To trek the rare mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, like any other gorilla destination, a gorilla permit is a must to have. The Virunga National Park refuges over 200 mountain gorillas out of the 900 that are still surviving in the entire world and this makes it one of the only four protected areas in the world where mountain gorilla trekking is conducted. The others include Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park in Southwestern Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Northwestern Rwanda. Virunga National Park is located in Eastern DR Congo and it is also known for breathtaking adventures from Mount Nyiragongo which features one of most powerful and largest Lava Lake in the world. Unlike other destinations, gorilla permits for gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park issues its permits at $400 per visitor. Because of competitive demand for trekking permits in the peak season (from June to September and December to February). The Institut Congolese pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), an organ that governs tourism sector in DRC sells about 40 permits per trek in Virunga National Park. Besides, there are also discounted permits that are issued for gorilla trekkers from 15th October to 15th December. Discounted permits in Virunga National Park were introduced for off seasons in 2011 mainly for mid April, May and early June and from October to December.
Below are some of the ways that you can access the Congo gorilla permits
Book directly with Virunga National Park
- To book gorilla permits from out of DRC, you have to contact Visit Virunga reservation office by email inquiring if the date you wish to visit the park for gorilla trekking are available. If they delay to give you the feed back, please wait as they will get back to you and it is usually in DRC that you can find permits whether low or peak season meaning you have higher chances of getting one but do not accept scanned copies of permits
After you will reply to them articulating your intent to reserve a permit on the specific dates that you feel comfortable and you will be given the banking details to effect payments and booking the lodge and accommodation and also help you apply for Congo visa since you will be sent a form where you will fill. You are expected to send a copy of payment that you made by email Visit Virunga. Make sure that you have cleared the bank charges as well; instruct the bank that you will carry the transaction to also deduct the bank charges from you. Bank charges are counted on you and not the park authority. Avoid paying less of what is expected of you since this can make you miss the permit.
Booking through the local tour operators
- Most visitors who prefer take a gorilla safari in the DRC can also use tour operator on ground to book their permits or trust worthy Safari Company that are widely available. This criterion has been sighted as the most convenient and easiest for most visitors rather than booking through the park authority. Tour companies will charge you extra costs for additional services that you may require for instance if you wish to hike through Mount Nyiragongo, or if you wish to track chimpanzees and other primates.
- However the procedure more else the same to that of Virunga National Park authority but the only difference the urgency to get the permit. Booking through the tour operator is preferably the fastest compared the first one.
The procedure is as following;
- Contact the tour operator of safari company and inform them about the dates that you wish to go track the gorillas or to hike mount Nyiragongo.
- The company will then let you know of the available dates and find out if they match with your plans and also book them for you
- You will be sent the bank details for you to make payments for gorilla trekking permits or Mount Nyiragongo hike and the visa if it is also included.
- It will then take about 3 to 4 days for the company to get the money from the bank and pay for the permit. Equally, you are encouraged to pay for bank charges
- You will be required to send your passport details to help them register the gorilla permit. Normally they need your full names, nationality and passport number
- Immediately the payment is received the permits can be purchased. A gorilla permit gives visitors 95% chances of tracking the gorillas in the park
- Permits are sold at $400 for non nationals, $150 for Congolese residents and $200 for SADC nationals. This fee comprises the park entrance but excludes transport.
In conclusion, if you are planning your gorilla safaris in DRC, Virunga National Park should be one of the must to visit protected areas for you to strike your imaginations with the enormous mountain gorillas while in their natural habitat. You can book for your permit through the park authority itself or using the local tour operator. Enjoy your safari.