Virunga National Park

The Virunga National Park formerly named Albert National Park lies in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the border with Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains in the North and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park in the East. The park includes part of Lake Edward, the Semliki River valley, parts of the Rwindi, Ishasha and Rutshuru valleys south of the lake, the Virunga area within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and part of the Rwenzori range. Lake Edward belongs to the Nile river system and Lake Kivu to the Congo Basin river system.

The park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979. The park is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities; the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Virunga Foundation, formerly known as the Africa Conservation Fund (UK).

Virunga National Park covering an estimated area of 78,000sq.kms comprises of an exceptional diversity of habitats, ranging from swamps and steppes to the snowfields of Rwenzori at an altitude of over 5,000 m, and from lava plains to the savannahs on the slopes of volcanoes. Mountain gorillas are found in the park, some 20,000 hippopotamuses live in the rivers and birds from Siberia spend the winter there.

Virunga National Park is unique with its active chain of volcanoes and rich diversity of habitats that exceed those of any other African national parks. Its range contains an amalgamation of steppes, savannas and plains, marshlands, low altitude and afro-montane forest belts to unique afro-alpine vegetation and permanent glaciers and snow on Mounts Rwenzori whose peaks culminate in 5000 m height. The property includes the spectacular massifs of Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains containing the two most active volcanoes of Africa. The wide diversity of habitats produces exceptional biodiversity, notably endemic species and rare and globally threatened species such as the mountain gorilla.

Virunga National Park offers the most spectacular montane landscapes in Africa. Mt Rwenzori with its jagged reliefs and snowy summits, their cliffs and steep valleys, and the volcanoes of the Virunga massif covered with an afro-alpine vegetation of tree ferns and Lobelia and their slopes covered by dense forests, are the places of exceptional natural beauty. The volcanoes, which erupt at regular intervals every few years, constitute the dominant land features of the outstanding landscape. The Park presents several other spectacular panoramas like the eroded valleys in the Sinda and Ishango regions. The Park also contains important concentrations of wildlife, notably elephants, buffalo and Thomas cobs, and the largest concentration of hippopotamuses in Africa, with 20,000 individuals living on the banks of Lake Edward and along the Rwindi, Rutshuru and Semliki Rivers.

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Virunga National Park is located in the Centre of the Albertine Rift, of the Great Rift Valley. In the southern part of the Park, tectonic activity due to the extension of the earth’s crust in this region has caused the emergence of the Virunga massif, comprising eight volcanoes, seven of which are located, totally or partially, in the Park.  Among them, are the two most active volcanoes of Africa – Nyamuragira and nearby Nyiragongo – which between them are responsible for two-fifths of the historic volcanic eruptions on the African continent and which are characterized by the extreme fluidity of the alkaline lava. The activity of Nyiragongo is of world importance as a witness to volcanism of a lava lake: the bottom of its crater is in fact filled by a lake of quasi permanent lava that empties periodically with catastrophic consequences for the local communities. The northern sector of the Park includes about 20% of the massif of Monts Rwenzori – the largest glacial region of Africa and the only true alpine mountain chain of the continent. It borders the Rwenzori Mountains National Park of Uganda, inscribed as World Heritage, with which it shares the ‘Pic Marguerite’, third highest summit of Africa (5,109 m).

Due to the park ‘s variations in altitude, rainfall and nature of the ground, Virunga National Park possesses a very wide diversity of plants and habitats, making it the top African National Park for biological diversity. More than 2,000 premier plant species have been identified, of which 10% are endemic to the Albertine Rift. The afro-montane forests represent about 15% of the vegetation. The Rift Albertine also contains more endemic vertebrate species than any other region of the African continent and the Park possesses numerous examples of them. The Park contains 218 mammal species, 706 bird species, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species. It also serves as refuge to 22 primate species of which three are the great ape – mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), the eastern plain gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) and the eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), with a third of the world population of mountain gorillas. The savannah zones of the Park contain a diverse population of ungulates and the density of biomass of wildlife is one of the highest on the earth Planet (27.6 ton/km2). Among the ungulates, there are certain rare animals such as the okapi,endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the red forest duiker and endemic to Monts Rwenzori. The Park also comprises important tropical zones essential for the wintering of Palearctic avifauna.

Some of the largest wild animal concentrations in Africa occur along the rivers of the park. Mammals in the savannah of the Rwindi area include: elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, numerous antelope including kob, defassa waterbuck and topi, warthog, lion and various monkeys. Large numbers of pelicans occur on the lower Rutshuru. In the Semiliki Valley and on the slopes of the Virunga mountains are gorilla, chimpanzee and okapi. In the extreme north are forest hog and bongo. Birds include Nahan’s francolin, forest ground thrush, shoebill and probably papyrus yellow warbler.

