Welcome to Virunga National Park the oldest national park and it was the first to be established in Africa (1925) and it lies in the eastern parts of the country. The park is contiguous to Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and all the three parks are under the same ecosystem (Virunga massif) though administered by different countries. Virunga National Park is a UNESCO designated world heritage site and it is administered by the Congolese National Park Authorities and the Virunga Foundation.
On your gorilla safari you should not miss out the Virunga Park when you are designing your travel itinerary because the park is full of many things that will make you comfortable and get a historical safari in Africa. The park is mostly known for its rare endangered mountain gorillas which only exist in four national parks; Bwindi and Mgahinga in Uganda plus the other one called Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda but the most fascinating thing about gorilla trekking in Virunga is the cheapest of all. Gorilla trekking in Congo is almost four times much cheaper than Rwanda gorilla tracking where its (Rwanda) gorilla permit costs US$ 1500 yet a Congo gorilla permit costs US$ 400 and also cheaper than that of Uganda which costs US$ 600 thus being an affordable destination for Mountain gorilla tracking.
Most of the gorilla trekkers lost hope of viewing these endangered apes due to the increased gorilla prices in Rwanda but good news are that Congo is a best destination too of experiencing the rare Mountain gorillas. Virunga national park can either be accessed from Rwanda through Volcanoes National Park or from Uganda through Mgahinga Gorilla National Park or even through its airport (Lubumbashi international airport).
Virunga as of now it consists of eight habituated gorilla families open to trekkers and these include; Bageni, Kabirizi, Nyakamwe, Mapuwa, Rugendo, Humba, Lulengo and Munyaga gorilla families. Trekkers in the Park always are allowed to spend with the gorillas for strictly one hour but the experience achieved from that one hour is of a lifetime. The tracking starts at 08:30am at Bukima patrol post in tracking groups of 8 individuals which is the maximum number of trekkers per tracking group.
Before going for gorilla trekking in Virunga you are expected to be aware of your health status because you will not be allowed to do the tracking when you are sick reason being that you might spread the diseases to the gorillas because they also catch human diseases such as; flu, cough, malaria and many more. For the bookings you will have to consult the local tour agencies listed on the Congo parks guide which will cater for you entire safari including purchasing for you the gorilla permits such that on your arrival in Congo you will not need to disturb yourself looking for a permit.
Accommodation reservation, tourist travel passport, airport pick-ups and many others will be offered to you by the agency but trekkers are always advised to book earlier for proper planning of your safari.
Besides the mountain gorillas, the Park is also a habitat to many other wildlife species such as; chimpanzees, savanna and forest elephants, giraffes, Okapis, buffaloes, hippos, lions among others. The Park is also a habitat to Africa’s most active volcano called Nyamulagira volcano and the magnificent Nyiragongo volcano which is known for keeping the largest bubbling lava lake at its summits.
Thus during your hiking of Nyiragongo you will be able to view the dangerous and world’s largest lava lake. For memorable safaris you should therefore choose Virunga national park because you will get involved in many interesting activities such as; gorilla tracking, game viewing, chimpanzee tracking, hiking, boat cruises at Lake Kivu which is close to the park, and bird watching.
There are good accommodations within and around the Park which include; Tchegera Island tented camp, Mikeno lodge, Bukima tented camp, Lulimbi tented camp and the Nyiragongo volcano summit shelters which are nestled at the summit of Nyiragongo volcano thus hikers do not need to carry camping tents.
The park also consists of lots of different terrains thus being another reason as to why it is such an interesting place to visit. Inside the park you will view valleys, volcanoes, swamps, lava plains, forests and even savannas and all the Park’s annual visitors always appreciate the amazing scenery and huge variety of things they see including the rare endangered mountain gorillas.