Virunga National Park Congo
Virunga National Park Congo: Congo Gorilla Trekking Tour and Safaris | Nyiragongo Volcano Hiking
Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa and Congo covering an area of 7800 square kilometer and it one of the recognized world heritage Site; lying on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, sharing boundaries with Uganda and Rwanda. The park was named after the magnificent Virunga volcano Mountain ranges located in the southern part of the park. Virunga national park continues to stretch to the northern part of Lake Edward and Rwenzori Mountains. Virunga national park is protected and managed by Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature
Virunga National Park is home to over 300 mountain gorillas with over 10 gorilla families however 6 groups have been habituated for gorilla trekking safaris and tours.
Virunga was created in 1925 by Albert I; who was a king of Belgium by then as national park with a main focus of protecting the mountain gorillas in Virunga mountain forests of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Virunga national park is approximately a home a quarter of the remaining endangered mountain gorillas living on the slopes of Virunga volcano.
In 1979, the Virunga was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich ecological importance however political disturbances had greatly affected its conservation more so in 1990’s civil wars in Rwanda led to high influx of refugees into Virunga conservation area hence encroaching the wild resources in the national park.
In 1994, Virunga national park was declared as a world heritage site that was in a total danger of extinction however in 1996, the park became a Ramsar site of international importance. Virunga national park is still highly rated as a strong ecological pillar in east and central Africa
Virunga national park is blessed with pleasant warm weather and mild showers throughout the year. The park is crossed by the equator which influences high temperatures in some parts more so at the bottom of Virunga mountains while places at higher altitude are chilly and misty. Virunga national park has volcanic soils with abundant nutrients and ample temperatures for rapid plant growth.
Virunga national park is surrounded by major African fresh water bodies such Lakes Kivu shared by Congo and Rwanda, Lake Edward and Albert which are shared between Congo and Uganda, River Congo, river Nile among others. Some lakes such as Kivu offer adventurous water activities such as boat cruise for relaxion after a very long gorilla trekking safari in Virunga national park.
Virunga national park is characterized by tropical and equatorial climate with annual mean rainfall of 190mm and mean temperatures vary between 23-28 °C in lowlands, and 16-24°C at higher altitude. Heavy rainfall is received between March-May and September -November and night temperatures drastically drop during those periods. However, tourism activities can be done throughout the year.
Tourists intending to visit Virunga national park tend to land at Kigali international airport and drive through Rwanda en route Goma to the park headquarters for gorilla trekking safaris and tours. Ground transportation from Kigali to Goma is well developed with thorough constructed road network. From Goma, Virunga national park management may offer transfers to the park on request for guests on Congo gorilla trekking safaris and Nyiragongo hiking tour adventures.
Democratic Republic of Congo among the best African countries for primate safaris with major apes such mountain gorillas in Virunga national park, eastern lowland gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park and chimpanzees in Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary located in Bukavu town just 4kms away from Kahuzi Biega National Park
Virunga national park is endowed with a number of mammal species due to favorable terrain, land features, vegetation and plant species; offering the best conditions for their survival. 218 mammals were record according to the 2012 census that was conducted capturing 22 primate species, 706 bird species, 65 amphibians and 109 reptiles.
Visitors to Virunga national park have endless opportunities to explore the park through wildlife game viewing, nature walks and hikes, chimpanzee tracking and gorilla trekking to see animals such as African forest elephants, buffalos, lions, leopards, bongo, warthog, giant forest hog, topi, aardvark, kob, waterbuck, bushbuck, blue duikers, bay duiker, yellow backed duiker, red river hog, chimps, mountain gorillas, red-tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkey, De brazza’s monkey, blue monkey, Central African red colobus mantled guereza, grey-cheeked mangabey, golden monkey, Dent’s Mona monkey, Hamlyn’s monkey and olive baboon among others.
How to get to Virunga national park Congo
Virunga National Park is located in Eastern Democratic Republic Congo and travelling by road is quite challenging from other parts of the country except Goma which is just 32km away from the park. Visitors are advised to access Virunga national park through Kigali international airport, drive through Gisenyi town and cross over to Goma is Congo.
It’s approximately 2hrs drive from Gisenyi in Rwanda to Virunga park headquarters of Bukima. Tourists from Uganda must cross over to Rwanda through Bunagana boarder and take an hour drive to Bukima to start their gorilla trekking safaris.
If you are looking at flying in to Goma international airport, Ethiopian Airways operates single flights every week to Goma Democratic republic of Congo. You may then book airport transfers with the Virunga national park management or a tour operator.
Top things to do in Virunga National Park
Virunga national park has a number of tourist activities ranging from gorilla trekking, Chimpanzee trekking, Volcanoes hiking, nature walks, Bird watching, Visiting Senkwekwe orphanage centre, photography among others
Mountain gorilla trekking:
Mountain gorilla trekking is the major tourist activity done in Virunga national park Congo. Please note that Virunga national park among a few national parks to track the endangered mountain gorillas in Africa.
Mountain gorilla trekking safari is a bit challenging adventure, involving hiking through the hilly forest slopes of Virunga volcanoes but is so rewarding memorable experience once you encounter your allocated gorilla family.
