Activities to do in Virunga
Virunga national park is located on the eastern side of DR Congo neighboring Uganda Mgahinga national park and Rwanda’s volcanoes national park and it features a number of activities. Virunga national park was gazetted in 1952 making it one of the oldest national parks in Africa. Virunga national park hosts endangered mountain gorillas, 2 active volcanoes mount Nyiragongo and mount Nyamuragira. The national park covers a total area of 7,769 sq. km and protects endangered mountain gorillas, 22 primates, 218 mammals, and over 706 bird species.
Virunga national park can be accessed using road transport from Rwanda and it can be visited at any time of the year. There are so many activities that are done in this park and the famous one is mountain gorilla trekking while others done include chimpanzee trekking, hiking, birding, nature walks and sometimes visiting Senkwekwe orphanage.
Most done activities in Virunga national park
Gorilla trekking: Gorilla trekking is the most done activity in Virunga national park for the park has over 8 habituated families. To trek mountain gorillas, you need to do advance booking of the trekking permits with your local tour operator because you will need to present all these documents at the border before going to the park.
On the day of gorilla trekking, you will wake up early in the morning for breakfast and later get driven to the park headquarters where wardens will teach you about the rules and regulations of the trekking activity. The armed ranger guides will lead each group to the jungle as they protect them from wild animals and rebels while searching for the mountain gorilla family assigned.
During the whole search, trekkers will meet other park animals grazing such as lions, buffaloes, elephants, topis, okapis, duikers, waterbucks, warthogs, birds, and different plant species. When the mountain gorillas are located, the trekkers will be given 1 hour to be around them as they learn about their habits, take photos and watch them do daily activities such as playing, hunting, coupling, and nesting among others.
Chimpanzee trekking: This is another most done activity in Virunga national park where tourists are given an opportunity to stay 1 hour with chimpanzees. Chimpanzee trekking starts with a briefing early in the morning where trekkers are taught about the rules and regulations of the trekking activity and then grouped not exceeding 8.
Armed ranger guides lead the trekkers through different trekking trails looking for the chimpanzee family assigned and during the search they meet other park animals such as mountain gorillas, buffaloes, lions, elephants, warthogs, waterbucks, wild dogs, topis, birds, and different plant species. Once the chimpanzee family is located, the trekkers are given 1 hour to be around these apes, learn about their habits, take photos and watch them do daily activities such as hunting, breastfeeding, nesting, coupling, and much more.
Birding: Another activity done most in Virunga national park is birding reason being the park hosts over 706 bird species. The birding activity is done with a help of an armed ranger guide who takes the birders through different trekking trails as they search for birds. The activity is done best when you have a birding booking, a pair of binoculars, and a voice recorder. The birds in Virunga national park include mountain greenbul, yellowed toothed barbet, yellow-billed barbet, narrow-tailed starling, olive thrush, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, stripe breasted tit, red-throated alethe, white-headed wood hoopoe, black saw-wing, black-billed turaco, collared apalis, thick-billed seedeater, black thirsted wattle and chestnut throated apalis.
Other notable bird species in Virunga national park include Madagascar bee-eater, olive woodpecker, blue-headed coucal, olive sunbird, olive pigeon, bronze sunbird, alpine swift, stray seedeater, double-toothed barbet, narrow-tailed starling, black kite, black-headed waxbill, alpine swift, and black bishop among others.
Hiking: There are only 2 mountains located inside Virunga national park and these are Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira. Mountain Nyiragongo is the most hiked mountain in Virunga national park since it’s the most active volcano in the world having last erupted in May 2021. The volcano is 3470m high above sea level and hiking takes 6-7 hours depending on the speed of hikers.
Hiking mountain Nyiragongo starts with a briefing at the park headquarters where hikers are taught about the rules and regulations of the hiking activity. The hiking activity is led by armed ranger guides who lead the hikers to the summit using the best hiking trails. During the hike, the hikers are able to meet different vegetation covers, birds, and park animals such as chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, buffaloes, lions, warthogs, waterbucks, topis, olive baboons, okapis, and much more.
The journey being long, there are different stopovers through the hike where hikers rest for a few minutes and proceed. When the hikers reach the summit, they are able to see the largest lava lake in the world at the top of this mountain, Virunga national park, Kahuzi Beiga national park, lake kive, plantations surrounding countries, homesteads, and much more. At the summit of Nyiragongo are 12 cabins where hikers can stay overnight and descend the next day.
Nature walks: These are among the activities commonly done in Virunga national park and they are led by armed ranger guides who take them through different trials in the forest. The nature walk activities enable participants to meet different water sources, birds, vegetation, and animals such as mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, olive baboons, warthogs, lions, topis, buffaloes, okapis, elephants, waterbucks, duikers, and much more. Nature walks are the best ways to explore Virunga national park on foot.
What is the best time to visit Virunga national park for safari activities?
Virunga national park can be visited at any time of the year but there are months that are better than the rest and these are the dry months. The most appropriate time to visit Virunga national park is the dry season of June to September and December to February because during such months, there is little or no rainfall which leaves the trekking trails less slippery, the vegetation in the park is short giving clear views of animals and the raids leading to the park are passable.
Virunga national park can still be visited in the rainy season of March to May and October to November and those that travel to the park during this season do get huge discounts on accommodation and gorilla trekking permits. The rainy season however is characterized by too much rainfall which makes the trekking and hiking trails muddy and slippery, vegetation is tall giving unclear views of the park animals and the roads leading to the park are impassable.
Where to stay on a safari in Virunga national park
Travelers intending to visit Virunga national park and want to stay there a night or more don’t have to worry about where they will stay because the national park lodges are built in different locations and they do range from luxury to mid-range to budget. These accommodation facilities include Lulimbi Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Bukima Tented Camp, Mikeno Lodge, Tchegera Island, Kikumba Tented Camp among others. Book any safari activities either directly with Virunga national park or trusted local tour operator.