VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK CONGO
Virunga national park Congo : Virunga national park thrills with in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo along Lake Kivu and Goma town in Democratic Republic of Congo and was gazette in 1925 covering an area of about 7800Square kilometers as the largest park in Democratic Republic of Congo and as well Africa’s oldest national park and up to now the most visited park in Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga national park is part of the Virunga Massif that is shared amongst Uganda , Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Virunga national park is famous for several attractions but mostly the endangered mountain gorillas and the volcanos of virunga which are the major 2 attractions of the park alongside several fauna species including other primates, mammals, birds, butterflies and different flora species.
Virunga national park shares boarder with Mgahinga gorilla national park which is as well a home to endangered mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Volcanoes national park which is the only destination for gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Virunga national park as well became a world heritage site in 1979 in order to protect the mountain gorillas that were at a point of total extinction in the wild.
Tourist attractions in Virunga national park Congo
Virunga national park is a home to several species of primates but the most common primate and yet the most attraction of the park is the mountain gorillas. Mountain Gorillas are the topmost tourist attractions in Virunga national park making it one of the best destination to visit for your Gorilla trekking adventure. Recently, Virunga national park is a home to over 300 mountain gorillas out of which 8 gorilla families have been habituated and available for trekking on a daily basis and these include Kabirizi, Humba, Rugendo, Mapuwa, Munyanga, Bageni, Nyakamwe, and Lulengo.
The other population of mountain gorillas thrill within Uganda the pearl of Africa in Mgahinga gorilla national park, Bwindi impenetrable national park and in Rwanda with in Volcanoes national park which are the only 4 destinations in the world that harbor these endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitats. Other primates in Virunga national park include Chimpanzees, Olive baboons, Black and white Colobus monkeys, Red tailed monkeys, Blue monkeys and many more since Virunga national park harbors over 22 species of primates.
Virunga national park is a home to over 200 species of mammals that range from Elephants, Forest hogs, Lions, Buffaloes, Warthogs, Hippos, Duikers, Bushbucks, waterbucks, Topis, and many more. You could be wondering why there are no game drives in Virunga national park and the reason is because its mountainous and forested park just like Mgahinga gorilla national park and Volcanoes national park. The park is a well a home to reptiles including Nile crocodiles and monitor Lizards.
Virunga National Park is a home to over 700 species of birds thus a keen birder can watch as many birds as possible. Some of these bird species include; Rwenzori turaco, Red-throated Alethe, dusky crimson-wing, Rwenzori batis, Kivu ground thrush, Shelley’s crimsoning, blue-headed sunbird and many more as seen during birding and even during other park activities like gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking, guided nature walks and many more since birds will be seen fly over the forest even at the comfort of your lodge.
- Virunga Volcanoes
Virunga volcanoes as well some of the major attractions in Virunga national park. The park thrills with 4 volcanoes including Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Nyamulagira, Mount Mikeno and Mount Sabyinyo. Amongst these volcanoes, Mount Nyiragongo is the most hiked volcano not only in Virunga national park Congo but in the entire Virunga massif since it’s the most active volcano of all the 8 volcanoes that are shared between Uganda Rwanda and DRCongo. For instance Mount Sabyinyo is shared amongst Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda, Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in Congo, Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Nyamulagira and Mount Mikeno thrill only in Virunga national park, Mount Karisimbi, Mount Bisoke thrill only in Volcanoes national park Rwanda, Mount Muhavura and Mount Gahinga are shared by both Uganda and Rwanda.
This implies that Uganda has 3 volcanoes, DRCongo has 4 and Rwanda has 5. These volcanoes all together include Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Mikeno, Mount Nyamulagira, Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Karisimbi, Mount Bisoke, Mount Gahinga and Mount Muhabura.
Tourist activities in Virunga national park
While on your Congo safari to Virunga national park, you have a whole lot of tourist activities to engage in and these include;
- Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park
As mentioned earlier, Mountain gorillas are the major attractions in Virunga national park thus gorilla trekking is as well the topmost tourist activity done in Virunga national park offering trekkers 1 hour of close vicinity with endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitats.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga national park starts as early as possible with briefing at Bukima police patrol where all trekkers gather with valid gorilla permits. Once briefing is done, trekkers are grouped into 8 person per gorilla family and then embark on a forest walk alongside armed rangers as they penetrate deep into the forest to search for the gorillas that have been habituated and used to human.
