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Visit Virunga National Park for Mountain Gorilla Trekking Tours

Virunga National Park in Africa in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at the eastern edge of the Congo basin is found in the northern sector of the Great Rift Valley in the Albertine Rift and the South of Rutshuru. Virunga National Park is one of the best places offering unforgettable Gorilla trekking in Congo safaris and tours with a diversity of wildlife.

It was created in 1925 as Albert National Park by King Albert 1 who was the King of Belgium then, thus the first safari park to be created in the African continent one of the world’s first.

Virunga NP ranges between 680 m (the Semliki River area) to 5,109 m (the Rwenzori Mountains area in the North) above sea level and it is governed by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation).

Virunga covers an area of 8,090 km2 of unique habitats compared to any other African park and some of its parts extend along Southwestern Uganda and the Rwanda borders. About half of the rich diversity in the Sub-Saharan African is found in this protected area and it is governed by both Congolese and international law.

Inside Virunga NP are two active volcanoes which are Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira both among the Virunga Mountains (Virunga massif) spread in North Kivu and you can hike an active volcano of your choice. Virunga also harbors a rich wildlife of over 3000 of both flora and fauna species counting 264 registered tree species and 230 plants that are endemic to the Albertine Rift. About 300 of these species are endemic to the Albertine Rift, but famously the world’s endangered Mountain Gorillas.

It was thus declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 for conservation and to protect this rich endemism, although its civil conflict threatens its World Heritage status. Due to the discovery of oil in Virunga, Soco International, a British oil company began oil explorations but later withdrew.

Although Virunga NP has had horrid moments due to war and conflict from rebel groups, political unrest, and Volcanic eruptions from Mount Nyiragongo, it is still a must-visit destination, especially for watching Albert Rift endemic wildlife and connecting to other neighboring protected areas.

Below, we discuss more about Congo’s Parc National des Virunga in Africa.

Things to See in Virunga National Park – Attractions

Get to discover the different attractions at this World Heritage Site to enjoy during your safari in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some of them include Wildlife, active Volcanoes among the Virunga massif south of Virunga, and local Communities to visit indigenous people, among others.

Let us look at these attractions in Congo, Africa below;

Congo Wildlife in Virunga

Virunga boasts a very rich diversity, thus numerous and unique wildlife species, some of which are endangered in the world. The most common of these wildlife species include the different bird species and the Mountain Gorillas that attract many visitors to Virunga NP to do Gorilla trekking.

Other Congo Wildlife Species in Virunga National Park | What Animals Live in Virunga Park?

Apart from the world’s famous Mountain Gorillas, there are many other wildlife species in Virunga to see. They include,

  • Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes)
  • Golden Monkey
  • Uganda Kob
  • Red-Tailed Monkeys
  • Blue Monkeys
  • Olive Baboons
  • Hippos
  • Dent’s Mona Monkey
  • African Bush Elephant
  • African Buffaloes
  • Lions
  • Nile Crocodiles at the Semliki River and on the Northern shore of Lake Edward

The Active Volcanoes in Virunga

This protected area in Eastern DRC is also known for harboring different Virunga Mountains (Virunga massif) that spread in North Kivu, South of Virunga, where visitors go hiking with the most common one being Mount Nyiragongo.

Other active volcanoes in the Virunga massif include Mount Mikeno, Mount Nyamuragira, Mount Murara, and Volcan Rumoka. Get to hike an active volcano in Africa today!

Local Communities Around Virunga

About 20,000 people live in the central sector and northern sector of Virunga NP. You can visit these indigenous people in their local communities to explore their way of life and cultures.

Likewise, get to discover coffee projects in North Kivu, supporting the lives of many locals in Africa.

Other attractions in and around Virunga include Lake Edward, Congo River, Lake Kivu, etc.

What to do in Virunga Park

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Activities Around Virunga National Park

There are various activities in and around Virunga NP, with the major ones being Gorilla trekking and Chimpanzee trekking.

Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park Congo

Virunga protects Mountain Gorillas that in the whole world, are endemic to the Virunga Conservation Area which also covers other protected areas in Uganda and Rwanda.

Like the other protected areas, Gorilla trekking in Virunga is a remarkable experience that brings you close to a habituated Gorilla family, allowing you to spend an hour with them.

