Virunga National Park Congo
Positioned to the East of Democratic Republic of Congo, Virunga National Park is one of the world’s bio hotspots and a world heritage site standing as the oldest park on the continent of Africa.
Stretching over a geographical spread of 7800km2 around 300Sq. Miles, Virunga National Park is marked by dense forest jungle, extensive savannah, lava plains, erosion valleys, active and dormant volcanoes and glaciated Mount Rwenzori making it a major point of interest to the travellers intending to take Congo Safaris and tours.
Virunga National Park shelters over 2,000 species of Plants with the 10% of these limited in range to the Albertine Rift Valley. The Park is also home to 706 species of birds, 218 species of Mammals, 78 Species of Amphibians, 109 Species of Reptiles and 22 species of Primates that include a third of World’s critically endangered Mountain Gorillas, Eastern Chimpanzees and Lowland Grauer’s Gorillas making it the only park in the world where the mentioned Apes thrive together. Other wildlife including the endemic Okapi thrive in the park, the red forest duiker endemic to Mount Rwenzori, World’s largest concentration of Hippopotamus thriving along the banks of River Rwindi, Semliki and Rutshuru and Lake Edward.
Three varying sections mark the Virunga National Park including;
The Northern sector marked by Rwenzori Mountains also forming the border of Uganda. The Rwenzori Mountains rise to 5,000m about 16,400ft on Congo side becoming the third highest in Africa marked by snow capped peaks. The beautiful glaciers generate waters for River Semliki that flow into Lake Albert.
The Central sector is marked by Lake Edward with 50 species of fish, great counts of Hippos in the Ishasha River valley and a range of Topi, Elephants, Warthogs and Buffalo in the Rwindi plains.
The southern side is marked by Virunga Mountains where Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees thrive. The Volcanic Mountains mark this area including Nyiragongo Volcano with world’s largest and most violent lava lake, Nyamulagira Volcano the most active volcano in Africa, Mount Mikeno and Mount Sabyinyo shared with Uganda and Rwanda.
Also referred to as Parc Nationale des Virunga in French, Virunga National Park was established in 1925 by the Belgian Colonial government and declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. The management of the park is conducted by Institute Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and Virunga Foundation.
Congo Safari Attractions in Virunga National Park
Fauna/Wildlife as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
There are 218 species of Mammals, 78 Species of Amphibians, 109 Species of Reptiles and 22 species of Primates thriving in Virunga National Park. The three of the Big Apes namely; the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas, Eastern Chimpanzees and Eastern Lowland Gorillas are among the primate species in the park. Other wild life include; World’s largest concentration of Hippos along with Lions, Elephants, Topis, Elands, Waterbucks, Kobs among others.
Birds as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park features 706 species of birds with 24 endemic to the Albertine rift. Some of the species in Virunga National Park include; ibisis, herons, egrets, duck, bitterns, cormorants, geese, skimmers, darters, ospreys, open bills, shoebills, francolins, gulls, warblers along with weavers. River Rutshuru features a range of Pelicans while the Papyrus yellow warbler thrives in the far north. The Stuhlmann’s double collared sunbird, Shelley’s crimson wing, Rwenzori Turaco and the Handsome Francolin live are common in the volcanic highlands.
Flora / Vegatation as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is marked with 2,000 species of Plants making it a floral hot spot. The varying vegetation sections include; Equatorial forest close to Semliki Valley, Bamboo and Mountain Hagenia, savannah woodland in the Rwindi area, Neoboutoniamacrocalyx forest on the lava plains, swamps and low land savannahs, the high altitude dwelling vegetation like lichens above 4300m along with dry thick forest among others. These combine to make the park lovely to explore.
Mountain Gorillas as a Congo Safari attraction in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park holds a third of the World’s critically endangered Mountain Gorillas. The Park is part of the Greater Virunga Massif comprising of eight Volcanic Mountains and home to 480 Mountain Gorillas which is more than a half of their world population standing at 880. The Mountain Gorillas in Virunga National Park live on Mount Mikeno Slopes approximately 2 ½ hours from Goma – the closest city.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking as a Congo Safari Activity in Virunga National Park
Mountain Gorillas live in Mikeno Sector 2 ½ hours from Goma and form the ground for Gorilla trekking activity. World travellers interested in tracking Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park always connect from Kigali Rwanda entering at Goma or Kisoro Uganda entering at Bunagana. The gorilla permit of Congo is still relatively affordable costing $400 only and can be secured at Congolese Wildlife Authority Office in Goma or from ICCN direct.
The following are the habituated Gorilla groups in Virunga National Park;
- Kabirizi Family
Kabirizi Gorilla group has a population of thirty four (34) members with 2 silverbacks. This group thrives in Bukima sector under the leadership of Kabirizi Silverback which derives its naming from the former Director of ICCN noted to have lost his life in 1990s by Motor Accident. Kabirizi succeeded Ndugutse which lost its life in a cross fire between the Congo Army and Rwanda rebels in 1997.
- Humba Family
Humba Gorilla family thrives in Bukima sector near Goma and is headed by Humba Silverback. It has 16 members with 2 Silverbacks. Humba Silverback is a brother of Sekwenkwe that lost its life on 22nd July 2007 to unknown gun men. This is the most humble group and as a result is a darling to many during Congo Gorilla Safaris and tours.
- Rugendo Family
Rugendo Gorilla Group is marked by dark history. Its naming is got from Rugendo one of the Silverbacks that lived earlier. The group had 18 members in 1997 with 2 Silverbacks namely; Rugendo and the son Humba along with another Black back son called Senkwekwe, six (6) infants, eight (8) mature females and one (1) sub adult female. Humba quit the group in the year 1998 and Rugendo group remained with eight (8) members comprising of Rugendo Silverback, Sekwenkwe Black back, 4 mature females and 3 infants.
