Virunga National Park: An Epic Mountain Gorilla Encounter

by | Aug 22, 2023 | 0 comments

Virunga National Park: An Epic Mountain Gorilla Encounter

Amidst the heart of East Africa, where the jungle rhythm pulses with an ancient energy, lies this awe-inspiring natural sanctuary known as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is a home to the renowned Virunga Mountains.

Virunga National Park is located in the Eastern region of DRC, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Established in 1925, Virunga National Park was the first national park in Africa and one of the first in the whole world. The park is the oldest and most biologically diverse protected areas in Africa.

The park is well known for its outstanding biodiversity, teeming with a wide range of ecosystems such as savannas, forests, wetlands and volcanic mountains. It is as well a home to an array of wildlife including the critically endangered mountain gorillas, and these are the iconic inhabitants of the park with focused conservation efforts for decades.

Apart from the awe-inspiring natural beauty and ecosystems, Virunga is renowned for its cultural heritage and epic archaeological sites that date a thousand years back.

Wildlife In the Virunga National Park

Flora

The Riverine Forest

Virunga’s flora composes of both plant and tree species (264 tree species and 230 plants) that are endemic to the Albertine Rift. The plains of the park are populated by wetlands and grasslands with papyrus sedge, jointed flat sedge, common reed, sacaton grasses, ambatch, conkerberry, paperbark thorn and kowai fruit.

The montane forest

The park’s montane forest is over 5,900 – 9,200 ft and lies in the southern sector. The forest is dominated by Ficalhoa laurifolia and Podocarpus milanjianus with trees up to 82 ft high. African alpine bamboo grows at altitudes of 7,500 – 8,500 ft. The vegetation is subalpine with foremost African redwood. Tree heath, heather and mosses cover humid slopes, Senecio and Lobelia species.

Mammals in the Virunga National Park.

Primates

Virunga is a home to primate species such as mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and olive baboons.

Mammals

Other mammals in the park include the African bush elephant, hippopotamus, Lions, African buffalo, Okapi, blue duiker, bay duiker, Weyns’s duiker, yellow-backed duiker, water chevrotain, red river hog, aardvark and bongo. Harnessed bushbuck, giant forest hog inhabits the southern sector.

The Topi can be found in the south of Lake Edward in the Ishasha Flats region, and normally cross the border into Uganda. The park is as well a home to the Ugandan Kob, waterbuck, and common warthog.

While in the northern sector of the park habors the African leopard, marsh mongoose, giant pangolin, tree pangolin, crested porcupine, Lord Derby’s scaly-tailed squirrel, Boehm’s bush squirrel, western tree hyrax, Emin’s pouched rat.

Birds in Virunga National Park

The park is home to over 700 birds species the Albertine Rift’s endemic birds, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Archer’s ground robin, red-throated alethe, Kivu ground thrush, collared apalis, mountain masked apalis, dusky crimson-wing, red-faced woodland warbler, stripe-breasted tit, blue-headed sunbird, regal sunbird, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, handsome spurfowl and strange weaver.

What are the things to do in Virunga?

Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking is the biggest and most done activity in the Virunga national park. The activity involves hiking and sloping trekking trails in search for the mountain gorillas.

In Virunga is home to over 300 gorilla individuals which are divided into 8 gorilla families including Rugendo family (was the first family to be habituated), Munyanga family, Mapuwa family, Lulengo family, Kabirizi family, Bageni family, Nyakamwe family and Humba family.

Gorilla trekking begins very early in the morning at Bukima patrol post with a ranger and a maximum of 8 people, trekking takes 1-2 hours of hiking trails and a 1 magical hour with the gorillas once they are found.

Chimp Tracking

Chimp trekking is one of the awe-inspiring activities to do in the Virunga. The activity starts early in the morning, and it involves hiking trails in search of the endangered chimpanzees.

During the trek, you get to encounter different wildlife species such as birds, other primates, mammals among others. And once found, you are offered a 1-hour duration with these intelligent primate species.