The entire trek lasts about 1-3 hours though duration always various due to different circumstances like movement of gorillas, trekking speed of the slowest person in the group, and the nature of the terrains among others. However, upon finding gorillas, trekkers have only 1 hour of close interaction with the gorillas before exiting the forest. The minimum age for gorilla trekking is 15years and the cost of a Gorilla trekking permit in Congo is $400 which is far cheaper than that in Uganda at $700 and in Rwanda at $1500 per person. And surprisingly, during low season, a gorilla trekking permit in Congo goes to as low as $200. Other gorilla trekking destinations include Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda, Bwindi impenetrable national park in Uganda and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
- Volcano hiking in Virunga national park
Out of the 8 volcanoes within Virunga massif, Virunga national park thrills with the most hiked of all and that is Mount Nyiragongo. A hike to summit the top of Mount Nyiragongo is one of the most fascinating and breath taking expedition that one ever think of. Mount Nyiragongo stands at an elevation of about 3,470M high above the sea level and thus a hike to summit the top is one of the dream come true as you sit and watch the boiling lava lake that last erupted in 2004.
A hike to the top takes about 6-7 hours depending on the hiking speed and the stopovers made along the hike. And since the hike requires a sleepover at the summit, hikers need to pack sleeping bags, warm clothes, food or a chef to prepare them meals while at the summit and as well hire a porter to assist in carrying the luggage. Dress up appropriately with light hiking boats, long sleeved attire, a cap, garden gloves, use an insect repellants plus sunscreen. During the hike, there is a possibility to encounter with several wildlife species.
- Chimpanzee trekking in Virunga national park
This is yet another fascinating tourist activity conducted in Virunga national park and it is conducted in Mahura forest. Just like gorilla trekking, Chimpanzee trekking as well starts early in the morning with briefing before trekkers head into the forest to search for the chimpanzees. Upon finding chimpanzees, you have 1 hour in presence of these chimpanzees taking photographs and recording some short videos. Apart from trekking chimpanzees in Mahura forest, one can as well choose to visit Lwiro Sanctuary to spend time with orphaned chimpanzees.
- Guided nature walks in Virunga national park
A guided nature walk in Virunga national park enables tourists to explore different parts of the park on foot. However, all the walks have to be guided for security purposes. There are different walking trails in Virunga national park taking you through forest, open grassland and the local communities. This walk rewards tourists with stunning views of different fauna and flora species that thrill with the park.
- Birding in Virunga national park
With over 700 species of birds, Virunga national park is a true birding haven in DRCongo. Early morning and late evening is the best time for bird watching. Bird lovers need to carry a pair of binoculars and enjoy the adventure in the wild as they watch as many bird species as possible.
Where to stay/ accommodations in Virunga national park,
Virunga national park thrills with a good number of accommodations including Budget, Midrange and Luxury that cater for all different travelers on a Congo safari to Virunga national park. Some of these accommodations include; Kibumba tented camp, Nyiragongo Volcano summit shelters, Mikeno lodge, , Lac Kivu lodge, Lulimbi tented camp, Tchegera Island tented Camp, Bukima tented camp, Lake side hotel Bukavu, Lodge Coco, Ngali lodge Virunga and many more.
Virunga national park Congo can be accessed either from Uganda the pearl of Africa or from Rwanda the land of a thousand hills.
From Rwanda, take a flight into Kigali international airport and then take on a road drive via Gisenyi to Virunga national park through Goma border where you are cleared to obtain a Congo visa and in case you are returning to Rwanda then it’s better to apply for a new Rwanda Visa and pick it up on return from Congo since upon crossing into Congo, your Rwanda Visa expires. From Gisenyi to the park headquarters of Virunga national park, it takes about 2 hours road drive.
From Uganda, upon landing at Entebbe international airport in Uganda, travelers embark on a road drive to Virunga national park via Bunagana border point and connect to the park headquarters. This is an 8-9 hours’ drive from Kampala/ Entebbe.