gorillas are the largest primates found across the world and one of the most spectacular animals to see in the wild. Seeing them in their natural habitat has become one of the world’s ultimate wildlife experiences. So, are you asking yourself where to see gorillas in the wild?
Gorillas are native to Africa, mostly congregated in the forests of equatorial countries. Typically, these primates are divided into two groups: mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas. Mountain gorillas live in the mountainous regions of central Africa. Lowland gorillas live in the flat, dense forest regions of central and western Africa.
When planning a gorilla trekking trip, it is important to know what type of gorillas you want to see. This is because the best destination for observing gorillas in the wild depends on the species you’re hoping to see.
If you’re keen to experience gorilla tourism and get trekking, here are the eight best destinations where to see gorillas in the wild across the forests and national parks of Africa.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park was first put on the map for gorilla safari tours by Dian Fossey’s conservation work. The 1988 Gorillas in the Mist is a famous movie adaptation of Fossey’s work with the mountain gorillas. Since then, this national park has been one of the most popular places in Africa to see gorillas in the wild.
Gorillas found in Rwanda are incredibly relaxed living in a relatively open habitat. The views are breathtaking and there is an almost guaranteed chance of seeing gorilla families when visiting.
The national park’s guides are both professional and friendly. They have years of experience leading tour groups through the mountains and know exactly where to see gorillas in the wild. Expect steep slopes and slippy mud, depending on when in the year you embark on the adventure.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Located in the southwest of Uganda, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is famous for its exceptional biodiversity. At this junction of plains and mountain forests, there are more than 160 species of trees and over 100 species of ferns. This expansive ecosystem provides a home to a unique division of gorilla, the eastern gorilla.
The sub-species of eastern gorillas have a lack of hair on the brow, making them easy to distinguish from their shaggier cousins. Throughout Bwindi Park, there are four main communities, perfect for tourists to catch a glimpse into a gorilla group.
Uganda is a great place for gorilla watching while also offering other activities. So after meeting the great apes in the wild you can continue hiking and discover other wildlife, or take on the Nile with a spot of whitewater rafting for the ultimate adrenaline rush.
Other places to see gorillas in the wild in Uganda:
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
- Jane Goodall Institute
- Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Congo Brazzaville
Western lowland gorillas can be found in Congo Brazzaville. These gorillas are best seen in open clearings in the forest, locally known as basis. The most famous bai is Mbeli Bai which is located in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park.
This national park is a remote and raw place to see gorillas in the wild. The Wildlife Conservation Society has been monitoring over 100 individuals for over a decade Gorilla families can be seen wading into the marsh to forage for water plants alongside forest elephants, buffalo, and antelope.
Another fantastic place to get up close and personal with gorillas in Congo is at the Léfini Reserve. Here, rescued western lowland gorilla orphans are being rehabilitated back into the forest. Visitors can even see silverbacks on a forested island from a boat safari.
Other places to see gorillas in the wild in Congo Brazzaville:
- Odzala National Park
- Léfini Reserve
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Despite sharing a name, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a nation in its own right just over the river that divides DRC and Congo Brazzaville. The Democratic Republic of Congo has three of the four subspecies of gorillas: western lowland gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, and mountain gorillas.
The Virunga National Park is one of the best places in the country to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, this area can be a risky destination for tourists depending on the current rebel status. Tourists can generally still visit the national park by obtaining the required permits from Uganda and making it a day trip from the neighboring country.
If you choose to visit the Virunga National Park, you will need to take advice on the spot as security measures can change overnight.
Other places to see gorillas in the wild in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
- Kahuzi Biega National Park
- Madiakoko Mountains
- Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park
Cross River National Park, Nigeria
Nigeria’s Cross River National Park offers a rare opportunity for sighting a remote group of gorillas. The chances of seeing gorillas here are slim as there are only an estimated 300 individuals in the dense and expansive national park. Seeing a cross river gorilla is a truly special bucket list item.
Some of these Cross River gorillas live on the border of Cameroon. These small pockets of forestry are not on the tourist trail of Nigeria but are part of conservation projects.
However, visiting Nigeria’s gorilla habitats does help conserve it. There are two outstanding primate sanctuaries and reintroduction projects based in Calabar: Pandrillus for drill monkeys and chimpanzees, and Cercopan for numerous other monkey species. The Nigerian government is heavily investing in the tourism infrastructure across the Cross River region.
Campo-Ma’an National Park, Cameroon
Cameroon’s Campo-Ma’an National Park is home to western lowland gorillas. The tourism infrastructure here is still a work in progress, so the chances of seeing these gorillas in the wild are relatively low but not impossible. The WWF is working alongside the national park to maintain and conserve the gorilla’s habitat.
WWF’s projects aim to improve the protection of the remaining populations of western lowland gorillas in the national park. This is achieved by providing technical assistance to local authorities, managing and protecting the national park. WWF also implements scientific research and ecological monitoring programs, promoting initiatives that boost local development.
A nearby rehabilitation center cares for orphaned gorillas, with the long-term goal of reintroducing them into the wild. You can support the work and get involved by visiting the Limbe Wildlife Centre.
Other places to see gorillas in the wild in Cameroon:
- Mefou National Park
- Lobéké National Park
Moukalaba-Doudou National Park, Gabon
The Moukalaba-Doudou National Park in Gabon has some of the highest population densities of western lowland gorillas in Africa. A strong ecotourism project has been kickstarted here with the help of The Gorilla Organization.
This national park is rugged with a diverse range of ecosystems. The forestry areas of this park were once used for logging between the 1960s and 1980s. Since then, former logging sites are now abundant with succulent Marantaceae plants which is a major food source for gorillas.
The best time to go gorilla trekking in Gabon is the dry season, between June and September. Access in and around the park is challenging, so getting a guided tour is a must.
Other places to see gorillas in the wild in Gabon:
- Lopé National Park
- Loango National Park
Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic
Bai-Hokou in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic is another WWF project location. It is also one of the best places in Africa to go gorilla trekking due to the incredibly high density of western lowland gorillas in the area. Since 1997, this area has been the base site of the Primate Habituation Programme where gorilla tourism and research have been ongoing.
There are a number of treks and guided tours through the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. While there is a high chance of having a successful gorilla trek, do bear in mind that photographing them could be challenging due to the dense forest and canopy.
Along with the fantastic western lowland gorilla population, this rich area provides a perfect habitat for forest elephants, several other primates, hundreds of bird species, reptiles, and frogs.
Other places to see gorillas in the wild in Central African Republic:
- Dzanga-Sangha Reserve
How To Go Gorilla Trekking Responsibly
Trekking gorillas should always be done responsibly with the animals’ best interests in mind. To see gorillas in Africa ethically, you should carefully choose the safari and gorilla trekking operator. Most of the sustainable and responsible tours work alongside rehabilitation centers and conservation programs, so your money is going towards the best possible cause.
Where Is The Best Place To See Gorillas In The Wild?
Rwanda is often considered the best place to see gorillas in their natural habitat. More so than often, the gorillas are in open spaces and closer to hiking trails. However, Uganda does offer a more adventurous experience for those who want to challenge themselves to rough and rugged conditions. The trails can get a bit steeper and the undergrowth is a touch thicker.
The Congo basin also offers countless numbers of trails and parks where to see gorillas in the wild. Regardless of where you choose to go, gorilla tracking is an exhilarating opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Equitorial African countries also have a lot more to offer than just gorilla safaris. Consider pairing this experience of seeing gorillas in the wild with seeing some more incredible wildlife in the region such as chimpanzees in Nyungwe National Park, tree climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and red-tailed monkeys in Kibale Forest National Park.