Virunga national park has a number of 8 habituated gorilla families for trekking activities. These gorilla groups in Virunga include; Kabirizi Gorilla family, Humba Gorilla family, Munyaga Gorilla family, Nyakamwe Gorilla family, Bageni Gorilla family, Rugendo Gorilla family, Mapuwa Gorilla family and Lulengo Gorilla family.
Mountain gorilla trekking in Virunga national park starts from Bukima and it takes between 2-6hr based on the location and movement of the gorilla family. Gorilla trekking in Virunga is always guided by a professional ranger to help you spot the gorillas in the jungle.
To participate in mountain gorilla trekking in Virunga national park, guests should purchase gorilla permits at a cost of USD 400 for foreign nonresidents and USD 150 for Congolese citizens.
Virunga national park is a paradise for Nyiragongo mountain hiking experiences, giving visitors incredible sights and views of the active volcano and largest lava lake. More still, during mount Nyiragongo hiking tour, you may encounter different unique wildlife and bird species such as chimpanzees, bush bucks among others.
Nyiragongo hiking starts from kibati which is approximately 30 minutes’ drive by car from Goma town and one hour’s drive from Rumangabo. The hike usually starts at 10:00 am and climbing to the summit normally takes a4-6 hours based on your physical fitness accompanied and led by park rangers.
We advise clients looking for Nyiragongo hike carry warm clothes since the summit is on a higher altitude characterized with chilly conditions and Virunga national park is a forested national park and rain is always expected.
Virunga national park is a home to number of unique bird species which gives an opportunity for bird watching tours to take place. Birding safaris in the park normally starts at 5:00am in the morning with a guide of the park ranger. During your birding tour in Virunga, you will enjoy beautiful melodic sounds and views of birds with a help of binoculars and telescopes. Expect to see a list of birds such as Grey-throated Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, speckled mouse bird, double collared sunbird, stray seedeater, olive thrush, Rwenzori batis, bronze sunbird, Yellow-billed Barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, and Narrow-tailed Starling, white necked raven, black kite, paradise fly catcher, pin tailed whydah, olive woodpecker, olive pigeon, blue headed coucal, alpine chat, dusky turtle dove, regal sunbird among others
Virunga national park is a home to a number of chimpanzees besides mountain gorillas. The park is a hub to many primates including chimps which live in the thick forests of Virunga national park. Chimpanzee habituation started in February 2014 to attract chimpanzee trekking activities with a maximum of 4 visitors allowed to track. Chimpanzee trekking in park starts early in the morning with the intention of finding chimpanzee while still in their respective nests, collecting fruits and feeding their young ones.
Visiting Senkwekwe orphanage center
Visitors on their safari to Virunga national park in Congo can take a tour to Senkwekwe orphanage center located in Rumangabo near the headquarters of Virunga national park.
Senkwekwe orphanage center caters for orphaned gorillas and it was named in memory of a dominant silverback Rugendo who was assassinated in 2007 with other three mountain gorillas. It is also a home to 4 gorilla families of Maisha, Ndeze, Ndakasi and Matabishi and hosts rescued eastern low land gorillas.
When visiting Senkwekwe orphanage center, expect to engage in activities like feeding the gorillas and watching them play.
Accommodation in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park in Congo offers a number of accommodation properties ranging from budget, midrange and luxury lodges and hotels. Some of the most recognized lodges in Virunga park include; Mikeno Lodge, Tchegera Island Camp, Lulimbi Tented Camp, Kibumba Tented Camp, Bukima Tented Camp and Mt Nyiragongo Summit Shelters
Congo Gorilla Trekking Tour and Safaris
Congo gorilla trekking is one of the life time experience any traveler would wish to encounter; witnessing the tenderness and care of gorilla mothers showcase to their young one is magnificent! You will meet infants who spend most of the time playing walking around and breastfeeding, giving guests endless smiles on their faces! Mountain gorillas are found in the Virunga national park while the eastern lowland gorillas in can be spotted in Kahuzi Biega National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Virunga National Park is part of the larger Virunga Mastiff shared between Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Congo gorilla trekking tour and safaris normally start from Bukima patrol post however, the starting point may change depending on the location of mountain gorillas in previous night. Gorilla trekking is always guided and led by a professional and experienced ranger to help you track the gorillas. Trekking to and from the gorillas may take between 2-6 hours of hiking.
Visitors to the park are given and directed to put on surgical masks on encountering the allocated mountain gorilla family to safe guide gorillas against communicable diseases. Due to the outbreak of COVID 19, conservation authorities and bodies in Uganda and Rwanda introduced the same policy during gorilla trekking adventures in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable forest national park & Mgahinga gorilla national and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
If you are planning to go for a mountain gorilla trekking tour in Democratic Republic of Congo, expect to encounter one of the gorilla family; Kabirizi group, Humba group, Rugendo group, Mapuwa group, Lulengo group, Munyaga group, Nyakamwe group and Bageni gorilla family.
Virunga national park in Congo has a total of 115 habituated individual mountain gorillas with Begeni being the biggest family with 26 members.
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