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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 28 May, 2023
Expert travel writer: Sue Watt

Although less feted than their larger, mountain gorilla cousins, western lowland gorillas are just as captivating. Tracking them in the rarely visited rainforests of Congo is the ultimate wilderness adventure; armed with just a guide, tracker and four visitors in each expedition, it’s an intimate, blissfully exclusive experience.

It’s not for the fainthearted, however – gorillas love the dense Marantaceae forests that make this tracking challenging. Although all on low ground, it can take up to 4 hours to find them. The reward is a never-to-be-forgotten encounter with a magnificent silverback.

Price from: £1000
Minimum age: 16
Age suitable: 16+
When: All year around
Duration: 4+ days

Getting there & doing it

Gorilla-tracking in Odzala can only be done through the Congo Conservation Company. They offer various packages of between 4 and 11 nights, from staying at their main camp for gorilla trekking, Ngaga, to venturing as far afield as the Central African Republic for gorilla tracking at Dzanga-Sangha National Park.

On the 4-night Gorilla Discovery trip, visitors take a 2-hour flight from Brazzaville to Mboko on a private charter, then stay at Ngaga just outside Odzala, where the gorilla research team is based. Here, you’ll meet the team and have three chances to track gorillas over three days. Accommodation is in six rustically chic rooms, inspired by indigenous forest people, with superb cuisine and fine wines. Your last night will be spent at Mboko Camp in the park, where you can enjoy a fascinating river safari in the rainforest.

Longer packages allow more time to explore Odzala National Park, staying at different camps where activities include walks, boat trips and drives. Look for forest elephants, antelopes, buffalo, monkeys and myriad birdlife.

Gorilla etiquette

Gorillas share over 90% of our DNA picking up our infections easily. Confess to colds or contagious illnesses, or risk terrible consequences for the gorilla population.

You must keep 10m away from gorillas, although no one has told the gorillas this. If they come close, try to move slowly away, however tempting it is to stay still.

Put the gorillas at ease by leaving your camera alone for five-ten minutes after encountering them and letting them see your face. That way, you’ll get more rewarding, relaxed images.

Although habituated, gorillas are still wild. Silverbacks, the dominant males, may charge if they feel threatened. Should this happen, don’t run – just stay behind your guide and stand still…

When to do it

The camps in Odzala are open all year round, with gorilla tracking from Ngaga available each morning, starting at 6am. In poor weather conditions, tracks may be delayed or cancelled. Finding the gorillas is less reliable in heavy rains.

It rains in Odzala throughout the year but the gentle rainfall seasons from December to February and June to September are the better times for tracking. Temperatures and humidity rise from March through to the end of May. Heavy rains occur from March to May and from October, starting to alleviate from December.

Round-ups that include this experience

Man looking at a female gorilla sitting under a tree

Surely no wildlife experience rivals an encounter with these magnificent, mesmerising and fascinatingly human-like beasts. Trek up rainforest-covered volcanoes for an unforgettable few hours watching them feed, play and strut. Africa adventure travel expert Sue Watt recommends the best places to do it.