THE VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK
The Virunga National Park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and was formerly named Albert National Park. Parc National des Virunga (in French), stretches from the Rwenzori Mountains in the North, to the Virunga Mountains in the South, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Park covers 7,800-square-kilometre (3,000 sq. mi) which includes forests, Savannah, lava plains, erosion valleys, swamps, active volcanoes with the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains. It was mainly founded to safeguard endangered Mountain Gorillas that were constantly poached and killed during the Congo Civil War.
Virunga National Park is a sensational place to visit as it harbors a number of other animals like chimpanzees, hippopotami, bird species, forest and Savannah elephants and lions. The park is now secured and also known for its two amazing active volcanoes of Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt. Nyamuragira located in the massifs of the Rwenzori and Virunga mountains.
ATTRACTIONS IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK
Gorilla Trekking in Congo
Gorilla Trekking is a significant practice that is done and a life-changing experience in the Virunga National Park and is worth it due to the existence of the primates that are delightful to relate with. Tourism is beginning to recover within the Virunga National park after nearly two decades of conflict.
Virunga National Park managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, Institute Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Africa Conservation Fund now is home to about 200 gorillas in the southern areas. There was a reported decline in numbers about seven years ago, due to brutal attacks in which at least 10 gorillas were killed. Today, the gorilla population has improved and is more stable due to the efforts of rangers risking their lives in Virunga National Park.
Gorillas are subdivided into family groups with different attributes with silver backs that act as leaders. The silverback’s powerful presence, his calmness, the care that mothers show their young and the playful juveniles are overwhelming. Mountain gorillas are good-natured and fascinating to watch. Trekking begins at Bukima Patrol post and usually takes about 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction with park rangers depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night. Visitors are always required to wear surgical masks when in the presence of gorillas so as to safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas. It’s always advisable to cancel if only one has a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat since mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses especially human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.
Chimpanzee Habituation in Virunga National Park started in February 2014 when the Congolese team trained by the Frankfurt Zoological Society started living in the forests around park headquarters in Rumangabo.
Guests interested in trackers leave their camp as early as 4:30 am to set for where the chimpanzees spent the previous night. Groups are limited to only 4 people and time with the chimpanzees is restricted to one hour. Chimpanzee habituation had come to a standstill due to the civil unrest 1992-2001 and this had put the whole chimpanzee tourism to an end. Despite this prolonged period of conflict, Virunga National Park rangers consistently protected and monitored Tongo’s chimpanzees.
Visitors are always advised to cancel if they don’t feel well at the time of their planned walk i.e. if they have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat because just like gorillas, chimpanzees are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Most chimpanzees have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments. Chimpanzee habituation walk permit are at a cost of $100 for adult international visitors and: Adult Congolese pay $25
Mount Nyiragongo Hiking
Mt. Nyiragongo is a beautiful volcano covered with vegetation and sometimes is dusted with snow that features the world’s largest lava lake. It is home to a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and bushbuck. Nyiragongo is greatly feared during eruptions because of the low silica content of its lava that flows extremely fluid. In 2002 Mt. Nyiragongo erupted and lava flows were clocked at 100 km/hr (62 mph) and reached all the way to Lake Kivu.
Trekkers to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano always begin at the Kibati patrol post, 30 minutes by car from Goma and one hour from Rumangabo. Normally the park rangers lead all treks and porters are always available for hire. The fitness of each group determines the average time required to reach the summit usually takes 4 – 6 hours. The climb begins at 1989m (6,525 ft) and ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) in a short time.
People interested in the trekking are always advised to have proper hydration and should speak to their physicians about taking preventative measures before making the climb in case they are prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
Climbs always begin at 10:00 am with a ranger station. Check-in at the Kibati station by no later than 9:15 am on the day of their climb. Trekkers are strongly advised to bring full rain and cold weather gear as the temperatures at the summit are usually below freezing. Failure to bring proper gear leads to hypothermia. Congolese Adults pay $90, international Child pays $175 and a Congolese Child pays $25 to hike.
Nature Walks in Virunga
Nature walking usually entails transferring from one destination to another for purposes of appeasing the mind, taking time to trail through various paths to spot different forms of nature like birds and relaxing from the noise of civilization and stress.
Walks in Virunga National Park are done to various areas like the Gorilla Orphanage center at Senkwekwe situated in Rumanagabo near the park headquarters where they will experience four gorillas that were saved from being trafficked by the poachers who hunt them in the thick forest vegetation for exportation and trade and also take part in tracking the chimpanzees at the thick forest of Tongo.
Birding in Virunga Park
Watching different species of birds using either your ears or eyes, telescopes, binoculars in their natural habitat is a way of relaxation and taking the time. The sounds and noise from the tremendous bird species usually rise you up very early in the morning at around 5:00 am, they sing within the trees. You are compelled to get out of bed as these sounds extraordinary and persuasive. This makes your experience Virunga National Park exceptional and rare to find anywhere else. In Virunga National park there a number of different bird species that inhabit the thick forest vegetation namely the Grey-throated Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, Narrow-tailed Starling
ACTIVITIES DONE IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK
Mountain gorilla trekking
Virunga extensively extends into Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda. These are the only places in the world with habitats for Mountain gorillas on earth. Mountain gorilla trekking safaris to Virunga are the most popular of tourism activities in Virunga National Park. There are not so many Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park despite the large size of the habitat and six families are open for tourism activities in Virunga National Park. Kabirizi family is popular with many travelers on gorilla safaris to DR Congo. Kabirizi is a dominant polygamist silverback with the largest of the gorilla family that has close to three dozen members.
