Home » How to spot gorillas in Lobéké National Park

How to spot gorillas in Lobéké National Park

Lobéké National Park is located on the extreme southeast region of Cameroon in the Congo Basin, and covers an area of 217,855 hectares. Lobéké forms part of the trans-boundary conservation initiative, known as Tri-National de la Sangha (TNS). This priority landscape also includes Dzangha-Ndoki (CAR) and Nouabale-Ndoki (Congo Brazzaville) national parks. The triple park area has the lowest human footprint in all equatorial Africa.

Why visit Lobéké National Park?
Also a favourite with poachers, most people venture this far to see Western lowland gorillas in the wild. It is remote and takes a minimum of two days to get there along an unpaved road. At the time we visited in January 2018, this park officially had 200 visitors per year and we were the only people in the park during our stay. I have no doubt that in the future, Lobéké will be one of Cameroon’s premier wildlife viewing destinations.

Getting to Lobéké National Park from Yaounde
There are two ways of travelling from Yaounde to the border town of Mambele, by air or road. We didn’t travel by air but there are three airstrips owned by logging companies in Kika, Lokomo and Libongo. I have no idea of prices or how to easy this is to organise; the WWF in Yaounde may be able to help.

To reach Mambele by road is a mission and you need some good humour and African patience to travel the 824 km journey. Expect to be stopped by the Police about 30 times, don’t pay them any bribe money but be sure to have your passport and yellow fever certificate. Of the 824 km road, only 340 kms is tarred, making it virtually impassable during the wet season. If you hire a private driver, you can arrive after two very long days but you’ll need to pay for four days (return journey), plus driver food and accommodation so bargain hard and ideally for a land cruiser or four wheel drive! The other option is public transport and that’s where you need time and patience. From Yaounde, take the excellent VIP bus some 340 kms to the major city of Bertoua where paved roads promptly end. I recommend staying at the Hotel de Paris (CFA 12,000 per room per night).

From here you have two options, take the Alliance Voyage public bus to Yokadouma (minimum 13 hours with no breakdowns), or reserve a space in a private car (approximately eight hours). Alliance Voyage is your classic West African bus experience whereby it won’t depart until full, packs them high and wide, plus stops along the way. After getting off this bus, we swore not to return the same way! The other option is to go to the bus station early (5:30am is best) and see if any private cars are going. Keep in mind there will be 4-5 people in the back and four up front (including the driver) so you may want to pay extra for more room. Yokadouma is 300 kms from Bertoua. The only hotel in Yokadouma is Elephant Hotel which is basic but perfectly ok.

Warning: Yokadouma is your final opportunity to purchase groceries and bottled water for your time in Lobéké. You will have very limited options in Mambele and unlikely to find drinking water. Keep in mind that you are likely to be subsidising the guide and porters food (whether you like it or not) so consider this when buying for the trip. We bought a sack of rice, pasta, tomato paste, eggs, garlic, onions, ginger, canned veggies, cornflakes, coffee, sugar and powdered milk. Remember also a cup, bowl, plate and cutlery. A bottle of alcohol is ideal in the evening and worth the effort and helps break the ice metaphorically speaking.

From Yokadouma to Mambele, you can travel by Alliance Voyage but as we had so much water and luggage, we hired a private driver (car not 4WD), a guy called Lawrence 660532095 who we paid CFA 70,000 for the five-six hour journey. My advice is get dropped off at the WWF office (just outside the park entrance) where you can arrange your permits, guide, porters, cook and pay for various other expenses.

Where to stay in Mambele
You are really in the middle of the forest now so it should come as no surprise that your options are limited. There is a simple but awesome bar in town where you can meet the locals and be offered illegally hunted animals such as pangolin.

Camp Kombo
Initially a camp to house researchers, Camp Kombo now hosts tourists en route to Lobéké. The camp has bungalows with two single beds in each and external toilets. Camp Kombo is surrounded by virgin forest with no electricity or water and although there is a roof over your head, it is basic. CFA 10,000 per person per night.

WWF Compound
This guarded compound is where the WWF staff live and where we opted to stay. There is electricity, bucket showers, washing and cooking facilities, lounge and the best option for charging before going bush. CFA 10,000 per person per night.

