Virunga National Park in Africa is one of the best parks offering unforgettable Gorilla Trekking in Congo safaris and tours with a diversity of wildlife in the Albertine Rift Valley in the Eastern part of the Congo Basin of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This park was created in 1925 by the then King of Belgium King Albert I as Albert National Park. It covers an area of 8,090 km2 and its elevation ranges from Semliki River Valley to the Rwenzori Mountains.
Virunga National Park is Africa’s most biodiverse protected area home to over one thousand mammal species, birds, and reptiles, and has a third of the world’s endangered Mountain Gorillas.
This park has two active volcanoes which are Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira in the south and due to its rich diversity of habitats, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, it has also been listed in the list of world heritage status in danger since 1994 because of civil unrest and the increase of human presence in the park.
There are 3 sectors in this park which are the northern sector, the southern sector, and the central sector. The northern sector covers parts of the Semliki River basin and is dominated by Savannah vegetation and sections of montane forests.
Virunga National Park was primarily gazetted to protect the Mountain Gorillas which are also found within Bwindi and the Volcanoes Park of Rwanda.
There are about 196 mammal species, 67 amphibians, 708 bird species, and 108 reptiles to watch within this protected area. Some of the mammal species, are the Aardvark, African Buffalos, Bush Elephants, African Leopards, Bay Duikers, etc.
Some of the primate species in this park are Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Blue Monkeys, Central African Red Colobus, De Brazza’s Monkey, Dent’s Mona Monkeys, Golden Monkeys that you can see during Golden Monkey trekking, etc.
When you tour Virunga National Park in Africa, you can also explore the local tribes like the Batwa, Mbuti, Hutu, and Tutsi indigenous people who live in sections of the park.
The Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation is responsible for managing the park. It has faced several challenges given the volatile situation in eastern DRC.
Virunga National Park in Africa offers remarkable Gorilla safaris that you can enjoy on your Congo safaris for an amazing African safari experience.
Despite the volatile environment of Eastern DRC, Virunga Park has an exceptional biodiversity of amazing attractions that make it irresistible for tourists.
The top attractions in Virunga Park include;
Climate; many people want to visit Virunga Conservancy because of its pleasant warm weather and mild showers. The park is crossed by the equator line and it carries high temperatures with it.
The surrounding waterbodies; Lakes Kivu, Albert, and Lake Edward have cool breezes that result in a pleasant mix of tropical and equatorial climates.
Mountain Gorillas; these are the top attraction of all the wildlife species in Virunga Park. There are several families of the endangered Gorillas that you can see when you come to Virunga National Park with dominant Silverbacks.
Virunga Mountains; these are among the Virunga massif and there 8 mountains in the southern sector including the active volcanoes with the world’s largest Crater Lake. When you hike on top of the Virunga Mountains, you can see sightings of amazing wildlife species.
Bird species: the park’s different cover has over 706 bird species and 24 are recorded as endemic species in Virunga National Park. Some of the birds to see include Crested Guineafowl, Common Quail, Harlequin Quail, Heuglin’s Francolin, Hildebrandt’s Francolin, Red-necked Spurfowl, Handsome Francolin, White-throated Francolin, etc.
Mammals; Virunga has exceptional biodiversity of habitat conditions for several mammal species. There are about 218 mammal species, and you can see them when encountering Gorillas or Congo hiking Nyiragongo volcano an active volcano.
Some of the mammals to see include Giant Forest Hogs, Elephants, Buffalos, Lions, Leopards, Duikers, Bongo, Okapi, Kobs, etc.
Other Primate species: there are about 22 primate species within this protected area. You can see some of these primates when trekking Gorillas and they include Golden Monkeys that you can see during Golden Monkey trekking, Dent’s Mona Monkey, Red-tailed Monkeys, etc.
Although there are some issues in eastern DRC, Virunga National Park offers rewarding activities for tourists on Congo safari tours.
Below are some of the activities to enjoy within Virunga Park.
The Virunga massif that extends to Rwanda and Uganda is the only habitat of Gorillas on earth on the African continent. Mountain Gorilla trekking is one of the most popular activities in Virunga Park in DR Congo.
There are not so many Gorillas in Virunga despite the large size of the park as there are six families that you can track. Each of the families at least has a dominant Silverback Gorilla.
Trekking the endangered Gorillas starts with a briefing from the park rangers at the park headquarters. After, you enter the jungle in accompaniment of incredible rangers and search of the Gorillas and when you see a Gorilla family, you be with them for one full hour.
Of all the Gorilla families within Virunga, eight families have been habituated, and two families are still in the process of habituation.
Below are the Gorilla families in Virunga Park;
The Gorilla permit in Congo’s Virunga Park costs USD400 per person per trek. The permit is inclusive of park entrance fees and the accompaniment of the rangers.
This is a natural beauty in Virunga Park. Nyiragongo volcano is an active volcano with the world’s largest lava lake having lava plains.
Hiking the summit of Nyiragongo is an amazing experience as you get to observe the boiling molten lava. The Nyiragongo hiking tour is a test of travelers’ bravery and a very rare opportunity that awakens travelers’ adventure senses.
