Virunga National Park
Virunga national park is located in the eastern part of Congo within the Albertine rift valley. The park is sited on 8,090 square kilometers bordering Uganda’s mgahinga national park plus Rwanda’s volcanoes national park. The park was declared a UNESCO heritage site during the year 1979 though it was first established as a natural reserve to study and conserve primates and the wildlife within the area.
Wildlife / biodiversity
Virunga national park is home to over 3000 flora and fauna species with 300 endemics to the Albertine rift valley. The park is well gifted with over 2077 tree species including the kowai fruit, the conkerberry, paperbark thorn, African caper, and plenty more.
Mammals that are found within the parks perimeters are about 196 and 70 amphibians with plenty of primates including the Hamlyn monkey, the gorillas, chimpanzees, red-tailed monkeys, Dena mona monkey, blue monkeys, olive baboons, the red colobus monkey, mantled guereza, grey-cheeked mangabey, golden monkeys, de Brazzers and many more.
The other mammals found at Virunga national park include the topis, waterbucks, common warthogs, yellow duikers, bay duikers, bush elephants, and others
The bird life at Virunga is characterized by the Rwenzori batis, the Rwenzori double collared sunbird, the handsome francolin, the dusky Crimsonwing, strange weaver, regal sunbirds, mountain masked Apalis, Kivu ground thrush, red-throated leather, archers ground robin, the Rwenzori turaco, the yellow warbler, yellow-white eye, brown woodland, mountain greenbul, alpine swift, the olive woodpecker and many more.
The park is also well known for its reptile species including the Nile crocodiles that are situated within the semuliki river close to the park and along the shores of lake Edward. The park is also home to several snake species as it’s a forested area.
Geology and topography of Virunga national park
Virunga national park is situated at an altitude ranging from 680m in the semuliki river valley around the Rwenzori ranges. The southern part of the park stretches about 300km covering an area distance of 8090km2.
The topography of the area is characterized by two volcanoes that include Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo. Some of the other volcanoes around the area include mount mikeno and mount karisimbi.
The park is found in the grasslands and wetlands with papyrus, sacaton grasses, ambatch, common reed, thorns, paperbark thorns, and many others.
Weather at Virunga national park
During March, April, and may plus the ranges of September, October, and November, Virunga national park experiences a wet season with high volumes of rain followed by low-temperature levels during the night.
The northern region of the park is the driest and it receives monthly mean precipitation of up to 220 mm and 160 mm in the southern area of the park
The park is also crossed by the equator and this highly influences its temperature levels as the temperature ranges from 230c to 280c in the lowlands and 140c to 240c in its high lands.
The dry season of the park is witnessed during December, January, and February and then it comes around June, July, and August.
Gorilla trekking at Virunga national park
The gorilla trekking experience at Virunga is conducted within the tropical montane rainforest of the park walking through the different trailheads of the area and getting to one of the 8 fully habituated gorilla families that reside in the park
The park has got over 250 gorilla individuals with only 8 habituated gorilla families and these include munyanga, bageni, nyakamwe, lulengo, humba, rengendo, and kabirizi.
The trekking experience takes about 1 – 7 hours or sometimes a full day walking within the forest trying to locate the mountain gorillas.
The gorilla permit at congo is only 400 USD making it the cheapest gorilla destination worldwide. Gorilla trekking starts very early in the morning as you will be led by several rangers and guided into the forest and the group is only joined by only 8 tourists. Each gorilla family is visited by one group with only 8 tourists.
While on your trekking, you will be able to view the several primates and birds found within the area plus the fascinating view of the Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira mountains.
Some of the rules and guidelines that you have to put in mind include
A void making noise
Any victim of a contagious disease is not eligible for the activity
Observe a safe distance of 7 meters from the gorillas
Other activities at Virunga national park
Virunga national park is famous for its affordable gorilla trekking experience but more so for its magnificent bird species that offer a breathtaking birding safari with the expectation of watching some species like the Rwenzori batis, the Rwenzori double collared sunbird, the handsome francolin, the dusky Crimsonwing, strange weaver, regal sunbirds, mountain masked Apalis, Kivu ground thrush, red-throated leather, archers ground robin, the Rwenzori turaco, the yellow warbler, yellow-white eye, brown woodland, mountain greenbul, alpine swift, the olive woodpecker and many more.
The montane rainforest of Virunga national park is also home to man’s closest primate specie known as the chimpanzees with 95% DNA resemblance. The park has several habituated chimpanzees that give a memorable tracking activity. The activity starts early in the morning and it takes about 7 hours.
This is another activity that is best done with the park’s montane rainforest besides gorilla trekking. The activity starts in the morning taking you through the different trails of the park with a chance of watching the several birds and primates found within the area.
For adventurous travelers, the park is the perfect destination with several mountains and well-designed hiking trails giving the best hiking activities and levels in terms of hardship. Some of the hiking areas include the Nyiragongo mountain and many more.
The boat cruise safari along lake Kivu gives you the best game viewing experience while on your Virunga national park visit as you will watch the several schools of hippos, crocodiles, and several water bird species plus the plenty of mammals that come to enjoy the freshwater.
How to get to Virunga national park
Virunga national park is can be accessed by travelers from both Uganda and Rwanda. While in Uganda you will drive to Kisoro town have a night’s stay there and then proceed to Goma town via the congo – Uganda border. At Goma, it takes you only 1 hour to reach Virunga national park.
The Rwanda option starts with driving westward of the country to Gisenyi town crossing the le grand barrier border to Goma town.
The park is also accessed by visitors from Bukavu in congo using water via lake Kivu to Goma town and then proceed to the park headquarters in bukima
Where to stay while on your safari at Virunga national park
There are several accommodation options while on your Virunga national park safari and these range from luxury to the mid-range and budget facilities. The lodges include
- Ngila lodge
- Tchegera lodge
- Nyiragongogo summit shelter
- Mikeno lodge
- Bukima tented camp
- Kibumba tented camp
- Lulimbi tented camp