Introduction

When we think of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s easy to let fear take over – after all, we’ve heard so much about the conflicts with rebel groups. But don’t let that stop you from exploring this incredible country!
We recently took a chance and visited Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you’re planning a gorilla trekking adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Kahuzi-Biega National Park, there are some essential things you need to know before embarking on your journey.

From the necessary permits and equipment to the logistics of your visit, understanding these key details will help you make the most of your trip and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in one of Africa’s most beautiful destinations.

Camels close to the top of Mount Sinai

What are the Pros and Cons of visiting Kahuzi Biega National Park?

The cheapest option for doing the gorilla trekking in East Africa.

You can see a unique species of gorillas (the biggest of all) that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The Eastern Lowland Gorillas.

Nature is relatively virgin and untouched in this area.

There are fewer tourists at the gorilla trekking in the DRC than in Uganda and Rwanda.

The park’s facilities are excellent; they have hot showers and wifi.

The DRC is in constant conflict in some regions and is unstable. The security situation can change quickly.

If you don’t speak French, it isn’t easy to communicate with locals and to get around, as English isn’t widely spoken. However, some people working at Kahuzi Biega National Park speak English.

Overall, gorilla trekking is an expensive activity.

It’s challenging to reach Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

Eastern Lowland Silverbacl gorilla sitting in front of the camera and looking at it

Brief Summary about Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Kahuzi-Biega National Park was established in 1970 to protect the eastern lowland gorilla population in the region. In 1980 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The park’s name comes from the two dormant volcanoes, Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega, located within the park’s boundaries. It covers an area of 6,000 squar kilometers,

Over the years, the park has faced challenges due to political instability and conflict in the region, impacting tourism and conservation efforts. Despite these challenges, the park remains an important conservation area for the Eastern Lowland Gorilla and other endangered species.

What is the difference between Eastern Lowland Gorillas and Mountain Gorillas?

Eastern Lowland Gorillas and Mountain Gorillas belong to the same species (Gorilla Beringei). However, they are different subspecies and have distinct characteristics. An advantage of visiting the Eastern Lowland Gorillas is that you can have direct eye contact with them, while you cannot with a Silverback Mountain Gorilla as this might provoke him.

The differing terrains and climates of their respective habitats lead to differences in physical characteristics, behaviors, and diets. Eastern Lowland Gorillas, also known as Grauer’s Gorillas, can be only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, living primarily in lowland tropical rainforests. Mountain Gorillas, on the other hand, are found in the higher-altitude montane forests and volcanic slopes of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Eastern Lowland Gorillas are larger than their Mountain counterparts. They are the largest of all four existing gorilla species. They possess a stocky body, large hands, and a short muzzle. Their fur is usually shorter and softer and is generally a darker black compared to Mountain Gorillas.

Mountain Gorillas have longer hair, which helps to insulate them in their colder mountainous environment. They also have larger noses and more pronounced brows.

In summary, while Eastern Lowland Gorillas and Mountain Gorillas belong to the same species, they have evolved to adapt to their specific habitats, leading to differences in physical characteristics, diet, and behavior. Both subspecies face considerable threats and will require ongoing conservation efforts to ensure their survival.

Statue of a gorilla at the entrance of Kahuzi Biega National Park

Where is Kahuzi-Biega National Park located?

Kahuzi-Biega is located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), near the border with Rwanda. The closest city to the National Park is Bukavu (DRC), around 30 kilometers away.

Will I definitely see gorillas when doing gorilla trekking?

Given the intense monitoring and protection efforts implemented at Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the chances of spotting gorillas during a trek are virtually guaranteed. Trackers closely follow the gorilla families daily, and their expertise and understanding of the gorillas’ habits significantly increase the success rate of encounters. While these are still wild animals in their natural habitat, the constant monitoring and conservation efforts ensure that they’re always located during treks. As such, travelers embarking on a gorilla trekking adventure can expect a nearly certain chance of a memorable face-to-face encounter with these majestic creatures.

Do I need a guide to visit Kahuzi Biega in the DRC?

Within Kahuzi Biega National Park, park rangers will always accompany you. Engaging in activities independently, especially gorilla trekking, is not permitted. Private guides from the DRC can provide a comprehensive package, handling all arrangements from transportation (even from Kigali) to accommodation and assisting at the border. However, this convenience comes at a higher cost. While it’s possible to plan and execute the trip independently (with the Letter of Invitation support of the park) using the steps provided here, if you prefer a structured itinerary or seek added security, the park can recommend trusted guides. This option may benefit those who like to avoid handling the logistics themselves and don’t care to pay more.

