The park of Virunga is a remarkable destination for active travelers seeking rare rewarding adventures both in the savanna forest and Virunga Volcanoes. Virunga is a sun soaked destination warm and impressive offering a mix of great hiking safaris, gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking or habituation. The dense forest of Virunga and large active volcano range is a natural attraction for primate lovers and hikers to Africa. Surrounded by scenic views of clouds, hills, mountains and volcano peak which reach high in the skies make the park very charming and nice to explore. The park has a rich history in mountain gorilla trekking, Nyiragongo hiking and chimpanzee habituation experience. Besides Virunga national park is a great experience for mountain gorilla conservation despite the many threats to the endangered species.
Things to See in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is the most biologically diverse and oldest park in Africa gazetted in 1925. This UNESCO world heritage covers an area of 7800 sq km. the park’s diverse habitats include active volcanoes, tropical forests, savannah grasslands, swamps, lakes, rivers, steppes, lava plains, eroded valleys and the equatorial snow capped mountains of the moon aka Rwenzori mountains.
Aside from the mountain gorillas, two other great apes, the chimpanzee and Grauer’s/ eastern lowland gorillas along with 10 primate species also live in the park.
About 218 species of mammals inhabit the park remain unexplored. There are savannah and forest African elephants, large numbers of hippos, leopards, African lions, giant forest hogs, and spotted hyenas. Of special interest the Okapi, a distinctive giraffe-like antelope specie. Birdlife is prolific; about 708 species are recorded as well as 109 species of reptiles.
Accessibility, How to get there
Visitors can access DRC via Rwanda or Uganda on a safari to Virunga National Park for gorilla tracking. Many visitors prefer to use the road. At the same time however luxury travelers choose to fly to Goma airport and then hire a vehicle for transfer to the park.
There are daily scheduled charter flights operating from Rwanda Kigali airport or Kinshasa and sometimes from Uganda to Goma airport which is only 2 hours drive to Virunga national park. Many visitors however, fly direct to Kigali international airport and take a 3 hour drive on good tarmac roads via Gisenyi border crossing to Goma city Eastern DRC.
Various tour operators offer packaged tours to Virunga national park. For safety of tourists, they operate in conjunction with Virunga national park rangers.
Bus shuttles, taxis or private tour company vehicles operate between Kigali-Gisenyi border and cross into Goma city from where you transfer to Virunga National Park. The drive takes about 3 hours and it recommended using 4WD vehicles due to dirty roads. Visitors in southwestern Uganda can access Virunga Park via Bunagana Uganda-DRC border post where you can also purchase your DRC visa upon arrival. Note, however, a yellow fever card is required.
Virunga National Park management also offers transportation of visitors to several locations within the park.
Visitors arriving late in Goma city past 15:30 hours GMT borders will be refused to depart. Offenders are warned about insecurity and will be arrested unless visitors inform in advance Virunga park management for escort guards.
Things to Do in Virunga National Park
Gorilla trekking in Congo
Virunga National Park is a place of outstanding natural beauty away from the city noise, beach resorts, and you will find a large forest reserve with un spoilt natural beauty. Gorilla trekking is one of the reasons for many visitors in here every day. Tracking gorillas in Congo is an amazing experience that involves walking through the park in company of armed park rangers until when you find the gorillas to the time when you return back to your lodge. Congo gorillas are quite calm and welcoming though the park rules and regulations have to be respected thought the trek for conservation reasons. If you want to track gorillas in Congo better to schedule a trip with a travel expert and do things smoothly. No gorilla trekking tour is cheap but Congo gorilla trekking tours are the opposite. Congo treks can be done in just a day if you around Goma or Gisenyi in Rwanda. Get picked at your hotel early morning and be back in the evening full of excitement and joy. Chose the right tour company for the trip so that you don’t even miss out any step. Abundant wildlife and real adventure is all you find but worth every penny.
Nyiragongo hike in Congo
Enjoy the beautiful active volcanoes of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Goma and the most active volcano in world. Climbing Mount Nyiragongo in Virungas National Park requires a reasonable- good level of fitness and basic hiking experience. The lave lake is the most impressive part of the volcano and spending a night on the peak in a tented accommodation is a thrilling experience that opens a new day in paradise. Observing the bubbling lava in a distance as you take photos make you forget the tough hikes you climbed before. The breathtaking views of the world and heavens wake you up reminding you that its morning. Visitors here love to combine the volcano hike with gorilla trekking in virunga or volcanoes national park depending on one’s favorite gorilla trekking destination. The journey back to your cabin for overnight is brightened by the lights of the Crater Lake a beautiful moment you should grab and witness before returning back to the father.
Chimpanzee Habituation tours in Congo
Many great apes have now been habituated to the presence of humans in Congo and Chimpanzees in Virunga National park are one of them. The exciting primate adventure started by Frankfurt Zoologist society in 1987 is now one of the best tourist activities in Virunga National Park. Usually chimpanzee habituation is a full day activity that starts early morning and evening and Congo chimpanzee permits are only bought in Mikeno lodge only. Permits in Virunga cost $100 for foreigners. However, you can trek chimpanzees in Rwanda in Nyungwe forest another chimpanzee play ground in East Africa and in three Uganda national Parks, Kibale forest national park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park.
Plan Your Safari to the Virunga
Gorilla permits for Virunga national park
Enjoy cheaper gorilla safaris in Congo with a gorilla permit cost at $450 per foreign visitor. Booking should be done with a tour operator in advance of 2-3 months any time of the year. Alternatively contact the Virunga National Park tourism office in Goma by email or telephone.
Travelers also need a DRC tourist visa which you can book with Virunga park authorities or Congolese embassy.
Virunga gorilla permits are linked to the purchase of Mt. Nyiragongo hiking permit or booking accommodation at Mikeno lodge. One of the pre-booked permits is presented to Virunga National Park authorities to be able to book a gorilla permit.
Gorilla tracking tends to get easier due favorable hiking conditions in the dry months of December to February and June to September. In the rainy season, April, May and November gorilla permits are lowered from $450 to $350 which makes a gorilla safari to Virunga National Park cheaper.