Virunga National Park in Congo is a beautiful park covering over 790,000 ha, within the Albertine Rift Valley in the North Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga Park is famous for gorilla trekking Congo safaris & tours.
Virunga National Park offers a rich diversity; of 3,000 fauna and flora species of which about 300 are endemic within the Albertine Rift including the Eastern gorilla, Chimpanzee, and Golden Monkey. Other primates in this park include Red-tailed Monkeys, Blue Monkeys, Dent's Mona Monkey, De Brazza's Monkey, Olive Baboons, Central African red Colobus, etc.
If lucky, you can also encounter other mammals including African bush Elephant, African Buffalo, Okapis, Hippos, Giant forest hogs, Red river hogs, Topis, Waterbucks, Uganda kobs, and Duikers. Mostly, they’re spotted during forest walks. Nile Crocodiles have been recorded in the Semliki River around the northern shore of Lake Edward.
For bird lovers, you’ll be amazed by the rich birdlife of Park Virunga! Over 706 bird species have been recorded including Congo species as well as Albertine Rift Endemics such as the Rwenzori Turaco.
Among other key attractions in Virunga Park is Nyiragongo active volcano- which holds the world’s largest lava lake. Gorilla trekking, climbing Mount Nyiragongo, chimpanzee trekking, and birding-watching tours are the key activities in Virunga NP.
Note that in 1997, Congo Virunga National Park was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this was because of its rich diverse habitats, unique biodiversity, endemism, and its protection of the rare Mountain gorilla habitat. In 1994, it was listed among World Heritage Sites in danger due to civil conflict, human encroachment, and attacks of rebel groups on park rangers.
All Virunga National Park tours are safe, and you shouldn’t worry about your accommodation! Dry months are ideal for exploring Virunga National Park gorillas!
Below, Let’s Explore More Virunga Park
Though National Park Virunga boasts several attractions most tourists who undertake Congo safaris in this park are interested in Mountain gorillas as well as Nyiragongo Volcano.
Below is a detail of the key attractions in Virunga Park:
Mountain gorillas– the endangered gentle giants of the forest make up the key tourist attractions in Congo Virunga NP. These wonderful cool human-like giants are the largest primates on Earth! A fully grown-up male weighs over 120kg.
Amazingly, just like humans, endangered Gorillas also live in a family dominated by one male called the Silverback that defends the family.
Gorilla tracking allows you to explore more about the lives of these lovely giants.
Nyiragongo Volcano is among the top attractions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The summit of this striking volcano within Virunga Park is summited with a crater of boiling lava- (2km wide).
Every year, thousands of travelers undertake Congo safaris to hike Mount Nyiragongo Volcano purposely to explore its breathtaking natural wonder.
About 706 bird species have been recorded in Virunga Park and these include forest birds, mountainous, Albertine Rift Endemic species, as well as Congo bird species, etc.
Most birds in Virunga are spotted during forest walks in the south of the park!
Some of the notable birds in Virunga Park are:
Not only is Virunga NP known for Gorillas but it’s also home to over 195 mammal species, 109 reptiles as well as 65 amphibians.
More primates in Virunga include Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Red-tailed Monkeys, Dent’s Mona monkeys, Golden Monkey, De Brazza’s monkeys, Blue Monkeys, Olive Baboons, Grey-Cheeked Mangabeys, Mantled Guereza, Central Africa Red Colobus, and Hamlyn’s monkeys.
African bush Elephants, African buffalos, and Hippos can be found in the central sector.
Harnessed bushbuck Giant Forest hogs inhabit the south of this area. Topics usually cluster on the south of Lake Edward within the Ishasha flats area adjacent to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Uganda kobs, Waterbucks, and warthogs are also common in this area.
On your visit to Congo Virunga NP, expect to engage in several memorable safari activities including gorilla trekking, hiking Nyiragongo Volcano, forest walks, and birding tours.
Here are the top things to do in Virunga National Park:
All safaris in Congo Virunga National Park are considered incomplete without gorilla trekking expeditions.
Gorilla tracking offers you a thrilling encounter with Gorillas in their natural habitat. You’ll watch these cool giants feeding, playing, and grooming, as well as see how the mighty Silverback cares for its beloved family. Never forget to come with a camera.
Gorilla tours in Virunga Park are done on 10 habituated gorilla families. A 32-membered Kabirizi gorilla family is the most popular.
All gorilla tours start with a briefing at 8 a.m. at park headquarters and after you’ll be allocated a gorilla group to visit.
There are rangers to protect you!
Dry months (June-August and December-February) offer the best gorilla trekking experience as trails are usually drier.
Travelers who undertake gorilla trekking indirectly contribute to the conservation of gorillas.
Nyiragongo Volcano (3,470m) is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. This volcano has erupted over 34 times from 1882 and the latest was in May 2021. Even today, eruptions are still going on!
Hiking up to the summit of Mount Nyiragongo offers you wonderful views of the lava lake. This adventure is ideal for stone-hearted people “real adventure lovers”. Mount Nyiragongo hikes start usually at 10 am at Kibati Patrol Post and usually take about 5-6 hours to reach the summit. Most visitors spend an overnight at the rim of this lake with incredible natural beauty.