Ranger entering the jungle

How do I get the gorilla trekking permit for Kahuzi Biega National Park?

You get the Gorilla Trekking permit on arrival at Kahuzi Biega National Park. However, you still need to inform the park that you are coming before your arrival. You’ll need to do this anyway to get the Letter of Invitation (LOI) for the visa.

How much does the gorilla trekking permit for Kahuzi Biega National Park cost?

The permit for Gorilla Trekking costs 400 USD for foreigners (and Non-Eastern African residents), including the rangers who will always be with you and guide you during the experience. You must pay for the permit in cash when you arrive at Kahuzi Biega National Park. Please note, the park accepts only U.S. dollars, specifically those from the 2009 series or later, and they must be in pristine condition without any tears.

How long does it take to get the Gorilla Trekking permit for Kahuzi Biega National Park?

You should contact the park at least one week before you visit Kahuzi Biega National Park for the Gorilla Trekking permit to get your Letter of Invitation on time. 

How do I get a visa for the DRC for Gorilla Trekking?

Usually, getting the visa for the Democratic Republic of Congo is challenging, as they demand that you apply for it from the embassy of the DRC in your home country.

However, you can get a special visa on arrival with the Letter of Invitation (LOI) from the park, allowing you to stay in the DRC for 14 days (only in the South Kivu region). To get this Letter of Invitation (LOI), you must download and fill out this form and send it to Kelvin (Program Manager for Tourism of Kahuzi Biega) through What’s App. Here is his number: +243 991 016 267.

The visa costs 100 USD, which you’ll need to pay in cash at the border. It is crucial to ensure that the 100 USD note used is from a series later than 2009 and remains in unblemished condition, free from any tears. They are very strict about that and will not accept it even if it has a tiny tear. Furthermore, without the Letter of Invitation from the park, you don’t have a chance to get the visa on arrival and cross the border.

Is my Rwandan visa still valid when I return from the DRC?

No, unless you have a multiple-entry visa for Rwanda, you must obtain a new visa when you return from the DRC to Rwanda. Also, the East African Visa is no longer valid once you leave for the DRC.

Suppose you already know that you’ll go to the DRC and only want a visa for Rwanda. In that case, getting a multiple-entry visa for 70 USD when you first arrive in Rwanda before your trip to Kahuzi-Biega is more economical. That will save you from paying twice for a single-entry visa and will remain valid upon your return from the DRC.

If your travel itinerary includes further adventures in Uganda and Kenya, consider getting the single-entry for 50 USD or transit visa for 70 USD when you first arrive in Rwanda. Then you can get the East African Visa for 100 USD when you return from the DRC. This visa allows you to travel within Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda for 3 Months. For the transit visa, you must prove that you leave within 72 hours by presenting an onward ticket.

Don’t worry whether you’ve previously held a single-entry or East African visa. You’re eligible for a new visa of any type, even if you return to the DRC on the same day.

Note: It’s better to pay also for the Rwandan visa with USD in cash at the Rusizi land border since credit card is not always accepted, so make sure you bring enough money. 

Eastern Lowland gorilla silverback laying in the grass in the jungle of Kahuzi Biega

What to bring with you to Kahusi Biega National Park?

  • Cash: You need United States Dollars to pay for your visa and park entry. They will only accept the dollar series after 2009 and only take it when it’s in perfect condition. That applies to all the places in the DRC, not only the park and the border. There are also ATMs in Bukavu near Kahuzi-Biega where you can withdraw USD, but don’t rely on them, they might not be working, or you might not be able to withdraw large amounts. Furthermore, they usually charge high commissions. You can get USD in Rwanda from one of the Forex offices in Kigali, such as Shahansha Forex. Go there early in the morning because they often run out of USD.
  • Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, long socks, rain jackets, sweaters, and hiking boots or shoes: Remember, this is a thick jungle, so make sure your clothes are ready to resist some thorns and sticks. Since Kahuzi-Biega is at a high altitude, it’s getting cold at night.
  • Light luggage/bag: We strongly recommend bringing light luggage since you will get unnecessary attention if you carry many oversized bags.
  • Mosquito Spray
  • Documents: Passport and a printed version of the Letter of Invitation for the visa.
  • Camera: You don’t want to miss out on taking pictures of the gorillas and capturing these unforgettable moments.

Is the DRC safe to visit?

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has faced its fair share of challenges. Still, it’s essential to note that safety can vary depending on the specific region and circumstances. While some areas may still experience conflicts and instability, there are safe and captivating destinations within the country that are worth exploring. Before planning a trip to the DRC, it’s crucial to research and stay updated on the current situation, consult official travel advisories, and consider guided tours or reputable travel agencies that can ensure a secure and enjoyable experience. With the proper precautions and informed decision-making, it is possible to have a rewarding journey in this culturally rich and diverse country.

