Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the world and it is located in Goma in the eastern province of Congo. The park spans over a radius of 8090 square kilometers and is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. The national park neighbors Mgahinga national park in Uganda and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
Virunga national park in Congo was declared a national park in 1925 purposely to protect and conserve its mountain gorillas. The national park shelters over 706 bird species, 218 mammal species including the Forest Elephants, Buffaloes, Topi, Duikers, Hippos, Bushbucks, Waterbucks, Giant Forest Hogs, Rare Ground Hogs, Lions, primate species like the famous Mountain Gorillas with about 8 habituated gorilla families which are available for trekking on a daily basis, Chimpanzees, Red Tailed Monkeys, Black and White Monkeys, Olive Baboon, Reptiles, Amphibians, Vegetation types with various tree and plant species among others.
Attractions and Activities in Virunga National Park, Congo.
Primates, The Park is a home of several primates including the famous mountain gorillas which are about 200 individuals, chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkey, olive baboons, red tailed monkey, blue monkey, golden monkeys, grey cheeked mangabey among others.
Mammals, The national park is a habitat for over 200 mammals including buffaloes, bush elephants, leopards, duikers, giant forest hog, giant pangolin, marsh mongoose, bush squirrels, hippos, warthogs, antelopes among others.
Birds, The Park is known as a birders paradise in that it harbors about 708 bird species including grey throated barbet, white headed wood hoopoe, thick bellied sea eater, blue headed sunbird, black headed waxbill, blue spotted wood dove, and strange weaver among others.
Vegetation, Virunga national park in Congo is a mainly composed of a tropical rainforest with various vegetation types including savannah woodland and grassland, alpine vegetation and swamp. The vegetation in the park acts as food and habitat for the animals.
Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Nyiragongo is an active volcano in Virunga national park. The mountain summit stands at 6500 feet which shelters the largest lava lake in the whole world. Mount Nyiragongo has erupted about 34 times with the last eruption in 2002. This attraction offers spectacular views on top including Virunga forest, animal and primate species which can be seen while hiking among others.
Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage, Senkwekwe is the only orphanage that takes care of the gorillas in the whole world. The orphanage is located near Mikeno lodge at the park headquarters and was opened in 2010. The orphaned gorillas at Senkwekwe have a medical gorilla doctor who treats them, provided with food among others.
Activities in Virunga National Park Congo.
Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park is done at a fee of 400 USD per person. Gorilla trekking activities in the park begin at Bukima Patrol Post. Tracking can last a period of 3- 8 hours with an hour of direct contact with the gorillas. Other gorilla families that can be tracked by tourists in visiting the park include; Bageni, Humba, Mapuwa, Lulengo, Munyaga, Nyakamwe and Rugendo.
The national park shelters a third of the population of mountain gorillas in the world. The national park has 8 habituated gorilla groups available for tourists to track, with the Kabirizi gorilla family being the largest and most sought after group by gorilla trekkers. This gorilla group can be found in the Bukima sector and has a total of 34 individuals.
Chimpanzee trekking in Virunga national park in Congo park starts early in the morning with a briefing where after the visitors will be grouped and given a park guide that will guide them during trekking in the jungle. Chimpanzees are mobile species in that they like to move from one place to another in search of food therefore trekking can take short or long hours and when the chimpanzees have been found visitors will spend one hour with them in their natural habitat.
Chimpanzee habituation is a process where chimpanzees are trained to get used to human presence. Chimpanzee habituation in the park started in 1987 by a zoologist called Frankfurt and was opened for visitors in 2014. Chimpanzee trekking is carried out by a team of researchers, park guides, park rangers and visitors. Chimpanzee trekking is a full day activity that allows a maximum of 4 people to participate in the activity and spend 4 hours with the chimpanzees unlike chimpanzee trekking where they spend only one hour. Chimpanzee trekking therefore offers extraordinary and breathtaking experiences for tourists visiting the national park.
Hiking to Mount Nyiragongo:
Tourists visiting Virunga national park in Congo can go hiking on Nyiragongo Mountain. Mountain Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano found within the national park and tourists can embark on hiking expeditions to the lava lake in the mountain. Hiking activities to the mountain begin at the head trail at Kibati Patrol post, which is a 30 min drive from Goma city and an hour from Mikeno lodge. Hiking expeditions start at exactly 9am and last between 1- 6 hours.
Other activities carried out in Virunga National Park include; hiking Mount Rwenzori, guided nature walks, landscape viewing and bird watching.
Best time to visit Virunga National Park
Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be visited anytime throughout the year and the best time is during the dry season in the months of June to September and December to February. The dry season is also known as the peak season when there is less rainfall therefore most activities will be successful such as gorilla trekking, nature walk, climbing mount Nyiragongo among others. During the dry season the gorilla trekking, nature walk and hiking trails will be passable compared to the rainy season in the months of March to May and October to November when there is heavy rainfall which makes the trail wet, muddy and slippery.
How to get to Virunga National Park in Congo.
It is easy and more convenient for visitors to access Virunga National Park in Congo from Kigali city in Rwanda. Travelers will have to drive for 3 hours from Kigali to Gisenyi town and cross the Rwanda- Congo border at Le Grande Barrier into Goma in Congo. It takes between 1-2 hours’ drive from Goma to the park headquarters.
Alternatively, visitors travelling to the park can travel by air from Kigali international airport to Goma International Airport using Ethiopian Airlines. Goma is the starting point for all gorilla trekking safaris in Congo.
Accommodation in Virunga National Park
Virunga national park has few accommodation facilities which range from luxury, midrange, and budget. These include; Mikeno Lodge, Bukima Tented Camp, Tchegera Island Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Summit Shelter, Kibumba Tented Camp in southeastern part of Virunga, Lulimbi Tented Camp in the eastern part, Lake Kivu hotel in Goma among others. Lodges in the park offer a quiet and conducive atmosphere for relaxation especially after gorilla trekking, great scenic views of the forest and the surrounding communities, views of wildlife species, spacious and comfortable beds, prepare both local and international dishes for the visitors to enjoy their stay during the safari in Congo.