Where in Africa is Virunga national park?
Where in Africa is Virunga national park? Virunga national park is the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest area located at the eastern edge of the Congo Basin in DR Congo. Virunga national park is situated in the central part of Africa in Bulambo, Congo-Kinshasa. The national park is located in the Albertine rift valley in the eastern part of DR Congo. Virunga national park is located on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda and falls under the Virunga conservation area.
Virunga national park is one of the biggest national parks in Africa covering a total area of 7,768 sq. km. The national park was gazetted in 1952 and protects over 400 mountain gorillas, 20 primates, 196 mammals, and 706 bird species. Different activities are done in Virunga national park and they include mountain gorilla trekking, hiking, birding, and chimpanzee trekking. To get to Virunga you will have to fly to Rwanda, Uganda, or Kenya because the international airport in DR Congo is closed.
Things to do in Virunga national park
Spending 1 hour with mountain gorillas: Spending 1 hour with mountain gorillas is why travelers from different parts of the world visit Virunga national park. Gorilla trekking is the most done activity in Virunga national park and it has made the park very famous to the outside world. Not all mountain gorillas in Virunga national park are habituated but 8 families have been able to be fully habituated and are open for gorilla tourism at all times of the year.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga begins very early in the morning, the trekkers are able to wake up early in the morning and meet the drivers to transfer them to Bukima patrol offices. It’s from here that the park wardens will teach the trekkers about the rules and regulations of the gorilla trekking activity, the grouping will be done and armed ranger guides will lead the trekkers in the jungle.
The gorilla trekking activity in Virunga takes 2-5 hours of going through different trails, meeting different plant species, birds, and animals such as okapis, elephants, topis, buffaloes, duikers, lions, leopards, aardvark, monkeys, and much more. Once the gorillas are located, trekkers are given 1 hour to be around them watch them do daily activities, take photos and learn about their habits.
Encountering birds: Travelers to Virunga national park can encounter over 706 different bird species from different b8rding spots using the help of armed ranger guides. Some of the birds that do live in Virunga national park include regal sunbird, Klaas’s cuckoo, tambourine dove, archer’s ground robin, diederik cuckoo, western tinkerbird, blue-spotted wood dove, red-faced woodland warbler, common buzzard, narina trogon, white-headed wood hoopoe, Kivu ground thrush, hadeda ibis, grey-crowned crane, white-tailed blue flycatcher, and yellow-rumped tinkerbird among others.
Other birds include yellow-whiskered greenbul, green sandpiper, common bulbul, white-starred robin, mountain yellow warbler, white-browed robin-chat, brown woodland warbler, chubb’s cisticola, banded prinia, mountain greenbul, African thrush, cinnamon bracken warbler, pin-tailed whydah, stonechat, rufous thrush, red-eyed dove, and bronze sunbird.
Encountering chimpanzees: Chimpanzee trekking is another primate trekking activity in Virunga national park mostly in the southern part of the park. There are not so many chimpanzees in Virunga national park and 1 family has been so far habituated in this park and open for tourism purposes. Chimpanzee trekking is a guided activity that starts early in the morning from Bukima patrol station.
The activity starts with a briefing and later armed ranger guides lead the trekkers to the southern sector of the park to search for chimpanzees. The activity takes 2-4 hours of meeting different park animals, birds, and vegetation. As soon as the trekkers locate the chimpanzee family, 1 hour is given to them to learn about the chimpanzee habits, take photos and watch them do daily activities.
Hiking Virunga volcanoes: Most of the world’s best hikers have visited Virunga national park before and this is because the national park hosts some of the most active volcanoes in the world. The active volcanoes in the world are Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira. Another mountain in Virunga national park but not active is mountain Mikeno and it can as well be hiked throughout the year.
To hike these mountains, you need to be physically fit and you need to be above the age of 15 years with a hiking permit. The whole hiking activity starts at Bukima patrol post with a briefing and later hikers move to the starting points of the mountains. Here you get hiking sticks to help you throughout the hiking and you can hire a porter to incase of excess luggage.
The whole hiking activity takes 5-6 hours of passing through different vegetation, rocks, steep slopes, and rugged terrain. There are chances of meeting different park animals during the hike like the monkeys, lions, leopards, duikers, giant forest hogs, buffaloes, okapis, and birds among others. At the summit of volcanoes are lava lakes, snow, great views of Virunga volcanoes, mountain Rwenzori, Goma city, lake Kivu, plantations, and Virunga national park among others, Nights are spent at accommodations facilities at the summits and descending is next day.
Accommodation options in Virunga national park
Accommodation facilities in Virunga national park are spread inside and around the national park and they do range from budget to mid-range to luxury options. These accommodation facilities offer different services and pricing so where to stay does depend on your budget. The accommodations in Virunga include Lulimbi Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Bukima Tented Camp, Mikeno Lodge, Tchegera Island, Kibumba Tented Camp, and much more.
Best time to visit Virunga national park
The most appropriate time to visit Virunga national park is the dry season which occurs from June to September and December to February. Most travelers recommend this season because it’s characterized by little or no rainfall that makes the trekking trails less muddy, the vegetation is thin with clear views of the animals and the roads leading to the park are passable.
Travelers can still visit Virunga national park for any park activities in the rainy season of March to May and October to November. During that season, travelers are able to get huge discounts on accommodation facilities and gorilla trekking permits. However, in the rainy season, there is plenty of rainfall that makes the trekking trails muddy and slippery, the vegetation is always thin with unclear views of the park animals and the roads leading to the park are impassable
Accessing Virunga national park
By air: Virunga national park can be accessed by air transport in 2 ways and the first one is by flying to Jomo Kenyatta international airport. From there you will use Jambo jets that fly every week to Goma international airport. It’s from here that you will meet a driver to transfer you to Virunga national park or your booked accommodation.
Another option is flying to Kigali international airport where you will use chattered flights to Gisenyi airport. From Gisenyi, you can use road transport to the Congo Rwanda border where you will present your documents such as passports, visas, yellow fever cards, and much more to be allowed into the country. You will be handed over to the drivers of Virunga national park to transfer you to the park or your booked accommodation.
By road transport: Virunga national park can be accessed using road transport from Uganda and Rwanda. Those in Uganda will drive to Kisoro and cross to Virunga national park using the Uganda Congo border while those in Rwanda will drive to Goma border access Virunga national park.