Is Kahuzi-Biega National Park safe to visit?

While the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) still faces challenges due to ongoing conflicts in certain areas, it’s important to note that Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a safe destination for tourists.

During our visit, we felt secure and were impressed by the amenities, such as reliable Wi-Fi, hot water, glamping, cabins, and the convenience of having a dedicated chef. The park has implemented various security measures, including trained guides, park rangers, and conservation efforts to ensure visitors’ safety.

However, we recommend staying informed about the current situation, following official travel advisories, and considering guided tours or reputable travel agencies to enhance safety during your visit.

Is Bukavu safe to visit?

Generally, Bukavu is safe, but it’s best to avoid carrying your valuables openly and walking on the streets at night. As there is a lot of poverty, you’ll often be approached by people asking you for money when walking on the street, some more and some less aggressive, but overall, we didn’t face any issues.

Is it safe to travel between Bukavu, Kahuzi Biega and Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary by road? 

Yes, traveling by taxi between Bukavu, Kahuzi Biega and Lwiro is generally safe during daylight. However, due to the volatile security situation in the eastern region of the DRC, it is crucial to stay informed about the latest updates regarding security conditions.

View over the houses of Bukavu on the lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Kongo

Is Gorilla Trekking safe?

Gorilla trekking can be a safe and extraordinary experience. Generally speaking, gorilla trekking is a safe activity as long as you follow the rules and have experienced guides by your side.

There are strict rules in place to protect both visitors and the gorillas themselves. Trained guides accompany trekkers, ensuring a safe and informative experience.

Like any outdoor adventure, there are some risks involved, such as uneven terrain and encounters with wildlife. But if you stick to the safety guidelines, keep your distance from the gorillas, and listen to your guides, you’ll have an incredible and worry-free experience getting up close and personal with these fantastic creatures.

A mother gorilla sitting in the grass of the jungle in Kahuzi Biega next to a young gorilla

Are gorillas dangerous?

Gorillas are shy and non-aggressive creatures, and this behavior has a few reasons. First and foremost, gorillas are naturally peaceful animals, preferring a calm and harmonious existence within their social groups. They are generally herbivorous and rely on a vegetarian diet, contributing to their gentle nature.

Additionally, gorillas have been habituated to human presence over time, which means they have become familiarized with the company of researchers, trackers, and tourists. This habituation process helps gorillas become more familiar with human presence, which helps create a sense of comfort and reduces the likelihood of aggressive behavior toward people.

It’s important to remember that while gorillas are usually peaceful, they are still wild animals, and maintaining a respectful distance and following guidelines during encounters is crucial for their well-being and our safety.

Eastern Lowland gorilla silverback laying in the grass in the jungle of Kahuzi Biega

When is the best time to do gorilla trekking?

The best time to see the gorillas is in the dry season. The sky will be clear, and you will have a better view. The path will be much easier in the dry season since the ground becomes muddy in rainy seasons, and you will likely slip more than once.

The dry season is different in each area. In Kahuzi-Biega, it is from June to September and from December to February. However, an advantage of Kahuzi-Biega is that it can be visited at any time of the year, as each season offers its own unique benefits.

We were lucky; we went in April and had a clear and sunny day. It started to rain in the evening, and the next day was completely cloudy and foggy.

An eastern lowland silverback gorilla getting his back groomed by another young gorilla

How much does the gorilla trekking trip to Kahuzi-Biega National Park cost?

We will list here all the fixed costs. The more people you travel with, the cheaper it gets in terms of transportation and accommodation.

Fix costs

  • 100 USD for the Visa entrance fee to the DRC (per person – non-negotiable).
  • 400 USD for the gorilla Trekking permit at Kahuzi-Biega National Park (per person – non-negotiable) or 200 USD if you are an East African Resident.
  • 80 USD for a taxi from Bukavu to Kahuzi-Biega and back (total – negotiable).

Variable costs

  • 30-80 USD for accommodation, depending on whether you stay a night in the DRC and directly at the National Park or Bukavu, which is the cheaper option (total – negotiable).
  • Tip – We recommend you tip the guides and rangers at Kahuzi Biega National Park, as they are doing a great job.

If you want to include a visit Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary (See below info about this project):

  • 30 USD entrance fee (per person – non-negotiable).
  • 40 USD additionally for the taxi (total – negotiable).

How to get to Kahuzi Biega Nation Park?

The park is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the most common way to reach it is by flying into nearby airports, such as Kigali in Rwanda or Bukavu in the DRC.