What will it cost me to enter Lobéké National Park
Below are the various costs associated with visiting Lobéké. Obviously there are some you can pick and choose from, however I have added a star beside the ones which are mandatory.
– Park Entrance – CFA 5,000 per person per day *
– Cook – CFA 5,000 per day
– Porters – CFA 5,000 per porter per day *
– Eco-guards – CFA 5,000 per guard per day *
– Transfer – CFA 47,000 return transfer *
– Petrol – CFA 36,000 return transfer *
– Driver wages – CFA 7,000 return transfer *
– Chainsaw man (for fallen trees) – CFA 5,000 per person *
– Tent rental – CFA 2,000 per tent per day
– Camping mat rental – CFA 2,000 per mat per day
– Set of cooking pots rental – CFA 500 /per night
– Camera – CFA 4,000 (for two people)
– Binoculars – CFA 1000 per night
– Sleeping bag rental – CFA 500 per person per night

Into Lobéké National Park
Wildlife viewing in Lobéké centres around forest clearings (some twice the size of a football field), where mineral deposits prevent trees from growing. The forest animals and birds all visit the clearings to lick or eat the mineral rich soil. Observation towers (mirador’s) have been constructed on the edge of these clearings and can accommodate up to five people. The important thing to remember is you need to be patient, silent and remain out of view and the animals will come to you!

As there were two of us, our ‘entourage’ consisted of two ‘eco-guards’, two Ba’Aka porters and a cook/translator. We spent one night at the WWF compound either end of the trip, and four nights camping inside Lobéké National Park — three at Petite Savane and one at Djangui.

During our time in Lobéké National Park we saw Western lowland gorillas, egrets, stalks, monkeys, sitatunga, elephant footprints and pooh, African Green pigeons, African Grey parrots, buffalo, mongoose, and chimpanzee. We observed Gorillas every day we were inside the park.

The most common two clearings and the two we visited, are Petite Savane and Djangui (Grand Savane). Petite Savane is a two hour walk through the forest, and Djangui is another three hours further. Both have basic rough campsites and you’ll need tolerance to washing in streams, using long-drop toilets and to bugs (especially at night)!

Petite Savane
The campsite is basic and about two hours walk after the road ends. There is a stream running nearby for washing, and an area for cooking. Petite Savane is a partially swampy clearing and is commonly visited by lowland gorillas. The springy black and white colobus monkeys are also common to this area, as are sitatunga. The clearing has a watch tower and base camp which can accommodate up to five people. There seemed to be more activity from 14:00 onwards in our experience.

Djangui
A further three hours walk, this swampy clearing is at the centre of the park and is a haven for buffalo and birdlife. Every morning and evening, we saw the most phenomenal spectacle of tens of thousands, of African Green pigeons performing the ‘bird dance’. Vast flocks would erupt from the trees with the crash of thousands of wings, and swoop through the sky, diving and turning, flocks merging, changing direction and forming patterns. The evening display is amazing to watch as the setting sun created silhouettes, however the morning display was perhaps even more spectacular, as the sun was behind us and revealed the bright green and pink hues of the pigeons. We also watched as monkeys and mongoose tried in vain to catch the pigeons. It truly was one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen on planet earth!

Lobéké National Park is still very much in its raw and basic form. Tourism infrastructure is young so animals don’t have this fear yet. It is the perfect time to visit and see gorillas in the wild, and a fraction of the cost from what is offered in Rwanda and Uganda.

In case you want to see a short video which summed up our time in Cameroon, click the video below:

If you get stuck for information about Lobéké, try email lsebogo@wwfafrica.org

Happy travelling folks.

Update
As information is always changing, a friendly traveller who used this blog to travel in Lobeke, kindly sent in his update regarding his experience. Please see below and thanks Shaun (dated 20 Jan, 2019)
I would like to add my experience. You don’t need to buy food in Yokadouma. There is plenty of food one can buy in Mambele itself. I also understand you want to to support the local economy or whatever by spending a little extra which is great. For those who are fighting for a budget (I barely had enough money to visit Lobeke after Dzangha Sangha) the only fees I paid are:

Park Entrance – CFA 5,000 per person per day *

– Eco-guards – CFA 5,000 per guard per day * (two were mandatory)

– Transfer – CFA 47,000 return transfer *

– Driver wages – CFA 7,000 return transfer *

-Pygmy Guide tracker dude. – CFA 5,000 per day

As there were two of us we paid a combined CFA 129,000 plus about another CFA 10,000 for food for three days in the park .

It was a wonderful experience. We only say one gorilla for a brief few moments within ten minutes of being in the park. We however were very lucky in that we saw a large troop of Chimpanzees. One is also guaranteed to see lots of Colobus monkeys, African grey parrots and green pigeons.

