Virunga National Park
Virunga national park is one of the oldest national parks in Africa located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo bordering Uganda. Virunga national park was gazetted in 1925 mainly to protect the endangered mountain gorillas and it covers a total land area of 7800 square kilometers. Virunga national park is blessed with biodiversity ranging from mammals, amphibians, bird species, reptiles, vegetation types, active volcano among others which makes it the best destination to visit in Africa. Virunga national park is one of the destinations in Africa that harbors the endangered mountain gorillas, other destinations include Volcanoes national park in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda.
Attractions in Virunga national park
- Primates, virunga national 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, Virunga 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, Virunga national 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, strange weaver among others.
- Vegetation, Virunga national park is 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 with the summit that 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
- Gorilla trekking, gorilla trekking is the major activity carried out in the park. Gorilla trekking is an activity where visitors move into the tropical rainforest in search of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Gorilla trekking in Virunga national park starts early in the morning with a briefing at the park headquarters and then after the visitors will be grouped into 8 people and then start trekking with a park guide. Virunga national park is a home of 8 habituated gorilla families namely Kabirizi, Rugendo, Lulengo, Humba, Mapuwa, Bageni, Munyaga and Nyakamwe which are available for trekking on a daily basis. Gorilla trekking in Virunga national park takes about 2 to 8 hours depending on the location of the gorillas because they like to move from one place to another in search of food and once the gorillas have been found the visitors are allowed to spend one hour with the gorillas as they learn more about their habits, behaviors and taking plenty of photos.
- Chimpanzee trekking, chimpanzee trekking is another interesting activity in Virunga national park just like gorilla trekking. Chimpanzee trekking in Virunga national 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, chimpanzee habituation is a process where chimpanzees are trained to get used to human presence. Chimpanzee habituation in Virunga national 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 to visitors on a safari in Virunga national park as they participate in chimpanzee habituation process.
- Climbing Mount Nyiragongo: Mount Nyiragongo is an active volcano in Virunga national park. The volcano has erupted 34 times in recent years and it last erupted in 2002. Climbing Mount Nyiragongo needs visitors who are physically fit in that you will be able to hike to its summit which is 3470metres high which offers beautiful views. Visitors who interested in climbing Mount Nyiragongo are provided with park guides and hiking starts early therefore all visitors should be at the starting point for a briefing and set off at once. The visitors are advised to carry personal belongings, some snacks, drinking water, hiking boots which are light and comfortable, hand gloves, waterproof clothes, warm clothes, walking stick, hire a porter to carry the backpack among others. Hiking to the top of Mount Nyiragongo offers you with spectacular views of the Virunga forest, Virunga ranges and at night you will be able to view the fusing lava lake hence making you safari rewarding and unforgettable.
- Nature walk, nature walk is an activity where visitors move on foot with armed park rangers so as to relax, have a peace of mind, relieve stress among others. During nature walk there are different trails that you can take for example the Senkwenkwe Orphanage Centre which is located in Rumanagabo near the park headquarters. Senkwekwe is an orphanage for the gorillas which were saved from poachers, the orphanage harbors 4 gorillas and it provides shelter, medication from gorilla doctors, food, safety by the rangers among others. During the nature walk, you will experience scenic views of landscapes, chimpanzees, listen to different sounds of bird species, tree species among others hence making your safari enjoyable.
- Bird watching, Virunga national park is a home of 708 bird species with 24 endemic to Virunga national park. Bird watching is can be done very early in the morning or late evening in bamboo forest, alpine zones, swamps and you will be able to view different bird species including papyrus yellow warbler, Rwenzori turaco, handsome francolin, Shelley’s Crimsonwing, grey throated barbet, double toothed barbet, Madagascar bee-eater, yellow-billed barbet, narrow tailed starling among others.
Best time to visit Virunga National Park
Virunga national park 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. The rainy season is also known as the low season and it’s an ideal period for chimpanzee trekking and bird watching in Virunga national park because there will be plenty of food and fruits for the birds and chimpanzees, therefore, they will not move deep into the forest in search of food.
Visitors who want to visit Virunga national park for various activities like gorilla trekking, mountain climbing, nature walk, chimpanzee trekking, birding among others it’s advisable to pack safari items such as hiking shoes, waterproof rain jacket, garden gloves, long socks, long sleeved shirt and trousers, warm sweater, backpack, insect repellent among others.
Accommodation in virunga national park
Virunga national park has a number of luxury, mid-range and budget accommodation facilities where visitors on a safari can stay including Mikeno lodge, Kibumba camp, Nyiragongo volcano summit shelters, Bukima tented camp, Tchegera island tented camp, Lulimbi tented camp among others. The lodges offer comfortable shelter with spacious rooms, hot and cold water, charging cables, private bathrooms, free internet in some public places, swimming pool, well-stocked bar, comfortable lounge for relaxation after gorilla or chimpanzee trekking, prepare local and international dishes, beautiful views of Virunga forest, primates, bird species among others which makes the visitors comfortable while on their safari in Virunga national park.
How to get to Virunga national park
Visitors to Virunga national park usually use air transport means because road transport makes the journey long and is challenging therefore most visitors opt to fly. Visitors going to Virunga national park fly to Kigali international airport and then connect by road to Virunga national park through Gisenyi border and then cross to Goma town. From Goma, they will drive to Bukima park headquarters which takes about 2 hours’ drive.
If you are coming from Uganda you will fly to Entebbe airport, drive to Kisoro town via Bunagana border and then to Bukima park headquarters. Though it’s a long journey it’s rewarding in case you were on a safari in Uganda.
However Ethiopian airways operate flights each week to Goma airport therefore you can meet with the tour company to pick you up from Goma airport and transfer to Bukima. Virunga national park also arranges private transport means to visitors arriving by Ethiopian airways at Goma airport to the park headquarters.
Virunga national park is a must-visit destination that is blessed with a wide range of interesting activities which visitors on a safari can engage in such as gorilla trekking, Mount Nyiragongo climbing, chimpanzee trekking and habituation among others which make your safari extraordinary with fascinating experiences.