Virunga National Park

 

Virunga National park Situated in Eastern DR Congo a region knows by many for decades of isolation due to civil wars and and armed conflicts, Virunga is commonly known as Parc National des Virunga is a must visit for intrepid traveler looking to visit Africa’s most biologically diverse protected area far away from crowds of tourists and to hike the world’s largest active volcano Nyiragongo Volcano. Virunga National Park is owned by the Congolese government and run by the Institut Congolais Pour la Conservation de la Nature

virunga national park

The park is currently protected by a dedicated team of 689 Rangers. These dedicated Congolese men and women risk it all on a daily basis to protect the Park’s exceptional wildlife, including the last of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas.

Virunga’s 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometers) are divided into four sectors – northern, central, southern and lake sector – each with undisputed diversity of landscapes and ecosystems

Virunga National Park History

Created in 1925 as Albert National Park was later named Virunga National Park is the oldest protected area in Africa for unique wildlife species therein, for science and research purposes and protecting the endangered Batwa people that live in the forest.

At first in 1925, Virunga Park was smaller and comprised of three volcanoes in the south, but was later expanded towards north include the Rwindi plains, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori “Mountains of the Moon”.

In the year of 1969 nine years after DR Congo got her independence from Belgium the Park was renamed Virunga National Park and 10 years later in 1979, Virunga was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

5 Facts about Virunga National Park

  1. The name Virunga is an English version of a Kinyarwanda word “Ibirunga” which means volcanoes

  • The number of bird species in Virunga surpasses the total number in the United States of America and is more than three times the number of bird species in the U.K.

  • Virunga has the biggest number of amphibian species in the Albertine Rift, an area with parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

  • Virunga is the only site on earth to have three types of great apes – the mountain gorilla, eastern lowland gorilla, and eastern chimpanzee.

  • Virunga’s most prominent mammals include forest and savanna elephants, hippos, okapis, lions and mountain gorillas.

 

Top Attractions in Virunga National Park

Mount Nyiragongo Volcano

Mount Nyiragongo volcanoe photo

Mount Nyiragongo is rarely calm. The mountainous volcano in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the few places in the world to feature a persistent lake of lava bubbling within its summit crater.

Mount Nyiragongo is the world’s largest active volcanoes, the lava lake on top is very intriguing and impressive. This active volcano hike was opened to tourism in 2014 by the Virunga National Park as a way of generating an extra income for conservation. Guests mainly come for hiking and combine mountain gorilla trekking on top of this since it’s just a fraction of the price ($400) of gorilla trekking in Rwanda. This is the only place in Africa where one can see a lava lake up close.

Mount Nyiragongo is one of Africa’s most dangerous volcanoes and known for its devastating eruptions the recent being in 2021 that left scores of people killed and many displaced leaving Goma city a ghost city.

Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park

photo of a lowland gorilla in Virunga National Park

Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park. Virunga is famous for its population of wild Mountain gorillas among other tourism activities in DR Congo. The gorilla families in Virunga National are not many even when the park is large probably as a result of poaching and decades of insecurity. There are only 8 gorilla families are open for trekking. Kabirizi family is the popular to many travelers on gorilla trekking safari to DR Congo.

A permit for gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park costs USD 400 per person per trek for anyone above 15 years. Compared to $700 Uganda’s permit and $1,500 Rwanda’s permit, DR Congo offers the cheapest gorilla trekking experiences.