Virunga NP has 8 Gorilla families with the Kabirizi family being the most popular one due to its large group members of about 3 dozen. Below are all the habituated Gorilla families to find in this area.

Congo Gorilla Groups in Virunga National Park

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

Why Trek Gorillas in Congo National Park?

Virunga NP in Eastern DRC, at the Eastern edge of the Congo basin, is one of the incredible places to trek the endangered Gorillas. Trekking these primates in the Democratic Republic of Congo will also allow you to meet Eastern Lowland Gorillas in Kahuzi Biega NP. This will allow you to track both the world’s famous Gorilla species in one country.

Likewise, tracking the endangered Gorillas in the country will allow you to enjoy cheaper prices compared to other protected areas for tracking, that is, $ 400 for foreigners.

Park rangers and the DRC government will ensure your safety in this natural beauty for remarkable experiences in Africa.

Congo Gorilla Permit for Virunga National Park

The Congo Gorilla permit is a legal document that allows you to track Gorillas in Virunga.

The Cost of Gorilla Trekking in Congo Virunga National Park

A Gorilla trekking permit in Congo’s Virunga costs $400 for foreigners.

How to Obtain a Congo Gorilla Permit for Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park

You can purchase a Congo Mountain Gorilla permit from Virunga Park headquarters and have your tour operator purchase it for you.

Congo Gorilla Trekking Safaris Price - Virunga National Park Gorilla Trekking Cost

On top of the cost of Gorilla trekking in Virunga NP, you should also consider the general cost of your safari when going for your Gorilla trip.

However, various factors determine the cost of your Gorilla tour, including the length of your stay, the class of accommodation you choose, other activities to add to your Gorilla trek, and number of people that you are traveling with, among others.

Depending on the above factors and more, you will spend about $700 to $3000.

Hiring Porters During Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park

This is one of the services that park management at Virunga National Park offers and you can hire one for this incredible adventure, especially if you have a lot of luggage to carry.

Porters are hired cheaply, that is about $ 10 to $ 25.

Sustainability and Protection of the Gorillas in Virunga Park

Since Virunga and neighboring parks are conservation areas for some of the last remaining Mountain Gorillas, their sustainability to protect them is an important aspect in the conservation of these primates.

The biggest threats to their conservation to protect these primates have been poaching, human encroachment, and disease.

Various incredible rangers are trained by the park management to patrol and protect these primates to promote their conservation from some of the threats like poaching and human encroachment.

Where Else Are Mountain Gorillas Found?

Apart from Virunga NP, you can also find Mountain Gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable NP, Mgahinga Gorilla NP, and Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP.

Tips for Tracking Gorillas in Congo Virunga National Park

There are different things that you should consider when going for Gorilla tracking in Virunga and below, we look at some of them.

Best time to visit Virunga National Park | Best Time for Congo Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park

You can visit Virunga all year round in either the dry or the wet season.

Dry seasons will provide you with the best trekking experiences as the trails will be dry while the wet season may provide faster tracking adventures as there is enough food for the animals thus making them not go to further places.

The dry seasons run from December to January and from June to August while the wet season is from March to mid-May and from September to November.

High Season & Low Season for Gorilla Trekking in Virunga Park

The dry season is usually the high season in Virunga NP while the wet season is most times usually the low season in this protected area.

This is because the dry season makes safari activities like trekking and hiking much easier due to the dry trails. On the other hand, trails in the wet season are muddy thus making some safari activities much more difficult for tourists.

However, due to the low population in the wet season, some costs especially accommodation are cheaper.

Chimpanzee Tracking or Chimpanzee Habituation

Tracking Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes) is the second most famous activity in Virunga after the Gorilla trekking tours and it began in the 1987 by Frankfurt Zoological Society.

It involves walking to find a Chimpanzee group in their natural habitat and you will get to spend one hour with them. You may join a group going for Chimpanzee habituation early in the morning to meet the Chimps before they can leave their nest.

Mount Nyiragingo Hike:

The Nyiragongo hike in Virunga is a thrilling experience that will bring you closer to the lava lake on top of the beautiful mountain. Get to watch and observe the beauty of the extensive landscape and the surrounding areas upon reaching the summit of the mountain. Due to the frequent historical eruptions of the mountain, the adventure is thus for the strong-hearted adventurous spirits in Africa.

