Virunga National Park spans to an area of 7800 square kilometers. It is one of the oldest conservation areas in Africa which was once established as Albert National Park in 1925 by King Albert 1 of Belgium. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was established primarily to offer refuge to the critically endangered mountain gorillas and their natural habitat.
The world Heritage Site is situated east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and it is credited for its spectacular and diverse wildlife species, comprising of savanna, Lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcano mountains, forests and the ice fields of the Rwenzori Mountains. Over 200 mountain gorillas call this stunning protected area their home making it one of the only 3 destinations in world for you to track these amazing primates in the wild. However, the Democratic Republic of Congo is still recovering from political unrest, but the park is open for mountain gorilla tracking and other exciting attractions.
Tourism picked up from nothing in 2008 to about 2000 in 2010 with number of tourists that kept increasing steadily. This even led to creation of more amazing tourist attractions especially chimpanzee habituation around the Tongo forest. Virunga National Park was declared as UNESCO site in 1979 and it is managed by the Institut Congolais pour le Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).
Tourist activities in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park offers refuge to about 200 mountain gorillas out of the 900 individuals that still live in the world. This makes the Virunga National Park one of the best destinations for mountain gorilla trekking safaris. For tourists who desire to achieve their dreams in this most stunning conservation area, there are 6 habituated gorilla groups that have been designated for mountain gorilla trekking in the Congo Virunga National Park.
The Mikeno area is a sector of forest lying on the flanks of a range of mainly dominant volcanoes. A trek to Virunga National Park gives you a chance to strike your imaginations with these rare species within one hour of face to face encounter. While with these primates, you will maintain a distance of about 8 meters away from them. Like any gorilla destination, only eight tourists are allowed to go for gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park and the permit cost $400.
The treks start from Bukima which is one of the patrol posts with many park rangers and trackers who will be assigned to you as you head to the forest for this lifetime experience. Your trek takes about 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on your speed, location of gorilla family and nature of the terrain.
You can also engage in Nyiragongo hike as you climb to one of the most active strato volcanoes that come with the largest and most smoky Lava Lakes in the world. For adventure enthusiasts, visiting Mount Nyiragongo should be a must for you to get that life changing experience in life. Hiking adventures begin at Kibati patrol post about 30 minutes drive from Goma city and an hour from Mikeno Lodge in the area of Rumangabo. You will spend about four to six hours and catch a glimpse of the fiery Lava Lake while at the volcano’s summit. For this adventure, you will need rain jackets and other rain gears. If you need a porter, you can hire one at $12 each day.
As you head to the west, the chimpanzee treks start in the forest of Tongo and for tourists who are interested in chimpanzee adventure in the DRC permits can be obtained up on viewing the chimpanzees. Tongo is an extra ordinary forest island of about 300 years old just along the Lava flow from Nyamulagira Mountain.
Accommodation in Virunga National Park
The presence of lodges in the park helps tourist to enjoy the park attractions with no worries. Among other accommodation and lodge in the lodge include;
Mikeno Lodge which lies between 3 major tourist attractions and is situated where the normal treks start, and allows you to view the rare mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and the Mount Nyiragongo.
Situated in East, Mikeno Gorilla area and in the southwest you will find the Nyiragongo Mountain. Bukima Tented Camp, this is one of the areas where gorilla trekking begins from. Other accommodation facilities include the Kibumba Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelter and Lulimbi Tented Camp.
How to get to the Virunga National Park
You can fly into Kigali International Airport and spend about three hours and more while in the taxi as you cross the border at Gisenyi Rwanda or Goma-DR Congo. Among other airlines for you to use include the Ethiopian Airlines and the Democratic Republic of Congo Airlines fly into Goma but bad thing the airport has not yet attained the international standards.
If you are interested in using taxis, you will be charged about 100 dollars from Kigali to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even hotels can help you get a taxi for you to connect to the park. The Grand Barriere border crossing is open to tourists from 8:00am to 7:00pm local time. In case you book park transport for the volcano that is from Goma to Kibati the driver will pick you at the border at 8:30am. However, some gorilla treks are not possible since park transport departs from Goma to Bukima at 6:30am.
In conclusion, the Virunga National Park is exceptionally one of the most incredible destinations that you should count a must to visit while on safari in Africa. There are several tourist attractions for you to catch a glimpse in this park.