Virunga National Park located in the Eastern direction of Democratic Republic of Congo at the border of Uganda is a worldly known World Heritage site as declared by United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which is not only the Africa’s oldest park but also the most biologically diverse of all protected areas on the continent of Africa.
Covering a geographical landscape of 7800km2 about 3000 square miles, the Virunga National Park features extensive savannah, dense forest jungle, erosion valleys, lava plains, active volcanoes and Mountain Rwenzori with its glaciers as viewed in safaris and tours in Congo
Amazingly, over a quarter of the Mountain gorillas known to be critically endangered world over thrive in Virunga National Park and besides that, the park is also a home to low land Grauer’s gorillas and the eastern Chimpanzees. This qualifies Virunga National Park as the only destination in the world where these three Big Ape species thrive alongside each other. Apart from Primates, the Virunga National Park contains other wildlife including the Okapi, forest elephants, Hippos, lions along with a myriad of birds.
Virunga National Park is aligned into three sections which include;
The Rwenzori Mountains Section in the north of the park to the border of Uganda. Rising to 5000m approximately 16,400ft on the side of Congo, Rwenzori Mountains are third highest in Africa and feature snow capped peaks. The mountain glaciers give birth to the beautiful Semliki River that flows to empty in Lake Albert. The Okapi species are common in the Semliki Valley.
In the Middle section, there thrives Lake Edward which has about 50 fish species, Ishasha River Valley with counts of Hippos whose population is steadily recovering (it was once the world’s largest) and eventually Rwindi plains with counts of elephants, Topi, Buffalo and Warthogs.
The Virunga Mountain section is the third is positioned to the south of the park. This area features the only population of Mountain gorillas in Congo that live on the slopes of Mikeno Volcano (4380m/14,557 ft). The dense forest cover which marks this sector of the park explains the concentration of gorillas and chimpanzees.
Besides primates in this section, there is Nyiragongo volcano (3470m/11,382 ft) featuring the world’s lava lake noted to be the most violent one. There is Mount Nyamulagira as well in the area and noted the Africa’s most active Volcano.
The Parc Nationale des Virunga as it was called during the colonial times was gazetted in 1925 on the orders of King Albert of Belgium and attained the world Heritage Site status in the year 1979 with the interest to protect the Mountain gorillas. The Institute Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) now undertakes the park management along with the Virunga Foundation.
With 706 species of birds, 218 mammal species, 78 Amphibian Species and 109 reptile species, and 78 Amphibian Species along with 22 primate species indeed Virunga National Park.
Attractions in Virunga National Park
Fauna/Wildlife as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is a home to 218 mammal species, 109 Reptile species, 78 Amphibian Species, 22 primate species along with three (3) Big Ape species namely; Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzee and Eastern low land gorillas. It is a unique landscape with all the three Big Ape species living together in the same locality. Other wildlife include; Elephants, lions, Hippos, Buffalo, Antelopes like Kobs, water bucks and Topis among other species.
Birds as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
There are 706 species of birds in Virunga National Park of which 24 are limited in range to Virunga National Park. Among the bird species in the park include; the herons, ibisis, egrets, duck, geese, bitterns, cormorants, skimmers, darters, open bills, ospreys, shoebills, francolins, gulls, weavers along with warblers. The myriad of pelicans thrive along the lower Rusthuru River Valley whereas the far north favours the papyrus yellow warbler. The Volcanic highlands the Shelley’s crimson wing and Stuhlmann’s doublecollared sunbird along with the RwenzoriTuraco, the Handsome Francolin among other species.
Flora / Vegatation as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
Positioned at an adjoining point of a range of geographical zones, Virunga National Park features a great deal of biodiversity. The floral diversity in the park include; the equatorial forest stretching along the Semliki Valley, the Mountain Hagenia and Bamboo, Rwindi savannah woodland, Neoboutoniamacrocalyx forest on the lava plains, swamps and low land savannahs, dry thick forest, the high altitude dwelling vegetation like lichens above 4300m among others.
Mountain gorillas as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
Virunga landscape which comprises of Virunga National Park along with Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla Park and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park features a count of 480 mountain which is more than a half of the 880 mountain gorilla population known to be thriving in the world. The mountain gorillas dwell on the slopes of Mount Mikeno about 2 ½ hours from Goma – the closest city.
