Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the only four national parks in the whole world that host the estimated population of about 900 mountain gorillas! Remember this population is distributed into two; the population that live in the Virungas and the one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The Virungas is comprised of three national parks; Virunga National Park in DRC, Mgahinga Gorilla National park in Uganda and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Virunga National Park is the pioneer destination where mountain gorilla tracking was first carried out. With in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Virunga National Park is the most popular known place where tourists see mountain gorillas in hikes within the forests. Gorilla tracking is carried out in the southern part of the park, and there are five habituated gorilla groups that are open for tourist visits. These forests are part of the larger Virunga conservation area that stretches across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Though it is possible to access the park by flights to Goma Airport most tourist visits are of tourists who cross over from Rwanda or Kisoro in Uganda. Gorilla treks in Virunga National Park can also be combined with treks in the neighboring Volcanoes national park in Rwanda or Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. Here travelers come in contact with the rare species in their natural habitats and learn more about their behaviors and habits in their natural habits.
Mountain Gorilla Treks
A visit to a mountain gorilla family in the Virunga is a life changing experience. Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent, good natured, and fascinating to observe.The mountain gorilla is one of many species unique to these forests. The forests are also home to many wonderful birds, primates, large mammals, reptiles, insects, plants and also ensure continued water and medical plant resources for the local communities.
All treks are led by park rangers and usually depart from Bukima patrol post. Treks usually require 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction, depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and the difficulty of the terrain.
To safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas, visitors will be required to wear surgical masks (provided) when in the presence of gorillas. Time with the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour. If you don’t feel well at the time of your scheduled trek (i.e. you have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat) – please cancel. Mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Gorillas have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.
By following these rules and through the purchase of the permit, you too are contributing to the conservation of the mountain gorilla. The funds generated from the sale of this permit are used for the management of the National Parks. A percentage of the funds raised from Park entrance fees are also donated to local communities living adjacent to the parks to contribute to their development and improve natural resource management in the region.
Currently, Virunga National park is very conducive and safe for gorilla tracking tours, with the established security in the area and conservation of the Mountain Gorillas. There are six families of the mountain gorillas habituated for tourist visits.
Gorilla Trekking Tips
Porters: Are you planning to travel with a heavy bag or equipment (video cameras, binoculars and other gadgets)? If the answer is yes, then you might need to hire a porter to relieve you of the burden of carrying heavy stuff. The porters will also lend a hand during the more difficult sections of the hike. Porters consists of students looking for school fees, former poachers, fathers and mothers. By hiring their services, you are indirectly making a difference in their lives. Porters are available just after the briefing or at the starting point of the trek. The services of a porter costs about $15.
Tipping: One thing you will notice throughout your gorilla tour is the dedication, enthusiasm and friendliness of the people you meet. The people could include Park rangers, hotel personnel, Drivers and Guides. It’s a nice gesture to reward them with tip if they go out of their way to make your time memorable in Africa. Tip of $10 would be great. Only give out tip if you want to.