The Virunga National Park is a 7800 square kilometer World Heritage Site that lies on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it borders Uganda as well as Rwanda. It is the oldest national park in Africa and the second oldest in the world (after Yellowstone). It is named after the Virunga Mountain (volcanoes) range that lie in the south of the park. the park however is much larger and stretches all the way north to envelop Lake Edward as well as the Rwenzori Mountains.
The park was founded in 1925 by King Albert I of Belgium and originally known as Albert National Park. Virunga was the first national park on the continent of Africa. The park was founded primarily to protect the mountain gorillas living in the forests of the Virunga Massif that were controlled by the Belgian Congo. Later, Virunga was expanded north to include the Rwindi Plains, Lake Edward, and the Rwenzori Mountains.
The park is located on coordinates 0 degrees 55’0”s 29 degrees 10’0”E and was established in 1925 by the Belgian government and is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979. In recent years poaching and the Congo Civil War have seriously damaged its wildlife population. The park is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Africa Conservation Fund (UK).
Congo longstanding insecurity problem though continues to plague the country and you will always have to check with a local tour operator on whether the packages are available. We constantly keep abreast with the happenings in Congo for the security of our clients.
What to see there
The main wildlife attraction with in the Virunga Massive region is the Nyiragongo active Volcanoes tour followed by gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. Other interesting tourism activities with in this region include golden monkey tracking, mountain hikes, and rich cultural tours to mention but a few.
Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga National Park has got only 5 gorilla families with only three groups that are most tracked by travelers. The number of families accessible to travelers changes each year depending on how governments balance the need for tourist income and the need for research. In DRC, six people only allowed to trek each group each day in order to reduce the chance of gorillas catching human diseases.
Mount Nyiragongo is an active strato volcano with an elevation of 3470m(11383ft) in the Virunga Mounains associated with the Albertine rift. It is associated with the Albertine Rift. It is located inside Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congon about 20kms north of the town of Goma and lake Kivu and just just west of the border with Rwanda. The main crater is about two kilometres wide and usually contains a lava lake. The crater presently has two distinct cooled lava benches within the crater walls – one at about 3,175 metres (10,417 ft) and a lower one at about 2,975 m (9,760 ft). Nyiragongo’s lava lake has at times been the most voluminous known lava lake in recent history. The depth of the lava lake varies considerably. A maximum elevation of the lava lake was recorded at about 3,250 m (10,660 ft) prior to the January 1977 eruption – a lake depth of about 600 m (2,000 ft). A recent very low elevation of the lava lake was recorded at about 2,700 m (8,900 ft). Nyiragongo and nearby Nyamuragira are together responsible for 40% of Africa’s historical volcanic eruptions.
How to get at Virunga National Park
Most tourists fly into the Kigali international airport and take a 3-hour taxi ride to the border crossing at Gisenyi, Rwanda. International flights often arrive in the evening, so we recommend spending the night in Kigali and leaving for Virunga the next morning. Most Kigali hotels will arrange an airport pick up for a small additional charge. Taxis typically charge $100-$120 from Kigali to the border. Hotels can arrange the taxi for you. Domestic airlines in the DRC fly into Goma, but the airport is not up to international standards.
Top Things to Do
Mountain gorilla trekking
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.Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent, good natured, and fascinating to observe. The silverback’s powerful presence is awe-inspiring, yet his calm clearly earns him the title, “gentle giant”. People are equally struck by the tenderness and care that mothers show their young. And then, of course, there are the juveniles who spend most of every waking hour at play and never cease to make visitors smile. We believe your time with Virunga’s mountain gorillas will leave you feeling changed for the better.
Guests staying at Mikeno Lodge can join this team on their daily visits to the chimpanzees. The day begins when a group of local trackers leave their camp at 4:30 am to locate where the chimpanzees spent the previous night. Lodge guests set out at 6:00 am to find the chimpanzees. Groups are limited to 4 people and time with the chimpanzees is restricted to one hour.
Mount Nyiragongo hike treks
Nyiragongo is a beautiful stratovolcano that features the world’s largest lava lake. The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and bush buck. Nyiragongo’s summit rim is largely devoid of vegetation and is sometimes dusted with snow. From the rim, visitors can peer down into a churning lava lake and see and hear hot gases exploding up though a mosaic of molten lava.Treks to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano begin at the Kibati patrol post, which is approximately 30 minutes by car from Goma. The patrol post is less than a one hour drive from the Mikeno Lodge in Rumangabo. Park rangers lead all treks and porters (unaffiliated with the park) are available for hire. The time required to reach the summit depends on the average fitness of each group, but typically takes 4 – 6 hours. Altitude sickness can be an issue for some because the climb begins at 1989m (6,525 ft) and ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) in a short time.
All climbs begin promptly at 10:00 am. Late arrivals will not be allowed to climb and permits are non-refundable. For security reasons, there will be no exceptions. The Kibati ranger station, which is the trailhead for Nyiragongo, is approximately 30 minutes from Goma by car. All climbers must check in at the Kibati station by no later than 9:15 am on the day of their climb. Climbers typically descend the volcano at between 6:30 – 7:00 am the next morning and arrive back at Kibati station by 11:30 am. If one intends to fly out of Kigali on the same day, please make sure not to schedule your departure flight before 6 pm.
Planning a Trip to Virunga National Park
Most travelers to eastern Congo visit the country for gorilla safaris. Most packaged gorilla safaris start from Gisenyi in Rwanda or in Kisoro in Congo.
Getting a Tourist Visa
The Congolese wildlife authority has an agreement with Direction, the Congolese immigration service, to facilitate obtaining 2-week, single entry tourist visas for people visiting Virunga National Park. The cost of the visa is USD $105.
Once you have a booking and have received confirmation of your payment, you will also receive an order number. Please proceed to the online visa application, enter your order number at the top of the form, fill in the remaining fields, and click submit. Finally, please make sure to secure any other visas that you will need as you make your way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Countries such as Rwanda require most nationalities to secure visas in advance of arrival.
Visitor Safety in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is located in a region that is often troubled by unrest. The management of Virunga National Park is dedicated to ensure the safety and security of all its visitors. Park management does, however, emphasize the importance of all visitors making themselves aware of the current security situation at the time of their visit. Virunga National Park cannot take responsibility for any accidents or incidents. If any signs indicate a security issue, management may decide to temporarily close one or more of its attractions. All bookings for these attractions will be refunded in full.
Virunga National Park strongly advises against the use of self-arranged transport. Please use transport provided by Virunga National Park or by one of our trusted tour operators. Virunga National Park rangers escort all visitors using park transport.