Congo Safari Activities in Virunga National Park
Gorilla Trekking as a Congo Safari Activity in Virunga National Park
The Mountain gorillas thrive on the slopes of Mikeno sector about 2 ½ hour’s drive from the Goma. The gorilla trekking in Congo’s Virunga National Park can be undertaken connecting from Uganda via Bunagana or from Rwanda and the gorilla permit in Congo is at $400 and can be bought at Congolese Wildlife Authority Sales Office in Goma or direct from ICCN. The gorilla trekking commences at Bukima Patrol Post and it includes 1 – 2 hours’ hike depending on the gorilla movement. The viewing is limited to one hour after which you return from the encounter.
There are a range of gorilla families in Virunga National Park and these include;
- Kabirizi Family
Kabirizi gorilla family features a count of 34 gorilla groups including two (2) Silverback. This is positioned in Bukima sector and the dominant silverback is called Kabirizi. The name of this gorilla group is derived from the former ICCN Director who lost his life in a motor accident in the 1990s. Kabirizi Silverback was habituated in 1998 from being a wild gorilla and it succeeded Ndugutse Silverback which was killed in a cross fire between the Rwanda rebels and Congo Army in 1997.
- Humba Family
Humba Gorilla family lives in Bukima sector close to Goma as well headed by Humba Silverback. This gorilla family features a count of sixteen (16) gorillas and two (2) Silverbacks. Humba is a brother to Sekwenkwe who lost his life on July 22nd 2007 to unidentified gun men. Humba diverged from the father Rugendo in 1998 but has maintained the dominance of the group up to present. Humba is the most calm gorilla group and thus a darling to many Congo gorilla trekking safari undertakers.
- Rugendo Family
Rugendo family is marked by a dark history and it derives its name from one of the earlier Silverbacks called Rugendo. The family had eighteen (18) members in the year 1997 with two Silverbacks; Rugendo and the son Humba along with another Black back son called Senkwekwe, eight (8) mature females, six (6) infants and one (1) sub adult female. Humba left the main group in 1998 leaving Rugendo with only 8 members including Silverback Rugendo, Black back Senkwekwe, four (4) mature females along with three (3) infants.
The group was lucky to have two births in 1999 by Safi and Neza. But due political instability that characterised the region at that time resulted into death of Rugendo on July 15th 2001 in the clashes between the Interahamwe and the Congo Military. Rugendo’s tomb is at Rumangabo. This gave vacuum to Senkwekwe to become the lead Silverback. Because of its inexperience in group management, Kidole an adult female joined Mapuwa gorilla family while Safi and her child disappeared which in turn reduced the group to six (6) members. The infant Bahati was stoned to death by locals at Bikenge after straying to their cornfield in 2003.
Fortunately, the group registered numerous births among members when Safari gave birth to Bavukahe on Dec 6th and Neza gave birth to Noel on Dec 24th but Bilali adult female left to Munyaga gorilla group
In the year 2005, three members joined Rugendo group including Mburanumwe a sub adult female from Humba gorilla family, Macibiri an adult female from Kabirizi group and Mukunda a sub adult from Humba gorilla group. In 2006, Macibiri gave birth to Ntaribi and by June the same year, the group had a count of 12 individuals following the birth Ndeze by the adult female Safari. But the joy did not last as the family was attacked July 2007 resulting into death of Mburanumwe, Neza, Safari and the Silverback Senkwekwe. Later in August 2007, the Maciniri remains were traced while her infant Ntaribi is also believed dead.
Following the massacre, the groups reunited again and the baby gorilla Ndeze now an orphan was taken to a house in Goma where it found another orphan called Ndakasi which were all taken to the newly built Senkwekwe Centre in the park after the end of the war. Apparently, Rugendo has seven (7) members including three (3) Silverbacks namely Kongomani, Bukima and Baseka, two (2) females, one (1) baby and one (1) juvenile.
- Mapuwa Family
Mapuwa gorilla family features 15 individuals with 1 silverback and it thrives in Jomba close to the border of Bunagana that links the area with Uganda. The main silverback is called Mapuwa and he is known for his zeal in defending his members and annexing other members into his family which has resulted into rapid in group’s size.