Nature Walks:

These walks are some of the most famous activities in this protected area due to its beauty and biodiversity, majorly in the tropical rain forest that is a sanctuary to the various animals.

These forests comprise grassland, lava plains, woodland, and swamps, among others. The nature walks will allow you to discover the beauty of the amazing landscapes. Through the leading of one of the park rangers, you will follow a specific trail that will lead you to the wildlife.

Birding Watching:

There is exceptional biodiversity in Virunga and different biomes for example the grasslands, rainforests, swamps, waterbodies, rift valleys, lava plains, and marsh, among others. This is thus important for harboring different bird species that take such places as home.

Virunga thus continues to be a conservation area for about 706 recorded bird species including the Madagascar Bee Eater, Grey Throated Barbet, Narrow Tailed Starling, African Fish Eagle, and the Ruwenzori Turaco, among others.

Primate Tracking in Virunga National Park/Albert National Park

Primate tracking is a safari activity in which trekkers move on foot to look for a primate family or group to watch.

Gorilla trekking through the guidance of park rangers is the major primate tracking activity done in this designated region in Eastern Congo at the Eastern edge of the Congo basin.

What to Pack for Your Tour in Virunga NP

There are many things that you can pack for your Virunga safari in Africa and below, we list some of them.

  1. Travel documents for example Passport, Visa, Yellow Fever Vaccination card
  2. Camera
  3. Binoculars
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Insect Repellent
  6. Sunglasses
  7. Notebook
  8. Backpack

Wear the Appropriate Clothing for Gorilla Trekking in Congo

To make your trip more comfortable and enjoyable, it is important to wear the right attire for your safari.

We list them below

  1. Long trousers and long sleeves
  2. Comfortable hiking shoes
  3. Rain Jacket or Poncho in case it rains

How to Access Virunga National Park

Virunga sits in the Eastern DRC/Eastern Congo and it connects to different features in neighboring national parks like the Rwenzori Mountains in the North and Lake Edward in the North East.

Most travelers use air transport to land at Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport and then proceed to enter the Congo border using road transport through the Gisenyi Village from where you will connect to the park headquarters.

From Congo, you can use Goma International Airport and then proceed to the park by road.

Visitors from Uganda will cross from the Bunagana border in Kisoro Town to Embeloka.

Another weekly flight to and from Goma, the capital of North Kivu is Ethiopia Airways.

Accommodation in Virunga National Park

There are different accommodation facilities in the area to provide you with an exquisite stay during your trip.

Below are the different places to stay during your stay in Virunga

  1. Lulimbi Tented Camp
  2. Mikeno Lodge
  3. Bukima Tented Camp
  4. Mt Nyiragongo Summit Shelters
  5. Tchera Island Camp

Popular Virunga Gorilla Trekking Safaris in Congo Tours | Virunga National Park Offers

There are various great packages to lead you to Congo’s Virunga NP and below are some of the popular ones.

  1. 3 days Gorilla trekking in Virunga NP
  2. 5 days Virunga Gorilla trekking and Lowland Gorillas in Kahuzi Biega NP
  3. 5 days Virunga NP and Kahuzi Biega NP
  4. 8 days Virunga NP, Bwindi Impenetrable NP, and Queen Elizabeth NP
  5. 9 days Virunga Gorillas and Uganda wildlife in Queen Elizabeth NP

The Virunga Movie

Virunga has been a ground for shooting a dozen fiction films and other unforgettable dramas due to its natural beauty. For example “Virunga”, a documentary film by Violet Films covers venal villains, heart-stopping suspense, and stalwart heroes.

This documentary film is about the conservation efforts of park rangers and it was nominated for Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The documentary film also airs on Netflix and has been nominated in various film festivals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is Unique About Virunga National Park Congo? | What is Special About Virunga National Park?
  2. Virunga is majorly unique for its large exceptional biodiversity as it protects about half of the riches found in sub-Saharan Africa. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also the first safari park in the African continent as it was designated in 1925 as Albert National Park.

  3. What is the History of Virunga National Park in Congo?
  4. Virunga was founded in 1925 as Albert National Park by the then-King of Belgium, King Albert. In 1969, it was renamed Virunga National Park and in 1979, it was designated a World Heritage Site.

