Virunga National Park – Congo Wildlife Safari Destination
Nestled along the Albertine Rift Valley, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Virunga National Park is arguably one of the magnificent parks in Africa. The park’s elevation ranges from 680m in Semliki River Valley on Rwenzori Mountain ranges. It is one of the best 4 gorilla safari parks where tourists can see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat and the others include Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Southwestern Uganda.
Virunga National Park occupies about 7800sq.kms of land and it was gazetted in 1925 making it also one of the oldest parks in Africa. Its establishment was mainly to conserve and offer refuge to mountain gorillas which today make up a total population of 1063 worldwide.
Today, the Virunga National Park also host an estimate of 706 species of birds including dusky crimson wings, red throated alethe, Rwenzori batis, Kivu ground thrush, mountain masked Apalis; 217 additional mammal species which include others Topis, duikers, buffaloes, hippos, bushbucks, giant forest hogs, lions, forest elephants, the red tailed monkeys, olive baboons, blue monkeys, grey cheeked mangabeys, black and white colobus monkeys. There are also several reptiles, amphibians and distinct vegetation zones characterized by diversity of tree and plant species. 2 magnificent and active volcanoes also exist in this park; Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira Mountains.
Activities to do in Virunga National Park
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park
A visit to Virunga National Park offers you a great opportunity to trek mountain gorillas in the wild. Gorilla permits in DRC are issued out at US Dollars 450 per person and you stand a chance to go gorilla trekking in anyone of the 8 habituated gorilla families in this pristine park (these include Humba group, Rugendo, Kabirizi, Munyaga gorilla family, Lulengo group, Mapuwa gorilla group family, Bageni and Nyakamwe families).
Bird watching in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is a haven for over 706 bird species making it one of the best bird watching destinations. The birds to expect to identify on Congo safaris in this park include the doubled toothed barbets, yellow billed barbet, grey throated barbet, narrow tailed starling, Madagascar bee-eaters, dusky crimson wings, red throated alethe, Rwenzori batis, Kivu ground thrush, mountain masked Apalis to mention but a few.
Volcano hiking in Virunga National Park
Nyiragongo volcano hiking adventure is one of the amazing hiking experiences tourists on Congo safaris shouldn’t miss out. Nyiragongo is a popular strato-volcano with a world’s powerful Lava Lake on its summit. A hike to the top of this volcano offers breathtaking adventure experience of a lifetime. Hikes begin at Kibati patrol station and lasts for 4-5 hours less or more depending on your speed of hiking. At the summit, you will enjoy the exceptional view of the smoky and boiling red lava.
Nature walks in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is rich with biodiversity and a nature walk here takes you through different habitats with diverse plants, wildlife, birds, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and many more.
Best time to visit the Virunga National Park
If your plan is to pay a visit to the Virunga National Park for gorilla trekking then the dry season is the best time for you to consider. This starts from June to September and December to February. The weather conditions are favorable during this period because the park receives minimal rainfall amount thus making it easier to wind through the steep slopes and rain-forest while on search for mountain gorillas.
Note Virunga National Park is open to tourists all year round and a visit during wet or rainy season is also possible. The wet months of the year in this park occur from March to May and October to November but they are characterized by heavy rainfall. On the other hand, most lodges cut down on their rates for accommodation making it the best for budget safari travelers.
Accommodation in Virunga National Park
The accommodation options in and around the Virunga National Park range from budget to luxury. They include Mikeno Lodge, Kibumba Tented Camp & Lodge, Lac Kivu Lodge, Bukima Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano summit shelters and others.
How to get to the Virunga National Park
By road, the Virunga National Park is reachable Kisoro Southwestern Uganda via Bunagana border approximately 2 or 3 hours. From Rwanda via Gisenyi to Bukima station where gorilla treks begin with briefing on mountain gorilla trekking rules and regulations. From Bukavu in Congo you can reach this park about 5 hours’ drive to Bukima patrol post.
By air; you can fly from Kigali airport in Rwanda to Goma airport where you can be transferred to Bukima patrol post.