Lobeke was amazing. Sad more people don’t experience it. Africa in its rawest form.

P.S. The daily Alliance Voyageur bush taxi can fill up and if its full it won’t pick you up (what happened to us). This cost us a whole additional day waiting for another transport (in our case a police truck) to pick you up to take you to Yokadouma… basically easy to get form Yokadouma to Mambele but not always easy to get from Mambele to Yokadouma.

If you want to read any other Africa blogs, check these out:
A guide to travelling Sudan
Everything you need to know about travelling in Cameroon
How to spot gorillas in Lobeke National Park
The ultimate guide to travelling in Ethiopia
The Danakil Depression – one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on earth
Tanzania – Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater
Botswana and the Okavango Delta

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6 Comments

  1. tom f
    November 6, 2018 / 11:18 pm

    Wow, what an amazing trip! I am currently entertaining the idea of visiting next summer and the information you provided above will prove to be invaluable, if I decide to go. Thanks so much!

    • November 7, 2018 / 3:56 pm

      You absolutely should Tom. Get away from the crowds, get a bit dirty, have a big experience, for a small cost. Let me know if you have any questions fella.

  2. tom f
    November 10, 2018 / 8:32 pm

    Hey Lain

    Nice to meet you. What a great blog you have and so many detailed reports! I don’t have much patience writing reports, so I am very happy that there are some people out there (like yourself), that go through the trouble.

    I have been looking at my options regarding seeing Western Lowland Gorillas and spending a few days near (or on a platform) in a bai, in Central Africa. I am a Canadian living in Toronto – I really want to get to Bayanga C.A.R and arrange things from there (ie not stay in the very expensive Sanga Lodge), but being that CAR does not have any diplomatic representation in Canada (I would have to send my passport to the embassy in the US), I would prefer to make it a tad easier on myself and focus on Cameroon and Republic of Congo. Yes, I suppose I could try and apply for a visa while in Youande, but I really don’t want to waste many days there as I am trying to pack in quite a bit over the course of a 12 week trip. I would consider myself a seasoned traveler with about 60 countries under my belt (ok, not even close to you! lol), but in my defense, I have visited some countries two, three, four, five and six times, so a lot of redundancy, on my part. My main focus is seeing and photographing wildlife. My proposed itinerary is to fly from Toronto to Youande and start by doing the overland route to Lokebe NP (yes, perhaps the one that you swore you would never do again! lol). After spending a few days in the park, travel overland across the border to Ouesso, Congo; Then travel to Bomassa (either using the very expensive WCS transfer) or by public transport/motor cycle; from here, visit Nouambale Ndoki NP and do two or three Western Lowland Gorillas treks. The downside is that the platform (adjacent to the bai) in Nouambale Ndoki is currently broken and they don’t anticipate having it fixed by next summer. I know you spent some time in Lobeke NP in Cameroon and there is a bai there. However, I have heard that it is very difficult to see elephants. Did you happen to see any at the bai there? What primates (other than the non habituated Gorillas) did you catch a glimpse of, either walking through the forest or staying on the platform near the bai? Did you see any Bongo? After, my time in Ndoki, I would take a bus from Ouesso down to Brazzaville and fly directly to Franceville, Gabon (I see that Afrijet does this route). Have you been to Gabon and spent any time in Ivindo NP or Lope NP? I really want to see Mandrills and my priority would be to spend time in Lekedi Reserve. I know these Mandrills have been introduced here an not completely wild. Another option is to spend time in Lope and pay the researcher there to visit the habituated Mandrills. I am also thinking that Ivindo (Langoue bai specifically) may be good for forest elephants, but not too sure how close they come to the platform.

    If you have any additional information regarding my proposed itinerary and/or are able to answer my questions, I would greatly appreciate it.

    I just visited your instagram gallery and began following you; your experiences are very impressive!
    My IG handle is tom.nomad , just in case you want to check out what I have been up to the last few years.

    If you would prefer to send me an email rather than reply here, please do.

    I look forward to your reply

    Regards
    Tom

    • November 14, 2018 / 9:14 am

      Hi Tom,

      Sorry I missed your message on the blog, I don’t always get an alert.

      We didn’t see any elephants in Lobeke. We heard them, saw footprints everywhere but we didn’t see them at all. You’ll have more chance of seeing wildlife closer in Petite Savane, so spend more time there. But, please go out to Grand Savane for one night to see the green pigeon bird dance. It was actually one of the most incredible things to watch and goes on for about an hour.