  • Fauna as a tourist attractions in Virunga national park

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    Some of the largest wild animal concentrations in Africa occur along the rivers of the Virunga National park. The interesting Mammals in the savannah of the Rwindi area include: elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, numerous antelope including kob, defassa waterbuck and topi, warthog, lion and various monkeys. Large numbers of pelicans occur on the lower Rutshuru. In the Semiliki Valley and on the slopes of the Virunga mountains are gorilla, chimpanzee and okapi.

    Flora as a tourist attractions in Virunga national park
    Located at the border between several biogeographic zones, the park protects both tropical rainforest and eastern steppe species, and its range of altitudes adds to the habitat variety. The diversity includes: bamboo and Hagenia forest on the mountains; equatorial forest along the Semiliki; wooded savannah of the Rwindi; steppes; various low savannahs; swamps and transitional habitats; dry thick forest; Neoboutonia macrocalyx forest on the lava plains; wet thick forest; alpine forests; and sparse vegetation above 4,300 m comprising mainly lichens and spermatophyta, although Graminae have been found growing at over 5,000 m.

    Mountain gorillas as a tourist attractions in Virunga national park

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    live on the slopes of the Virungas. Out of a total mountain gorilla population of 840 animals, 440 are found to be protected in the Virunga Massifs. Eastern lowland gorillas Gorilla g. graueri live on Mount Tshiaberimu northwest of the lake and in the Semliki valley forests, threatened by illegal farmers and tree fellers. In famous Virunga Ntaional Park,the Mountain Gorillas are located in the Mikeno Sector, about a two and half our drive from Goma. They can also be approached from Bunagana (border of Uganda). The permit is $400, so slightly cheaper than in Uganda or Rwanda. The visits are also a bit more authentic and in smaller groups. There are several operators who can organize this, but all book via the ICCN (Congolse Wildlife Authority) sales office in Goma.

    Bird species or Avifauna as a tourist attractions in Virunga national park
    Is very diverse in the areas covered by Virunga National Park. Over 800 species are claimed to be protected in the park and of which 24 are considered to be endemic to the Virungas. The wetlands species include herons, ibisis, egrets, bitterns, duck, geese, darters, cormorants, skimmers, shoebills, openbills, ospreys, gulls, francolins, warblers and weavers and there are large numbers of pelicans on the lower Rutshuru River. The papyrus yellow warbler may exist in the far north. Rare birds in the volcanic highlands are Grauer’s swamp warbler in highland swamps, and Rockefeller’s sunbird Nectarinia rockefelleri in bamboo, forest and heath stream thickets; in the Ruwenzori mountain forests, Shelley’s crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi and Stuhlmann’s doublecollared sunbird Nectarinia stuhlmanni in the bamboo and alpine zones. Notable mountain forest birds are the Rwenzori turaco, Musophaga johnstoni and the handsome francolin, Francolinus nobilis; also the forest ground thrush Turdus oberlaenderi and the shoebill Balaeniceps rex.

    Nyiragongo Volcano as a tourist attractions in Virunga national park
    Nyiragongo is a beautiful stratovolcano that features the world’s largest lava lake. The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and bushbuck. Nyiragongo’s summit rim is largely devoid of vegetation and is frequently dusted with snow. From the rim, visitors can peer down into a churning lava lake and see and hear hot gases exploding up though a mosaic of molten lava. Although predictable and therefore safe for tourists, Nyiragongo is greatly feared during eruptions. Because of the low silica content of its lava, Nyiragongo’s lava flows are extremely fluid. During the 2002 eruption, some of Nyiragongo’s lava flows were clocked at 100 km/hr (62 mph) and reached all the way to Lake Kivu.

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    Treks to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano begin at the Kibati patrol post, which is approximately 30 minutes by car from Goma. The patrol post is less than a one hour drive from the Mikeno Lodge in Rumangabo. Park rangers lead all treks and porters (unaffiliated with the park) are available for hire. The time required to reach the summit depends on the average fitness of each group, but typically takes 4 – 6 hours. Altitude sickness can be an issue for some because the climb begins at 1989m (6,525 ft) and ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) in a short time. Proper hydration is the best way to adapt to the change in altitude. People prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) should speak to their physicians about taking preventative measures before making the climb. It is possible for fitter people to climb up and descend in one day, but most groups choose to overnight in basic accommodation available at the top .