It is possible to book a gorilla permit with Virunga National Park, a bureaucratic process many avoid and choose to deal licensed local tour operator like Laba Africa Expeditions.  We make the booking process easier for our travelers and eliminate all the red-tape bureaucratic processes. Send us an email at [email protected]

Virunga National Park mountain Gorillas

Here are Virunga National Park gorilla families:

  1. Humba Gorilla group
  2. Kabirizi Gorilla Group
  3. Rugendo Gorilla Group
  4. Mapuwa Gorilla Group
  5. Lulengo Gorilla Group
  6. Munyaga Gorilla Group
  7. Bageni Gorilla Group
  8. Nyakamwe Gorilla Group

Chimpanzee trekking /habituation in Virunga National Park

photo of a chimpanzee

The trek in Virunga National Park starts with a briefing from the park rangers. They’ll talk you through the route you’ll be taking, the safety precautions of Chimpanzees in Virunga , and tell you about the chimpanzee and their behaviour in the virunga

You will then go to the forest to look for a habituated group of chimps, these are chimpanzees that are a little used to seeing humans. These groups tend not run too deeply into the forest, meaning you don’t have to walk all day  before meeting your first troop of chimpanzees in the treestops feeding on fruits.

The moment you meet them, you are allowed spend an hour observing them and learning about their behaviours. 

The age limit of trekkers must be at least 15 years and above to take part in a chimpanzee watching tours, and there is a limit of six trekkers per group. The cost of the ticket to see chimpanzee trek is $100 now in virunga which includes the cost of the park entrance, and must be booked in advance.  

Chimpanzee Trekking in Virunga is  are done all year-round, during both peak seasons June to August and December to February when there is more dry days, as well as in the other quieter but rainy months

If you wish to spend more than just one hour in the with chimpanzees , it is allowed to take part in a chimpanzee habituation experience which offers the chance to spend a half day, or full day, with these beautiful primates that look and share much to humans.

Nature walks in Virunga National Park

Bwindi-forest-uganda-safari-holidays

Guided Nature walk in Virunga National Park is done in the rain forest with sector. Visitors will go out to the forest with their guides in the morning and walk into the jungle to explore and discover the breathtaking beauty Virunga national park has to offer. Walking in Virunga can be tiresome since in involves walking at a high altitude of 2000 to 3000m in the thick jungle crossing into swamps and rivers that can leave you very exhausted and sore but the walk is worthy it since you will encounter some of the resident primates species like black and white colobus monkeys, mangabey, antelopes, forest elephants among others

Batwa/ pygmies Cultural Tours in Virunga National Park

Batwa people

Another exciting thing to do in Virunga National Park is the tour to Batwa pygmy communities for a cultural experience. Batwa/ pygmies have lived for 1000s of years in Virunga park, Mgahinga, Bwindi in Uganda and  Volcanoes in Rwanda Unfortunately when parks were gazetted to protect wildlife and gorilla that were about to face extinction in the early 1990s Batwa people were evicted from their forest homes in Uganda and Rwanda.

In the Virunga national park, Batwa people live in the edges of forests and have become refugees of conservation.  The Batwa cultural tour is offered by Batwa themselves and its an opportunity for visitors to learn Batwa people architecture, eat some of their locally prepared foods, make fire without lighters, learn a song or two and participate in the dance with music from local instruments. This is a learning tour with Batwa people teaching visitors their way of live

Birding watching in Virunga National park

Mountain Rwenzori Trekking -Laba Africa

Virunga National Park has different habitats that range from mountains, rainforest, open grassland, swamps, lakes and rift valleys. These attract different species of birds with more than 706 record sightings. The number of bird species in Virunga is more than that recorded in the US and 3 time that of the UK

Virunga have a big volume of bird species with very high potential to be world’s best birding site if the status qou changes. Some of the birds recorded here include Grey throated barbet, Madagascar bee-eater, Narrow-tailed starling, Ruwenzori turaco, African fish eagle great blue turaco etc.

Virunga National Park Animals

Virunga National Park animals include elephants that sometimes migrate from Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, but their numbers have decreased due to heavy poaching lions, buffaloes, okapis that are endemic to DR Congo, several species of antelopes, topis, Hippopotamuses, mountain gorillas, warthogs and many different bird species. Virunga National Park has 218 mammal species, 706 bird species and at least 78 species of amphibians recorded here.

