If you try to ask most of travelers who visit Democratic Republic of Congo, the reason why there are doing so, Virunga National Park cannot miss among the answers.
This Park is an ideal locality for those who seek a destination with spectacular sights and free from crowds. It is located in the Eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo.
Formerly called Albert National Park, Virunga covers a total area of 8090 square kilometers and is in close proximity to the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda.
Virunga National Park is the oldest protected area in Africa, it was mainly gazetted to protect and conserve the unique Wildlife species including the endangered ground dwelling Mountain Gorillas.
This Park is under the Virunga wildlife conservancy, a great joint where the West African rain-forests meet with the East African Savanna grasslands. This zone stretches for about 300km along the Albertine rift (this rift valley splits the African continent from north to south)
To add on that, its diverse ecosystem that include volcanic mountains, Albertine rift, crater lakes, rain-forests, woodlands, open grasslands, swamps and wetlands provides habitat to a range of a diverse Wildlife including unique species that are not found anywhere else in Africa.
Although some political upheavals brought in negative implications on the conservancy that did not limit, in 1979, this Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Park was more affected during those times of the 1990 war period in Rwanda, thousands encroached the park’s areas seeking refuge.
With this, in 1994 the Park was declared a World Heritage Site under danger; it became a ramser site of international importance in 1996.
After all that, the big thanks and appreciation goes to the Virunga foundation, it has played a great role as far as restoring Virunga National Park into a secure tourism destination. It’s now a major draw for most tourists to DR Congo.
A diverse range of Wildlife species often impress most of travelers on a safari within Virunga National Park. A blend of factors including pleasant weather, fertile soils rich in plant mineral content, less tourists and a range of Species make Virunga an exceptional spot amongst National Parks in Africa.
Virunga area is not only good at Wildlife but also boasts a vibrant plant life totaling to about 2077 plant species including 264 trees and 230 species of grasses and shrubs.
Some of the plant species are endemic to the Albertine Rift. All these breathe life in an area that consists of swamps and wetland, grasslands, rain-forests, alpine vegetation in the highlands and montane forests.
If you wish to explore and discover the beauty hidden in Africa’s Wilderness, you should look no further than Virunga National Park.
Besides plant life, Virunga National Park is home to over 218 species of mammals including 22 primates, 109 reptiles, 65 amphibian species and 706 species of birds.
Travelers can sight plenty of these species while on nature walks, hikes, Jungle trekking and boat cruises. Some of the mammals that are common in open grasslands, forests or water include buffalos, leopards, bongo, okapi, warthog, waterbuck, bush bucks, blue duikers, bay duikers, red river hog, elephants, hippopotamus, lions, kobs to name but a few.
Then primates are widely sighted in the rain-forests, alpine vegetation and montane forests. Chances of sighting the blue monkeys, Dent’s mona monkey, Hamlyn’s monkey, central African red colobus, grey cheeked mangabey, black and white colobus, olive baboons and more are high for those trekking Mountain Gorillas or tracking chimpanzees in Tongo forest.
Nile crocodiles and monitor lizards are often sighted along the shores of Lakes Edward and the Semliki River.
Getting to Virunga.
Virunga National Park sits in the far Eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo, it is not an easy spot to reach if you don’t use the option highlighted below.
Most of DR Congo’s routes to Virunga are hard to access except the one through Goma town. This town is 32 km close to Virunga National Park. All visitors to DR Congo land in Rwanda at Kigali International Airport.
Transfer from Kigali by road up to Goma border through Gisenyi town. Cross Goma border and it takes about two hours for the drive up to the Park headquarters at Bukima
From Uganda, you can as well cross to DR Congo via Bunagana border after Kisoro town, from this border; it takes one hour for the drive up to Bukima. All transportation services from Goma or Bunagana border are provided by the Virunga foundation.
Top Activities in the Park
Mountain Gorilla trekking.
Mountain Gorilla trekking tops the list among the main highlights for most of Safaris to Virunga National Park. This Park is inhabited by variety of Gorillas but only six habituated Gorilla families are open to tourism excursions in the Park.
Of all families, Kabirizi Gorilla family is the most popular to most of tourists trekking Gorillas in Virunga.
The family’s name was derived from the Silver-back “Kabirizi” that heads this group. Gorilla trekking excursions in Virunga start early in the morning after the briefing conducted at the Park offices.
After you start the trekking journey into the jungle, when you discover their location, you are allowed to be in their presence for only one hour. After one hour you are required to start the Journey back to the Pack offices or your lodge.
Chimpanzee tracking /habituation.
Chimpanzee tracking usually grants tourists the opportunity to meet with the chimpanzees in the Jungles. You are only allowed to be in the presence of these primates for only one hour.
Then for chimpanzee habituation, you can spend the whole day with these primates in the Jungles while following their movements.
While in Virunga National Park, you can do this experience in the Tongo forest. The tracking sessions start very early in the morning, usually the time taken and distance moved in the Jungle depends on where these animals spent their last night.
Mountain Nyiragongo is an active volcano in the Eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo. It lies in the Virunga massif.
Hiking to the top of this volcano and observe boiling molten lava gush out of the earth crust is an unrivalled experience to remember for the rest of your life.
The expedition is done in two days and it includes one overnight stay at the top. The journey to the top is strenuous but rewarding once you make it up to the top.
With its diversity of birdlife, Virunga National Park is a destination not to miss for bird watching excursions in Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is recorded with over 706 species and you can sight some species like the grey throated barbet, narrow-tailed starling, African fish eagle, Madagascar bee-eater and more.