The oldest national park in Africa, formerly known as Albert National Park, is located in central part of Africa. The Albertine Rift in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, central section of Africa is a popular tourist attraction. The park is one of Africa's oldest and largest, located on the foothills of the massive Virunga mountain range, which stretches through Uganda and Rwanda. Though the Mountain Gorillas are the most famous residents here, the rich greenery, swamps, active volcanoes and variety of other wildlife residents make this the best safari hotspot.
It was established in 1925 to safeguard the forest and resident primates, particularly the gorillas. The rebels who had occupied thispark, forcing brief closures were finally defeated and forced away, leaving a safe spot open to visitors all year with events running from Monday to Sunday. It covers around 790,000 hectares of land, with savannas, montane and lowland woodland, lava plains and the Rwenzori Mountains’ snowfields, which rise to 5,000 meters above sea level.
Virunga National Park can be reached by both air and road. Land at Goma international airport, from where you will have another one-hour road transfer to the park. Alternatively, fly to Kigali International Airport, which is connected to the park through a scenic, magnificent 3-hours’ drive.
From Entebbe, you can connect to Virunga via Kisoro-Bunagana border; Kigali to Virunga via Gisenyi and various additional routes in the park are available from either Rwanda or Uganda.
Also known as “General Nyiragongo”, it is one of the world's most active volcanoes and one of the eight mountains that make up the Virunga massif. The climb to the burning lava lake at Mount Nyiragongo peak is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. It's a full-day excursion that begins at 10:00 a.m. local time and lasts about 5- 6 hours. On a clear day, it also provides a breathtaking perspective of the parks' landscape, plantationsand primates such as gorillas on the foothills.
Mountain Nyamuragira is the park's other active mountain, which is not developed for tourist activities at the moment but provides a great scenery for photography and panoramic views.
The park has over 706 bird species, including both endemics and migratory species. The activity of bird-watching is available all year, with the ideal months being March to May and November, when the temperature is cool and the migratory species are present. Egrets, grey-throated barbets, Angolan swallows, African olive pigeons, papyrus yellow warblers, Rwenzori batis, shoebill storks and ibis are among the notable species. Rewarding moments to meet and see birds in their nests, while feeding or resting are in the morning and evening.
Take off 4 hours of a day and reunite with resident chimpanzees at the habituation center. The experience is educative and fun, as you get to know much about the chimpanzees, close connection to humans and the diet.
This is a place where the orphaned gorillas are taken care of. It is worth a visit. Visitors are introduced to the world of gorillas, explaining their unique characteristics, family structure and their life in an orphanagehabitat.
In Virunga National Park, mountain gorillas are the main safari attraction. Only about a quarter of the world's mountain gorilla population is situated in Africa. After bonobos and chimps, gorillas are the closest relatives of human beings. They call the foggy jungle of Virunga their home, wandering and feasting on vegetation.
These unusual creatures have enormous bodies, black fur and are extremely powerful. They are most active in the morning and evening hours, resting or sleeping in the afternoon. In the wild, visitors have a 99 percent chance of locating them.
Gorilla trekking is done on foot, whereas those who are disabled can book a special arrangement to get to the apes. It all starts with early morning arrival at the park headquarters for registration and a pre-trekkingbriefing session by the ranger guides. Thereafter, you will be assigned a specific gorilla group to track and escorted on a 2-8 hours’ search, with an encounter of other primates and forest habitats. Gorilla search takes place deep in the forest, where these apes feed and rest. A group is tracked by a maximum of eight people, aged 15 years and above, with a valid tracking permit.
Congo Gorilla trekking permits are the cheapest of all three countries offering Gorilla trekking experience. They cost $400 for foreign non-residents, a fee nonrefundable but then helps to boost the conservation efforts, payment of ranger guides and contribution to the well-being of local communitiesliving around the park.
Some of the rules to follow once in the park include; no littering, keeping the voice low when communicating, proper time management, standing at least 7 meters from the apes, payment of the set price, no use of flashlights when photographing the gorillas, keeping in groups and always seeking for guides from the ranger guide.
This park is open to visitors all year round, with guests registering at daybreak- 06:00 hours and closes at about 18:00 hours at sunset. This program runs throughout the week. For the best months, visit during dry months of June to September or December to February.
The rest of the months are fine for budget travelers because of possible discounts from lodges and exclusivity as the park is less congested. Hiking during dry seasons provides perfect time to look out for the Gorilla Apes stress-free. Birdwatching is best done during the wet months, because of the abundance of migratory species.
As you prepare for your visit to Virunga national park, the backpack can contain the following items; a water container, Binoculars to watch primates and birds in a distance, long-sleeved sweaters / shirts, strong hiking boots to help on the steep terrain, professional camera for photography, hat to cover your head, gloves, Yellow fever vaccine certificate, rainproof jacket to protect you in case of rainfall and so much more. The documents worth carrying a gorilla permit, valid Visa and passport.
Virunga national park is home toluxurious, safe and serene lodging facilities, offering cozy and quality services at good prices. You may pick from the budget to luxury lodges and have the best of services and tasty cuisines.
A visit to one of the oldest national parks in Africa is worth your timeand visit. The security has been greatly boosted and all visitors are free to engage in the different activities offered. Book with a registered company, with vast knowledge of different attractions and activities in D.R. Congo.