Established in 1925 by Albert 1 the king of Belgium, Virunga National Park is the oldest Park in Africa. It was called Albert National Park before renaming it to Virunga.
The main reason for its establishment was to provide home to the diverse Wildlife species in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Virunga is still surviving and one of the DR Congo’s must visit although it was critically threatened by political instabilities for a long period of time.
In 1970s when the country’s president picked interest in Wildlife conservation the Park was restored from the deteriorating state that resulted after Independence in 1960.
It is now occupying a total area of 7800 square kilometers stretching from the Virunga mountains in the South to the Ruwenzori Mountains in the North.
Virunga’s diverse concentration of fauna (including mammals, reptiles and bird species) is bigger than that of any other protected area in Africa. The main highlights here are Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and Wild animals like buffaloes.
The rich diverse ecosystem comprises crater lakes, Albertine rift, woodlands, grasslands, Wetlands, swampy areas and Volcanic Mountains.
In 1979, UNESCO declared it a World heritage site and later listed amongst the Heritage site under danger in 1994. This was due to constant civil wars including the 1990 war period in Rwanda.
The Park’s average temperature vary between 16 -24 degrees Celsius at higher altitudes and 23-28 degrees Celsius in the Lowlands. It receives heavy downpours in the months of May, March, September and November.
It favors growth of its diverse flora with 2077 plant species including 230 species of grasses, 264 trees and more. For fauna, the Park is home to 22 primates, 109 reptiles, 65 amphibians, 706 bird species and 218 mammals.
Animals like elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards, okapi, water bucks, bush bucks, duikers, topi, kobs, bongo and forest hogs are common in open savannahs.
Getting to the Park
DR Congo has its own air transport but visitors to Virunga land in Rwanda at Kigali International Airport. From Kigali, drive up to Gisenyi and cross to Congo via Goma border.
Transportation from Goma is provided by the Virunga foundation up to any lodge within or near the park.
By use of a local tour operator you can book with Virunga foundation for all transportation services from Goma border up to Virunga National Park.
Driving in a suitable vehicle, it takes two hours from Goma up to Bukima, the exact location for Virunga Park headquarters.
Documents like a Tourist Visa, yellow fever vaccination card and a valid passport are a major requirement at Goma border to be issued with entry permission to DR Congo.
Tourists from Uganda to DR Congo cross via Bunagana border from Kisoro. From the border it takes about 1-2 hours to drive up to Bukima.
Top Activities in the Park
Gorilla Trekking Experience
Gorilla trekking is the main reason for most Safaris to Virunga National Park. It is everyone’s dream to meet face to face with the species of Mountain Gorillas in the Jungles.
Gorilla trekking excursions are arranged daily and grant travelers an opportunity to watch the Mountain Gorillas at a close range as there are carrying out various day to day activities like feeding, playing, laughing, constructing temporary huts and more.
Time taken in the Jungle and distance moved depends on where these apes spent their last night. After locating them, you are allowed to be in their presence for only one hour.
You are free to take lots of photos and videos for these creatures. Cameras with flush light are not allowed.
Another activity to enjoy in Virunga National Park is the habituation experience. Chimpanzees are the closet primates to human features. Chimpanzee habituation experiences is done in Tango forest.
It starts early in the morning after briefing. Only four tourists are allowed per session. You will spend some time in the Jungles with these primates while following their movements.
While in the Jungle, you are exposed to other wildlife species like monkeys, baboons birds, insects and more.
For those who are after adventure, Nyiragongo hike is the best for you. Nyiragongo is an active volcano in Virunga. It delights travelers with its burning lava lakes and you can admire the sweeping views from the top.
The hiking expeditions to and from the top takes two full days with a night stay at the top. It is strenuous but rewarding once you make it to the top.
It starts in the morning from Kibati. In the evening you will be at the top for some relaxation. At night you enjoy the scenic views of red glow in the lava lakes.