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Untouched Africa: Gorillas of the Congo Basin

This trip is a winner!

50 Tours of a Lifetime Logo 2014_v2_2014

National Geographic photographer Mike Nichols has aptly described Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo as "the last place on earth."

Nouabale-Ndoki is part of a triangle of precious tropical rain-forest formed where Republic of Congo (also called Congo-Brazzaville), the Central African Republic and Cameroon meet in their northern, eastern and western sectors. These tropical forests of the Congo Basin comprise the world’s largest rain-forests after those of the Amazon. In addition to being among the last of their kind on the planet Nouabale's forests boast tremendous bio-diversity including western lowland gorillas, forest elephants and buffaloes, bongo and sitatunga antelopes, giant forest and red river hogs, leopards, African Grey parrots and many different monkey species.

Silverback Kingo at Mondika

Within the park there are sixteen gorilla families and ten solitary silverbacks, amounting to almost 150 animals that are well-known to researchers. Silverbacks Kingo (Big Voice in the Ba'Aka pygmie language) and Buka (Back Breaker) and their families represent habituation success stories and have helped open the park to tourism.

In partnership with Congo Gorilla Tours, Extraordinary Journeys is thrilled to offer clients the once in a life-time opportunity to view these unique primates and the researchers who live with them in an untouched habitat, and with just a handful of other travelers. To meet these gorillas and their families is to understand that you are now inextricably wrapped up in their fate.

This trip also offers extraordinary opportunities to interact with the Ba'Aka pygmies whose ancestral home is the forests of the Congo Basin. The Ba’Aka are traditionally hunters and gatherers, and are the cornerstones of the tourism program in Nouabale-Ndoki because without their knowledge of the forest and its wildlife the gorilla habituation programs would not exist. Every time you enter the forest you are escorted by a Ba’Aka guide.

This trip is for the truly adventurous and is definitely off-the-beaten-path. To spend time in Nouabale-Ndoki is to accept that you are paying for the privilege, only a few of you at a time, to have a unique cultural and wildlife experience and not for the five-star luxuries you can find elsewhere on the continent.

Day 1 ~Brazzaville

Upon landing in Brazzaville in the the Republic of Congo you will be met by our ground crew outside the baggage hall and be transferred to a four star hotel in the country's capital.

Fishing the Congo River 01

Day 2 ~ Oyo or Owando towns

After an early breakfast, you will depart Brazzaville today in private 4 x 4 vehicles along the Republic of Congo's Highway 1. Your destination tonight is the upcountry town of Oyo, where Rep. of Congo's current president was born, or Owando town, an hour’s driving distance beyond Oyo. Enjoy simple accommodation and late dinner in Oyo or Owando. Total driving distance today is six to seven hours.

Day 3 ~ Ouesso town and Nouabale-Ndoki National Park

This morning you must get an early start in order to arrive in Ouesso by early afternoon. After the bridge across the Mambili River, Highway 1 becomes rough gravel for the last four hours of the drive. By this time there is forest on both sides of the road. Every so often you will pass small villages which border the route. If there are road delays then it is possible to overnight in Ouesso town but ideally, you should arrive at Ouesso wharf on the Sangha River by 2:30 pm. Once at the Ouesso port, a motorized canoe called a pirogue in French Africa and the primary means of transportation in the Congo Basin waits to take visitors up the Sangha River. Your destination tonight is Bomassa, Nouabale-Ndoki National Park's headquarters. Depending on the number of your party, and river flow, this boat ride is between three and five hours. Traveling by boat on the Congo Basin’s river highways is yet another highlight of this safari.

Traveling the Sangha River 01

Accommodation at Bomassa is modest, as scientific research continues to be its focus. Shared rooms come with mosquito nets and bedding; bathroom and shower are just outside the rooms. The camp uses a generator for power which is switched off at 9 PM.

Day 4/5 ~ Habituated Gorillas of Mondika Camp ~ Nouabale-Ndoki National Park

Today you head for Mondika Camp via 4 x 4 vehicle (50 minutes) and on foot (2.5 hours). There is some flooded forest to cross at the beginning of the walk and rubber boots are required. The depth of water depends on the season and the flooded forest is significantly less of an obstacle during the dry season from mid-November to end of February. You will arrive in time for lunch.

