Virunga national park is one of the most popular destinations for gorilla trekking safaris in Africa. It was first called Albert National Park which lies in east bordering Uganda to the east and Rwanda to the south. Virunga national park covers 7800km2 of land and water flowing from Virunga Mountains and Rwenzori mountains in Uganda passing through Kasese and fort portal. The park is an ecosystem and so has volcanic mountains, Block Mountains, craters and crater lakes, woodlands, swamp and wetlands vegetation and so on. The park was also named by colonialists who gazetted it in1925 as Parc Nationale des Virunga under the powers of King Albert of Belgium who attained the world Heritage site status in 1979 with an interest to protect the mountain gorillas. Due to the fact that there were political instabilities in Republic of Congo, the park was known for harboring the rebels and this has caused the closure of the park to save guard the tourists.
Is the park safe for touring?
Yes, the park is safe for touring because recently the President in power has cleared rebels from the forests and national parks have been protected as well. In February 15th 2019, the park was reopened meaning that the problem of political instabilities was solved. In one of the statements made by the warden of Virunga National Park by names of Mr. Emanuel De Merode, he said “To this end, we have hired an internationally respected specialist security firm to audit our security measures so that we can make a balanced and rigorous assessment of visitors security.” All thanks go to the management of Virunga park, local people and Congolese institute of conservation of nature who have worked hand in hand to secure peace which has promoted tourism in Democratic Republic of Congo.
How to access the park.
Virunga national park can be accessed through many routes but due to the fact that DR Congo had political instabilities, roads heading to Virunga Park had been destroyed and so visitors face challenges during the travel. Most visitors fry to Rwanda and then travel by road connecting to Gisenyi town that directs them to Goma in Congo. Travellers from Uganda also drive to kisoro at Bunagana town boarder where it is an hour drive to Bukima which is the gorilla trekking trail.
What to do in the park
Virunga National park is one of the unique experienced park in Congo for Gorilla trekking which is the major activity in the park. Roughly, the park has 250 mountain gorillas over 1000 gorillas in the whole world. The park is a home of 8 gorilla habituated creatures which lives in the tropical rainforests and these gorilla families are Humba, Mapuwa, Lulengo, Rugendo, Kabirizi, Nyakamwe, Bageni and Munyaga which are available for trekkers. To access these gorillas, travellers must follow the procedures just like in other parks with Gorilla trekking for example Bwindi Impenetrable national park, mgahinga national park and volcano national park. Interestingly in Congo gorilla trekking is the cheapest compared to other countries at the cost of 450US Dollars when accessing gorilla permits and yet in Uganda the permit costs of 600 US Dollars and Rwanda the permit cost of 1500US Dollars. In Virunga Park the number of trekkers is limited to 8members with an hour gorilla visit excluding the hiking hours.
This activity is one of the major activities in virunga national park. Chimpanzee habituation is where chimpanzees are taught to be used to human presence since they have something in common. Most researchers and scientists take advantage of the four hour given to study chimpanzees and most visitors enjoy chimps company because they play with them as well as watching them suckling their young ones and so on. Chimpanzee can also be accessed with permits just like gorilla trekking but for habituated creatures only maximum of four people per day. The habituated chimps are trained by a group of people from mogul Frankfurt zoologist society.
The park not only stops at gorilla trekking and chimpanzee habituation but also involves hiking of mountain Nyirangogo which is at the center of the park. The mountain is the world’s most active volcanoes with the night glow of many layers of lava and ash. Since 1882, the volcano has erupted at least 34times. Travellers hike the mountain after being briefed and porters are available to those who need their luggage to be carried for. While at the top of the mountain, visitors enjoy the breath taking photos, viewing the lava and active volcano as well as viewing the town of Goma making the tour unforgettable one.
While in the park and at the top of the mountain Nyiragongo in Virunga national park, visitors are able to spot beautiful landscapes in the nearby countries like Uganda and Rwanda. These are valleys in Sinda and Ishango regions, dense forests, mountain Rwenzori and afro alpine vegetation in the park .
Virunga national park is one of the activities taking place in the park. The park is called birders paradise because it’s a home of over 706 birds which commonly seen early morning and evening hours. Some of the birds in the park are African olive pigeon, handsome francolin, thick bellied sea eater, white headed wood hoopoe, Angolan swallow, blue headed sunbird, strange weaver, tropical boubou, grey throated barbet and alpine swift which lives in big trees in the park and feeds on insects as food and fruits.
This activity is commonly carried out in most parks because visitors feel relaxed and free from stress during the walk. they are able to see other wildlife species like buffalos, elephants ,lions , monkeys, baboons as well as visiting the Mikeno lodge for the evening tea and continuing to Senkwekwe gorilla sanctuary which has orphaned four gorilla members like matabishi, maisha, Ndakasi and Ndeize which were rescued from poachers. During this activity, visitors are able to meet and interact with local people where they discover more of their traditional way, they are entertained through dances and music which makes visitors tour the memorable one and this is done with the help of guides which mostly are part of the local community.