Virunga is a tropical rainforest with dense vegetation including woodland, grassland, and swamp. Travelers on a safari in Africa can set out in the morning and walk into the wilderness to explore and discover the breathtaking natural beauty of the landscape and entire wilderness.
You follow the trails in accompaniment of park rangers and most of the nature walks start from the visitors’ center on these walks, you can see several bird species and other primates.
Virunga Park has many habitats that range from Mountains, rainforests, open grasslands, swamps, and waterbodies. All these attract bird species with more than 706 record sightings.
On your birding trips in Africa in the park, you can spot the Grey-throated barbet, Madagascar bee-eater, Ruwenzori Turaco, Narrow-tailed starling, etc.
Travelers can walk into and explore the rainforests on the lookout for Chimpanzees (pan troglodytes). You should know that when tracking the Chimpanzees, you are only restricted to one hour to be in their presence.
Chimpanzee habituation in Congo is an exciting adventure as travelers spend the entire day in unlimited interactions with the Chimpanzee families. You set out early morning in the forest looking for Chimpanzees before they leave their nests, and you spend the entire observing and discovering their habits.
The Batwa have lived in the forests of Virunga, Volcanoes, Bwindi, and Mgahinga National Parks for years. However, the Batwa local communities were evicted and settled just outside of the parks.
The Batwa cultural trail is led by the Batwa indigenous people and they offer visitors a chance to learn how they live their lives like how they prepare their food and show off their hunting skills and you can enjoy the unforgettable drama. It is a rewarding experience to enjoy when you explore Virunga National Park on a Congo safari.
Adventurous travelers can embark on a 3-hour boat cruise to explore Lake Kivu with amazing sightings of Rwanda’s rolling hills that are covered with green terraced plantations and distant views of the volcanoes in the Virunga region, especially on the northern shore.
Virunga Park is open to tourists all year round as it is not closed due to the volatile situation in eastern Congo. However, just like in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the park has two dry and wet seasons.
The dry season is between July and September and December to February and the conditions in the park are favorable. You can enjoy Gorilla trekking during the dry months as the tracks are dry.
However, when coming in the wet season, you need to come with good hiking boots and accommodation is at lower costs.
Virunga Park is situated in eastern DRC, and you can access the park by road transport. Most of the travelers coming to Virunga fly to Kigali International Airport, then drive to Gisenyi town on a dirt terrain road.
It is a 2 hours drive from Gisenyi to reach the park headquarters at Bukima. Those coming from Uganda can cross the Bunagana border post in Kisoro town and it’s an hour’s drive to Bukima the Mountain Gorilla trekking starting point.
There are a few airlines that fly to Goma Airport weekly that you can use.
Virunga Park offers a wide range of accommodations ranging from budget and midrange to luxury suits that fit your budget.
Some of the accommodation facilities found within this park include;
When visiting Virunga Park, there are essential items you need to pack so that you get an amazing safari.
Some of the essentials to pack include;
Travel documents; when coming for a safari to Virunga, you need to have a valid passport, visa, and yellow fever vaccination card. These are required when crossing the border.
Clothes; the weather is unpredictable and you require a rain jacket, sweater, long sleeve shirt and trousers. You also require good hiking boots that you will use during Gorilla trekking.
Pocket Change; although dollars are used in the country, you need to change it into local currency to use for paying small bills, paying tips, paying for porters, etc.
A camera; is used for capturing memories like videos and pictures of wildlife in Virunga.
Binoculars; give you close views of wildlife species in case they are at a distance giving you a better experience.
Other essentials; include personal medicines, electric adapters, flashlights, insect repellents, etc.
This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site unique with its active chain of volcanoes and rich diversity of habits that surpass those of any other African park.
It was the first park in Africa as Albert National Park and it borders the Volcanoes of Rwanda, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda.
Mountain Gorillas are one of the rarest mammals on the planet though Virunga protects a significant proportion of the last remaining Gorilla population. The government working hard to ensure the conservation of the Gorillas within the protected areas.
At the heart of this conservation effort is the tireless work of more than a thousand park wardens who daily monitor the apes even during most violent events.
Due to the success of the conservation, the population has at least improved in the last decade, and this is because of the efforts of Virunga rangers.
This conservation success is the result of a so-called “extreme conservation” strategy which involves, daily, close monitoring of individuals by guards, trackers, and veterinarians.
There is also Virunga a 2014 British documentary film presented by Violet Films that focuses on the conservation work of park rangers within Virunga Park during the rise of the M23 rebellion. It also investigates the activity of the British Oil company.
The documentary film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on 17 April 2014. The documentary film from Violet Films tells the story of four characters fighting to protect the park with enough action, pathos, heart-stopping suspense, venal villains, heart-wrenching tenderness, and stalwart heroes. There are also a dozen fiction films that have acted about Virunga.
Yes, it is worth going to Gorilla trekking in Virunga in Congo as you get to see the Gorillas face to face. There are over eight habituated mountain gorilla groups that you can see when you go on a Congo tour.
