Best Places to see Gorillas in Africa

Arguably one of the most fascinating species on the planet, gorillas are amongst the closest living relatives to humans due to their DNA, around 98% similar to humankind.
They have feet and hands like humans with big toes, opposable thumbs, and individual fingerprints.
Another important feature in common with humans is their intelligence: they can grieve and laugh, they are able to use tools, and according to some research they might have even spiritual and religious feelings.

Herbivorous, they are the world’s largest primates reaching up to 270 kg weight and 180 cm height, with an average lifespan between 30 and 40 years, although some zoo gorillas have registered a maximum age of more than 50 years (the longest living gorilla was the 61 years old Ozoum “Ozzie”, died the 25th of January 2022 at Zoo Atlanta, United States).

Adult male gorillas, after reaching the age of around 12 years, develop some characteristic grey/silver hair on the back, hence the nickname “silverbacks”.
The dominant silverback is the undisputed leader and makes all the most important decisions of the troop, choosing the movements, the feeding sites, and protecting the whole group.

There are around 5,300 gorillas in the wild and all their species and subspecies are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Mountain Gorilla © Maciej / Flickr



Thanks to the brilliant primatologist Dian Fossey, who studied gorillas in Rwanda from 1966 to 1985, gorillas are no more depicted as violent and aggressive against humankind. Some of Fossey’s young gorillas became famous after they had been filmed playing with David Attenborough in 1979 for the tv series Life on Earth.
However, gorillas, if threatened, can be extremely dangerous and aggressive, but usually, most of the violence is directed towards other gorillas.

There are two species and four subspecies of gorillas:

  • Western Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla), divided in Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla) and Cross River gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Diehli),
  • Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla Beringei), divided in Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Beringei) and Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Graueri).

Best places to see gorillas in the wild

Gorillas live in only Central Africa, more precisely in Cameroon, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola (Cabinda area), Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Rwanda and Uganda.

Gorilla distribution map

Angola
You can find Western Lowland gorillas only in the Cabinda region, but there are few tourist infrastructures. You can see gorillas in the Maiombe Forest Reserve.

Cameroon
Cameroon is home to both Cross River gorillas (West, border with Nigeria) and Western Lowland Gorillas (South).
Cross River gorillas are quite difficult to be seen, due to their small number and the lack of tourism infrastructures.
There are great chances to see Western Lowlands gorillas at Ndzanga Sangha National Park and Lobéké National Park,
At Limbe Wildlife Centre and Mefou National Park, you can find rescued gorillas in rehabilitation.

Central African Republic
The Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve is one of the best places to meet Western Lowland gorillas in Africa. WWF started a project in habituating two groups of this species.

Republic of Congo
The Republic of Congo is home to more than 120,000 Western Lowland gorillas. The best areas to meet them are the Odzala-Kokoua National Park, in the northwest of the country, and Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park around Mbeli Bai. In the Léfini Reserve you can meet rescued gorilla rehabilitation.
The best time to go is during the dry seasons, from June to September and from December to February.

Democratic Republic of Congo
Three out of four subspecies of gorillas live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but check the security situation of the country before planning your trip.
Eastern Lowlands gorillas can be found in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, one of the best gorilla-viewing experiences.
Great chances to see Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest national park in Africa.
You can see some Western Lowland gorillas west of the country in the Madiakoko Mountains, Bas-Congo.

Equatorial Guinea
There are no groups of habituated gorillas and tourist infrastructures in Equatorial Guinea, but you can avail of local tourist guides to bring you across the Monte Alen National Park to meet some Western Lowland gorillas.

Gabon
Gabon is one of the best areas to see Western Lowland gorillas: in the Lopé National Park visitors can see them on generic safaris, and the Moukalaba-Doudou National Park is one of the places with the highest density of gorillas in Africa.
The best choice for gorillas sightseeing is the Loango National Park, home of the only group of habituated gorillas in Gabon.

Nigeria
Although Nigeria has lately invested in tourism infrastructures, the chances to meet Cross River gorillas in the Cross River National Park are still low, due to their small number and given that they are not habituated.

Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is one of the best places (and one of the most famous, thanks to Dian Fossey’s research) to see Mountain gorillas in the wild. Rwanda is home to around 30% of the overall population of Mountain gorillas.

Uganda
About half of the remaining population of Mountain gorillas live in Uganda.
Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park have a considerable number of habituated gorillas and excellent probability of sightseeing.

Where to see Gorillas
Chances to see gorillas in the wild

WHEN TO GO
Dry seasons (December to February and June to September) are the best periods, but guided tours are available all year round, and in the low seasons, permits might be discounted.

