Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park Congo

Virunga National Park Congo

Virunga National Park Congo

Virunga National Park is the popular Congo safaris destination because of its proximity to the border with neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Virunga National Park Congo is a very diverse park in Africa though in the past was threatened by political conflicts. Being the top Congo safari park, here is what you need to know about Virunga National Park before your trip;

Location of  Virunga National Park Congo

TSituated within the Albertine Rift valley, the park is situated in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Virunga Park is within the Virunga mountain ranges that are trans boundary among Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. The park is adjacent to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda. These are all habitats to the elusive Mountain gorillas conserved by the different governments in their country.

Background of Virunga National Park Congo

Established in April 1925, Virunga Park Congo is the oldest Africa safari park started by the then king of Belgium King Albert 1. By then the park was called Albert National Park conceived as a science oriented nature reserve with the aim of studying and conserving wildlife. In 1929, the protected area extended encompassing the Virunga Mountains, parts of the Rutshuru territory and the plains south of Lake Edward. Reforms continued in the park until 1994 when the park was entered into the List of World Heritage in Danger. In 1996, it was listed as a Ramsar site of international importance. The Virunga Foundation, a non government organization is responsible for park management since 2010.

Till 2018, Virunga has been facing conflict that saw the park close for 8 months till it was reopened in February 2019 for tourists to visit.

Best time of the year to visit Virunga National Park Congo

The best time to visit Virunga National Park depends on the activity going to be undertaken in the park. Between the winter dry season of May and October game viewing is at its best however, the best time for gorilla trekking in Virunga is during the period between June and early September.

Note that the park is an all year round Congo safari destination with July – September being the driest months. At this time gorillas will move further into the forest and therefore expect longer hikes.

How o get to Virunga National Park Congo

Getting to Virunga National Park is possible both by road and by air either from within the country or from other countries. Here is how to get to Virunga either by road or by air;

By road

From Goma town close to the border with Rwanda, the park is on a drive distance of 362km away with a drive time of about 10 hours.

From the neighboring Kigali, the drive to Virunga National Park is about 7-8 hours on a 383km drive crossing through Uganda and about 12 hours through Rwanda.

By air

Flights to Congo are possible to Goma Airport for tourists visiting Virunga. Flights can be chartered to Goma by Ethiopian Airlines; however the flight is once a week, Turkish airlines, Brussels airlines, Swiss airlines and Kenyan airlines.

The best way to have a flight is to Kigali International Airport in Rwanda then connects by road to Virunga National Park.

Your Route to Virunga National Park

Safari Attractions and Activities in Virunga National Park Congo

Mountain Gorilla in Virunga National Park Congo

Mountain Gorillas 
Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are part of the top attractions in Virunga National Park. This is a sub species of the eastern gorilla listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List with total population about 1004 as of 2019. Virunga National Park is home to 8 gorilla families which are Rugendo, Munyaga, Mapuwa, Lulengo, Kabirizi, Bageni and Nyakamwe Mountain gorilla family. These gorilla families are each head by a male silverback gorilla who leads the family in all of the activities. The gorillas live within the dense jungles and require trekking to see them.

Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park Congo

Mountain Gorilla tracking
Mountain gorilla trekking in Congo is undertaken each morning by the Virunga park headquarters. Mountain gorilla trekking safaris in Congo start early morning with a briefing on the do’s and don’ts of gorilla trekking then head to the jungle. The trek last about 2-6 hours depending on where the gorillas spent their previous night.

Congo gorilla trekking permits are the cheapest in the continent ranging between 400 USD to 450 USD in the low and high season respectively. This is contrary to Rwanda gorilla safari permits that are 1500 USD and Uganda gorilla permits at 600 USD and proposed to increase to 700 USD effective July 2020.

Mount Nyiragongo - Congo Safaris

Nyiragongo Volcano hike
Sitting over 11,000 feet high, Nyiragongo Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The volcano’s caldera is about 1 mile wide and holds a deep lava lake. The perfect way of seeing this bubbling lava at the summit is hiking to the summit. The hike is just a day’s hike to the summit then spend a night in the summit cabins and descend the next day.

The hike top the Volcano summit doesn’t require prior hiking skills and in case of need of a porter, one can be hired at the park headquarters. At the summit, there’s a chef to prepare your meals for dinner and coffee the next morning.

chimpanzee trekking in Virunga National Park Congo

Chimpanzee habituation
Chimpanzee habituation is the process of familiarizing chimpanzees to the presence of human beings. In 2014 personnel trained by the chimpanzee mogul Frankfurt Zoological Society in the Democratic Republic of Congo embarked on the process o habituating chimpanzees that lived in the Virunga forest.

Each morning, local guides leave for the forest at 4:30am to locate the chimps whereas trackers go tracking at 6:00am local time. A maximum of 1 hour is spent in the presence of the chimpanzees with a maximum of 4 people per day. There about 32 chimpanzee individuals that have remained after several civil strife within the region.

Guests who spend a night at Mikeno lodge are free to join the habituation team each morning for free.

Birding in Virunga National Park

Birding  in Virunga National Park
Birding safaris to Virunga National Park are a reward to tourists on birding safaris in Congo with a glimpse of different bird species- about 706 species. Just from your lodging facility, you have the chance to hear persuasive bird sounds from the forest living in very old trees where they build their nests in holes. Bird species possibly seen in Virunga Park include the Double-toothed Barbet, Grey-throated Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet, Narrow tailed Starling, Madagascar Bee-eater, Darters, Cormorants, Egrets, Skimmers, Francolins, Warblers, Pelicans, Forest Ground Thrush and many more.

Safari accommodation in Virunga National Park Congo

For comfortable safaris in Congo’s Virunga National Park, there several accommodation facilities and here are the best lodges to stay in while at Virunga;

Luxury accommodation in Virunga National Park Congo

Mikeno Lodge

Mikeno Lodge 
Mikeno Lodge serves as a comfortable central spot for tourists to start their visit to Virunga National Park. Mikeno Lodge is Virunga National Park’s first lodge opened for tourists in August 2011. Centered between two main Congo tourist attractions, it is a perfect location to begin treks to see the gorillas, and the Nyiragongo volcano. Situated among the trees of a virgin forest, the weather is cool, the views spectacular, and the lodging luxurious.

As you enter the main Lodge you will receive a warm welcome before descending steps into a spacious lounge and bar. Adjacent to the lounge, the dining room offers full-course meals. Both the bar and dining area open onto a large terrace providing the perfect location for a relaxing drink and sharing of the day’s activities.

Mid-range/standard accommodation in Virunga National Park

Bukima tented camp

Bukima tented camp
Bukima tented camp is located just adjacent to the Virunga park boundary, initially a research station. The camp offers accommodation in luxurious tents with magnificent views in and around the tents. The views are dominated by the Mikeno mountain peak and Nyiragongo active volcano across the valley.

Sometimes, the gorillas wander into the park and later on move back to the jungle, something that impresses many of the guests at the hotel.

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