Virunga National Park,Congo: Gorilla trekking and Nyiragongo Hiking Safaris
The park is considered a home to the prominent Mountain gorillas. Located in the Eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo, Virunga national park was established in 1925 by the then King of Belgium, King Albert 1, and was the park was named after him, say Albert National Park.
Although Almost more than half of what is in the sub Saharan desert is concentrated in Virunga national park, the park was initially gazetted to protect the mountain Gorillas which were found in both Uganda and Rwanda, hence leading to gorilla trekking activity.
The park as well as the country of Democratic Republic of Congo, first declined when the country attained it’s independence in 1960, but was later revived and renamed Virunga National park when the President pick interest in conservation, in 1970’s.
The park is about 7800km2 stretching from Virunga Mountains in the south, to Rwenzori in the North. Apart from Mountain Gorillas, Nyiragongo, Virunga National Park is also famous for it’s birds, mammals and reptile concentration more than any other protected areas.
However, Virunga National Park still being the oldest national park in the African soil was created to protect and conserve unique wildlife species, for Sciences and research purposes as well as protecting indigenous fruit gathering communities, (also called the Twa).
Virunga National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of her ecological importance in 1979, despite the political disturbances that have caused negative implications on the conservancy. The Rwanda war period in 1990’s was challenging in Virunga due to the high increase of refugees in the Virunga Conservancy, leading to wildlife encroach. The Virunga conservancy was declared world Heritage in danger in 1994, but later became a Ramsar Site of international importance in 1996.
Currently, the mountain gorillas have now become the top attraction in Congo, due to the fact that Virunga National park is now considered as one of the few parks in world with these intelligent creatures-the gorillas. Until now, Virunga is still rated a strong ecological pillar for the entire East and Central African ecosystem.
How to get to Virunga National Park
Located in the Eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo, Most parts of Virunga National park cannot be easily accessed by road, except for Goma town which is 32 km to the Park. Most travelers prefer landing at Kigali International airport, after which they proceed by road through Gisenyi to Goma.
It is only a 2 hours drive to the park headquarters at bukima, whereas for travelers from Uganda take a 1 hour drive from bunagana border to bukima, the starting point for every mountain gorilla trek.
The park also provides transport to fetch those travelers who will have stopped at Goma airport, with the Ethiopian airways. The Ethiopian airways arranges private airport transfer to Goma once each week.
Major Attraction in Virunga national park
Virunga national park is a home to a number of primate species among which include, Mountain Gorillas Chimpanzees, Golden monkeys. However chances are high that you will spot several mother types of monkeys such as white and black colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys, Mona monkeys, Dent’s Monkeys among other primates.
The dense vegetation which acts as the major home and the main source of food and shelter for most animals has led to the increased number of wildlife. Virunga National park has become the perfect habitat for mammals, thus a number of mammal species have been seen within the park’s grassland. The park is believed to accommodate about 218 mammal species, and among others include the Uganda Kob, lions, bongo, African buffaloes, , Okapi, Hippopotamus, Warthog, yellow backed duiker, leopards.
Virunga National park is known to protect about 400 bird species that can be seen duing safaris held in the park. The commonly spotted birds include water birds such as Herons, Ibisis, egrets, shoebills, ospreys, gulls, francolins warblers, pelicans(seen around the lakes and swamps within Virunga) etc.
Activities In Virunga National Park
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
This is one of the most remarkable and rewarding experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga National park contains 8 gorilla groups that have been habituated for trekking by visitors who visit the park. The experience is awesome and inspiring the, it starts with briefing, treks may last for about2-6 hours depending on the location of the gorilla family. At most1 hour is allowed to be upclose to the gorillas, after then you return to your starting point.
The gorilla trekking permits cost an amount of $400 which is quite cheaper to that of Uganda and Rwanda, and only eight people are allowed to visit the gorillas group they are assigned.
Like Gorillas, Chimp tracking/habituation also stand out to be the second most important activity under taken in Congo. Chimp habituation was started by the Frankfurt Zoological society in 1987. The habituation process was majorly for research/study purposes, but is has become part of the tourism benefit. Chimp trackers are required to leave early before 6:00am in search for the chimpanzee, an hour is spent while in their presence, although searching for them may seem tiring.
Mount Nyiragongo hike
Nothing feels so interesting like being part of a 4-5 hour hike to the most active volcano, standing at the edge of the crater, admiring larva spurting into the air and gazing at an impressive that is quite different from other hiking destinations.
Nyiragongo hike is a two day activity, although it is a bit demanding. The experience is outstanding that happens once in a lifetime due to its magical experience. It is accompanied with sweating, panting, altitude sickness. Nyiragongo Hike is a very a taste for every hikers bravery and a wonder full opportunity that awakens every travelers adventure senses. The cost for every Nyiragongo Hiking Permit per person goes for $300 dollars.