PERMITS
Gorilla safari permits might be very expensive, the cost is around 400$ per person in Congo, 600$ in Uganda and 1500$ in Rwanda.
The reason for these prices is the high demand and the limited availability, but mostly due to the need for found to protect the primates: 75% of the amount is to conserve the gorilla surviving population, 15% goes to the governments and the 10% goes to the local communities.

Blue Whale Watching

The gigantic blue whale is the biggest animal on earth: up to 30 meters long and 150-170 tons of weight (like about 2000 men!). Its tongue can have the same weight as an elephant and its heartbeat can be detected from more than three kilometers.

Blue Whale comparisonThe blue whale name comes from the underwater colour, although his body is actually grayish-blue.
His diet mainly consists of krill, small crustaceans of which a blue whale can eat up to 4 tons every day (about two million of them!).

According to recent scientific studies, the life expectancy of a blue whale is up to 70-90 years and can be determined by the layers of their earwax.

The blue whales emit a particular vocalization sound that permits them to hear each other: the low-frequency sounds may travel up to more than 1500 km underwater.

World’s best places for blue whale watching:

Canada
Saguenay Fjord
from June to October

Iceland
Hùsavìk
from May to August

Azores
Pico Island
April, May

U.S.A.
Monterey Bay, California
San Diego, California
from June to October

Mexico
Baja California Sur
from January to March

Sri Lanka
Mirissa
from December to April
Trincomalee
from March to August

Chile 
Corcovado Gulf
from January to April

Australia

Perth Canyon
from March to May

New Zealand
Kaikoura
July, August

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater
© Vincenzo Gianferrari Pini

With 16 km of diameter and 265 square km area, the Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest unbroken volcanic caldera. Formed three million years ago by a massive volcano, it is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tanzania). Due to its climatic conditions, the crater area has its own, unique, ecosystem.

 
Around the Magadi Lake, in the middle of the crater, live an impressive variety of animal species, among which elephants, black rhinos, leopards, lions, buffalos, hippos, hyenas, crocodiles, cheetah and thousands of pink flamingos, giving the area the appearance of a large water park for wild animals.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the only one Tanzania’s Park in which the Masai population can live and move freely.

Pantanal, Brazil

Pantanal
© Raphael Milani
The Pantanal Conservation Area, located in Brazil, Bolivia & Paraguay, is the world’s largest tropical wetland, with an estimated surface area of about 170.000 square kilometers (at least 20 times the size of the Everglades, in Florida); it is one of the most unspoiled and unexplored places of the world.
 
For much of the year, the 80% of the land is submerged by the water, allowing the growth of a large variety of aquatic plants and supporting one of the world’s best diversity of wildlife. 
In addition to anacondas, caimans, jaguars and many other animals, you can also meet the pantaneiros, people living here of animal husbandry.

The Big Five, South Africa

elephant
photo © mytouristmaps (Pilanesberg Nat. Park)

Known all over the African continent, the “big 5” expression refers to the five most dangerous animals at the time of hunting safari: LION, ELEPHANT, RHINO, LEOPARD and BUFFALO.

They all can be found in many African parks and reserves (particularly in South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, …) or, more simply, on the South African bills (with 380 Rand you will have them all).

South African Rand

Dovrefjell Nat. Park, Norway

Musk Ox
photo © NTNU, Faculty of Natural Sciences / Flickr
The Dovrefjell National Park is the only area of Norway where you can see the majestic musk ox: a large mammal of the caprinae family, known for its thick coat that reaches almost the ground and the characteristic odor of musk.
 
During the period of love, rival male musk oxen fight to conquer females: they collide head to head at the speed of 60 km/h making a noise that you can hear in kilometers.
 
The guided tour starting from Oppdal, Knogsvoll, Furuhaugli and Hjerkinn, have a duration of 4-7 hours on a distance of about 10-13 km of enjoable and easy hiking.

Bear in mind that if the musk ox feels threatened, he might attack, therefore it is suggested to keep at least 200 metrs distace from them. If you are too close and you see them looking towards you and scrolling their head, you could be in real danger. 
 
The park ecosystem includes other animals like wild mountain reindeer, arctic foxes, golden eagle and gyrfalcon.

Corcovado Nat. Park, Costa Rica

Corcovado Costa Rica
photo © mytouristmaps

One of the most dangerous snakes of Costa Rica is the viper Fer- de-Lance … according to Tom, our guide in Matapalo… “after it bites you, you only have time for a cigarette…”

Matapalo is located ten kilometers from Corcovado (Osa Peninsula), a national park that conserves the largest primary forest on the American Pacific coast and it’s one of the best areas in the world for biodiversity.