How to travel by land from Rwanda to Kahuzi Biega National Park in the DRC? 

Step one: How to get to the border of Rwanda/DRC in Rusizi?

Take a minibus from Nyabugogo Bus Park in Kigali for around 5 USD to Rusizi (Cyangugu). The buses leave multiple times per day. The trip takes about 5-6 hours. The scenery along the road is stunning, but the ride can be intense due to the very curvy roads and crowded buses.

The bus station in Cyangugu is outside the town, about 5.5 kilometers from the border crossing to the DRC and about 4.5 kilometers to the center of Cyangugu. Once you reach the bus stop, boda-boda (motorbike taxi) riders are waiting. They can take you to either the center of Cyangugu (if you plan to stay the night there before crossing) or to the Pont Ruzizi 1 border for a fee of 1-2 USD. You have to cross the border at Pont Ruzizi 1, not the other nearby border Rusizi 2.

Since the border to the DRC is already closing at 3 pm, we recommend you spend the night before crossing in Cyangugu.

View from a green hill down on lake kivu in Bukavu

Step two: How to cross the border from Rwanda to the DRC in Bukavu?

The only way to cross the border at Pont Ruzizi 1 from Ruzizi to Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo is on foot. No buses are going to the other side. You shouldn’t be later than 2 pm at the border crossing. You can only enter the DRC if you arrive on time.

Once at the border, you first have to get the departure stamp on the Rwandan side. There is one line for departure and one for arrival. Make sure you line up on the right one, the line for arrivals is usually very long, for departure from Rwanda you don’t have to wait that long. Ask the officials at the border if you aren’t sure where to go.

Once you’ve gotten your exit stamp, you cross the small bridge to the DRC to get your visa and entry stamp. After you pass the bridge, they also check your yellow fever and COVID-19 vaccination or test certificate (as of May 2023). The entry procedure is normally smooth and fast, given that the park administration notifies the border station of your arrival. But you should be patient in case it takes longer. After the border, you can take a taxi from the other side to your accommodation in Bukavu, if you stay there for the night, or get a taxi to Kahuzi Biega Nation Park.

Unless you are on a tight schedule, you can stay the night in Bukavu to explore the city and go early in the morning to Kahuzi Biega National Park the next day.

Border crossing from Bukavu to DRC with signs showing the direction to DRC

Step Three: How to get from Bukavu to Kahuzi Biega National Park?

The taxi from Bukavu to Kahuzi Biega shouldn’t cost you more than 80 USD (including a return trip). If you want to go by taxi to Kahuzi-Biega, Lwiro (Chimpanzee Sanctuary), and back again, the taxi should cost around 120 USD. If you wish to (or have to due to heavy rains), go by 4by4 car, it will cost you 100 USD to Kahuzi Biega and back or 140 USD, including Lwiro. Alternatively, if you are on a tight budget, you might find a motorbike rider in Bukavu willing to take you for less. There is no public transport service from Bukavu to Kahuzi Biega National Park.

If you plan to stay overnight at Kahuzi Biega National Park, your taxi driver will charge you an additional fee for waiting overnight. The price is negotiable, but probably the driver will try to add another 30-40 USD at least.

Important note: Don’t plan on returning to Rwanda on the same day after the Gorilla Trekking in Kahuzi Biega National Park. As mentioned, the border closes at 3 pm, and you should be there at 2 pm. If you arrive later, you won’t be allowed to cross until the following day. Since the gorilla trekking at Kahuzi Biega National Park takes some time, you should plan to spend the night at the park and head back early the following day or in Bukavu.

View from a green hill down on lake kivu in Bukavu
How to travel by plane to Kahuzi Biega National Park in the DRC?

There is no airport directly in Kahuzi Biega National Park. The nearest airport is Kavumu Airport, located around 50 km from Kahuzi Biega National Park, but there are no international flights serving this airport. It’s mainly used by international organizations and for domestic flights from Goma.

If you want to reach Kahuzi Biega by plane, you can fly from Kigali to Cyangugu (Kamembe Airport), cross the border to Bukavu in the DRC and then take a taxi (follow the instructions here)

How many days do I need to visit Kahuzi Biega National Park?

The minimum time you should plan for this trip is two days. Even if you cross the border at Cyangugu/Bukavu early in the morning and head directly to Kahuzi Biega National Park to do the Gorilla Trekking, it’s almost impossible to return on the same day to Rwanda. As mentioned, the border closes at 3 pm, and you should be there by 2 pm.

If you are in a rush, you can cross the border early morning to Bukavu in the DRC. Take the taxi to Kahuzi Biega National Park from Bukavu to do the Gorilla Trekking. Then continue with the taxi to Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary and return to Bukavu to spend the night there afterward. On the next day, you can cross back early in the morning to Rwanda.

