Virunga National Park was made a conservation area in 1952 and is among Africa’s first protected areas. The park covers an area of 8090 square kilometers and is listed among the world heritage sites. It was primarily set aside for conservation to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas are only found in D.R Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The park is homes to 2 active volcanoes i.e. mount Nyiragongo and Nyamurangira.
Virunga national park is located east of Democratic Republic of Congo. The parks altitude ranges from 680 meters to 5109 meters in the Rwenzori above sea level. It extends about 300km from north to south along the international border with Rwanda and Uganda.
The equator line runs through the Virunga and carries with it high temperatures. Some parts of the Virunga are at a higher altitude and get chilly all the time. The Virunga volcanic soils are rich in nutrients for plant growth and the favorable temperatures ensure rapid plant growth. The surrounding large water bodies; Lakes Kivu, Edward, Albert and other smaller lakes, Rivers Congo, Nile, Semuliki and other tributaries have cool breezes and are ideal for water adventure activities.
These factors result in a pleasant mix of tropical and equatorial climate with to mean rainfall at 190 mm. average temperatures around the park vary from between 23–28 °C in lowlands, and 16–24 °C at higher altitudes. March-May and September -November experience large volumes of rains and night temperatures drastically fall low. The climate is favorable for travel and exploration of Virunga attractions all year round.
Virunga national park is a home to a variety of wildlife species. According to the recent census; 218 mammal species of these 22 are primates, 706 bird species, 109 reptiles and 65 amphibian species.
Travelers into Virunga have options of observing wildlife on game drives, nature walks, hikes, boat cruise or trekking them in the forest. Some mammals can be spotted in open grasslands or water areas like; elephant, buffalos, lions, hippopotamus, leopard, okapi, bongo, warthog, waterbuck, bushbuck, blue duikers, bay duiker, yellow backed duiker, red river hog, giant forest hog, topi, aardvark, kob and many others.
The rainforests, montane forests and alpine vegetation are ideal places to spot primate species. As tourists trek mountain gorillas and chimps, they shall expect to encounter other primates that live in the forests like: red-tailed monkeys, De brazza’s monkey, blue monkey, golden monkey, Dent’s Mona monkey, Hamlyn’s monkey, Central African red colobus mantled guereza, grey-cheeked mangabey, black and white colobus monkey and olive baboon. Nile crocodiles and monitor lizards are often sightings along the shores of Lakes Edward and Albert and the Semuliki River.
Golden monkeys also live in the park but they are not habituated and therefore not open for tracking by tourists. Those interested in seeing these monkeys can visit volcanoes national park, Rwanda or Mgahinga national park, Uganda.
THINGS TO DO
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
The mountain gorilla is one of two subspecies of the eastern gorilla. These primates live in different locations; one population lives in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the other in the Virunga Mountains in three adjacent national parks, namely Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The total population is estimated to comprise 1,004 individuals in two populations as of 2018.
Gorilla trekking in the park is the major activity and begins with a briefing at the park headquarters. There are not so many Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park despite the large size of the habitat. Six gorilla families live in this great park and are all open for trekking by visitors to the park. Kabirizi family is the popular to many travelers on gorilla trekking safari to DR Congo. Kabirizi is a dominant polygamist silverback with the largest of the gorilla family that has close to 3 dozen members.
The activity takes from 30 minutes to 5 hours depending on the location of the gorillas that day. The activity is strictly done in the company of an armed ranger guide so as to ensure maximum protection of the trekkers because these apes are wild and anything can irritate them and the activity is done in the wilderness. Once you find them, you will be given an hour with the gorillas. You will be allowed to take photos and videos and also watch the gorillas as they go about their daily life. As you trek the gorillas, you will expect to spot other wildlife species that live in the forest like primates and birds.
Chimpanzee tracking / habituation
Virunga national park is currently a home to habituates chimpanzee groups that are open for trekking by visitors to the park. Chimpanzee habituation in Virunga was started in 1987 by Frankfurt zoological society. The local guides leave for the forest at 4.30am to locate the chimps while the trekkers start the activity at around 6.00am.
Each chimpanzee group is limited to four people and just like the gorillas time spent with the chimps is limited to one hour. Tourists walk into the tropical rain forests of the park to look for the chimpanzees. Tourists will expect to spot chimpanzees jumping from one tree branch to another as they go by their daily activities.
Chimpanzee habituation is an exciting tourist activity that gives trekkers an entire day unlimited interaction with families of chimpanzees. The chimpanzee habituation involves members setting out early morning and wander into the rainforests looking for chimpanzees before they leave their nests, spend entire day observing and discovering their habits until evening when they make nests for the night.
