Virunga National Park

In the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a world where living things spring to life: the cooling tropical forest ambience, active volcanoes beckon, the silverback gorilla boasts and the birds sing their songs of welcome.

The story of the park

Virunga national park is a UNESCO world heritage because of its biodiversity.

It was gazetted in 1925, it’s one of the oldest park in Africa. the park’s history of wildlife conservation went through challenging political instabilities. The conflicts begun in early in the 1990’s but intensified in 1996 through a decade to 2016. As a result, the park was listed as a world heritage site in danger.

Fortunately, tourism helps to bring revenue to fund for conservation of wildlife and also give back to the community around. People’s attitudes towards tourism in Virunga are changing locally and internationally. Therefore, by visiting Virunga National Park not only you will be rewarded to see mountain gorillas or hike an active volcano Mt. Nyiragongo, you are greatly contributing money that helps the park’s biodiversity remain for future generations.

Now is it safe to visit Virunga National Park?

Yes, since 2016 the number of travelers going there has been increasing. Even before that, few visitors were going to Virunga that most travel advisories regarded as unsafe place to visit.

However, that’s not what it used to be. There has been a considerable insecurity that it’s not recommended to travel there on your own. Several armed rebel groups fight for various interests including to gain control of mineral resources like gold, poaching wildlife and cutting timber. Conflict has not been happening inside the park. instead it happens in areas surrounding it such as south kivu about 40 miles away.

Even after security in and around the park has improved. Security setbacks do happen because the park is large, people with bad intentions still find a way in. for instance; a number of Congolese wildlife rangers have lost their lives while protecting the park.

A few gorillas have also been killed. And kidnap of a few targeted western travelers in early 2019 are some the challenges the park has to deal with to keep travelers coming.

No place can be 100 percent safe so is east DR Congo.

 

What’s being done to ensure safety of travelers?

The government of DR Congo improved security through working with Rwanda and Uganda which are neighbors to eastern DR Congo.

The new management of the park works together with tour operators and accommodation facilities has implemented measures to ensure safety of travelers.

For instance, visitors arriving at the border from via Kigali are escorted by rangers to their places of stay when coming to Virunga and after the trip. That’s why it’s not advisable to travel there on your own. Instead you should use a tour operator and get up-to-date information from the park authorities.

Contact Jungle Memories to plan your safari to Eastern DR Congo. info@exploregorillasafaris.com

Our popular tour itineraries to eastern DR Congo

3-day Virunga gorilla tour

3-day lowland gorilla tracking – Kahuzi Beiga National Park

5-day Virunga and Nyiragongo hike

5-day lowland gorilla tracking and Nyiragongo

7-day Virunga and Nyiragongo tour

 

Things to do in Virunga National Park

A range of Itineraries to Virunga park are provided. From 3 days to a week-long tour. On top of gorillas and Nyiragongo hike, you can do community tours, forest walks, visit goma town and Lake Kivu.

If you were to all the activities mentioned, you would spend between 5-7 days.

Mountain gorilla tracking

The major tourism attraction are the mountain gorillas and Nyiragongo an active volcano. The park rangers have habituated about 6 gorilla families and Virunga gorilla tracking allow visitors to see the gentle giants in their natural habitat.

The gorilla rules here require visitors to put on surgical masks. Unlike in Rwanda and Uganda which might also emphasize the mask after the covid-19 pandemic.

Nyiragongo volcano hike

There are two active volcanoes, Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira south of Virunga national park. however, its Nyiragongo that is accessible for hikers. The altitude at the top of the volcano is about 3,745 meters above sea level.

Getting there is relatively difficult but possible. It takes about six hours to hike from the bottom to the top. You shall spend your night at the cabins built on top or you can pitch a tent.

View the active lava lake the evening and night of your first day.

Now don’t try to walk alone on the edge of the lava lake. You can easily slip off into the pit of fire.

Descending back to the bottom takes the same time as going up.

It’s important that you have physical strength. Still, you have a team of rangers, porters and cooks to give an extra hand. Make sure you have a few items on your packing list. Sleeping bag, mosquito repellant, earphones, gloves, personal energy drinks and walking stick.

Community tours

Forest walks at Mikeno

The forests around Mikeno volcano are home to chimpanzees, birds and monkeys. if you want to do nature walk around, you should plan to stay at Mikeno lodge. The local guides are available to take you around.

Lake Kivu

This lake stretches across the borders of Rwanda and eastern DR Congo.

You can visit some of the recreation spots on either side.

When you are returning from hiking and you have time. a number of activities available include fishing, boat rides to some of the islands such as idwji island. Check out these places………

Goma town

Located at the bottom of Nyiragongo, goma is an unsettled town because of a threat posed by active volcanic activity.

The 2002 volcanic eruption spitted fast flowing magma. Nearly half of the city’s structures were destroyed and many people moved.

The streets are dotted with buildings, preferably half forgotten.

 

Biodiversity of Virunga National Park

As you search for gorillas on foot through the forest, you will be amazed by a variety of flora.

you may not see much wildlife other than gorillas, birds, butterflies. But, the biodiversity of Virunga National Park is one of the richest in Africa because of a variety of species of mammals, birds, primates, reptiles, amphibians, insects and flora.

There are 218 mammals in the park including savanna and forest elephants, hippos, okapi and lions. There are over 700 species of birds including birds that are endemic to the Albertine rift valley. The highest variety of reptiles in Africa about 107 are recorded in the park. there are over 78 amphibian species. Besides the great apes such as the mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees, there are 22 primates including golden monkeys.

Virunga national park covers about 7800 km2. this area includes rich habitats such as tropical forests, swamps, steppes, eroded valleys, Virunga volcanoes and part of snowcapped peaks of Rwenzori mountains.

Where to stay – accommodations in and around Virunga National Park

  • Mikeni Lodge
  • Kibumba Tented camp
  • Tchegera Island
  • Lulimbi tented camp
  • Nyiragongo volcano summit cabins
  • La Joie Plazza Hotel

 

Mikeno Lodge

This luxury lodge has 12 bungalows which are built with rocks and thatched with grass. Each bungalow has two beds rooms directly connected to the bathrooms, private veranda and a lounge with a fireplace.

Mikeno lodge is located inside Virunga national park on the slopes of Mikeno volcano. It’s a few minutes’ walk to the gorilla tracking center.

Rates for Mikeno Lodge

  • Single room­ – USD 316 per night per person
  • Double/Twin room – $450 usd per person per night

KIBUMBA TENTED CAMP

 

How to get there

most of our itineraries to Virunga National Park start in Kigali Rwanda. From Kigali, it’s we drive by road about 2 hours to Gisenyi town and then cross the border into the DR Congo. You drive further from the border to Goma town which is about 20 km away from Virunga National park. This is the safest route to use.

Using light aircrafts, it’s possible to fly in to Goma town from regional destinations.

For instance, fly in from Entebbe Uganda. fly to Goma from Kigali.

 

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