Mbeli Bai Gorilla

There are two habituated gorilla groups around Mondika and after a quick rest and lunch you will head out for your first gorilla tracking! One of the gorilla families often comes very close to camp. At least two gorilla permits are recommended for a two night stay at Mondika. Additional permits can be purchased as well.

This tour allows you to experience an extraordinary culture as well. Congo Basin forests are the ancestral homes of Ba’Aka pygmies, traditionally hunters and gatherers, and cornerstones of today's tourism programs because without their knowledge of the forest and its wildlife the gorilla habituation programs would not exist. Every time you enter the forest you are escorted by a Ba’Aka guide.

Porters

The next morning you will go on your second trek to visit the habituated gorilla families in the morning and if you wish enjoy a forest walk in afternoon learning about tree species and indigenous plants from your Ba'Aka guides. In the evening relax and chat with your Ba'Aka trackers or the head of gorilla habituation and research also acts as camp manager at Mondika (the camp manager/research will often accompany you on gorilla treks as well)

While Mondika Camp sleeps a maximum of eight visitors, only two/three people at a time can visit the gorillas. The camp manager decides on gorilla trekking logistics for each group of visitors.

Day 6/7 ~ Mbeli Camp and Mbeli Bai ~ Observations of Unhabituated Gorillas

Today you head to Mbeli Camp on foot (2.5 hours), by road (40 minutes), and by pirogue (90 minutes). The pirogue ride up the Ndoki and Mbeli Rivers to Mbeli Camp is perhaps the most magical of all the river travel on this tour. There is no motor; instead, two trackers stand upright at the front and back of the traditional wooden pirogue and propel the craft along with long paddles. On either side of the narrow river channel is lush forest. Sometimes the forest meets overhead creating a canopy over your canoe. After lunch, you walk 45 minutes through the forest to Mbeli Bai, an extensive clearing several hundred meters in length. Here wildlife such as elephants, gorillas, buffaloes and antelopes come to feed on nutritious aquatic plants growing in the swampy soil. Wildlife is observed from a raised wooden platform located in the tree-line.

Mbeli Bai observation platform

This is your best opportunity on the tour for spotting the some 150 unhabituated gorillas known to researchers who come here (there may be as many at 90,000 lowland gorillas in Republic of Congo, these 150 are those that are well known to the researchers and come to the Mbeli Bai regularly). You return to camp in the late afternoon.

Mbeli Camp consists of four screened bungalows on stilts, all facing the forest. Bathing houses and long drop toilets are at the foot of the stairs of each bungalow. Water is heated for hand showers. There is no generator at Mbeli Camp. Dinner is usually attended by the resident researchers which allows guests to learn more about the wildlife under observation at Mbeli. On your second day at Mbeli Bai you will spend a full day at the observation tower with picnic lunch.

Day 8 ~ Bomassa

Today you begin your journey back to Brazzaville. You will return to Bomassa and the park headquarters, arriving mid to late morning. After a brief rest, you transfer by motorized pirogue downriver to Ouesso town where you will spend the night. There will be time to explore this frontier town on foot. Spend the night at one of two simple hotels in Ouesso.

Brazzaville

Day 9 ~ Ouesso – Oyo/Owando

Continue retracing your steps, spending the night in either Oyo or Owando.

Day 10 ~ Brazzaville

You will arrive Brazzaville early to mid afternoon and will have use of a day room until your early evening check-in for your flight.

If you are spending an additional day in Brazzaville you can enjoy a city tour with visits to local churches and markets or a visit to a local non-profit which supports and feeds local street children.

Mondika Family Female

JC, private guide and logistics master will be with you every step of the way while your guides in the park are the Ba'Aka and the researchers who live and work with the gorillas. If you are interested and book your trip at least 6 months in advance you can choose to have the founder of Congo Gorilla Tours, Leslie Nevison, join you.

Because of the size of the camps each trip is limited to a maximum of 8 people but can be done for as few as 2.

Price

For 2014 the price for this program ranges from $10,465 per person (for 2 travelers) to $6,768 per person (for 7 travelers)-excluding international flights. Two gorillas permits additional: $700 (2 permits is recommended, additional permits can be purchased).

Note this price is based on (1.33 USD to 1 Euro and is subject to change based on changes in the exchange rate)

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Jamie Mehrotra