How to get a visa to DR Congo to Visit Virunga National Park

DGM CONGO VISA

Getting a visa to Congo can be very challenging to very many tourists you will be required by a local embassy in your country to get an invitation from Congo or a DGM letter something we find crazy since most people intending to travel to Congo as tourists actually dont know anyone.

The process of getting a DGM Document is very long and exhausting that most people tend to give up on their visas.

Most people don’t know that in order to come to DR Congo a tour you must purchase a tourism product first then be eligible for a tourist visa.  Nyiragongo and Gorilla trekking permits can be obtained from the Virunga National Park directly or through a Tour operator at a cost of $300 and $400 respectively.  That visa is valid for only virunga, Kahuzi beiga National Park and Tchegera Island.

Once bought you will need a DGM letter that can be used to apply for visa in your country. There is no visa on arrival in Congo A single Congo tourist entry visa costs \$120 per person. This single entry visa is valid for 15 days from the day you enter DR Congo.

We can help you get the DGM document that can allow you to arrive in Congo and get your visa on arrival should you have trouble with your visa.

The cost of visiting Virunga National park is $400 a day for a mountain gorilla trekking permit, on top of this you will need an accommodation at one of the few lodges in the park that costs around $300 per day. However, it is still cheaper to trek gorillas in Virunga as compared to Rwanda just a cross the boarder where a permit to trek gorillas cost $1500 per day per person

What is the best time to Visit Virunga National Park?

The best time to visit Virunga National Park is between June and August, and then again in December through to February. These are the dry months, with the best chance of clear blue skies and clear days perfect for wildlife viewing, although rains are always possible at any time of the year well because Virunga National park is characterized by tropical rain forests

How to get to Virunga National Park

Congo -Rwanda boarder point in Gisenyi

Many visitors find it very hard and time consuming to organize a trip to Virunga National Park on their own. That why we are here to help you organize a hustle free holiday when things are not working out easily. We have the best contacts boarder to border and the best guides to make sure your trip to Virunga is unforgettable. The most challenging thing these days is getting a visa and the DGM documents to travel to Congo. We have helped many clients to come to congo and we can help you too. Should you want to go it yourself, here is how to get to Virunga National Park

Rwanda to DR Congo route: Arrive in Kigali and take a bus to Gisenyi a town on boarders DR Congo and Rwanda. One you arrive in Gisenyi, you can hire a taxi to take you to the congo boarder. There are two borders but use the Grand Barrier Boarder for its less chaotic.

At the border you will have to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate, passport and Visa. Rwanda side then will issue you an exit stamp and you proceed to the chaotic Congolese side to get a stamp too,

If you go through it will take you about 30 minute’s drive to reach the park. Please make sure you have a sounding level of French, have booked your lodge and trekking permits etc.

Uganda to DR Congo route: From Uganda you can use the road or a chatter plane. The road journey from Kampala city in Uganda to Kisoro town will take about 9 hours by bus and 7 to 8 by private car hire. There are several bus companies like Jaguar and volcanoes the cost of bus ticket is 20$. From Kisoro town you can hire a taxi or motorbike taxi to drive you to Bunagana boarder between Uganda and Congo

Flying option from Uganda: For those not willing to take an 8-hour road journey and have a bigger budget, you can choose to fly to Kisoro town or chatter a helicopter service to Goma from Entebbe Airport.

There are some flights from Entebbe to Goma in DR Congo via Addis Ababa the Ethiopian capital

Map of Virunga 

Map of Virunga National Park

Packing list for Virunga National Park.

  • Travel documents
  • Rain coat
  • Emergency telephone numbers
  • Pocket change
  • A camera and binoculars
  • Yellow fever vaccination card
  • Power bank
  • Medicines if you need some
  • Energy bars
  • Light seater
  • Hiking boots

Accommodation in Virunga National Park

  • Mikeno Lodge
  • Lulimbi Tented Camp
  • Tchegera Island Camp
  • Kibumba Tented Camp.
  • Bukima Tented Camp
  • Mt Nyiragongo Summit Shelters.