- Lulengo Family
Lulengo Gorilla group comprises of 6 individuals and 1 silverback. The dominant Silverback is called Lulengo and the group lived in Jomba Sector to the Uganda border of Bunagana. Lulengo hails from Rugabo family known to be the first habituated gorilla family in Mikeno sector. The rangers changed the name of this group from Masekura to Lulengo in commemoration of Virunga National Park Technical Director who was killed by a landmine.
- Munyaga Family
Munyaga gorilla group lives in Bukima sector near the city of Goma and has 7 members of which 2 are silverbacks. This is the last group that was found by the rangers in 2008 and was led by Munyaga – the Silverback and Bilali – the main female. Bilali is noted to have joined this group in 2004 straying from Rugendo along with her two (2) babies. Apparently the main Silverback is called Mawazo following the disappearance of Munyaga.
Nyiragongo Volcano Hike as a Congo Safari activity in Virunga National Park
Nyiragongo is a notable Strato-Volcano featuring the largest and most violent lava lake in the world. The hike to Mount Nyiragongo is very adventurous and historical presenting remarkable memories on safari in Congo. The hike starts at Kibati Patrol post approximately 30 minutes drive from the city of Goma and 1 hour from Mikeno lodge in the area of Rumagabo. The hiking encounter takes 4 – 6 hours and a night on the mountain is spent in the camps whose fee is always included in the permit fee. The hiking commences at 9am from Kibati.
What to carry for Nyiragongo Volcano Hike;
- Full rain and cold weather gear like the moisture-wicking base layer, jacket, sweater or fleece, rain resistant pants, warm socks, hat, long underwear and a 0°C/32° – rated sleeping bag.
- Trekkers from Mikeno lodge can take packed meal service while other can bring theirs as well as Nyiragongo has no food service
- Porters can be secured at $12 per day and each porter carries15kg.
Rwenzori Mountain Trek as a Congo Safari activity in Virunga National Park
Standing at the border of Uganda, Rwenzori Mountains have snow capped peaks and is the third highest in Africa. Rwenzori trekking from the Congo side takes a range of 4 – 6 days traversing the beautiful mountain vegetation and the remarkable sightseeing of the mountain slopes and glacial peaks. The best time for this activity is January through March and from the month of June to late August. The trekkers have to carry own gear and mountaineering equipment since Virunga National Park does not have them. The porters can be hired on ground and the price is not fixed.
Visit the Tongo Chimps as a Congo Safari Activity in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park has one habituated Chimpanzee group in the Tongo hills to the South of the park and West of the park headquarters in Rumagabo presenting the Chimpanzee trekking encounter. Tongo is a notable forest Island over 300 years old thriving on a lava flow from Nyamulagira.
ACCOMMODATION IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK
Mikeno Lodge is located at 90 minutes drive from Goma town. It is a luxury facility featuring spacious bungalows, restaurants and fireplace.
Accommodation rates at Mikeno Lodge
BUKIMA TENTED CAMP
Bukima Tented Camp is positioned on the boundary of Virunga National Park and forms the start point for Congo mountain gorilla trekking activity in the same park. This camp was initially used by researchers but now accommodates Congo Safari undertakers.
Facilities at Bukima Tented Camp
- 6 tents (4 with double beds & 2 with twin beds)
- Views of Nyiragongo Volcano
- Each tent has an adjoining bathroom with flowing water, good bed and dresser for the clothes.
The camp offers spectacular views of the Mikeno Volcano, Nyiragongo with red glow of the lava at night and Nyamulagira and its eruption wonders.
Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters
These are 12 shelters each with 2 single beds. It provides basic accommodation thus trekkers have to carry sleeping bags. The accommodation tariff for these shelters is always included in the hiking permit.
TCHEGERA ISLAND TENTED CAMP
Tchegera Island Camp is positioned on the shores of Lake Kivu overlooking the Virunga volcanoes. It is an Island accommodation perfect for relaxation after Nyiragongo Volcano hike.
Accommodation at Tchegera Island Camp
|Round boat trip||$100|