With area coverage of about 7800 square kilometers, the Virunga National Park is undeniably one of the vast protected areas with diverse biodiversity that you should consider a must to visit while on safari in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This remarkable protected area extends from the Virunga Volcanoes in the South, to the Rwenzori Mountains in the North, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and bordered by the Rwanda Volcanoes National Park, Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Established in 1925, the Virunga National Park also features as one of the oldest national parks in Africa. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is governed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, the Institute Congolese Pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) plus the Virunga Foundation, also once known as the “Africa Conservation Fund.”
The Virunga’s intense biodiversity represents about half of all the wildlife species that thrive within the Sub-Saharan Africa. The park was mainly established to offer refuge to its few mountain gorillas that represent about 200 individuals. Mountain gorilla safaris in the Virunga National Park are always conducted by trained park rangers and treks commence at Bukima Patrol Post. Visitors, who embark on this tremendous primate adventure, spend approximately 1 to 2 hours or more while hiking to look out for habituated family of these rare apes in the wild. This is dependent on the direction a tourist takes, location of the group, nature of the terrain and other factors. Despite the insecurity in DR Congo, the natural wonder in the Virunga National Park is really some thing yet some thing for us to spark our imaginations.
Virunga National Park also features geologic wonder and the two of its most active and powerful volcanoes in the world (The Nyiragongo Volcano). However, for visitors who intend to pay a visit to this park, note that the DRC is still recovering from the political instability. This park is credited for its amazing montane landscapes in Africa. Mount Rwenzori with its spiky and snowy summits, cliffs and steep valleys and the volcanoes of Virunga are covered by an afro alpine vegetation of fern trees and lobelia while its slopes are covered by thick forests, which forms the most remarkable beauty in the park. The afro montane forests count almost 15% of the vegetation. Within the Albertine Rift, there are unbeatable endemic vertebrates of which have positioned the Virunga as the best destination to sight variety of examples in African continent. The park has 218 species of mammals, 706 species of birds, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species.
It also refuges most of the outstanding panoramas especially the eroded valleys in the Sinda and Ishango areas. The park also boasts of its the elephants, buffalo, Thomas cob and it is probably an oasis of hippopotami representing about 20000 individuals on the backs of Lake Edward and a long the Rwindi, Rutshuru and Semuliki Rivers as well as the 22 Apes 3 of which are the great primates that comprise of the rare mountain gorillas, eastern plain gorilla and eastern chimpanzees. The savannah zone of Virunga National Park has diverse number of ungulates and the density of biomass of wildlife is one of the highest on the earth, some of which include the rare okapi and red forest duiker.
Best time to visit the Virunga National Park
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is popular for its two wet seasons; the short season that commences from October to November and the long season from March to May. For visitors on safari to track the rare mountain gorillas or on adventure to Nyiragongo Mountain, put into consideration the above seasons. However, majority of travelers tend to visit the park from June to September and December to February as they are characterized by little rains and the ground is always kept dry and December features as the busiest month of the year in Virunga National Park. And because of this, you advised to book for your gorilla permits and the Nyiragongo hiking permit in advance. Gorilla trekking permits in the DRC are sold at $400 per visitor and only persons above 15 years are allowed to track habituated gorilla families in the Virunga National Park.
Getting to the Virunga National Park
Intending visitors can make a flight into Kigali International Airport and then spend about 3 hours’ drive to the border crossing at Gisenyi or Goma Town, DRC. Since international flights arrive late, you can spend a night in Rwanda then connect the next morning. Alternatively, visitors can use the Ethiopian Airline and the domestic Airline that fly into Goma Town. However, you should have a yellow fever vaccination certificate if you are planning to take a trip to either Rwanda or DRC.
Where to stay in the Virunga National Park
The prominent areas for visitors stay over at Virunga National Park include Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Mikeno lodge, Bukima tented camp, Lulimbi tented camp and Tchegera tented camp.
In conclusion, Virunga National Park is one of the only 4 national parks in the Africa and the world at large that you can visit and track the rare mountain gorillas while they are in their natural habitat.