Activities in Virunga National Park are the enticing ventures in which travelers can engage in when they decide to take a tour of the amazing national park. It was established in 1952 and is one of the first and largest protected parks in Africa, which estimates 8090 square kilometers of the land located at the edge of Albertine rift valley in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga national park is a tropical montane rainforest and boasts of having active volcanos namely mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira, and also has the great apes known as ‘mountain gorillas’ that are found on the flanks of the Mikeno volcano which have made Congo tourism destination to sound worldwide. Being the largest park in Africa it is covered with green vegetation, open savannah grassland, swamps, forests, and lava plains. Above all these habitats act as a home of a vast range of biodiversity of wild mammals with over 195 mammals such as elephants, hippos, lions, primates like mountain gorillas ,baboons ,bush babies,vervet monkey, red tailed monkey, black and white monkey, blue monkeys among others, 109 reptiles ,65 amphibians species, 2077 species of plants, 230 plants that are endemic to the Albertine Rift valley and 706 species of birds like Grey-throated Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, Narrow tailed starling and many more other species.
Activities in Virunga national park are the most humbling ventures that every visitor would wish to participate in when they are on tour in Virunga national park and the park itself has got the best and the most exciting activities you can be part of and these include; Gorilla trekking, mount Nyiragongo hiking, Chimpanzee habituation, landscape viewing, Bird watching, Guided Nature walk, Senkwekwe Orphanage center and many more other attractions within the park.
Activities in Virunga national park.
- Gorilla trekking: Gorilla trekking has become the best-done activity in Virunga national park. The park has over 300 individuals which belong to one of the 8 habituated family groups and they include Rugendo (the first existing family to be visited and the head of the family is silverback), Lulengo family, Kabirizi family, Munyanga Family, Mapuwa family, Bageni family, Nyakamwe family and Humba family. Virunga National Park is one of the top destinations where you can carry out your gorilla trekking safaris from. Gorilla trekking starts early enough in the morning hours at Bukima patrol post with a trained ranger with a maximum of 8 people per group per trek. Time taken can be as few as 2 to 7 hours and once the gorillas are located a ranger will allow you with a maximum of 1 hour with them as you observe their behavior. Rules include: Visitors have to keep a distance of 7 meters away from mountain gorillas. Your body must be free from flue, fever and once you’re suffering from one of this, you will be stopped from the gorilla trekking activity, and you must wash your hands before you proceed to the. Congo Gorilla permits in Virunga national park are at low priced compared to other neighboring countries that is to say Congo permits cost USD 400 per person and Uganda gorilla permits cost USD 600 per person, Rwanda gorilla permits cost USD 1500 per person. Children under the age of 15 years are not allowed to participate in trekking. In case of the porter who helps you to carry the bag along trekking there will be additional fee of USD15 per trek.
- Mount Nyiragongo summit hiking: This is the second privileged highlight activity done in Virunga and hiking along the summits is truly interesting. Mount Nyiragongo is an active Volcano and largest in the world that measures 3470meter high above the sea level. It has erupted for over 34 times and it last erupted in 2002 when lava flew to the closest villages. It is covered with savannah vegetation and sometimes snow which dissolves into a lava lake. Since the park is located near Goma it takes only 30 minutes by drive to Nyiragongo. Mount Nyiragongo trekking begins at 10:00 am in the morning hours at the Kibati patrol post with professional ranger guides and porters who are always there and ready for hire to assist you to carry your luggage. Hiking takes 4 to 6 hours to reach on the top of the volcano and the visitors who will reach late than 10:00 am at Kibati patrol will miss out on the hike because they cannot trek on summit alone. You can decide to spend your night at the top of the volcano camping because there are nice tents with comfortable mattresses for you sleep or rest with a campfire which is also made along here for the visitors’ warmness. They offer good chefs who know how to prepare delicious dishes on a daily basis. Permits at Nyiragongo trek cost USD 300 per person.
- Chimpanzee habituation: This is also an interesting activity conducted in Virunga national park where you can spend almost a day with chimpanzees, learning about their behaviors, feeding their young ones, laying their nests in the evening, habits as well as getting close to them. This is an amazing activity that starts at around 8:00 am after breakfast. A guide will take you through a short briefing and after will accompany you to the trailheads. They allow a maximum of 4 people to be part of chimpanzee trekking and you are given 4 hours to come face to face with these apes in case of these long hours in the midst of the forest. You are given packed lunch which you will take during lunchtime. Rules to follow before processing for the trekking include that you should not wear brighter colors because they might shy way the chimpanzees, you should be in good health without any disease in your body since these apes are closely related with human being genes.
- Bird watching: This might be the best destination for those who are birders because the park hosts over 706 species of birds. It is an activity done by the traveler after an early breakfast. You proceed to the forest with the guide to view different bird species and might need some binoculars. The variety of bird species include; Rwenzori turaco, red-throated alethe, kivu ground thrush, mountain masked apalis, red-faced woodland warbler, blue-headed sunbird, regal sunbird, Rwenzori double-collared, common buzzard, mountain buzzard, olive long-tailed cuckoo, red-eyed dove, brown-necked parrot, among others.
- Guided nature walks: Guided nature walk is among the activities that can be conducted in the montane rainforest of Virunga national park where visitors are accompanied by the guide to the forest trails to spot out different species of wildlife. Visitors who engage in nature walk activity and be able to spot primates like chimpanzees, gorillas ,monkeys, baboons, black and white monkeys, Red tailed monkeys, and other mammals like antelopes such as Uganda kobs, blue duiker, topis, Red River hog, olive baboon, Elephants, buffaloes, lions, and many other attractions like Rivers.
- Landscape viewing in the park: This is the best park for landscape viewing, and it sits on the large piece of land with very many features which are found in here like the volcanoes in the Virunga conservation area, panoramic view of Rwenzori mountains, valleys, forest, vegetation’s and snow summits are all rewarding with great experience to the visitors.
- Senkwekwe Orphanage center: The center is located near the parks headquarter close to Mikeno lodge which was officially opened in 2010 to take care of orphaned gorillas to prevent them from being killed. Visitors visit this center to view on these orphan apes to learn about their behavior.
The best time to visit Virunga National Park is throughout the year basically in the dry season from the month of June –September, and December to February when the reserve is in dry condition. You can still visit the park during the wet season in the month of March to May and September to December within wet months’ when the rates for the accommodations are lower compared to those in dry seasons. During dry seasons the number of tourist is high who visits the park and in the wet season, the number of tourist is low.
To be part of these marvelous and exciting activities at Virunga national park, these are the requirements you should not miss packing travel documents like passports, Visas, Rain gears, sweater, hiking boots, energy snacks, hats, gloves, Extra pair of socks, rain jacket, warm weather gears, mineral water bottle. Moreover, to book your gorilla permits in advance to a well-known tour operator or through mailing.
Virunga national park has got beautiful accommodation with good facilities location and the panoramic view is rewarding around these hotels and lodges which ranges between mid-range, budget, luxury include; lodge coco, Kibumba Tented camp, Bukima Tented camp, Tchegera island Tented camp, Mikeno lodge, Hotel Begonias, Lakeside hotel Bukavu, Mount Kahuzi hotel, Mount Nyiragongo summit shelters, Lulimbi Tented camp among others.
Virunga national park has made Congo safaris to be the most visited destination in East African countries because of the mountain gorillas and other different wildlife species thus making a safari in Virunga national park unforgettable and memorable experience you will ever have in a lifetime.