Nyiragongo volcano hike
Virunga National Park is blessed with natural beauty in abundance. Virunga National park is a blessing to the man who loves rarely spotted things. With larva boiling openly throughout the year, Nyiragongo is an active volcano where you can reach to the top and observe larva boiling. Hiking to the summit of Nyiragongo and observing the natural geographic force as boiling molten lava gush out of the earth crust is an experience that is so rare. Nyiragongo hiking safari is a test for travelers’ bravery and a very rare opportunity that awakens travelers’ adventure senses. Don’t miss visiting Virunga national park while on your Gorilla safaris to test the untested.
Nothing is more enriching than spending more time with the most looked out for jewels of the East African jungles the chimpanzees. Either in the Primates capital in Kibale national park or in Virunga national park. The more the time you hang around these primates the chimpanzees, the more the experience and the thrill you will encounter. This avails you with an opportunity to spend more with a chimpanzee in the wilderness and the hilly areas of Virunga national park.
Virunga National Park is a travel destination with eye-catching landscapes. These landscapes have always wowed many of our clients that have traveled to this park. Ranging from the romantic looking snow-peaked Rwenzori Mountains, the scary but magnificently fun-filled memories Nyiragongo active volcanic mountains, extinct volcanic mountains, craters, rift valley, clear water bodies, rainforests, savannah grassland and many other, Virunga is every nature lover’s dream destination. Hiking, photography and sightseeing safaris are very popular and give travelers wonderful experiences than ever before. If you have ever been to any destination, don’t allow Virunga national park to be left out too because there will probably no story to tell your grandkids when they start interviewing you of what beautiful places you have been to.
Chimpanzees tracking safaris are the second most popular tourist activity among the activities in Virunga National Park that started in 1987 by Frankfurt Zoological Society for research study purposes. Travelers walk into and explore the rainforests on the lookout for families of chimpanzees that are less bothered by curious eyes of adventurers. Travelers tracking chimpanzees are restricted to one-hour interaction with the chimpanzees. Chimpanzee habituation exercise is an exciting travel activity that gives travelers an entire day unlimited interaction with families of chimpanzees. The chimpanzee habituation teams set out early morning and wander into the rainforests looking for chimpanzees before they leave their nests, spend the entire day observing and discovering their habits until the evening when they make nests for the night.
Virunga National Park is a major tropical rain forest with dense vegetation. However, some parts are woodland, grassland, and swamp. Adventure travelers on safari to Virunga set out in the morning and walk into the wilderness to explore and discover the breath-taking beauty of the landscape and entire wilderness. A defined trail system leads travelers to secret corners with unbelievable sightings and unique sounds from the wilderness.
Virunga national park is the birder’s den. It is filled with varied bird species. Its habitats that range from mountains, rainforest, open grassland, swamp and marsh, water bodies and rift valleys are the birds’ favorite hanging out and breeding grounds. The different species of birds attracted and found here exceed 706 best for record sightings. There bird-watching expeditions in Virunga have very high potential but opportunities are not fully exploited as of now. Come to Virunga national park expectant to see the bird species like Grey-throated Barbet, Madagascar bee-eater, Narrow-tailed starling, Ruwenzori turaco, African fish eagle, and many others are often sighted.
ACCOMMODATION IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK
- Mikeno Lodge
- Tchegera Island Tented Camp
- Bukima Tented Camp
- Lulimbi Tented Camp
- Nyiragongo Volcano Summit shelters
ACCESSIBILITY TO VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK, GETTING THERE
Guests to Virunga National Park more often than not soar to Kigali International landing field and catch the four hour long drive to the border crossing at Goma/Gisenyi. Intercontinental flights regularly arrive late in the afternoons and or evenings. For these arrivals, we propose you spend the night in Kigali as the border does not work 24/7. You can then head off to Goma the next morning. The majority of the guests that travel to the park are either coming from Rwanda or Uganda
Virunga National Park is situated 32 km to the west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu region. Transportation from Goma into the park can with no trouble be prearranged with the National Park at Virunga. The easier way to get about is with one of Congo tour operators that currently offer the mount Gorilla Safaris in Congo. The park can be accessed via the following routes:
Beginning from the Rwandan side, it takes close to four hours driving from Kigali city to the town of Gisenyi. It is the next town to Goma after journeying the two borders; it takes about 1 and a half hours driving to get to the Park’s Headquarters.
For one coming from Uganda, linking to Virunga national Park is somewhat tiresome as the tourist may seek an all night stay in Kisoro and in the wee hours of the morning they then could cross to the DRC via the Bunagana border then take a 30 minute drive to Bukima where an all gorilla families trek is done.