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Virunga National Park Congo

Virunga National Park is situated the Albertine rift valley, northeastern of Democratic Republic of Congo and it is Africa’s most biologically diverse national park. In 1979, the park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Virunga National Park is situated the Albertine rift valley, northeastern of Democratic Republic of Congo and it is Africa’s most biologically diverse national park. In 1979, the park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Virunga national park in Congo is among the only four parks in the world where you can find the endangered mountain Gorillas. Other national parks include; Bwindi impenetrable forest national Park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda, and Volcanoes national Park in Rwanda.  The endangered gorillas in Democratic Republic of Congo are found in the Virunga volcano forests where tourists go for Mountain Gorilla Trekking. Besides gorillas, the park is endowed with mountain volcanoes such as Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Mikeno and Mount Nyamuragira where tourists go for several activities such as hiking, nature walks among others.  Mountain Nyiragongo is a stunning and interesting active volcano. The last eruption happened on May 27, 2021 after 19 years which turned the sky red with lava oozing out from the ground spreading widely to Goma city

Virunga national park was the first national park to be gazzetted in Africa and it was formerly known as Albert national park but later changed to Virunga national park. Yes, the park covers an area of 7,800 sq km and stretches up to River Ishasha and some parts of Lake Edward; neighboring Queen Elizabeth National park and Mount Rwenzori national park in Uganda.

The park is a home to about 22 species of primates including the endangered mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees among others. It is also a natural habitat for more than 700 bird species, about 218 mammal species, 78 species of amphibians, 109 retile species and over 2000 plant species

Virunga national park is a notable travel destination to see forest elephants, buffaloes, warthog, giant forest hog, giraffes, hippo, water buck, topi, okapis, yellow bucked duiker, lions, and bush buck among others.

For the past year, Virunga has been considered as an insecure travel destination for visitation however; since 2013, the national park has been politically secure and free from attacks, thereafter tourism has been thriving and confidently conducted.

Virunga national park in Congo features a number of adventurous safaris and tours ranging from the memorable Mountain gorilla trekking, chimpanzee tracking and habituation, hike to the stunning mount Nyiragongo, nature walks around the forest, birding and landscape viewing. The popular mountain gorilla trekking in the park also comes with a thrilling magical encounter of other primates such as the golden monkey, red-tailed monkey, the blue monkey, De brazza’s monkey, Dent’s mona monkey, and grey-cheeked mangabey among others.

For tourists looking to combine Uganda and Congo travel experiences, Virunga National Park can be accessed through Bunagana border post in Kisoro southwestern Uganda and later connect to Bukima starting point. The drive to the Bukima takes approximately one hour from the boarder point. Alternatively; visitors can fly through Kigali international airport and connect to the park by road via Gisenyi town, then enter the DRC through Goma town and connect to the park. The park is about 32km away from Goma.

Some visitors opt to fly directly to Goma international airport in DR Congo using Ethiopian airlines and later connect to the park using a local tour operator for gorilla trekking and other tourist activities.

If you are an independent tourist, you shouldn’t get worried of accommodation to use, the park is blessed with a number of properties with in and at the outskirts; ranging from budget, mid-range to luxury, providing the best services and amenities for your stay. Such safari lodges include; Mikeno Lodge, Lulimbi Tented camp, Kibumba Tented camp, Tchengera Island camp among others.

Meeting face to face with the giant endangered mountain gorillas in the wilderness is an everlasting memorable experience! These primates share 98% genes with humans and only found in only three African countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.

Mountain gorillas in DR Congo live in the tropical rain forest on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes in Virunga national park. The park is located in the eastern side of DR Congo and very famous for attracting largest groups of tourists interested in gorilla trekking experiences.

Standard Rules and regulations for mountain Gorilla trekking in Virunga national park Congo

Yes; just like in Rwanda and Uganda, the Congolese National Park Authority established standard rules and regulations in Virunga national park to be followed in the process of protecting the mountain gorillas and other forest primate of the park.  Therefore, below is some of the key ways to conserve these giant gorillas for future generations as well as protecting them from being threatened by earthly increasing human population, diseases among other problems.

Mountain gorillas are more likely to be susceptible to human infections such as flu and cough due to high DNA composition that they share with human beings. Therefore, persons with such infections are not permitted to visit the mountain gorillas.

