VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK .
Virunga Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga is the world’s most biologically diverse protected area. It is the one of the oldest national parks on the African Continent. Actually, Virunga national park is historically known to be Africa’s first national park.
A Brief History of Virunga Park in Congo.
Virunga National Park in Congo was first established as a national park in 1925, as the Albert National Park. It was named after King Albert I of Belgium. Virunga was gazetted as a national park, in order to protect its diverse and unique bio-diversity of both plant and wildlife species; especially the mountain gorillas which were being killed by poachers for their bush meat and during civil war cross fires.
Later in 1969, the Albert National Park was then renamed as Virunga Park following the country’s gain to independence from the Belgian colonial government in 1960. Tourists can also identify the park by its French translation, ‘Parc National des Virunga.’
Congo’s Virunga park is located in the eastern region of the country, and is situated within the Albertine Rift Valley. The national park is elevated at an altitude of 680 meters in the Semiliki River valley, and 5,109 meters in the Rwenzori Mountains. The park also extends into Uganda and Rwanda, covering an area of 8,090 km².
In 1926, a Belgian zoologist called Jean-Marie Eugène Derscheid headed the first Belgian mission to map the national part, encompassing the areas of Mount Karisimbi and Mount Mikeno. He not only set boundaries of Virunga, but also went an extra mile and carried out comprehensive studies on some wildlife species in the national park like; the mountain gorillas, dugong, tropical birds, long fin herring and the okapi among others. He also wrote scientific articles about his research work and interaction with some ethnic tribes in the Virunga area.
Later in the 1950s, a group of Tutsi herders encroached on the park boundaries, entering Virunga Park with their cattle along, which resulted into the destruction of the natural habitat to an altitude of about 3,000 meters which put a threat on the livelihood of the park’s plant and wildlife species especially its mountain gorillas.
Virunga park in Congo, is situated in a province which has been deeply affected by civil wars and armed conflict for nearly 20 solid years. The national park is protected by a dedicated team of over 600 game rangers, both women and men. This team of skilled and dedicated individuals are taken through intensive training programs; and risk their lives on a daily basis, so as to protect the national park’s exceptional wildlife, including the critically endangered primate species of mountain gorillas.
Virunga National Park’s Geological and Biological Background.
Virunga National Park in DRC has two volcanic mountains within the park’s enclosures and these are; Mount Nyiragongo, which is an active stratovolcano and Mount Nyamuragira, which is an active shield volcano.
Virunga National Park is home to 218 mammal species inclusive of; savanna elephants, hippos, okapis, lions and mountain gorillas to mention but a few. The national park is also a habitat to 706 species of birds, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species and 22 primate species; all which has increased over the recent years due to ongoing conservation campaigns by various environmentalists and organizations.
The national park is home to more than 3,000 flora and fauna species, with more than 300 only found in the Albertine Rift Valley inclusive of the eastern lowland gorillas and golden monkeys.
Virunga National Park is located in the Congo- Nile river basin with the park’s central part encompassing two thirds of Lake Edward and extends to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. The southern sector has Lake Kivu and mountains Nyiragongo, Mikeno and Nyamuragira; and borders Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The northern part of the national park has savanna and montane forests and neighbors Semiliki and Rwenzori Mountain National Parks.
Primate Species Found in Virunga National Park in DRC.
Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a wide variety of primate species like; mountain gorillas, common chimpanzees, red- tailed monkeys, Dent’s Mona monkeys, blue monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkey, De Brazza’s monkey, Central African red colobus monkey, Olive baboon, grey- cheeked mangabey and the mantled guereza.
The national park is home to a third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas and has the renowned Senkwekwe Center, which is the only facility in the world that looks after orphaned mountain gorillas. This rehabilitation center is situated at the park’s headquarters in Rumangabo.
According to the 2018 census that was carried out in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi territory, it has been recoded that there is an estimated number of 1000 mountain gorillas in the region.
Wildlife Species in Virunga National Park in Congo.
Parc National des Virunga in the DRC is home to a large number of wildlife species which include; hippos, the African Bush Elephant, African buffaloes, Okapi, waterbucks, topi, common warthogs, Uganda Kob, bay duiker, red river hog, bongo, harnessed bushbuck, African Leopard, giant pangolin, yellow- backed duiker and blue duiker to mention but a few. All these unique wildlife species are attractions drawing quite a number of tourists to the national park.
Bird Species found in Virunga National Park.
