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Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park Established in 1925 by Albert 1 the king of Belgium, Virunga National Park is the oldest among Parks in Africa. Formerly called Albert National Park until it was renamed to its current name.

The reason for its establishment was mainly to provide home to diverse Wildlife species in the Eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo.

Formerly called Albert National Park, Virunga Park was established in 1925 by Albert 1 the king of Belgium. It ranks the oldest amongst the all National Parks in Africa. Almost half of the Wildlife in the Sub Saharan Africa reside in this Park.

Virunga is still surviving and one of DR Congo’s must visit though it was critically threatened by political instabilities for a long period of time.

In 1970s when the country’s president picked an interest in conserving Wildlife, this Park was restored from the deteriorating state that resulted after Independence in 1960. It is now a top scene for Wildlife tourism in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is during this time when it was renamed to Virunga National Park. It is currently occupying a total area of 7800 square kilometers – stretching from the Virunga mountains in the South to the Ruwenzori Mountains in the North.

The park’s diverse concentration of fauna that consists of mammals, reptiles and bird species is bigger than that of any other protected area in Africa. The main highlights here are Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Wild animals like buffaloes and more.

Its rich diverse ecosystem is comprised of crater lakes, Albertine rift, woodlands, grasslands, Wetlands, swampy areas and Volcanic Mountains.

Besides Mountain Gorillas, this Park now has lots of things to make your days including Nyiragongo hiking, Volunteering and Chimpanzee habituation experiences.

In 1979 UNESCO declared it a World heritage site and later listed amongst the Heritage site under danger in 1994 – this was due to constant civil wars including the 1990 war period in Rwanda.

Climatic conditions – Its average temperature vary between 16 -24 degrees Celsius at higher altitudes and 23-28 degrees Celsius in the Lowlands. It receives heavy rainfall in the months of May, March, September and November.

These favorable conditions are a reason to the high growth of luxuriant plants approximated to 2077 plant species including 230 species of grasses, 264 trees and more. For fauna, the Park is home to 22 primates, 109 reptiles, 65 amphibians, 706 bird species and 218 mammals.

The wild animals that are common in open savannahs include elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards, okapi, water bucks, bush bucks, duikers, topi, kobs, bongo, forest hogs and more.

Hippopotamus, monitor lizards, Nile crocodiles appear in the surrounding lakes and rivers. Primates such as red tailed monkeys, blue monkeys and more are easier to see for those trekking Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees.

Getting there

Travelling to Virunga is so challenging but when you arrange with the Virunga foundation it’s a journey without hustle.

By use of a local tour operator you can book with Virunga foundation for all transportation services from Goma border up to Virunga National Park. Travelers often fly to Kigali international Airport in Rwanda, this is the safest and comfortable option.

Then from Kigali airport you will connect to Goma border by road through Gisenyi town. The transportation from Kigali to Goma border is by the driver guide allocated by your local tour operator in Rwanda or Uganda.

Driving in a suitable safari jeep, it takes two hours from Goma up to Bukima, the exact location for Virunga Park headquarters.

Documentations like a Tourist Visa, yellow fever vaccination card and a valid passport are a major requirement at Goma border in order to be issued with entry permission to DR Congo. You must apply for a Visa in advance before the travelling dates.

Tourists from Uganda to DR Congo have an option to cross via Bunagana border from Kisoro. From the border it will take you about one or two hours to drive up to Bukima.

Top Activities in the Park

Gorilla Trekking Experience

With certainty, Gorilla trekking is the main motive for most Safaris to the great Virunga National Park. It is everyone’s dream to meet face to face with the species of Mountain Gorillas in the dense Jungles of the Park.

Gorilla trekking expeditions are arranged daily and grant travelers majestic opportunities to watch the Mountain Gorillas at a close range as there are carrying out different day to day activities like feeding, playing, laughing, constructing temporary huts and more.

Time taken in the Jungle and distance moved depends on where these apes spent their last night. After locating them, you are allowed to be in their presence for only one hour.

You are free to take lots of photos and videos for these creatures but remember that cameras with flush light are not allowed for use – a reason being, you may scares these apes and attempt them to attack you therefore take note of that.

This excursion requires a permit which costs $400 USD per person, it is better when you book this permit in advance to be on a safer side.

Chimpanzee Habituation

Another activity to enjoy while in Virunga National Park. Chimpanzees are the closet primates to human features. With their catching features and behaviors, these primates are worth to visit while in Virunga forest.

If you intend to this, then you should be part of the Chimpanzee habituation experience in Tango forest.

It starts early in the morning after briefing and only four tourists are allowed per session. You will spend some time in the Jungles with these primates while following their movements.

While in the Jungle, you are exposed to other wildlife species like monkeys, baboons birds, insects and more. The permit required for this experience costs $100 USD per person.

Nyiragongo Hiking

For those who need more adventure, Virunga has a perfect treat for you and this is the breathtaking Nyiragongo hike. Nyiragongo is an active volcano in Virunga National Park, it stirs travelers with its burning lava lakes and you can perfectly admire the sweeping views from the top.

The hiking expeditions to and from the top takes two full days with a night stay at the top. It is strenuous but rewarding once you make it to the top.

It starts in the morning from Kibati and in the evening you will be at the top for some relaxation. Rest as you wait for dinner prepared by Virunga chef. At night you will admire scenic views of red glow in the lava lakes.

The permit for hiking costs $300 USD per person plus other additions, Mikeno package costs $100 USD, porter at $24 USD and walking stick hired at $5 USD.