    Lake Edward (Rutanzige)
    Lake Edward which is shallow has an impoverished fish fauna, but many cichlid species, and quite a rich invertebrate fauna. Recently crocodiles have returned to the upper Semliki River. The monitor lizard and snakes are common including python, puff adder, cobra and green mamba among others.

    Glacier of the Rwenzori Mountains in Virunga National Park
    The Rwenzori Mountains is a snow capped mountain range in the north of Virunga National Park on the Border with Uganda. The highest peak in the range lies on the border and can be climbed from both countries. The trek to the glacier can be made in a 4-5 or 6 day trek. In order to start the trek visitors will need to travel to Beni by airplane (either from Goma or Entebbe).

  • Mountain Gorillas Trekking

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    Mountain Gorillas in the famous Virunga National Park are located in the Mikeno Sector, about a two and half hours’ drive from Goma. They can also be approached from Bunagana (border of Uganda). The permit is $400, so slightly cheaper than in Uganda or Rwanda. The visits are also a bit more authentic and in smaller groups. Gorilla trekking permit is booked via the Congolse Wildlife Authority sales office in Goma or alternatively, you can also book directly with ICCN.

    A visit to habituated mountain gorilla family in Virunga is a life changing experience. Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent, good natured, and fascinating to observe. The silverback’s powerful presence is awe-inspiring, yet his calm clearly earns him the title, “gentle giant”. People are equally struck by the tenderness and care that mothers show their young. And then, of course, there are the juveniles who spend most of every waking hour at play and never cease to make visitors smile. We believe your time with Virunga’s mountain gorillas will leave you feeling changed for­­ the better.

    All treks are led by park rangers and usually depart from Bukima patrol post. Treks usually require 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction, depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and the difficulty of the terrain.

    To safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas, visitors will be required to wear surgical masks that are provided to trekkers when they encountering the gorillas in their natural habitat of Virunga National Park. Time with the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour. If you don’t feel well, have a fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat – please do not go on the trek. Mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Gorillas have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.

    Climb Nyiragongo Volcano-The Lava Lake of the Nyiragongo Volcano, the largest in the world

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    This volcano, famous for its lava lake, is a technically easy climb from the direction of Goma. A trip to the top should take 6 hours, most climbers spend the night at the top. This also makes it possible to see the boiling lava by night, when it becomes even brighter.

    Treks to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano begin at the Kibati patrol post, which is approximately 30 minutes by car from Goma. The patrol post is less than a one hour drive from the Mikeno Lodge in Rumangabo. Park rangers lead all treks and porters (unaffiliated with the park) are available for hire. The time required to reach the summit depends on the average fitness of each group, but typically takes 4 – 6 hours. Altitude sickness can be an issue for some because the climb begins at 1989m (6,525 ft) and ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) in a short time. Proper hydration is the best way to adapt to the change in altitude. People prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) should speak to their physicians about taking preventative measures before making the climb. It is possible for fitter people to climb up and descend in one day, but most groups choose to overnight in basic accommodation available at the top (included in the permit fee). Trekkers are advised to bring raincoats and cold weather gear. Rain showers are a common occurrence on the climb up during the rainy season and temperatures at the summit can dip below 0°C/32°F.

    Rwenzori Mountain Trek-Glacier of the Rwenzori Mountains in Virunga National Park

    The Rwenzori Mountains are a snow capped mountain range in the north of Virunga National Park on the Border with Uganda. The highest peak in the range lies on the border and can be climbed from both countries. The trek to the glacier can be made in a 4-5 or 6 day trek. in order to start the trek visitors will need to travel to Beni by airplane (either from Goma or Entebbe).

    Virunga National Park also offers spectacular trekking and climbing trips to the Rwenzori Mountains in the north of the park. Known also as the “Mountains of the Moon,” the Rwenzoris reach a height of 5,109 m (16,761 ft) and contain the largest glaciers left on the African continent. Those who trek and climb in the Rwenzoris will experience a stunning variety of landscapes, including bamboo forests, alpine meadows, lakes, and snowcapped peaks. The flora and fauna of the Rwenzoris is equally diverse. Forest elephant, Okapi, chimpanzees, and numerous bird species make the Rwenzoris their home. The best weather in the Rwenzoris usually happens from January through mid-March and June to late August.