While on this memorable hike, you’ll enjoy magnificent views of Virunga massif, lava plains, and beautiful vegetation. If lucky, you’ll encounter amazing primates in the montane forest zone.
On the Nyiragongo hike, we advise you to come with hiking boots, drinking water, energy-giving snacks, a rain jacket, and a warm jumper to keep you warm at night.
Chimpanzee trekking in Congo is also among the top rewarding safari activities in Virunga Park. It’s an amazing adventure that involves travelers going into the jungle with trackers as well as park rangers to search for Chimpanzees- amazing man’s close cousins. Chimps share about 98-99% of their DNA similar to that of man.
On encountering Chimpanzees in Virunga Park, you’ll be limited to one hour in their presence. The chimp trek can take about 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on their movement.
While tracking Chimpanzees in Virunga, you’ll meet other wildlife such as colorful birds, monkeys, and other mammals.
Finally, upon meeting these intelligent apes, you’ll watch them amazingly playing, feeding, kissing, fighting, and winging in trees as you learn about their behaviors.
You are free to record videos or take photos using flashless cameras. This adventure is truly memorable!
Taking nature walks is the best way to explore the incomparable biodiversity of Virunga Park. Also, it’s the best way to connect with nature!
There are several trails where this rewarding activity is done. In the company of friendly incredible rangers, you’ll embark on the charming trail!
Expect to enjoy the sights of the lovely landscape including the scenic views of Nyiragongo. Numerous wildlife ranging from beautiful primates to other mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are common along the trail.
When on forest walks in Virunga NP, it’s also possible to undertake walks exploring the stunning eroded valley of Sinda & Ishango. On clear days, you can have magnificent views of the snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Also, you’ll have beautiful views of Lake Kivu inclusive.
If you’re a bird lover, bird watching in Virunga Park awaits you! Expect to spot Albertine endemic birds, forest birds, savannah, as well as Congo bird species.
While birding in this un fully exploited park, you’ll look out for, Grey-throated Barbets, Yellow Billed Barbets, Madagascar Bee-eaters, White naked Raven, Paradise Fly catcher, and Specked Mouse Bird. Olive Pigeon, Rwenzori Turaco, Regal Sunbird, as well as the Strange Weaver are notable.
Together with your local birding guide, you’ll be escorted by armed park rangers on the birding trail to protect you.
Found around the park headquarters, Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center protects Mountain gorillas mostly those that have lost their parents to poachers and rebel groups. Some were rescued pet trade!
This center holds 6 orphaned Gorillas and it’s managed by Virunga Foundation. All these gorillas were brought for rehabilitation, and they are being cared for by a lovely team of caregivers and veterinary doctors.
On this visit, you’ll have a wonderful close encounter with orphaned gorillas! You’ll watch them feeding, and playing, and you’re allowed to feed them under the supervision of the caretakers.
Visitors staying in Mikeno Lodge can visit this center at a free cost.
There is an international law that punishes victims of pet trade. This law aims at the conservation of gorillas.
Also called the Pygmies, Batwa initially lived in the forests of Virunga, Volcanoes, Mgahinga, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks. However, due to the need to conserve wildlife, these indigenous people were forced to vacate and currently live in areas adjacent to the parks.
In Congo, they stay around Buniga Forest of Virunga NP. And they are only allowed in the forest as guides during this cultural experience.
Therefore, the Batwa cultural tour intends to give you a chance to learn about the fascinating culture and their amazing ways of living.
On this community tour, you’ll be led by a Mutwa guide who will demonstrate to you their hunting skills, how they build huts, make fire, and prepare food. More still, you’ll enjoy watching them singing traditional songs and dances. You’re free to join the dance!
Travelers can explore Virunga Park all year round if it’s not closed due to civil unrest (war) in Eastern Congo. However, dry months offer the best experience. During this period (June-August and December-February), less rainfall is expected and trails for gorilla trekking as well as Nyiragongo hikes are drier.
March, April, and May as well as September to November are wet months. Rainfall can be received in most hours of the day.
As you come to explore National Park Virunga, these items shouldn’t be missed on your park list:
It’s easy to access Virunga Park!
You can either access this park by road or by air means. By road, you can access it through the Goma border or the Bunagana border. Usually, most visitors use the Goma border from Rwanda Kigali City and this drive is about 3 hours.
If traveling by air, you’ll fly first into Kigali at Kigali International Airport and then drive to Gisenyi Town, then Goma. It’s also possible to fly to Goma however, few airlines have flights to Goma airport.
Accommodation in Virunga NP suits every class of traveler. It ranges from budget to midrange as well as luxury facilities.
These are the:
The name “Virunga” is an English version of the Kinyarwanda dialect “ibirunga” which means volcanoes. The highest point of the Virunga Mountains is Mount Karisimbi (4,507m).