Birding

Virunga National Park is a birders’ haven with over 706 bird species. The activity involves an early morning trek to the forest with an experienced ranger to spot various bird species. It includes using eyes, binoculars and following the sound of birds while they communicate.

The birds in Virunga inhabit big trees where they build nests and holes for shelter while feeding on the tree fruits and insects.

Bird species in the park include the African olive pigeon, handsome francolin, white-headed wood hoopoe, thick bellied sea eater, chestnut throated apalis, bluespotted wood dove, Angolan swallow, blue-headed sunbird, strange weaver, tropical boubou, Rwenzori batis, grey throated barbet, double toothed barbet, alpine swift, mountain greenbul, barred long-tailed cuckoo, black-headed waxbill among others.

Nature Walks

Partake in nature walks in Virunga while following trails to various areas in the tropical rain forest as you spot numerous wildlife species.

During nature walks, You relax from the noise, relieve from stress as well as spotting gorillas, monkeys, baboons, elephants, buffaloes, okapis, lions, antelopes, hippos on the water banks of lake Edward, bird species like the narrow-tailed starling, Madagascar bee-eater track chimpanzees.

Nyiragongo Volcano Hiking

Nyiragongo is an active volcano which has erupted over 34 times with its last eruption in 2002. The Nyiragongo Volcano trek usually starts at 10:00 am in the morning at Kibati patrol post with ranger guides as well as potters are available for hire to carry cargo bags during the hike and also offer support in case of slippery or hot volcanic rocks.

Nyiragongo volcano hike is a beautiful volcano that is 3470m high above sea-level covered with diverse vegetation and it habors the world’s largest lava lake.

You are expected to prepare for the hike through carrying equipment like walking sticks for support, rain gears or waterproofs if it rains, hiking boots for easy movement, hand gloves for protection from sharp stones, sweaters, warm clothings like jackets, some snacks and enough water to keep them strong while hiking.

Hiking normally takes 4-7 hours to reach on the top of the volcano depending on the speed of the hikers and the breaks they have during the hike.

On top of the volcano, you find tents and mattresses or an overnight, a campfire to warm and a chef to prepare various dishes, coffee and breakfast for the next morning. Nyiragongo Volcano has a clear view of the surrounding area and a scenic backdrop for photographers.

Scenic Landscape viewing in Virunga

Virunga is a park with awe-inspiring & outstanding sceneries of landscapes including volcanoes in the Virunga conservation area, the Rwenzori mountains, eroded valley which is spotted in the Ishango & Sincla region, forest cover, afro-alpine vegetation, snow summits which offer an epic backdrop for photographs and lifetime experiences.

Best time to visit.

Better to note, Virunga National Park is open for visitors at any time of the year. However, the best time to visit the park is during the dry season in the months of June to September and December to February.

During the dry season there is little rainfall in the park which facilitates movement due from navigable roads, gorilla and chimpanzee trekking trails are dry and navigable offering exciting experiences compared to the wet season when the trekking trails are muddy and slippery which makes trekking challenging.

How to get there?

Virunga National Park is an easily accessible tourist destination in Congo by both road and air.

By road, the park is accessed through Goma and Bunagana. Goma town is close to Kigali town and is about a 3 hours’ drive.

By air, you either fly into Kigali via Kigali international airport then you drive crossing Gisenyi town to Goma, or you can fly to Goma because there are few airlines operating flights to Goma airport.

Where to stay?

Virunga National Park offers a wide variety of accommodation facilities ranging from Luxury, midrange to budget.

Accommodation lodges in the Virunga include the luxurious Mikeno lodge, The Lulimbi tented camp, Nyiragongo volcano summit shelter, Bukima lodge, Tchegera island among others.

With that in depth, Virunga National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site Park in Congo is well known for its outstanding biodiversity, teeming with a wide range of ecosystems such as savannas, forests, wetlands and volcanic mountains. Explore Congo with Friendly Gorillas Safaris.

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