The largest part of Virunga national park is tropical rain forest with dense vegetation. Other parts are made up of grassland, swamp and woodland. There are defined trails with in the park that lead to unbelievably beautiful sightings and unique sounds of Virunga national park.
Nature walks are among the activities done in Virunga whereby the visitors follow the trails to different areas in the tropical rain forest to spot different wildlife species. Visitors engage in nature walks so as to relax from the noise, relieve from stress among others.
During the nature walks they will be able to spot the endangered gorillas, monkeys, baboons, elephants, buffaloes, okapis, lions, antelopes, hippos on the water banks of Lake Edward, bird species like the narrow tailed starling, Madagascar bee-eater, and track chimpanzees among many others.
Nature walks start in the morning and can take from 1-6 hours depending on the trekking fitness and speed. You will expect to spot various bird forest bird species that live in the forest, some primates like monkeys, as well as various tree and plant species.
Mount Nyiragongo is an active stratovolcano with an elevation of 3,470 m in the Virunga Mountains. It is located inside Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about 20 km north of the town of Goma and Lake Kivu and just west of the border with Rwanda. The main crater is about two kilometers wide and usually contains a lava lake.
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 and for the stonehearted.
The hike to the top of Nyiragongo Mountain is a 2 days expedition. It starts at round 7am with a briefing at the park headquarters and then drive to the start of the trek. In the company of the guides and some porters, you will start the trek through the tropical forests at the lower parts of the mountain as you hike to the top.
As you hike to the top you will expect to spot different wildlife that live in the forest like birds and also pass through the different vegetation zones on the mountain.
The top will meet you with beautiful views of the lava lake. Tents will be set, dinner prepared and served and overnight on the mountain. The next morning you will be met by magnificent views of the Virunga massif of the day is clear. You will be able to take photos and videos of the area and then descend back to the base.
Virunga national park is the best site for viewing the spectacular montane landscapes in the neighboring countries. These include the snow summits and the jagged relief of the Rwenzori Mountains, the volcanoes in the virunga conservation area together with the Afro alpine vegetation of tree ferns and the dense forests.
More still, travelers see the eroded valleys spotted in the ishango and Sinda regions. The views provide travelers with extra ordinary experience since they do not need to travel to the places viewed while in the virunga national park.
Mountains, Nyiragongo active volcanic mountains, extinct volcanic mountains, craters, rift valley, clear water bodies, rainforests, savanna 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.
The mountains, rainforest, open grassland, swamp and marsh, water bodies and rift valleys attract different species of birds with more than 706 record sightings. There bird watching expeditions in Virunga have very high potential but opportunities are not fully exploited as of now.
While in the park for birding activities, you will expect to spot different bird species like; Grey throated barbet, Madagascar bee-eater, Narrow-tailed starling, Ruwenzori turaco, African fish eagle and many others are often sighted.
Senkwekwe orphanage justify
This justify is the only facility in the world that caters for orphaned gorillas. It is named after one of the wild silverback gorillas was killed in Virunga in 2007. The facility is located in Rumangabo, which is near the park headquarters. It takes care of orphaned gorillas that are rescued from poachers, or lost family.
The Senkwekwe orphanage justify is a home of 4 gorilla families that were rescued from being killed. Some of them include; Ndakasi, Ndeze which were the first ones to be rescued, Matabishi, Yalala, then Maisha and Kaboko which later died due to health conditions.
Senkwekwe orphanage justify has gorilla doctors for safety from diseases and offers other services like food, shelter, water and many other services to the orphan gorillas in Virunga national park. Visitors who come to Senkwekwe orphanage spend a great time with the gorillas through playing with them, interacting with them, learning their behaviors, how they feed, how they play with each other and many more.
Travel by road from Democratic republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa to Virunga national park is so challenging in some way. The distance is long and the roads are in poor conditions.
Most travelers fly to Kigali international airport, Rwanda and then connect by road through Gisenyi town and cross to Goma town, D.R Congo. From Goma town, it is about 32km to the park headquarters at Bukima and about 2 hours from the border.
Travelers from Uganda side cross at Bunagana border post in Kisoro town and take an hour drive to Bukima the Mountain gorilla trek starting point. Ethiopian Airways operates single flights each week to Goma.
The park arranges private transport for travelers arriving by air at Goma Airport. Seek guidance from Virunga National Park on the best way to travel into the park. Tourists may also need a park ranger guide at times to guide them on the best way to make it to the tourism zones.
Virunga national park situated in the Virunga conservation area in the democratic republic of Congo. The national park is rich in unique and diverse features ranging from natural, cultural, historical and manmade resources a combination that provides travelers with a phenomenal experience.