Note that in the Virunga region, several heart-stopping suspense films have been acted from here including the one directed by Orlando von Einsiedel-
Virunga Park sits in the Albertine Rift Valley region within the Northeastern DRC on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. In elevation, this stunning protected area in North Kivu rises from 680m in the Semuliki Valley to 5109m above sea level in the Rwenzori Mountains.
This spectacular world heritage site holds 2 active volcanoes (Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamurangira) out of the 8 Virunga Mountains.
Virunga contains 2 highly important conservation corridors i.e. The Muaro corridor connecting the Mikeno sector to the Nyamulagira sector; the west side connects the north sector to the center sector of the Virunga massif.
The presence of Queen Elizabeth Park- contiguous with Uganda, also constitutes an ecological land corridor connecting the center and northern sectors. Likewise, Lake Edward forms an important aquatic corridor.
This heritage site (in North Kivu) covers over 790,000 ha of land within Eastern DRC, and it holds exceptional biodiversity.
This protected area with a world heritage status holds various interesting facts however, these are the most prominent:
This British documentary film focuses on the conservation efforts of the rangers in Congo’s Virunga Park during the rise of the conflict of M23 rebels as well as well as the activities of the British oil company Soco International.
First established as Albert National Park in April 1925, Virunga Park became the first protected area in DR Congo.
In 1979, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich diversity of habitats, exceptional biodiversity, endemism, as well as protection of the rare mountain gorillas. Around 1994, this park was listed in the list of world heritage sites in danger due to civil unrest (by armed groups) and human encroachment.
Since the 2000s, there have been plans to drill oil in the Congo basin. However, this plan has been protested by the park management and nationals around nearby local communities. Global groups such as Greenpeace warned the country about the social and ecological impact of oil production.
Virunga Park holds thousands of wild animals however, it’s much renowned for its Gorillas.
Other notable wildlife in Congo Virunga Park are; Both Forest and bush Elephants, African buffalos, Hippos, Okapis, Uganda kobs, Water bucks, Topis, Forest Duikers, and other primates; Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Golden Monkeys, and Olive Baboons.
In 2008, rare wildlife species such as Water Chevrotain, Red River Hog, Aardvark, and Bongo were recorded in the northern sector according to the urgent investigative report. Taking walks in the northern sector is the best way of looking out for these wonderful wildlife species.
Is Virunga National Park Open 2023? Virunga NP began to welcome travelers again on 1st April 2021 for the Mount Nyiragongo hiking expeditions on a daily basis as opposed to the daily set-off schedule. It reopened for Mountain gorilla treks on the 15th of April 2021.
Due to on-and-off civil conflict (war) in Eastern DRC, we advise you to inquire first whether it’s safe for you to visit! The DRC government is doing its best to calm the situation.
There are Sustainable development goals to ensure peace in DRC and some aim at the conservation of gorillas.
What is Virunga National Park best known for? Congo Virunga NP is best known for gorilla trekking safaris as well as Nyiragongo Volcano hiking tours. In this park, you tourists can also enjoy incredible birding tours, chimpanzee tracking, and nature walks.
If time allows, you can also explore Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center- the world’s only gorilla sanctuary.
Political unrest in adjacent areas around the park (Eastern DRC) often affects activities in the park. For instance, due to attacks in December 2021, this park was closed till further notice.
It was reopened in March 2022 after the situation had been calmed by the DRC government.
Yeah, you must book your trip to National Park Virunga in time as gorilla permits are limited in number. Also, note that prior booking allows you to reserve your hotel room.
In Park Virunga, the time you’ll spend depends on the activity you’re undertaking. For instance, gorilla trekking expeditions normally take half a day- (30 minutes to 6 hours) depending on the movement of these gentle giants.
Temperatures in the Virunga massif area range from 23-280C in lowlands and 14-240C in regions of higher altitude. Since it’s a tropical rainforest, rainfall can come any time of the day however, it’s minimal during dry months (June to August).
In wet months, heavy precipitation can be received most hours of the day.
Amongst Mountain gorilla parks in East Africa, Virunga NP in DRC is considered unsafe to visit due to political unrest in this state. Since the 1990s, this country has been experiencing political instabilities from various rebel groups including the ADF group.
These fights affect Mountain gorilla conservation as well as gorilla tracking expeditions.
All tourist activities in Virunga NP are safe! For instance, while tracking gorillas, you’ll be escorted by well-trained armed park rangers who ensure that nothing happens to you.
SOCO International- (a British oil company) with headquarters in London changed its company name to Pharos Energy Plc in October 2019 after coming under fire for illegal activities in Virunga.
This oil company (SOCO International) faced great resistance from local communities and other global groups, and it had to withdraw from Virunga.
To sum up, Virunga NP is the top highlight of all Congo safari tours! In Virunga, you’ll enjoy gorilla trekking- a memorable rare encounter with the endangered Gorillas in their natural habitat. However, Nyiragongo hiking adventures chimpanzee trekking, and birding among others are also possible.
We Are Available to Arrange Your Congo Gorilla Safaris in Virunga Park. Inquire Now for a Rewarding Experience!