You spend one hour with the Gorillas which is one of the greatest wildlife experiences that is unforgettable on a tour in Africa.
Yes, safaris to Virunga are booked in advance, not on arrival. You can book a Gorilla permit from the DRC government body which is the ICCN (Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation).
There is no specific time to explore Virunga Park as you can visit the park depending on your schedule and budget. The minimum number of days can be 3 days as you can hike Nyiragongo Volcano one of the active volcanoes with sightings of the world’s largest lava-lake on the African continent.
You can also enjoy Gorilla tracking in the presence of park rangers. During this time, you can also go for a boat cruise on Lake Kivu especially in North Kivu.
Virunga Park was founded in 1925 as Albert National Park and it was the first park to be established on the continent of Africa, primarily to protect the mountain Gorillas living in the forest of the Virunga massif.
It was limited to three volcanoes in the south but was later expanded northward to include the Rwindi plains, Lake Edward, and the Rwenzori Mountains just next to Queen Elizabeth National Park of Uganda. In 1979, Virunga was designated as a World Heritage Site.
Over the past years, Virunga has been in many periods of conflict (war) often beginning in eastern Congo.
In 2008, the Congolese National Parks Authority, (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, ICCN), and the Virunga Foundation (then known as the Africa Conservation Foundation), entered into a partnership to manage the Park.
The partnership became the Virunga Alliance with the intention of sustainable development of the surrounding local communities and avoiding any conflict from rebel groups.
The weather of Virunga is favorable as the park is surrounded by lakes Kivu, Lake Edward, Albert, River Congo, and River Ishasha which lead to a mix of tropical and equatorial climates with an average rainfall of 190mm.
Since the park is located on the leeward side of the highland which has glaciers all year round, there is constant rainfall. At different altitudes of the highland are varying environments like the montane forest at 2,000m-3,000m, and moorland that is similar to that in the Alps at above 4,000m.
During March, April, May, September, October, and November is time for the wet season and the area receives high volumes of rain alongside very low temperatures during the night.
Virunga National Park is a protected area home to various animals and park rangers and staff strive to provide conditions that support the growth of their populations as they are threatened by conflict (war).
Some of the animals to see include;
Yes, Virunga is open for tourists though it had closed for some time after a hard decision from the park management. This was due to unpredictable violence in the province of North Kivu where the park sits.
The park is not closed now as it opens for Virunga tours since it reopened in 2019. There was a tough decision in 2021 to enclose the park due to the pandemic and the conflict but it later opened and now welcomes tourists.
The closure of the park is mostly about the rebel groups known for living inside the park. The DRC government has worked very hard in the conservation of the park and to keep the armed groups away and now the park is safe and welcomes visitors.
Pharos Energy Plc, previously SOCO International, is an oil and gas exploration and production company. This oil company changed its name after coming under fire for illegal activities in Virunga.
Soco International does not operate in Virunga as it was chased out of the park by the people at the DRC government as its work of searching for oil was illegal.
The government reaffirmed its conviction that Virunga has an outstanding universal value for all humanity by canceling all oil concessions overlapping the park as requested by UNESCO as it was not contributing to sustainable development.
Soco International stopped exploring the oil opportunities in Virunga in 2014.
Virunga is found along the equator on the western edge of the DR Congo, and it is one of the extraordinary natural places on earth. It is the oldest park on the African continent, a world heritage site, and a Ramsar site.
Although this park’s pristine wilderness has been granted protection under Congolese and international law, many companies want to pursue plans for oil extraction from the park.
This is the main threat now as major oil exploitation could involve disruptive forest clearing, deep drilling, or the laying of vulnerable oil pipelines. Oil and mineral extraction have been found by UNESCO to be incompatible with the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.
The Congolese government has been called on by UNESCO to abandon all plans for oil extraction and that’s why the British Oil Company was banished out of the forest. There is also a problem of armed groups around the park boundaries.
Virunga Park is the oldest game park on the African continent hosting three great ape species including the Mountain Gorilla, Chimpanzees, and Grauer’s Gorillas.
Has one-quarter of the remaining mountain Gorillas on the planet. Virunga is used for oil mining and the park receives many funds for conservation purposes.
The park is located on the eastern land border between DR Congo and Rwanda within the Congo Basin. This park is within the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world.
The park lies close to one of the most troubled protected areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the North Kivu, however, there are rarely attacks in the park. The North Kivu area has been troubled by the ADF rebel groups.
Virunga Park is one of the few parks in the world that has had several closures and the latest was in 2021 when the protected areas near the park were attacked twice. After the urgent investigative report, the park management reopened the park in 2022.
The safety of tourists is the priority and that is why the park is closed in case of any insecurity.
In summary, Virunga National Park is one of the most diverse parks in the world home to the mountain Gorillas, and in the south of the park is Nyiragongo volcano one of the active volcanoes in the world.
Virunga has rare wildlife species like the Okapi, Golden Monkeys, Bonobos, and among others. Tourists can always come to the park for Gorilla trekking and other wildlife viewing when on their Congo tours for amazing adventures.