    The DRC government through the Congolese National Parks Authority and the Virunga Foundation partnered to manage the park in 2008.

  5. What is the Weather Like in Virunga National Park Congo?
  6. Virunga’s weather comprises of warmth and mild rains. Due to the equator line running through the park, there are high temperatures although higher altitudes are much colder.

    Cool breezes are around lakes and rivers for example Lakes Kivu, Lake Albert, Lake Edward, River Semuliki in Virunga’s northern sector, and Congo River which are all great for water safari experiences like a boat cruise.

  7. What is Mountain Gorilla Trekking?
  8. Gorilla trekking is a famous safari activity in East Africa that involves walking through steep or dense forests to look for and meet a habituated Gorilla family in their natural habitat.

  9. Is Virunga National Park Open 2023?
  10. Virunga NP is believed to open in the beginning of 2024 and with the right safety precautions, visitors can visit all year round.

  11. Is It Worth Going to Go Gorilla Trekking Virunga National Park?
  12. Virunga Gorilla trekking is worth going for during your trip to Congo in the African continent.

    This is because of various reasons as seen below;

    1. Cheap costs: Gorilla tracking in this World Heritage Site is the cheapest compared to all the three famous Mountain Gorilla trekking destinations. Rwanda sells a Gorilla permit at $400 while Uganda and Rwanda sell the permit for $700 and $ 1500 respectively for foreign nonresidents. Thus, it is the world’s cheapest Gorilla tracking destination.
    2. Conservation purposes and sustainable development: By going for Gorilla tracking in Virunga, you also contribute to Gorilla and nature conservation in addition to sustainable development.
    3. Availability of other amazing safari activities: Virunga provides other different amazing experiences that will allow you to fully explore its biodiversity. You can thus combine your safari with other activities like Chimpanzee tracking, hiking the Nyiragongo Volcano, birding, and wildlife safaris among others.

      Additionally, combine your safaris with other neighboring countries like Uganda and Rwanda.

  13. Do You Need a Reservation for Virunga National Park?
  14. Yes, you will need a reservation in advance and not on arrival at Virunga NP. Additionally, you will also have to book to tourist visa that you need to book in advance.

  15. How Long Does it Take to Explore Virunga National Park?
  16. How long it takes to explore Virunga depends on the activity that you are going to do. Gorilla trekking takes about 30 minutes to 6 hours to find a Gorilla family, scenic walks take an hour or more depending on the program. Hiking Mount Nyiragongo will take about 6 to 8 hours and descending takes about 4 hours.

  17. Why is Virunga National Park Closed? - What is the Issue With Virunga National Park?
  18. Virunga NP was previously closed because of the instabilities caused by different factors for example political issues, armed groups/rebel groups doing illegal activities and causing war, conflict, and the life-threatening eruptions of Mount Nyiragongo which has a lava lake.

  19. What Happened to Soco After Virunga? - Does Soco Still Operate in Virunga?
  20. Although Soco International, a British oil company still has the license to work in Virunga NP, it no longer operates oil explorations there. The operations of Soco International, the oil company ended on 22nd July 2014. However, the DRC government still seeks to explore the oil in Virunga to drill its oil for the country’s benefit.

  21. Is Virunga National Park in Danger?
  22. Virunga is sometimes unsafe because of the various threats and conflicts like political instabilities from the government and the possibility of Mount Nyiragongo erupting since it last erupted in 2021.

  23. What is Happening at Virunga Now?
  24. There has been a closure at Virunga NP due to the different instabilities and conflicts, especially killings by armed groups. Such instabilities have led to an urgent investigative report finding out killing of wardens and park rangers by rebel groups. However, the park is expected to open at the beginning of 2024.

    Virunga NP is thus an amazing destination to visit during your safari on the African continent. You can either participate in the famous Mountain Gorilla trekking adventures or participate in any other activity offered in this makeup of heart-wrenching tenderness.

    With the right safety precautions and protection from government bodies, we can help you organize the best packages for your tours at Virunga, Africa to enjoy an incredible experience.

    Book your trip today!

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Virunga National Park is one of the most biologically diverse protected areas on the earth where Congo Gorilla Trekking Safaris is encountered.