How long does the Gorilla Trekking at Kahuzi Biega National Park take?

The trekking with the gorillas can last (in total) around one hour and a half to four hours (including the hike). However, the actual encounter with the gorillas is limited to one hour. They implement this limited time to avoid too long disturbance and ensure the gorillas’ comfort and safety. The remaining duration of the trek will depend on the distance you need to hike to reach the gorillas and the conditions of the trail. So, be prepared for a varying duration of the overall trekking experience.

Where to stay when visiting Kahuzi Biega National Park?

Accommodation in Cyangugu (Rwanda)

Only limited and overpriced options are available on booking platforms like booking.com or Airbnb, but multiple hotels aren’t listed. You can directly contact them if they have their number on Google Maps to book with them. We stayed at the hotel Centre Diocesain de Pastorale Incuti. They have clean rooms for approximately 30 USD with a great view of Lake Kivu.

Accommodation in Bukavu (DRC)

There are currently no properties listed on booking.com for Bukavu and just a few options on Airbnb. Better reach out through the number provided on Google Maps to the accommodation (some of them have What’s App). A popular choice is Coco Lodge, but it’s very expensive for what they offer (prices start from 100 USD per night for a double room). There are definitely cheaper options from 30-40 USD per night available in Bukavu (basic but clean). If your accommodation doesn’t have Wifi, you can have dinner at Coco Lodge and use their internet. You can also purchase a local sim card in Bukavu from one of the street vendors to get internet.

Accommodation at Kahuzi Biega National Park

Lodging is available directly at the park. They have wifi and electricity at the office which you can use. There is also a cook if you want to have lunch and dinner there. The prices are the following:

  • 40 USD / night if you bring your tent.
  • 80 USD / night in the tent provided by the park with a shared bathroom. They provide very nice tents with beds inside (glamping – picture bellow).
  • 120 USD / night for a bungalow with a private bathroom and warm water.

Note: Bring some warm clothes if you stay overnight at the park, as it’s freezing at this altitude at night.

two chairs standing in front of the tent at Kahuzi Biega National Park

What activities can I do at Kahuzi Biega National Park?

Besides gorilla trekking, there’s more to do at Kahuzi Biega National Park. You can hike up either Mount Kahuzi or Mount Biega. These hikes start in the morning and finish in the afternoon, costing 70 USD per person each (or 50 USD for East African Residents). If you are lucky, you might spot wildlife on the way up. They also offer short hikes in the jungle for 35 USD per person. The prices are not negotiable. Furthermore, there is a pygmy village near the park. You can visit the tribe together with a guide from the park, but it’s not cheap.

Don’t miss out on visiting the Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary after Kahuzi Biega National Park. After seeing the chimpanzee sanctuary, you can hike a few more kilometers to reach the Tsivati Waterfall. You must pay an entrance fee of around 30 USD per person at the waterfall.

Is it worth visiting Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary?

Definitely! The sanctuary is located in a small town called Lwiro. This sanctuary rescues chimpanzees that are victims of poaching, and they try to reintegrate them into the jungle. They aim to reduce illegal hunting and killing by educating international visitors and the local community about the importance of this species and the preservation of the ecosystem. LCS is one of the few places fighting for its conservation in the DRC. This work is not easy, much less being in a country full of corruption and illegal animal trafficking. We strongly encourage you to visit this place.

Chimpanzee sitting behind the fence at Lwiro Chimpanzee rescue center

Is it worth visiting Kahuzi Biega National Park?

Absolutely! This place is one of the hidden gems that Africa has to offer. You will be impressed by this place’s pure and untouched environment. A huge plus is that if you are planning to do gorilla trekking, there’s no other place in the world where you can find this type of gorilla. Another advantage is that you can make eye contact with them (unlike the mountain gorilla – if a silverback looks at you, you have to look away and lower your head and can’t keep eye contact). Looking into the eyes of these gentle giants is an experience you’ll never forget.

Is it worth doing the Gorilla Trekking?

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with these incredible creatures and witness their behavior firsthand. The trek itself can be an adventure, navigating through lush forests and diverse landscapes. While the activity requires physical effort and permits, the reward of encountering gorillas in their natural environment is immeasurable. Not only does gorilla trekking provide an unforgettable adventure, but it also contributes to conservation efforts, supporting the protection of these endangered species.

Are you also planning to visit Diani Beach in Kenya and maybe even work remotely from there? If yes, then we strongly recommend you to read here our full Digital Nomads Guide to Diani Beach.

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