Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park: Virunga national park is located in the eastern part of democratic republic of Congo in the centre of the Albertine rift between Uganda and Rwanda. The national park was gazette in 1925 which makes it the first national park to be established in Africa. Virunga covers a total land area of 7,800 square kilometers which is comprised of animals including elephants, buffaloes, duikers, warthogs, primates like the endangered mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, red tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, olive baboons, grey cheeked mangabey, variety of bird species, plants among others. Virunga National Park is one of the four national parks is Africa that harbors the endangered mountain gorillas and other national parks include Volcanoes national park in Rwanda, Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda.
Top things to do in Virunga national park
Gorilla trekking is one of the major activities carried out in the park and it involves moving into the forest in search of the mountain gorillas and once found spend one hour with them in their natural habitat. Virunga is a home of about 8 habituated gorilla families and trekking starts very early in the morning with a briefing about the rules, regulations and expectations of gorilla trekking at the park headquarters. After the briefing you will be divided into groups of 8 people where each group is allocated a gorilla family to trek depending on various factors like age, personal preference and physical fitness. Gorilla trekking in Virunga takes about 30 minutes to 7 hours depending on where the gorillas are located and during trekking you will be able to view other primate species like chimpanzees, grey cheeked mangabey, red tailed monkeys, different plant species, birds among others. Once the mountain gorillas are found you will be allowed to spend one hour with them in their environment which gives you a chance to observe their behaviors, lifestyle, watch them feed, play, groom young ones, take photos and record videos with a flash less camera.
Chimpanzee trekking and habituation experience
Chimpanzee trekking is another interesting activity in Virunga national park after gorilla trekking. Chimpanzee trekking starts with a briefing at the park headquarters where after you will start trekking in the forest with an experienced park guide who is well conversant with trails in the jungle. Chimpanzee trekking takes about 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on their location because they like to move from one place to another in search of food. Once the chimpanzees are found you will be able to spend one hour with them in their natural habitat which gives you an opportunity to learn about their habits, behaviors, take photos, watch them feed, breastfeed, hunt, play, fight, mate, rest, record the moments among others.
The park also offers chimpanzee habituation experience where the wild gorillas are trained to get used to human presence for trekking. Chimpanzee habituation experience allows a maximum number of 4 people per chimpanzee family and the habituation experience starts very early in the morning with a briefing at the park headquarters. After the briefing you will join a group of researchers, scientists, park rangers, trackers and guides and enter the forest in search of chimpanzees under habituation process. Once the chimpanzees are found you will be allowed to spend four hours with them in their environment which gives you an opportunity learn and monitor their behaviors, lifestyle, watch them carry out their daily activities like breastfeeding, feeding, playing, grooming young ones, mating, resting among others.
Nyiragongo volcano hike
Hiking the active Nyiragongo volcano is one of the major tourist attractions that shouldn’t be missed during your safari in Virunga national park. Nyiragongo volcano rises at an elevation of 3,470 meters above the sea level and its one of the 8 volcanoes within the Virunga conservation region. Hiking mount Nyiragongo starts with a briefing about the rules, expectations and stopping points at Kibati trail head. After the briefing you will start hiking passing through lower altitude areas, steep slopes and rugged terrain among others. Hiking mount Nyiragongo takes about 6 to 7 hours to reach the top with some stopovers and once you reach on top the volcano you will enjoy spectacular views of the landscape, different vegetation zones among others and the chef will prepare for you a cup of coffee and dinner.
This is an interesting activity in Virunga where visitors get an opportunity to explore the park on foot with the company of an experienced park guide and armed park ranger to protect you from any danger. During the nature walks in the park you will follow different trails in the tropical rainforests, visit Senkwekwe orphanage which is a home of the orphaned gorillas, enjoy great views of the landscape, animals, primates, birds, butterflies, enjoy the cool breeze and relax your mind.
Virunga is a home of more than 706 recorded bird species including endemic birds, forest birds, wetland birds among others. Bird watching in the park is best done early in the morning with an experienced bird guide who will help you to spot different bird species including double toothed barbet, papyrus yellow warbler, Rwenzori turaco, handsome francolin, grey throated barbet, narrow tailed starling, Madagascar bee-eater, speckled mouse bird, olive thrush, white necked raven, black kite, paradise fly catcher, olive woodpecker, blue headed coucal, alpine chat, pin tailed whydah, regal sunbird, Shelley’s crimsonwing among others.
Best time to visit Virunga national park
Virunga national park can be visited all year round though 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 and during this period there is less rainfall in the park therefore hiking and gorilla trekking trails in the jungle will be dry and passable compared to the wet season when the trails are muddy and slippery.
Virunga national park can also be visited in the wet season during the months of march to may and November because during this period most hotels give discounts and gorilla trekking permits are reduced which favors budget travelers.
Where to stay during your safari in Virunga national park
Virunga national park offers a number of accommodation facilities where visitors can stay during the safari. The accommodations range from budget, midrange, luxury and they include Mikeno Lodge, Lulimbi Tented Camp, Kibumba Tented Camp, Bukima Tented Camp, Tchegera Island Camp, Mount Nyiragongo Summit Shelters, Orchids Safari Club, Lodge Coco, Lakeside Hotel Bukavu, Hotel Begonias, Exodus Bukavu among others.
How to get to Virunga national park
Virunga national park is located in the eastern part of democratic republic of Congo and can be accessed by road transport means from Rwanda whereby you will fly to Kigali international airport and then connect to Virunga national park through Gisenyi, Goma border which takes about 2 hours drive Gisenyi to the park headquarters.