      It’s worth noting that you need to be super quiet to see animals in Lobeke bai. The guides will go with you and try as they might, they just can’t sit still or keep the noise down. Even the smallest noises will ruin a good wildlife opportunity. The last few days, we ended up having the guides take us to the look out, and then gave them a meeting time to come back and collect us. It really is a game of patience, and the ability to sit still and make no noise. I have ants in my pants, so it was a real test of will power.

      Over all in Lobeke we saw loads. Western lowland gorillas, egrets, stalks, monkeys, sitatunga, elephant footprints, African Green pigeons, African Grey parrots, buffalo, mongoose, and chimpanzee. We would loved to have seen pangolins, but they are nocturnal. The only pangolin I saw was in bits inside a bucket at the market. Didn’t see any bongo but I have heard of other visitors seeing them, I’ve also heard of other travellers seeing no gorillas inside the park. Therefore, it may be worth taking private transport to get to Lobeke and spending 4 nights in the park itself to be on the safe side.

      Everything takes time in Cameroon, remember this. If you are prepared to pay for a private transfer, bargain hard and yes you’ll pay more, but you’ll also save days (literally days). Don’t bother with what Google maps says as the road to Lobeke is horrendous and we visited during the dry season! If you travel during the wet season, it may not be possible at all. To give you an example, GM says you can travel from Bertoua to Yokadouma in 5hrs, if you travel by public transport, this will be more like 14 hours, you’ll arrive after dark, next day you do you’re shopping and sort your plan out, spend another night, and then transfer the following day to Mambele. So that’s 3 days. If you travel by private transport (and organised), private transfer from Bertoua to Yokadouma, do your food shopping quickly, and arrange a transfer for the following day. You’ll pay more but save time.

      My advice if you want not to maximise you time is to arrange a private transfer through Maria at Mission des Casba (Yaounde). She is honest and will do her best to help in any way she can. Then you can half the time to get to Lobeke (you’ll have to pay for the driver’s accommodation and return journey though). https://thekiwihaslanded.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-travelling-in-cameroon/

      In terms of the other areas you’ve suggested, I haven’t been to any of these sorry. But when you come back, I may drill you for information. 😊

      Safe travels mate.

      Cheers

      Iain

  3. Shawn
    January 20, 2019 / 3:24 am

    I want to let you know that I visited Lobeke National Park in July, 2018 and I found your information for the most part to be accurate. I traveled to Mambele from Libongo (the crossing from Dzangha Sangha National park). I then traveled to Yaounde from Mambele passing through Yokadouma and Bertoua.

    First of all. Thank you. This blog post was VERY helpful when I was figuring out how to get to Lobeke/what to expect.

    I would like to add my experience. You don’t need to buy food in Yokadouma. There is plenty of food one can buy in Mambele itself. I also understand you want to to support the local economy or whatever by spending a little extra which is great. For those who are fighting for a budget (I barely had enough money to visit Lobeke after Dzangha Sangha) the only fees I paid are:

    Park Entrance – CFA 5,000 per person per day *

    – Eco-guards – CFA 5,000 per guard per day * (two were mandatory)

    – Transfer – CFA 47,000 return transfer *

    – Driver wages – CFA 7,000 return transfer *

    -Pygmy Guide tracker dude. – CFA 5,000 per day

    As there were two of us we paid a combined CFA 129,000 plus about another CFA 10,000 for food for three days in the park .

    It was a wonderful experience. We only say one gorilla for a brief few moments within ten minutes of being in the park. We however were very lucky in that we saw a large troop of Chimpanzees. One is also guaranteed to see lots of Colobus monkeys, African grey parrots and green pigeons.

    Lobeke was amazing. Sad more people don’t experience it. Africa in its rawest form.

    P.S. The daily Alliance Voyageur bush taxi can fill up and if its full it won’t pick you up (what happened to us). This cost us a whole additional day waiting for another transport (in our case a police truck) to pick you up to take you to Yokadouma… basically easy to get form Yokadouma to Mambele but not always easy to get from Mambele to Yokadouma.

    • January 20, 2019 / 7:26 pm

      Hi Shawn,

      Thanks for the info. I’ve copied and pasted it into my blog so people have the most up to date info. Cheers loads for the update, appreciate it fella. Safe travels.

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