The 2nd largest country in Africa, Democratic republic of Congo also called DR Congo is located in central Africa in the Congo forest basin. The capital city Kinshasha is found in the western part of the country towards the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
Because DR Congo is a large country, it has potential for tourism development. This post focuses on the eastern part of Congo which borders with western Rwanda and Uganda. Plan your safari to visit eastern DR Congo destinations with Jungle Memories.
How Safe is Eastern DR Congo for travel?
The attractions in east DR Congo are worth visiting. They include Virunga National Park for mountain gorilla tracking, Kuhuzi Beiga National Park home to lowland gorillas and Nyiragongo, an active volcano.
For sure, it’s not advisable to travel there on your own as you will be isolating yourself and there are threats by armed rebel groups who can take advantage. However, finding a tour operator who have security measures with rangers make your trip safer. Many travelers have visited eastern DR Congo in 2019 and early 2020 before covid-19 lockdown and they review on TripAdvisor to have felt safe.
That’s not say there are no security threats. In fact, many countries do not advise their citizens to visit DR Congo. Basing on the fact that the region has been in conflict since 1996. But, the conflict is largely political as different rebel groups fight to gain control of mineral resources such as gold in the areas of Katanga and south Kivu and NOT directed at travelers.
Incidents that have involved death of wildlife rangers and kidnap of tourists happen because of conflict of interests such as poaching for wildlife. Reports from the tourism authorities say that these incidents are set up to disrupt tourism in the region because of its potential for development.
despite the incidents, the number of travelers going to DR Congo for gorilla tracking safaris has been increasing since 2014. That’s because of the measures that have been put in place by the Congolese tourism authorities.
To ensure safety, booking your trip to eastern DR Congo is overseen Congolese tourism authorities. For instance, to get your travel visa, you must first how show evidence that you have already booked accommodation or a gorilla permit with a tour operator. This is done to ensure that when travelers arrive at the borders are given armed rangers to escort them to their respective places.
Where to go in eastern DR Congo for safari
Virunga National Park
Virunga is one of the oldest national parks in Africa established in 1925 and designated as UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. The park spans an area of 7800 sq km which comprises of different ecosystems including equatorial rainforests, savannah, flood plains, steppes, active volcanoes and snowcapped Ruwenzori Mountains. It is one of the most biologically diverse national parks in Africa home to 280 mammals and 700 species of birds. The park’s main tourist attractions are mountain gorillas. At Bukima the main visitor center in the southern sector of the park there are 5 gorilla families that are habituated for tourists to track and gorilla trekking is best done December to February and June to September. Visitors to virunga can also enjoy searching for chimps if you are staying at Mikeno.
popular tour itineraries to Virunga national park
Kahuzi Beiga national park
Kahuzi Beiga national park is also a UNESCO world heritage site located in Bukavu province near the shores of Lake Kivu and easy to reach from Gisenyi Rwanda. The park is made up of two mountains Mt. Kahuzi and Mt. Beiga which the park derives its name. The park’s habitats include mountainous forests and lowland tropical swamps and savannahs which are home to eastern lowland gorillas. Tourists can visit the park to enjoy lowland gorilla trekking safaris but there’s much more to see and do in the park. Climb Mt. Kahuzi for amazing views, go for a nature walk to see waterfalls while you search for birds and bongo the largest antelope and you may be lucky to come across forest elephants.
Senkwekwe orphan gorilla center
The gorilla orphan project was established in 2009 to provide care to both mountain and lowland gorillas that were separated from their families due to poaching and war. Senkwekwe gorilla center is found at Rumangabo/ Bukima visitor center and visitors to Virunga national park can take a visit there to support the facility and rehabilitation of gorillas.
Mount Nyiragongo is an active volcano located south of Virunga National Par eastern DR Congo. The history of eruptions is not known but its estimated Nyiragongo has erupted 34 times since 1880.
Most recently eruption happened in 2002 Nyiragongo erupted violently spitting hot magma 20 km away. Parts of Goma town were covered by magma which forced many people to leave. Though, Nyiragongo has not erupted since 2002, its lava lake keeps on emitting smoke which shows signs of active volcanic activity. The summit of the volcano is accessible which give hikers an opportunity to witness the active lake.
Reaching 3700 meters above sea level, hiking to the summit of Nyiragongo is quiet difficult. The starting point is Kibati located a few minute’s drive from Bukima gorilla center virunga national park. Hiking includes overnight stay at crater rim on the cabins which allows viewing the lava lake at night. Visitors need to pack warm layers, sleeping bags and rain jackets and there are porters to help carry your bags up there.
Lake Kivu is a rift valley lake shared between Rwanda and DR Congo. Its waters are suitable for swimming along the beaches in Gisenyi. Boat rides can be done to explore the islands. the largest is Idjwid island on the eastern side of DR Congo.
When to visit DR Congo
DR Congo experiences equatorial climate which means that it receives high rainfall amounts and humidity. There are two season-the dry and the rainy season. The dry season which lasts from June to September and December, January to February is the best time to visit if you want to track gorillas and hike mount Nyiragongo volcano because rain is less frequent. During the rainy season you can also visit DR Congo but expect heavy rains falling almost every day which make hiking quite difficult.
How to get there
Most trips to eastern DR Congo start and end in Rwanda or south western Uganda since they lie near the border. Travelers need to join a safari tour with a guide as the best way to get to the DR Congo. From Kigali Rwanda, you drive about 2 hours to Gisenyi town and cross the border to Goma town which is about 20 km away from Virunga National Park.