Things to do in Virunga national park
Virunga national park is the top most visited destination In DR Congo located on the eastern side of the country with lots of things to do. The national park was gazetted in 1925 making it one of the oldest national parks in Africa. It was gazetted to protect the natural forest and the endangered primates – mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. Virunga national park is also home to olive baboons, lions, buffaloes, duikers, elephants, warthogs, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, bird species, and volcanic mountains among others.
Below is a list of top things to do in Virunga national park;
Mountain gorilla trekking: Mountain gorilla trekking is the most done activity in Virunga national park the fact that their gorilla permits are cheaper than those of Rwanda and Uganda. The permits go for as low as $450, unlike Rwanda where they are $1500 and Uganda $700. Mountain gorilla trekking in Virunga national park is done among 8 gorilla families that have been fully habituated for tourism purposes.
The gorilla trekking activity in Virunga national park starts at the park headquarters with a briefing where trekkers are taught by the wardens about the rules and regulations of the trekking activity. The armed ranger guides are assigned to each group and the trekking activity begins with hopes of meeting the mountain gorilla family and spending 1 hour with it.
Trekking takes 2-7 hours in this park and while the activity goes on, trekkers are able to meet different park animals such as buffaloes, elephants, okapis, lions, leopards, duikers, birds, and different vegetations covers. The moment mountain gorillas are located, trekkers are given 1 hour to be around these apes, watch them do daily activities, take photos, and learn about their habits.
Hiking: Hiking is another most done activity in Virunga national park. The hiking activities are done on Mountain Nyiragongo and Mountain Nyamuragira both located in this park. Hiking activities are done only if you have a hiking permit and this is bought from the park offices or from a trusted local tour operator. Hiking these mountains is every hiker’s dream come true because they are among the most active volcanoes in the world with mount Nyamuragira having last erupted in 2011 and Mount Nyiragongo in 2021.
The hiking activity starts with a briefing at the park offices where hikers are taught about the rules and regulations of the hiking activity. The armed ranger guides are given to the hikers to lead them throughout the hike as they tell them all the necessary information about the mountains and protecting them from wild animals.
Hiking mountain Nyamuragira takes 5-6 hours while hiking Mount Nyiragongo takes 6-7 hours of going through different vegetation zones, meeting different park animals such as elephants, lions, buffaloes, okapis, topis, duikers, warthogs, wild dogs, and different bird species. When the hikers reach the summit of these mountains, both have lava lakes that have beautiful views. The summit gives you stunning views of surrounding mountains, Virunga national park, Kahuzi Biega national park, Lake Kivu, rivers, plantations, and vegetation.
Chimpanzee trekking: Chimpanzee trekking is among the top things done in Virunga national park DR Congo. The national park is a home to chimpanzees of which some have been habituated for trekking activities and this has attracted tourists. Chimpanzee trekking in Virunga national park starts with a briefing at the park offices and this helps the trekkers to know about the dos and don’ts of the trekking activity.
The activity is guided by armed ranger guides who take the trekkers through different trails as they search for where the apes could be. During the search that takes 2-6 hours, the trekkers are able to meet different park animals such as buffaloes, okapis, elephants, lions, warthogs, wild dogs, duikers, birds and you will pass through different vegetation covers.
When the chimpanzees are located, the trekkers are allowed to be around them for 1 hour while following the rules and regulations of the activity. During the 1 hour given, the trekkers are able to watch chimpanzees do daily activities, learn about their habits as they take photos with cameras that have no flashlight.
Birding: Bird watching can’t miss out on the top things to do in Virunga national park because the park is home to over 705 bird species of which 20 are endemic to the Albertine region. Birding activities are guided in this park by the armed ranger guides who protect the birders from wild animals and rebels as they take them through different walking trails.
Birding activities in Virunga national park expose you to animals such as shoebill, mountain greenbul, yellowed toothed barbet, Madagascar bee-eater, yellow-billed barbet, narrow-tailed starling, olive woodpecker, olive thrush, Rwenzori turaco, blue-headed coucal, Rwenzori batis, stripe breasted tit, olive sunbird, red-throated alethe, olive pigeon, white-headed wood hoopoe, bronze sunbird, black saw-wing, black-billed turaco, collared apalis, thick-billed seedeater, narrow-tailed starling, black thirsted wattle, stray seedeater, and chestnut throated apalis.
What is the most appropriate time to visit Virunga national park?
All the activities in Virunga national park can be done at any time of the year but there are months that are better than the rest and these are the dry months. The drier months (June to September and December to February) are the best to do most of the activities in Virunga national park because they are characterized by little or no rainfall which makes the trekking and hiking trails less slippery, the vegetation in the park is short giving clear views of the park animals, and the roads leading to the park are passable.
Tourists can still visit Virunga national park in the rainy season to enjoy huge discounts on accommodation facilities and gorilla trekking permits. However, during the rainy season of March to May and October to November there is plenty of rainfall which makes the trekking and hiking trails muddy and slippery, the vegetation is tall with unclear views of animals, and the roads leading to the park are passable.
Accommodation on a visit to Virunga national park
On a visit to Virunga national park, there are several accommodation facilities you can use if you want to stay a night or more in the area. These accommodations range from budget to mid-range to luxury options and include Lulimbi Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Bukima Tented Camp, Mikeno Lodge, Tchegera Island, Kikumba Tented Camp, and much more.