Safi and Neza had two successful births in 1999 but the group lost Rugendo on 15th July 2001 in the Congo Military and Interahamwe clash and his tomb is at Rumangabo. Following the death of Rugendo, Senkwekwe rose to the Silverback position and since he was still young, some of the members like Kidole a mature female joined Mapuwa Gorilla Family while Safi and her child also disappeared which in turn reduced the group to 6 members. The Bahati Infant lost its life to locals at Bikenge after straying to their cornfield in the year 2003.
In 2005, Rugendo Gorilla group was happy to welcome three (3) members the Sub Adult female Mburanumwe from Humba gorilla group, an adult female Macibiri from Kabirizi group, and another sub adult from Mukunda family from Humba Gorilla group. Macibiri produced Ntaribi in 2006 and Safari produced Ndeze bringing the group to 12 members.
Unfortunately, the group lost many members in July 2007 including Neza, Mburanumwe, Safari and Senkwekwe Silverback. The remains of Macibiri were encountered in August 2007 while her baby gorilla Ntaribi is thought to be dead. After the attack, the Orphan Ndeze was taken to Goma joining another Orphan Ndakasi before they were all transferred to the newly built Orphan centre named Senkwekwe. Rugendo Gorilla Group apparently has 7 members comprised of 3 Silverbacks namely; Bukima, Kongomani and Baseka, 2 females, 1 Juvenile and 1 Baby.
- Mapuwa Family
Mapuwa Gorilla Group has fifteen (15) members with 1 Silverback and lives in Jomba near the Bunagana border post connecting Congo and Uganda. Mapuwa is the dominant Silverback and is re-known for defending his group and confiscating some members from other groups.
- Lulengo Family
Lulengo Gorilla Group has 6 members and1 silverback. Lulengo is the main Silverback and the group thrives in Jomba Sector near Bunagana border post. Lulengo was initially a member of Rugabo Family which is the first Habituated group in Mikeno sector. The Lulengo Gorilla group was initially known as Masekura but was renamed to commemorate the Technical Director of Virunga National Park who lost his life to landmine.
- Munyaga Family
Munyaga gorilla group lives in Bukima sector near the city of Goma and has 7 members of which 2 are silverbacks. This is the last group that was found by the rangers in 2008 and was led by Munyaga – the Silverback and Bilali – the main female. Bilali is noted to have joined this group in 2004 straying from Rugendo along with her two (2) babies. Apparently the main Silverback is called Mawazo following the disappearance of Munyaga.
Nyiragongo Volcano Hike as a Congo Safari activity in Virunga National Park
Nyiragongo is a remarkable Strato-Volcano with the world’s largest and most violent / dangerous lava lake whose notorious eruptions and resulting destructions have made it a popular Congo Safari tour site. Nyiragongo Volcano Climbing takes two (2) days and it commences at Kibati Patrol Post 30minutes transfer from Goma town 1 hour from Mikeno lodge. The hike lasts 4 – 6 hours depending on one’s physical fitness and one night is spent on the Mountain in the Mountain Shelter which is included in the park hiking fee. The starting time is 9am.
Nyiragongo Volcano Hike Packing List;
- Cold weather and Full rain gear such as moisture-wicking base layer, sweater or fleece, jacket, rain resistant pants, hat, warm socks, long underwear and a 0°C/32° – rated sleeping bag.
- Packed Meal / food as there is no food service on the Mountain
- Porters are available and cost $12 each day carrying 15kg per person
Rwenzori Mountain Trek as a Congo Safari activity in Virunga National Park
To the North of the Park and the border with Uganda, Mount Rwenzori climbing on the side of Democratic Republic of Congo takes 4 – 6 days. The ideal time for climbing Mount Rwenzori include; January through February to March and from June through July to Late August. The Mountain trekkers carry own equipment since the park doesn’t have them. The Porters are always available at the station but the price is not fixed.
Visit the Tongo Chimps as a Congo Safari Activity in Virunga National Park
There is one (1) Habituated Chimpanzee group thriving in Tongo hills to the south of Virunga National Park providing for Chimpanzee trekking experience. Tongo stands as a forest Island with over 300 years of existence with soil replenishment from Nyamulagira Volcano.
Getting There; How to get to Virunga National Park Congo
CONGO SAFARI ACCOMMODATION IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK
Mikeno Lodge is positioned at 1 ½ hours’ from the town of Goma. It is a luxury lodge marked with spacious Restaurants, Bungalows and Fire Place.
Accommodation rates at Mikeno Lodge
BUKIMA TENTED CAMP
Bukima Tented Camp is located at Virunga National Park boundary and forms an affordable base for Mountain Gorilla trekking. Bukima Camp was formerly used by researchers before it was revised to provide shelter for Congo gorilla safari tour undertakers.
Facilities at Bukima Tented Camp
- 6 tents (4 with double beds & 2 with twin beds)
- Each tent has an adjoining bathroom with flowing water, good bed and dresser for the clothes.
- Views of Nyiragongo, Mikeno and Nyamulagira Volcanoes
Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters
The Mountain Shelters are twelve (12) in number each shelter marked by two (2) Single beds. These provide basic accommodation and thus the trekkers have to take with them sleeping bags. The fee is part of the Mountain hiking fees.
TCHEGERA ISLAND TENTED CAMP
Tchegera Island Camp is located on Lake Kivu Shores with the views of Virunga Volcanoes. It presents an ideal Island relaxation environment suitable for cooling off following the Nyiragongo hike.
Accommodation at Tchegera Island Camp
|Round boat trip||$100|