Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park is the oldest park in Africa and the second oldest national parks and it covers 7,800 square kilometers stretching from north to cover Lake Edward and mountain Rwenzori as well. Virunga national park is located in eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Albertine rift valley lying at coordinates 0.0502° S, 29.5143° E, bordering Uganda and Rwanda in the east with the altitude ranges of 2,230 feet (680m) in semiliki river valley and 16,762 feet in Rwenzori mountains.

Virunga national park
Congo Gorilla Trekking Safaris

Virunga national park was founded by King Albert I of Belgium in 1925 originally as Albert national park primarily to conserve and protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas living in Virunga Mountains which was controlled by then Belgian Congo.  Virunga national park was listed on UNESCO list as a world heritage site in 1979.

Following being granted independence in 1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo as a state deteriorated as well as Virunga due to rebels and refugees during the times of Rwanda genocide in Under the leadership of Mobutu, Democratic republic was filled with chaos which included poaching, killing of animals, destroying of park infrastructures and many rangers were killed. Refugees produced by the Rwanda genocide led to cutting of trees and penetration of rebels into the forests of Virunga national park which resulted in the park being declared a dangerous site in 1994 by UNESCO and also by then Congolese wildlife authority also lost control.

The recent the Kivu conflict which happened few weeks after reopening the park in may also paralysed the operations of Virunga park where a vehicle carrying tourists from Goma on their to their hotel were attacked killing one ranger in the names Freddy Mahamba Muliro, a one Congolese driver was wounded and two Briton tourists (Robert Jesty and Bethan Davies) were hold hostage for overnight by the rebels.

Due to efforts of dedicated politicians, conservationists, environments wardens, park rangers and international donors who are tirelessly donate so much dollars for infrastructure development. Virunga National Park is was reopened and currently under the control of secure and peaceful Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and it is more secure and peaceful for tourism, from then on the rate of tourist going to Virunga national park has increased.

Geographically Virunga national park is situated in the watershed of river Nile with four sections that is 

  • central sector which is 2/3 of lake Edward eastern boarder of Uganda 
  • northern sector which stretches from semiliki river basin to savanna and montane forests of Albertine rift valley edges
  • southern sector borders Rwanda’s covers from lake kivu to Nyamuragira, Nyiragongo and Mikeno in volcanoes national park 

Virunga national park receives heavy rainfall in the months of March to mid-May and September to November with average rain of 220m in the northern sector, 160m in the southern sector and 30m-40m in the savanna regions around Lake Edward. Virunga national park experiences different temperature ranges between 23°c-28°c on the lower altitude and 16°c-24°c on the higher altitude.

Virunga national park is a rich ecological system with a variety of flora and fauna species with many volcano mountains and as per 2012 statics Virunga national park for example

  • 706 bird species that is Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, Archer’s ground robin, red-throated alethe, Kivu ground thrush, collared apalis, mountain masked apalis, dusky crimson-wing, Shelley’s crimsonwing, red-faced woodland warbler, stripe-breasted tit, blue-headed sunbird, regal sunbird and many more 
  •  96 mammals which include the famous mountain gorilla, olive baboon, grey-cheeked mangabey ,African bush elephant, hippopotamus, African buffalo and many more amazing animals 
  •  109 reptiles which include crocodiles, snakes, chameleons, geckos, lecertids and many more 
  • 65 amphibians which include frogs, salamander, labyrinth, Anthracosauri, torrent salamander and many more.

Attractions in Virunga National Park

Mountain gorillas. Virunga national park is a home to the highly endangered Mountain gorillas hosting approximately 680 individuals in 8 families. Mountain gorilla families in Virunga national park include Kabirizi group previously called Ndungutse currently led by a silver back kabirizi consisting of 19 members, humba group of 9 members lead by a silverback called Humba, Rugendo group of 9 members lead by a silver back Rugendo, Mapuwa group consisting of 22 members and led by Mapuwa, Lulengo group formerly known as Musekura group consisting of 9 members and led by Lulengo, Munyaga group led by Gasore with 7 members, Nyakamwe group of 11 members led by silverback Nyakamwe and Bageni group the largest gorilla family led by Bageni a silverback with 26 members.

The Virunga Mountains. Virunga national park lies on two volcanoes out of 8 volcanoes of Virunga the (only active volcanoes among the Virunga chain) that is Mount Nyiragongo standing at altitude of 3,462 metres and Nyamuragira at altitude of 3,063 metres. These volcanoes form a wonderful and are great spots for hiking. 

Chimpanzees and golden monkeys. Virunga national park harbors highly endemic primates that is chimpanzees and golden monkey, golden monkeys are endemic to parks making up Virunga conservation area that is Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, Mgahinga National Park of Uganda and Virunga national park itself. These primates are spotted while on nature walks and trekking in the forests

Batwa pygmies. Though forcefully evicted from the forests during the gazetting of Virunga, they still live in the outskirts of the forest on the slopes of Virunga volcanoes in small populations. These still live under poor conditions carrying out primitive ways of life like gathering fruits, leaves, collecting herbs and building shelter using local materials. The pygmy Batwa are forbidden to practice hunting.

Mountain gorilla tracking: Virunga park Congo is a famous habitat for mountain gorillas offering mountain gorilla tracking with over 250 habituated mountain gorillas. To participate in gorilla trekking you need a gorilla trekking permit which costs US $ 400 for foreigners and US $150 for Congolese citizens allowing you only one hour while with the great apes, trekking in Virunga national park in search for mountain gorillas in their respective families is a delightful activity were not only enjoy mountain gorillas but also the ever green forests on the volcano slopes.

Chimpanzee habituation. Since training a Congolese team by Frankfurt Zoological Society in 2014, Virunga national park offers chimpanzee habituation.  Chimpanzee habituation experience allows only 4 people to engage in the activity for only one hour and a permit costs $100 for international tourist and $25 for Congolese residents.

Nature walks. Nature walks in Virunga national park are one breath taking activity taking the tourists through the beautiful nature of Virunga national park. Nature walks in the park involves encountering the thick forests were primates like chimpanzees, golden monkeys and birds like Grey-throated Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, and Yellow-billed Barbet can be spotted playing on trees of the forest. 

Virunga National Park Gorillas
Virunga National Park Gorillas

Nyiragongo hike. Hiking in Virunga national park takes on the beautiful Nyiragongo volcano covered with vegetation and at times covered with snow, mount Nyiragongo offers a scenic view most especially in the morning when it is covered with mist. On this hike you get to see various wildlife  for example chimpanzees, monkeys and bushbucks, to engage in the hiking you need to be physically fit which takes 4-6 hours climbing from 1989 meters ascending to 3470 meters. Hiking costs US $90 to international tourists.

Landscape viewing. Virunga national park is made up beautiful land scape made up of volcanoes and rocks which are created by continuous erupting activity. 

 Bird watching. Virunga national park is a perfect spot to view to see various bird species using binoculars in their nature habitat, you get to enjoy beautiful sounds made by the birds giving you unforgettable experience. Bird species like Grey-throated Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, and Narrow-tailed Starling can be spotted.

Virunga national park can be accessed using Kigali international airport located in Kigali the capital city of Rwanda and transfer to Goma which is a 3 h 25 min drive of 169.1 km.

While touring Virunga national park accommodation can be got from Mikeno Lodge, Tchegera Island Tented Camp, Bukima Tented Camp, Lulimbi Tented Camp, and Nyiragongo Volcano Summit shelters for the hikers.

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