Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park

Located in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Virunga national park is one of spectacular destinations well known for gorilla trekking forgetting not the fact that it is the oldest park in Africa.

The park covers up 7800sq.km area and is home to a number of flora, fauna and birds.

Where is Virunga N/Park located?

Virunga national park is situated in the Albertine rift valley region of Democratic Republic of Congo and then stretches to the Semliki River basin sitting on an altitudinal range of 680m – 5109m covering 2/3 of Lake Edward and the international boarder of Uganda in the central and eastern sectors respectively.

Lake Kivu shores and the eight Virunga Volcanoes especially Mikeno, Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira cover the southern sector of the park whereas Semliki and Rwenzori mountains national parks are connected to the park by its northern sector which is continuous with the mighty Queen Elizabeth National Park of Uganda.

Historical background of Virunga National Park.

Virunga national park traces its origin from Albert National park that was gazzeted in 1925 and was created purposely to offer refugee to mountain gorillas that thrived in the Virunga Massif. At that time, the park had only three volcanoes in the southern wing, however, the size increased towards the north covering the areas of Rwenzori and Lake Edward. Later on, after Congo’s independence in 1960, the name of the park was changed to Virunga national park (1969). Ten years later, Virunga national park was officially designated UNESCO world Heritage site.

The park has unfortunately been affected by a number of political wars like the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1st and 2nd Congo wars, etc. A case in point, the 1994 Rwanda genocide saw over 850000 refugees occupy the region whereby 40000 of them depended entirely on the park’s natural resources. This resulted into declaration of the park as a Ramseur site of international importance in the year 1996.

In effort to combat all these problems the Virunga Alliance was formed (2008) by the Virunga Foundation in partnership with Congolese National Parks Authority aiming at addressing the root causes of poverty and conflicts that intend to eliminate illegal and wasteful resource extraction in the Virunga region.

WILDLIFE IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK.

Virunga national park comprises of 196 Mammalia species, 109 Reptile species, 65 amphibian species and 702 species of birds. In addition to over 300 mountain gorillas, a sizable population of elephants, okapis, giant forest hogs waterbucks and other animals all found in the park.

Virunga birds.

Albertine rift endemic birds like Rwenzori batis, Kivu ground thrush, red-faced woodland warblers, regal sunbird, stripe-breasted tit, etc. contribute to Virunga’s estimated 706 bird species population. Non-endemic avifaunal species found here include; black-billed turaco, mountain buzzard, African hobby, red-eyed dove, red-chested cuckoo, grey-crowned crane, harrier hawk, to mention but a few.

Western tinker bird, Angolan-swallow, yellow whiskered greenbul, grey throated barbet, Archer’s ground robin, black saw-wing, and speckled mouse-bird, white-eyed Salty flycatcher, African flycatcher, African dusky flycatcher, etc. are some other avifauna species in the Virunga national park.

Gorilla trekking in Virunga NP.

Gorilla trekking is the major activity of this park. The park owns 300 of 1063 world’s mountain gorillas and has eight habituated gorilla groups ready to be explored.

Kabirizi, Rugendo, Humba, Nyakamwe, Munyanga, Bageni, Lulengo and Mapuwa are the available gorilla families for trekking; each of which is assigned to any holiday makers that pay a visit to the park. This assignment happens after briefing by park officials at Bukima ranger post.

For anyone on Virunga gorilla safari to have a chance to trek mountain gorillas, he or she must have a valid gorilla permit. The Virunga gorilla permit are available for purchase at a pocket-friendly rate.

Gorilla trekking Permits.

The Virunga tourism office at Goma border is responsible for issuing gorilla trekking permits. These trekking permits go for 450$ per head. It is better to book through the ground Tour Company to avoid any inconveniences.

Virunga gorilla trekking safari.

Forget not to carry any of these for you to enjoy the trekking experience; long-sleeved shirts, waterproof hiking boots, trousers, camera but carry the one without a flashlight and if in any case it does have a flashlight then ensure it is turned off before you start taking pictures; sweater, energy giving snacks, first aid kit, trousers, socks, daypack, insect repellents, rain jackets or poncho, gardening gloves.

Nyiragongo Volcano hiking.

This is one of the eight Virunga volcanoes and world’s powerful and most active volcano believed to have 40 times of eruption recorded. A mesmerizing experience to hikers is brought by the bubbling features of Lava Lake that glows at night.

Nyiragongo hiking permits go for 300$.

The most appropriate time to Visit Virunga NP.

Much as the park can be visited any time of the year, the dry months provide the best adventure i.e. June to September and December to February, however, those interested in Congo birding Safaris, the rainy months of March to May and October to November are the best.

Where to reside in Virunga N/Park.

Lulimbi Tented Camp, Mikeno Lodge, Bukima Tented Camp, Orchids Safari Club, Tchegera Island Camp and Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters are some of the outstanding areas of accommodation at Virunga National Park. All these range from budget, mid-range and luxury.

How to reach Virunga NP?

Accessing Virunga can be possible by road, air and water.

To begin with; you can take a flight to Goma international Airport and easily reach the park. You can also use a boat ride along Lake Kivu to Goma in DRC; here you can access Virunga’s Bukima Ranger post.

Using the road, from Kigali Airport drive to Bukima Ranger post takes about 7 hours of Mkiini

In case you are from Entebbe airport, drive to Kisoro and then proceed via Bunagana boarder, where you will access the Virunga National park.

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