Though often neglected, Virunga National Park is one of the prominent Parks where you can visit for a memorable Gorilla trekking Experience. This park is situated in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo stretching from Rwenzori Mountains in then North to the Virunga Mountains in the South. Established in 1925 as Albert National Park makes Parc National des Virunga (in French) the oldest National Park in Africa. The main reason for its establishment was to protect the critically endangered mountain gorilla living within the Virunga Mountains hence the mountain gorillas are the prime attractions in this beautiful Park. In the past the Park was affected by conflicts resulting from political and military instabilities and poaching from the local communities resulting into a reduction in the number of these Giant Apes. The Park is characterized by several vegetation zones and physical features that include Erosion Valleys, forests, Savannah plains, Swamps, Active Volcanoes with Glaciated peaks and Lava Plains.
What to See and Do in Virunga National Park
Virunga National park is a home to over 218 mammal species including over 24 primate species , over 780 bird species, 109 reptile species, 78 Amphibian species and more than 1000 plant species. The key attraction this Park is known for is the mountain gorillas with over 200 individuals that call this Park home. There are currently 8 habituated gorilla groups and they include Kabirizi, Rugendo, Humba, Munyaga, Lulengo, Mapuwa, this makes gorilla trekking the key activity in this Park. Other Great Apes in this Park include the Eastern lowland Gorillas (Gorilla Beringei Grauer’s) and the Great Chimpanzees. Other wildlife species the rare Okapi (endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo), Antelopes including Warthogs, Defassa waterbucks, Red forest duikers, Kobs, Lions, Topis, Forest Elephants, Buffaloes, and Hippos (homes the largest number of Hippos in Africa). With these important wildlife species, nature walks are one of the important activities.
There are over 780 bird species including 24 species that are endemic to the Virunga Mountains. Some of the bird species include Cormorants, Ibises, Geese, Darters, Open Bills, Herons, Egrets, Bitterns, Skimmers, Rockefeller’s sunbird, Stuhlmann’s Doublecollared sunbirds, a number of Pelicans, Weavers, Nathan’s Francolins, Forest ground thrush, Papyrus Yellow warbler in the far North of the Park, Grauer’s Swamp warbler in the highland swamps, the rare Shoebill storks, Gulls, Rwenzori Turacco, Handsome Francolins, Rwenzori batis and Shelley’s Crimsonwing among others. Bird watching is also an important activity in this Park hence Virunga National Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Virunga National Park is a home to 6 of the 8 Volcanoes that make up the Virunga Massif and they include Mount Mikeno, Nyiragongo, Nyamuragira, Mount Sabinyo, Mount Karisimbi, and Mount Bisoke. Much as most of these Mountains are inactive, two of them (Mount Nyamuragira and Mount Nyiragongo) are active, hence this presents two-fifths of Africa’s Volcanic Eruptions. Hiking Mount Nyiragongo is one of the key activities conducted in Virunga National Park. Not only that, the snow capped Rwenzori Mountains is an important feature found within the Park, and tourists can climb to its Peaks.
Tourists who visit Virunga National Park can also visit the Tongo Chimps situated in Tongo Hills in the South of the Park and West of the Rumangabo Park Headquarters. These chimpanzees have lived in this place for over 250 years and there is currently one habituated Chimpanzee group that can be tracked.
Part of Lake Edward is found within this Park and some unique creatures found here include Cichlid species, crocodiles, monitor lizards and snakes including P uff adders, Green Mambas and pythons among others.
Where to Stay While at Virunga National Park
There are several lodging options in and around Virunga National Park that offer state of art facilities and they include Bukima Tented Camp, Mikeno Lodge, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, and Tchegera Island tented camp among others.
How to Reach Virunga National Park
This Park can be accessed from Uganda or Rwanda side. It is bout 3-4 hours drive from Kigali to Goma (near the Rwanda-Congo border). From Uganda, tourists connect to Congo via the Bunagana border. If you are already in Goma, the Park is situated in the West but entering the Park through Congo is more difficult because the roads are in poor condition. Therefore 4WD vehicles are highly recommended.
In conclusion, much as it is often ignored, the Virunga National park is endowed with several wildlife species that include the famous Mountain gorillas, bird species and at least 6 of the 8 volcanoes in the Virunga Massif. This is why you have to visit this Park and experience its biodiversity in an authentic environment.