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Virunga National Park – D.R Congo’s sole Mountain Gorilla Trekking Safari Park
Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse Protected Area gazetted in 1925 as Albert National Park. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 because of its rich biodiversity and is currently managed by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature.
Virunga National Park is one of the largest Protected Area in the country and Africa in general extending for 7800 square kilometers (780,000 hectares). The Park is found within the rich Albertine Rift valley with high concentration of mammals, reptiles, Amphibians, birds and unique tree species yet also affected by continuous armed conflicts and war, making it one of the less visited gorilla trekking destinations.
This Park is also a Ramsar wetland since 1996 and is home to two of Africa’s active Volcanoes-Mount Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo, which among other factors have tremendously influenced the Park’s diverse flora and fauna.
It’s undeniable that Virunga National Park has wide range of attractions but the endangered Mountain gorillas stand out and have made it a popular tourist destination.
Flora and Fauna in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is made up of over 2077 species of plants including 230 species endemic to the Albertine Rift and 264 tree species. In terms of fauna, there are 218 mammal species including the popular mountain gorillas, forest and savannah elephants, Hippos, buffaloes, Okapis, leopards, lions, chimpanzees, blue monkeys, Olive baboons, red-tailed monkeys, Central African red Colobus monkeys, Dent’s Mona monkeys, De Brazza’s monkeys, Kobs, Blue duikers, giant forest hogs, Topis, water chevrotain, grey-cheeked mangabeys, waterbucks, Aardvarks, yellow-backed duikers, Giant pangolin, Bay duikers, Harnessed bushbucks, warthogs and many others.
There are over 109 species of reptiles in Virunga National Park, making it the reptile richest Protected Area in the African Continent. The Nile crocodiles, Monitor lizards, geckos, Chameleons and several snake species are common within Virunga National Park.
Virunga National Park boasts of the highest Amphibian species within the Albertine Rift Valley with over 78 species calling the Park home.
Also, more than 705 species of birds are found in this National Park and some of them are strange weavers, African dusky flycatcher, Rwenzori turaco, African goshawk, Cinnamon-chested bee-eaters, Mountain yellow warblers, Rwenzori batis, blue-spotted wood dove, Archer’s ground robin, black-throated wattle eye, Chestnut-throated Apalis, red-throated Alethe, red-faced woodland warblers, black-billed turaco, yellow-whiskered greenbul, white-headed wood hoopoe, black and white casqued hornbill, Pin-tailed whydah, African Paradise flycatcher, yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, mountain buzzard and many others.
Tourist activities in Virunga National Park
Mountain gorilla trekking
Mountain gorilla trekking is the most popular tourist activity in Virunga National Park with more than 400 mountain gorillas calling this Park home. There are currently 8 habituated gorilla groups for tracking and with a gorilla permit at $450 per person, persons above 15 years can get the chance to spend one hour with Humba, Munyanga, Bageni, Lulengo, Nyakamwe, Mapuwa, Kabirizi or Rugendo gorilla group.
With over 706 species of birds in Virunga National Park, bird watching is one of the must-do activities with species such as strange weavers, African dusky flycatcher, Rwenzori turaco, African goshawk, Cinnamon-chested bee-eaters, Mountain yellow warblers, Rwenzori batis, blue-spotted wood dove, Archer’s ground robin and many others.
Nature walks through the jungles of Virunga National Parks allow tourists to spot the different tree species, mammals-elephants, buffaloes, okapi, olive baboons, kobs and warthogs, reptiles and Amphibians that call the Park their home.
Nyiragongo volcano hike
Mount Nyiragongo stands at 3470 meters above sea level and usually 8 kilometers to hike to its summit. An overnight is usually spent along the way to allow hikers enjoy the stunning fire and gas on its summit.
Although not well-developed as it is in Uganda, Chimpanzee habituation is common in Virunga National Park having started in 1987 by a popular zoologist known as Frankfurt.
Visit Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage
Just adjacent the luxurious Mikeno Lodge is Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage, the home to orphaned mountain gorillas and your visit will introduce you to how they are being raised.
Best time to visit Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is open all year round but most tourist activities are preferably conducted during the dry season-June to September and December to February because during this time the forest floor, Park trails and roads are not as muddy and slippery as they would be during the wet season-March to May and October to early December. However the latter is ideal for birding.
Where to stay
The best places to stay while visiting Virunga National Park are Mikeno Lodge, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit, Bukima Tented Camp, Tchegera Island Tented Camp, Lulimba Tented Camp and many others.
How to get there
Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo can be accessed by air and road transport whereby with air, flights are organized to Goma Airport then proceed to the Park Headquarters by road. Alternatively, tourists can land at Kigali International Airport then proceed to the Park by road.
For road transport, connect from Bukavu to the Park Headquarters in a 5-6 hours’ journey or through Rwanda, Uganda to the Park through some of the designated border posts.
Top Safari Itinerary to Virunga
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