Virunga national park
Virunga national park is located in eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo at the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga national park is the oldest national park in Africa that was gazetted in 1925 purposely to conserve and protect the endangered mountain gorillas. The national park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site due to its ecological importance in 1994. Virunga national park covers a total area of 7800 square kilometers and harbors about 196 mammal species including buffaloes, bush elephants, crested porcupines, giant forest hogs, giant pangolin, squirrels, march mongoose, duikers, primates including the mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, De brazza monkeys, red colobus monkeys, grey cheeked mangabey, olive baboons, 108 reptiles, 67 amphibians, 708 bird species including the Ruwenzori turaco, African fish eagle, narrow tailed starling among others.
Attractions and activities in Virunga national park
Gorilla trekking, this is a breathtaking activity in Virunga national park which gives you an opportunity to move into the forest in search of the habituated gorilla families and once found spend one hour with them in their natural habitat. Virunga national park is a home of 8 habituated gorilla families namely Mapuwa, Lulengo, Kabirizi, Munyanga, Rugendo, Humba, Nyakamwe and Bageni. The gorilla families are available for trekking daily and trekking of the mountain gorillas starts in the morning with a briefing at the park headquarters. After the briefing you will be grouped into 8 people to trek each habituated gorilla family and then start trekking in the jungle.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga national park takes about 30 minutes to 6 hours depending on the location of the mountain gorillas and once found you will be allowed to spend one hour with the gorillas in their natural environment taking photos, recording videos, learning more about their lifestyle as they carry out their daily activities, learning about their behaviors, habits among others.
Visitors who want to participate in gorilla trekking are required to have a valid gorilla trekking permit which costs $400 per person for foreign non-residents. A gorilla trekking permit in Virunga national park can either be booked through Virunga foundation or through contacting a tour operator like Achieve Global Safaris. The permit should however be acquired in advance before the trekking date to avoid disappointments.
Chimpanzee habituation experience, chimpanzee habituation is an interesting activity in the park that was started by a zoologist named Frankfurt in 1987. Chimpanzee habituation is a process where the wild chimpanzees are trained to get used to human presence so as to be opened for trekking. Chimpanzee habituation experience starts early at around 6:00am with a briefing at the park headquarters where after you start trekking in the jungle with a guide. Chimpanzee habituation experience in Virunga national park allows a maximum of 4 visitors who are given an opportunity to spend one hour with the chimpanzees under habituation process.
Visitors interested in chimpanzee habituation experience in Virunga national park are required to purchase a chimpanzee habituation permit which costs $100 per person and bookings are made in person at Mikeno lodge.
Hiking Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Nyiragongo is an active volcano that is situated in Virunga national park and has records which show that it has erupted over 34 times and the last eruption was in 2002 when the lava lake drained and flowed to the nearby communities. Hiking the active volcano is a lifetime experience that shouldn’t be missed on your safari in Democratic Republic of Congo. Hiking mount Nyiragongo starts early and visitors must be at Kabita patrol by 9:00am for a briefing about the safety precautions. Hiking the volcanic mountain starts at around 10:00am with armed park ranger guides.
Mount Nyiragongo stands at an elevation of 3470 meters above the sea level and it takes two days to reach the summit of the mountain for example the first day you will hike reach half way and rest and the next day you continue to the summit where you will have clear views of the boiling lava lake. You will have an overnight at the summit of the mountain in that there are some camping cottages and you will have spectacular views of hot red flash from the lava crater which gives you fascinating and lifetime memories. The next morning you will hike down and during the hike you will have great views of the animals, birds, butterflies among others. Visitors are advised to carry drinking water, snacks, hire a porter to carry the backpack and they should be physically fit.
Guided nature walks, this is an exciting activity where you explore the tropical rainforest on foot with the help of an armed ranger guide. there are various hiking trails to follow during the nature walk in Virunga national park where you will be able to view different animal species such as the warthogs, antelopes, elephants, bird species, tree species like the African fish eagle, ross’s turaco, narrow tailed starling, long tailed cisticola and also get an opportunity to relax your mind feel the cool breeze, breath fresh air as well as take clear photos.
Bird watching, Virunga national park is a home of over 708 bird species which makes it one of the top birding destinations in Democratic Republic of Congo. Out of the 708 bird species, 24 species are endemic to Virunga national park therefore on your birding safari you can look out for bird species like grey herons, Ruwenzori batis, grauers swamp warbler, Ruwenzori turaco, tropical boubou, Rockefeller’s sunbird, papyrus yellow warbler, grey throated barbet, forest ground thrush, Madagascar bee-eater, narrow tailed starling, among others.
Where to stay in Virunga national park
There are a number of luxury, midrange and budget accommodations in Virunga national park where you can stay during your safari including Mikeno Lodge, Lulimbi Tented Camp, Tchegera Island Camp, Bukima Tented Camp, Kibumba Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters among others. The lodges offer conducive environment, spacious rooms with en-suite bathrooms, restaurant, gardens for relaxation, spectacular views of the primates, birds, volcanoes among others to make your stay comfortable.
Best time to visit Virunga national park
Virunga national park can be visited anytime throughout the year though the best time is during the dry season which is also known as the peak season in the months of June to September and December to February. during the dry season there is less rainfall in the park therefore there will be clear views of the animals, primates due to short grass, gorilla trekking trails and hiking trails in the forest will be dry and passable compared to the rainy season when they are muddy and slippery.
Virunga national park can also be visited during the rainy season in the months of March to May and October to November. The rainy season is also known as the low season and during this period there is discounted gorilla trekking permits for the visitors, the lodges in the national park also offer discounts, there will be less crowds in the park among others.
How to get to Virunga national park
There are various routes that you can use to access Virunga national park for example
Rwanda-Congo route, when using this route, you will fly to Kigali international airport and then connect by road via Gisenyi which is the nearest town to Goma town in Congo and then continue to Virunga national park, when coming from Kigali you will cross Grande Barrier border where you will present your papers such as yellow vaccination certificate, visa and passport.
You can also access Virunga national park by flying to Goma international airport therefore when using this option you can use Ethiopian airlines which operate daily flights to Goma airport and then connect to Virunga national park.
Virunga national park can also be accessed by water transport means in that there are boat cruise transfers along Lake Kivu between Bukavu and Goma therefore adventurous travelers can book a morning boat transfer from Bukavu port to Goma port which take about 3 hours ride and then connect to Virunga national park. when using water transport you will have great views of the Virunga volcanoes, rolling hills in Rwanda among others, visitors are however advised to hire public boats for security reason an