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.
Virunga National Park is located in a region that is often troubled by unrest. In the last three years, the southern sector of Virunga National Park (gorillas and volcano) has been considered safe for visitors with over a 100 tourists visiting these sites every month. It is Africa’s oldest national park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area. It is also home to a quarter of the world’s approximately 900 remaining mountain gorillas. Two other Great Ape species can also be found in Virunga, the eastern lowland gorillas and chimpanzees
The Rwenzori Mountains are also open for tourists and can be reached from Beni in the North of the park. The management of Virunga National Park is emphasizing the importance that all visitors be aware of current security issues at the time of their visit. Before organizing a trip to Virunga National Park it is wise to inform yourself on the security situation.
It is now possible for adventurous travelers to visit the once again accessible southern section of the Virunga National Park.
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.
The journey leading to gorilla trek
From Goma it is a scenic drive through the region’s dramatic landscape to the newly opened Bukima Tented Camp, which is located at the forest’s edge and is the starting point for the gorilla trek. You can spend an unforgettable night in one of the platform tents, with spectacular views of the Virunga Mountains, while listening to the atmospheric sounds of the park as night slowly falls. All treks are led by park rangers and usually depart from Bukima Patrol Post. Congo gorilla Trek 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. Time with the gorillas is strictly limited to 1 hour.
From Bukima, travelers you can embark on a morning gorilla trekking through the tropical forest to spend an awe-inspiring one hour in the company of a band of gorillas. From only a short distance away, take in the impressive sight of a silverback as he keeps a watchful eye over his family. Observe young gorillas pumping their chests, swinging on trees, mothers tenderly feeding their young and watch baby gorillas gleefully play-fighting, somersaulting in their natural environment.
The following day of the night you will stay overnight at Mikeno Lodge, which sits inside the Virunga park headquarters at Rumangabo. A dense canopy of trees overhead provides a refuge for Sykes monkeys, baboons, Vervet monkeys and a variety of birds. The lodge has a collection of charming thatched cottages located within the grounds of Virunga’s Rumangabo headquarters, offering spacious accommodation and breathtaking views from the hilltop over the sweeping forest plain and Mikeno volcanoes.
In case you opt for Nyiragongo hike
From Mikeno Lodge, the next day’s expedition involves an hour and a half’s drive to Mount Nyiragongo, a 3470m volcano that famously erupted in 2002 engulfing the local town of Goma with two meters of lava. With the help of porters, guests will be able to spend the day trekking directly up to the edge of the active volcano and watch the world’s largest lava lake with sparking fire light and bubbling below them. Guests will set up camp on the volcano’s edge before making the descent at dawn.its the reason why Congo safaris is an extra ordinary journey from other Safari Destination when it comes to Mountaineering.
After the good adventure of hiking up mount Nyiragongo, you can set on the white sandy shores of Lake Kivu, the sixth largest lake in Africa, and surrounded by extensive tropical gardens, the Lake Kivu Serena Hotel offers the perfect place for you to relax after your Virunga adventure. Comfortable rooms and suites as well as the restaurant offer views of the Lake. In addition there are indoor and beachside bars, a luxury swimming pool, and the ‘Maisha’ Health Centre (offering an extensive range of health and beauty regimes, boating, swimming, volley ball, tennis, fishing, hiking and trekking).