A group of only 8 people is allowed to visit each mountain gorilla family in Virunga.

Gorilla trekking is done during the day time and it commences from 8:00am to 7:00pm when the gorillas are very active.

Once you encounter your allocated gorilla family, you are allowed to stay with them for a full hour before descending back to the starting point.

Mountain gorilla trekking is done by persons above 15 years of age.

Things to do and not to do in Virunga national park

  • A very important thing to do is to protect the mountain gorillas. Avoid visiting them when you are ill because they are more prone to air borne infections such as flu and cough.
  • Even if you are free from any infections that may affect the gorillas, you are strongly advised to turn your face and cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing before the gorillas.
  • Keep a distance of at least 7 meters from the gorillas because gorillas are wild and you can’t trust them of their behaviors simply because they are habituated.
  • Avoid eating, drinking and smoking when you are close to the gorillas in order to avoid droplets which the gorillas may pick and transmit infections to other members of the family.
  • Maintain silence while on the trek in the forest and when once you come across the gorillas, do not use flash cameras to take photos or videos and avoid pointing at the gorillas. Do not move around them and remain in a group.
  • In case you are still in the forest and get a long call, dig a hole of at least 30cm deep to ease yourself and later cover it with soil.
  • Always stay calm while with the gorillas. For example, in case a gorilla charges, don’t run away, just follow instructions of your ranger guide.

Price of a gorilla trekking permit in DRC

Gorilla permits in DR Congo are still the cheapest among the three mountain gorilla trekking countries in Africa. Virunga national park has been previously affected by insecurities and many tourists opt not to book gorilla safaris and other activities in this park due to fear to lose their life. Some countries still caution their citizens not travel to DR Congo, this has greatly affected the park in terms tourist receipts and arrivals. However, the park management has greatly tried to clear the park name and strengthened security through training and recruiting competent rangers to protect the tourists during their excursions.  Currently DR Congo is declared secure and safe for travel, gorilla trekking, mount Nyiragongo Hiking and other tourist activities.

A mountain gorilla trekking permit in Virunga national park costs US$400 per person per trek. This fee exclusive of accommodation and ground transport of to and from the park.  We strongly advise tourists intending to visit Virunga national park for mountain gorilla trekking to purchase their permits at least 6 months in advance through a trusted local tour operator like Africa Adventure Vacations to avoid disappointments.

How to prepare for mountain gorilla trekking in Virunga national park

Mountain gorilla trekking in DR Congo takes place in Virunga forest whose trails haven’t faced a lot foot weighted compared to Uganda’s Bwindi forest national park and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda. Below are key elements you should consider whilst preparing yourself to trek gorillas in the democratic republic of Congo.

Booking and securing a gorilla permit in advance. Just like Uganda and Rwanda, you are advised to acquire a permit as soon as possible before your travel to avoid any disappointments through registered tour and travel companies like Africa Adventure Vacations. Most travel agencies provide full gorilla trekking packages and their quotes are inclusive of tracking permits, accommodation and transfers.

A tourist Visa to DR Congo should be prepared or applied for in advance. To get a tourist visa to Congo, you must present a proof of payment for either a gorilla permit or accommodation in Virunga national park.

You are required to take a yellow fever vaccination and obtain the vaccination card if you intend to travel to Virunga national park for gorilla trekking. You cannot be allowed to access DR Congo without this card. Other vaccinations you are advised to acquire are; Hepatitis A and B, meningitis among other. Please seek advice from your physician before travelling. It is also important to have anti-malaria prescriptions from your physician and also pack some first aid pain killers.

Don’t forget to pack the best equipment, clothes and shoes for trekking. Virunga national park is often cold and rain is always expected at any time. Just like their name, mountain gorillas live on higher altitudes of mountains. Gorilla trekking involves hiking between 1 to 9 hours depending on the location of the allocated family. The trails at times may be rough. You are therefore advised to carry strong hiking boots. Other things that you may carry are; thick clothes, rain jacket, waterproof camera, back pack to carry water and snacks.

Best season for Mountain gorilla trekking in Virunga national park

Yes, hiking the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes is easier during the dry seasons of the year when the trails are not muddy. The dry seasons happen in months of June, July, August, September, January and February. However, at times some little down shower might happen during those months. These months are also regarded as peak seasons of Virunga national park. There are also high numbers of tourists coming in December for park activities.