Virunga National Park in Congo is a birders’ haven. The national park is shelters at least 706 bird species which include; banded prinia, chestnut-throated apalis, grey-backed camaroptera, white-browed crombec, black-throated wattle-eye, chinspot batis, mountain illadopsis, , malachite sunbird, collared sunbird, variable sunbird, yellow white-eye, Mackinnon’s shrike, Doherty’s bush shrike, northern puff back, mountain sooty Boubou, tropical Boubou, narrow-tailed starling, Sharpe’s starling and the baglafecht weaver among others. Researchers have discovered that the number of bird species in Virunga national park exceeds the total number in the United States of America, and is more than 3 times the number in the United Kingdom.
This makes Virunga National Park a haven for those who want to do bird watching activities in the national park.
Communities Living within the National Park.
Virunga national park in Congo has four distinct ethnic groups of people living within the park’s boundaries and these include; the Hutu, Tutsi, Mbuti and the Batwa people. The park’s management partners with organizations around the world to work closely with communities living within and around the park; to provide resources needed to sustain the livelihoods of the people living in these communities.
Activities in Virunga National Park.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking:
Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park in the DRC can be tracked at a fee of 400 USD; with trekking activities starting at Bukima Patrol Post. Tracking can last a period of 3- 8 hours with an hour of direct contact with the gorillas. Other gorilla families that can be tracked by tourists in Virunga National Park include; Bageni, Humba, Mapuwa, Lulengo, Munyaga, Nyakamwe and Rugendo.
Virunga National Park shelters a third of the population of mountain gorillas in the world. The national park has 8 habituated gorilla groups available for tourists to track, with the Kabirizi gorilla family being the largest and most sought after group by gorilla trekkers. This gorilla group can be found in the Bukima sector and has a total of 34 individuals.
The best time for tourists to go gorilla trekking in Congo’s Virunga National Park is during the dry seasons which are between June to August and December to February. Don’t forget to pack a good pair of hiking boots when heading out to go track mountain gorillas.
Hiking to Mount Nyiragongo:
Tourists visiting Virunga national park can go hiking on Nyiragongo Mountain. Mountain Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano found within the national park and tourists can embark on hiking expeditions to the lava lake in the mountain. Hiking activities to the mountain begin at the head trail at Kibati Patrol post, which is a 30 min drive from Goma city and an hour from Mikeno lodge. Hiking expeditions start at exactly 9am and last between 1- 6 hours.
Tourists visiting Virunga National Park in Congo can certainly enjoy spending quality time with the Tongo group of chimpanzees which have been habituated. The chimpanzees are found in the forested island of Tongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chimpanzee Habituation permits are 100 USD in Congo.
Hiking Mountain Rwenzori:
From the Congo side, tourists in Virunga National Park can embark on a hiking expedition on Mountain Rwenzori, which sits on the borders of Uganda and the DRC. Hiking expeditions on Mount Rwenzori from the Congo side take between 4- 6 days and is best done during March, June and August.
Other activities carried out in Virunga National Park include; guided nature walks, landscape viewing and bird watching.
Accommodation in Virunga National Park in DRC.
For any tourist looking for accommodation in Virunga National Park, here are some options to choose from;
The lodge is a luxury accommodation facility located in Rumangabo; just a 90 minute journey from Goma town. The lodge has 12 individual bungalows, each accommodating a maximum of 2 people. The rooms in Mikeno Lodge are spacious with a private deck, en- suite bathrooms, a fire place and a lounge area.
The lodge offers its guests services like; buffet meals at its restaurant, free ample parking, spa treatments, Wi-Fi internet and a swimming pool among others.
Bukima Tented Camp:
Bukima Tented Camp is situated on the boundary of Virunga Park and was originally used by researchers only but now opens its doors to all those visiting the national park. This tented camp has 6 tents facilities with views of Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Mikeno.
Other accommodation facilities near and within Virunga Park include; Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Tchegera Island Tented Camp, Kibumba Tented Camp, Lulimbi Tented Camp to mention but a few.
How to get to Virunga National Park in DRC.
Virunga Park is located in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park can be accessed by road and air. Tourists can travel from Kigali in Rwanda by boarding a domestic flight from Kigali International Airport to Gisenyi Airport then board/ hire a car from Gisenyi to Goma in DRC. There are also direct domestic flights from Kigali International Airport to the airport in Goma.
Alternatively, one can take a taxi from Kigali to the ‘Grande Barrier’ in Gisenyi crossing to Goma which is a 3 hour journey. Hiring a taxi will cost you 100 USD for a one-way trip from Kigali in Rwanda to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tourists visiting Virunga National Park are set to have an amazing experience of a lifetime. There is a lot that a visitor will be able to see and do while on a safari to Congo’s Pac National des Virunga; and this goes from trekking the park’s habituated mountain gorillas, to hiking expeditions on Nyiragongo and Rwenzori Mountains, birding tours and community cultural tours to say but the least.
Do get in touch with us for any inquiries and book the best gorilla trekking and hiking tour packages that we have in store for you.