    The cost of a permit for the Rwenzoris is $232 for both trekkers and climbers. For an additional $116, visitors are welcome to overnight in the huts along the track. At this time, the park is not able to supply gear or food for guests, so please come prepared. Trekkers wanting only to reach the summit hut will need good hiking boots, rain gear, and a warm base layers. Those wanting to climb Margherita Peak or any of the other summits will need to bring their own climbing hardware, crampons, and ice axes. Bivouc gear is also a good idea. A Virunga ranger accompanies all trekkers and climbers and independent porters are available for hire. Porters negotiate their prices on the spot, but the cost is typically less than a dollar per kilogram with a maximum of 15.

    Visit the Tongo Chimps

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    Virunga National Park has a habituated Chimpanzee group in the picturesque hills of Tongo, located in the southern sector of Virunga National Park, west of the park headquarters of Rumangabo, Tongo is a unique forest island and home to a small population of chimpanzees. The forest lies on one of the lava flows from Nyamulagira Volcano and is estimated to be 300 years old. NB Tongo is not yet open for visitors due to safety issues, please check the Virunga National Park Tourism Website for current information on the chimpanzee treks

  • The southern sector (Gorillas and Volcano) of Virunga National Park is easily accessible in a number of different ways the most common are:

    Overland via Uganda, cross the border in Bunagana, from where the Mountain gorilla sites Jomba and Bikenge are easily accessable within 1 hour. The border crossing is easy, and a local visa can be bought at the border for only 50$, however this visa is not a fully recognized visa and can only be used to visit the park and subsequently leaving the country at the Bunagana border post again.

    Overland via Rwanda, cross the border at Gisenyi/Goma, the border crossing is easy if you pre-arranged a visa, if not it will be difficult or expensive (280$ if bought at the border).

    Fly into Goma, from within the DRC many flights connect to Goma, from outside the DRC Entebbe is the only city connected by TMK. Once again make sure you have a pre-arranged visa.

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  • Mikeno Lodge-Luxury/Upmarket

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    The Mikeno Lodge is a one and a half hour drive from Goma and offers large bungalows and a good restaurant. The lodge and restaurant are located within a forest and offer beautiful views of the rift valley and Nyiragongo and Mikeno volcanoes. Nature walks and visits to local places of interest can be arranged. There is an abundance of bird life, as well as resident blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, and baboons. Chimpanzees are also frequent visitors to the area.

    The bungalow accommodation is spacious, luxurious & very private, each with fabulous tree or valley views. Each bungalow has its own fireplace, which the staff light every evening while you are out enjoying the scrumptious dinner. You will thoroughly enjoy your stay at Mikeno Lodge.

    Note that at the lodge,accommodation prices include 16% Gov’t VAT

    Room Occupancy Rate Rates in USD
    Single person $244 (including breakfast)
    Double occupancy $325 (including breakfast)

    Bukima Tented Camp-Mid-Range

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    Just outside the Virunga National Park boundary lays the Bukima tented camp, which is one of the main starting points Virunga mountain gorilla treks. The camp was originally built for researchers, but is now used primarily by trekkers. As the name suggests, overnight guests at Bukima sleep in platform tents, but by camping standards they are quite plush. Each tent features an adjoining bathroom with running water and a nicely appointed bed and dresser for clothes. The views from the tent sites – or anywhere in camp for that matter – are spectacular. To the south, the view is dominated by Mt. Mikeno, whose 4437m (14,560’) summit towers over the gorilla sector. Across the valley is Nyiragongo volcano, whose lava lake colors the night sky with a red glow. Every few years, Nyamulagira volcano erupts and steals the nighttime show by spewing hot lava hundreds of feet into the air. Occasionally, the mountain gorillas themselves wander into the Bukima tented camp. Although this is highly frowned upon by park staff, it never ceases to impress the guests.

    Prices for the camp are based on double occupancy and include breakfast. Lunch, dinner, and drinks are available for an additional charge. Of the six tents, four feature double beds and two are outfitted with twin beds.

    Note that the Tented camp prices include 16% Gov’t VAT

    Bukima Tented Camp cost per day:

    Room Type Rates in USD
    Single: $244 (including breakfast)
    Double $325 (including breakfast)

     

    Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters-Budget

    Each of the twelve summit shelters contains two single beds on which visitors can put their sleeping bags. Although these shelters aren’t plush, they offer a welcome escape from the elements. Note that the cost of staying in a summit shelter is included in the Nyiragoongo Valcono permit fee.

    Nyiragongo volcano trekking permit:

    Tourists Type Rates in USD
    International Adults: $250
    Non –International Adults $90
    International Child $125
    Congolese Child $25

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