Location of Virunga national park
What is the Location of Virunga national park? Virunga national park is the most visited destination in DR Congo situated at the edge of the Congo Basin. It’s the biggest national park in DR Congo located on the eastern side of the country on the borders of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga national park is located in the Albertine region bordering Rwanda and Uganda to the north.
Virunga national park stretches to the shores of Lake Kivu, mountain Nyamuragira, Mountain Nyiragongo, and volcanoes national park in the south, Mgahinga national park, Semuliki national park, and Rwenzori Mountain national park in the north.
The national park was gazetted in 1952 and it covers a total area of 7,769 sq. km. The initial size of the Virunga national park was 2,920 sq. km but following the Rwanda genocide in 1994, most of the Rwanda genocides flue to the Kivu region and settled around the national park. They entered the national park daily for food and firewood, most of the trees were cut down for settlement leading to the reduction in the size of the park.
In 2010, the organization responsible for park management protected the park by bringing in more military personnel to prevent rebels from entering the forest as well as poachers. This helped to maintain the size of the national park and as of today, it’s 7,769 sq. km.
Getting to Virunga national park is easy from Kigali as travelers move to Goma border in Gisenyi town where they drive for about one hour to get to Virunga national park. Tourists to Virunga national park must have a Congo tourist visa, yellow fever card, passport, and a gorilla trekking permit to be allowed inside the park.
Attractions in Virunga national park
Primates: Virunga national park is home to a number of primates but the famous ones are the chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. The national park is home to a large number of chimpanzees and about a quarter of the mountain gorilla population left in the world. Primate trekking is the most done activity in this park where both chimpanzees and mountain gorillas are trekked for 1 hour.
Trekking these primates requires one to have a valid trekking permit and the activity starts with a briefing at the park offices where trekkers are taught about the rules and regulations of the trekking activity. Trekking mountain gorillas and chimpanzees takes 2-7 hours of meeting different park animals such as buffaloes, elephants, mongoose, duikers, warthogs, okapis, lions, bush pigs, birds, and different vegetation types. When primates are located 1 hour is given to them to watch them do daily activities, take photos, and learn about their habits.
Birds: Virunga national park hosts 706 different bird species that have been so far recorded in the park and of which 20 are endemic to the Albertine region. Birds in Virunga national park include Madagascar bee-eater, chestnut throated apalis, olive woodpecker, blue-headed coucal, black thirsted wattle, olive sunbird, black bishop, olive pigeon, thick-billed seedeater, bronze sunbird, alpine swift, double-toothed barbet, stray seedeater, black-headed waxbill, narrow-tailed starling, black kite, and alpine swift.
Other bird species in Virunga national park include mountain greenbul, yellow-billed barbet, narrow-tailed starling, yellowed toothed barbet, olive thrush, Rwenzori batis, stripe breasted tit, grassland pipit, red-throated alethe, black saw-wing, nirana trogon, white-headed wood hoopoe, black-billed turaco, Rwenzori turaco, doherty’s bushrike, and collared apalis among others.
Mountains: Virunga national park hosts 2 Virunga volcanoes namely Mount Nyamuragira, and Mount Nyiragongo. These mountains are some of the most active volcanoes in the world with Mount Nyiragongo last erupting in 2021 and Mount Nyamuragira in 2011. It’s every hiker’s dream to make it to the summit of any of these mountains.
Hiking these mountains, you need a valid hiking permit and you must be fit to make it to the summit since hiking involves passing through steep slopes. Hiking starts with a briefing and armed ranger guide take you through different hiking trails to the summit with opportunities of meeting different park animals, birds, and different vegetation.
At the summit of these mountains are lava lakes which you see from a distance, you also have stunning views of the surrounding Virunga mountains, Kahuzi Biega national park, Virunga national park, lakes, rivers, plantations, and homesteads.
When to visit Virunga national park
Virunga national park can be visited at any time of the year but there are months that are better than the rest. The best season to visit Virunga national park is during the months of June to September and December to February which are regarded as the dry months. During these months, there is little or no rainfall which leaves the hiking trails less muddy, the vegetation is short giving clear views of the animals and the roads leading to the park are passable.
Travelers can still visit Virunga national park in the rainy season of March to May and October to November to enjoy huge discounts on accommodation facilities and trekking permits. However, during the rainy season, there is plenty of rainfall which makes the trekking trails are muddy and slippery, roads leading to the park impassable, and the vegetation in the park short with unclear views of the wild animals.
Accommodation in Virunga national park
Tourists to Virunga national park have a variety of accommodations to stay in when they want to spend a night or more and these are situated in and around the park. These accommodation facilities range from budget to mid-range to luxury options and they do include Lulimbi Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Bukima Tented Camp, Mikeno Lodge, Tchegera Island, Kikumba Tented Camp, and much more.