Virunga national park is also known as Albert national park was the first national park to be established in Africa in 1925 covering 7,800 kilometers squared. The park was established to protect the endangered mountain gorillas during the civil wars in Congo. Virunga national park is characterized with active volcanoes, savannah plains, rainforests, erosion valleys, swamps, lava plains and the magnificent mountains of the moon. The park was designated as a world heritage site in 1979.
Virunga national park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes with a night glow of the lava lake at mount Nyirangongo seen from miles away, various species of mammals and primates, birds and so much more with the largest concentration of hippos in Africa.
Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park
Gorilla trekking is the major activity done by tourists at Virunga national park, there are about 300 mountain gorillas living in the southern sectors of the park with 8 habituated gorilla families that tourists can trek and have a privilege of spending 1 hour with the apes. A gorilla trekking permit in Virunga costs $450 per person, children under the age of 15years will not be allowed to trek mountain gorillas. While trekking gorillas it’s very important to follow the gorilla trekking rules and regulations.
The gorilla families you can trek while at Virunga national park are Mapuwa gorilla family, Rugendo gorilla family, Kabirizi gorilla family, Lulengo gorilla family, Munyaga gorilla family, Nyakamwe gorilla family, Bageni gorilla family and Humba gorilla family.
Chimpanzee Trekking & Habituation
Chimpanzee habituation is the process of making chimpanzees get used to human presence, this involves joining scientists and researchers for four solid hours in the presence of chimpanzees. Only a maximum of four people can visit a chimpanzee family in a day. The activity started in 2014 by a trained group from Mogul Frankfurt Zoological society. Chimpanzees are very fascinating primates to encounter just like mountain gorillas.
Virunga national park is not only endowed with mountain gorillas but with eastern low land gorillas as well as other primate species like chimpanzees, black and white Columbus monkeys, olive baboons, blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, De Brazza monkeys, vervet monkeys, bush babies and many more. there other animals at the park include; Okapi, zebras, hippos, forest elephants, Topis, buffalos, warthogs, and various antelopes to mention a few.
Bird Watching in Virunga
Virunga national park harbors various species of birds some of which are endemic to the Albertine region, some of the examples of birds include; Double toothed barbet, grey throated barbet, narrow tailed starling, Madagascar Bee-eater, Rwenzori Batis, African olive pigeon, mountain illadopsis, tropical boubou, white-headed wood hoopoe, handsome francolin, alpine swift, thick bellied sea eater, chestnut throated Apalis, black-headed waxbill, mackinons shrike, mountain greenbul, blue spotted wood dove, Angolan swallow, black an white manikin, barred long-tailed cuckoo, chubbs cisticola, green sandpiper, cinnamon chested Bee-eater, blue-headed sunbird, strange weaver, African dusky flycatcher and harier hawk among the rest.
Climbing Mount Nyiragongo & Mount Nyamuragira
Mount Nyiragongo is one of the Africa’s most active volcanoes with the world’s largest lava lake. The mountain is on an elevation of 3,470 metres above sea level with the most voluminous lava lake known in history. The mountain has erupted at least 35 times since 1882 and it’s not known how long the volcano has been active and the last eruption took place in 2002. Tourists can hike to the top of the volcano for unforgettable life time experience and spectacular views. The nights at the top of mount Nyirangongo are very scenic with the fussing lava lake.
Mount Nyamuragira just like mount Nyiragongo is one of the world’s active volcanoes which has erupted at least 40 times since 1885, the volcano not only erupts from the summit but also from the flanks of the volcano creating small volcanoes that have disappeared after a short while. The recent eruptions occurred in January 2010 and November 2011. The mountain can also be hiked and provides stunning views more than what you can see in a camera.
Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center
The Senkwekwe center is home to orphaned gorillas located at the headquarters of Virunga national park near Mikeno lodge, the orphanage was set up when two orphaned young gorillas were rescued from a massacre that took place with the park rangers and rebels in 2007. The name of the orphanage was derived from the group leader of the orphaned gorillas who was called Senkwekwe who was killed during the massacre. The gorillas have adapted to living in the orphanage forming their own group and you can watch how closely they interact with humans.
Best time to visit Virunga
The best time to visit Virunga national park is in the dry season when the roads of the park are easily accessible and the hiking and trekking trails are not muddy and slippery. If you’re going for wildlife watching, then you will easily spot wildlife in the dry season when the vegetation is short and not thick.
The things to pack during a visit to Virunga national park will vary on the activity and season your visiting the park, in the rain season whether your trekking gorillas or hiking volcanoes you will need hiking boots, garden gloves, warm clothes, raincoats, insect repellents, energy snacks, drinking water and so much more, potters are also available to help visitors with their backpacks.
There are quite a number of lodges and hotels you can sleep in while at Virunga national park this is; Mikeno lodge, Tchegera tented camp, Bukima tented camp, Nyiragongo volcano summit shelters, and many others.
Virunga national park can easily be reached from Kigali international airport, so most visitors to the park fly in to Kigali and drive to the border of Congo and Rwanda within in Gisenyi/Goma in about 3-4 hours time. The border crossing is much easier so if you have a visa and yellow fever vaccination card.