DR Congo experiences two rainy season ie a short one and a long one. The shorter rainy season commences from October to November while the longer rainy season happens from mid-March to May. These seasons can limit movement and access to Virunga national park. Actually, if you are interested in discounted gorilla permits, book your trip to Virunga during this period. Safari lodges tend to reduce their rates during low season (March to May and October to November) in order to attract business.

More still, during the rainy season, there is plenty of food for mountain gorillas at the lower slopes hence gorillas can easily be spotted around those areas.

Virunga national park is a home to about 200 mountain gorillas. Currently, 6 gorilla families have been habituated for tourism and trekking starts in morning under guidance of an armed ranger guide to locate a gorilla family.

It is highly recommended to use a trusted local tour operator when planning for your safari to DR Congo. You will get firsthand information regarding the status of security of the destination and also help you suggest the best activities to do in order to commemorate your visit in Africa.

Accessing to Virunga National Park in Congo

Yes, the park can be accessed by air, road and water as discussed below;

Travelling by Air

In most cases, a number of tourists interested in visiting Virunga national park fly via Kigali international airport in Rwanda. It is easier and more reliable to access the park through Kigali because other main airports to DR Congo such as Kinshasha are far away from Virunga national park. When you fly via Kigali and arrive late, the driver guide picks you and transfers you to your booked hotel for an overnight stay before being driven to DR Congo through Gisenyi- Goma border to Virunga national park for gorilla trekking and other activities.

Alternatively; you may opt to fly directly to Goma international airport and then get transferred to the park however, there is a challenge of limited airline companies operating flights to this airport. The Airlines that fly to and from Goma airport are Ethiopian airlines, Air France, Brussels, Turkish Airlines and Kenya airways

Traveling by road

Connecting to Virunga national park by road depends on where you are coming from Connecting to Virunga national park by road will depend on where you are coming from and where you wish to enter from.

If you are coming from Kigali Rwanda the journey is shorter than from Kampala Uganda by road. It takes approximately 5 ½ hours connecting to the park from Kigali international airport via Gisenyi- Goma border. This time is inclusive of visa processing and clearance with DR Congo immigration office.

From Uganda, you may drive to Kisoro town and connect through Bunagana border and then proceed to Bukima starting point for gorilla trekking experiences. This route is good for tourists with some activities in southwest Uganda otherwise, entering through Entebbe international park to connect to DR Congo takes a full day driving to Kisoro where you will have an overnight stay before heading to the park the next day via Bunagana border.

If you book a safari to DR Congo with local tour operators such as Africa Adventure Vacations, ground transportation is by 4×4 safari vehicles with enough leg room, AC and sliding windows. However, the park management can arrange ground transportation from the Gisenyi-Goma border to Virunga national park if you booked a gorilla trekking tour with them.

Traveling by water

Water transport on Lake Kivu is mainly used by tourists who want to connect from Bukavu to virunga national park by use of a ferry. Ferries move from Bukavu via Idjwi Island to Goma and this takes approximately 6 hours

Visitors may opt to use a speed boat that takes 3 hours whereas a public boat takes about 5 hours to arrive at the landing site of Goma. From Goma, you are then driven to Virunga national park and the journey takes about 1½ hours.

Riding on a slow boat costs you $50 while the private boat ride costs between $300 to $400. You can as well make reservations in advance for swift boats. These swift boats require advance bookings to obtain tickets

DR Congo land border crossing information

When travelling to DR congo to explore the great Virunga national park, most visitors enter the country through land boarders because the immigration is not complicated. At the main DR Congo- Rwanda border of Gisenyi – Goma, there is Grande Barrier border post where tourists check-in and get cleared before entering DR Congo. Before travelling to DRC, you must have the following documents to obtain a tourist visa;

  • A Valid yellow fever vaccination card. Failure to have this, you won’t be allowed to enter the country. Alternatively, you can be vaccinated and get one at a higher cost.
  • Have your passport ready
  • Have all your paper work ready before travelling. Organize all your travel documents and make copies if possible, to make it easier to clear with the authorities at the border.
  • Endeavour to always read updated travel information of Democratic republic of Congo before travelling.