Virunga National Park Overview
The Virunga National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and founded on April 1925. It is arguably the best national park to visit for those who wish to experience Africa’s true natural beauty.
The Park is the oldest wildlife protected area on the African soil created to protect and conserve the unique wildlife species therein, for science and research purposes and protecting an indigenous threatened fruit-gathering community; the Twa. The Virunga wildlife conservancy is the joint where the West African rainforests meet with the East African savanna grasslands and runs more than 300 km (190 mi) along the Albertine rift that splits the African continent from north to south.
The chimpanzee habituation experience is an activity under the guidance of researchers and rangers. Chimpanzees are unique and interesting primates because they share about 98% of our DNA. The chimpanzee habituation experience starts as early as 5:30 am when the primates start their exciting day. Visitors follow the chimps as they move in search of food on the ground and on top of trees. Chimpanzees are very mobile in movement and unlike gorillas, rarely stay in one place for long during the day. This makes the experience of searching and following them thrilling and more adventurous. By the end of the activity, visitors get to understand everything about chimpanzee way of living and the group dynamics.
Ascending Mount Nyiragongo Volcano needs one to be bodily fit and those that are fit can climb up with too much elasticity in just one day and the trails to start at Kibati patrol post which takes 30 minutes only from the town of Goma and an hour from Mikeno Lodge in Rumangabo. The time required to touch the volcano depends on one’s bodily appropriateness and the trajectories are led by park wardens with porters to help the visitors carry their luggage/load up the volcano at fair prices.
The climbing normally takes about six hours to reach the top which sometimes makes some times tired due to the fact that the entire climbing process starts at 1989m (6,525 ft) and increases to 3470m(11,382 ft) quickly. When preparation to hike, all climbers are recommended to move with enough drinking water for the whole activity which is quite strenuous and those with severe mountain illness must talk to their doctors about ways of stoppage before the hike.
To enjoy a trip to Africa, book and secure a trip to Virunga national park where you will visit the endangered mountain gorillas alongside other primates. There are eight habituated Gorilla families in Virunga National Park with the most common and largest family being the Kabirizi family with 32 members. Regardless of which gorilla group you track, gorilla trekking usually starts with briefing early in the morning. After the briefing, trekkers are led by Park Rangers to search for the gorilla family. Finding the group takes between one to four hours.
Keep your eyes open during the numerous expeditions you’ll do in and around the park and while here you will see a diversity of monkeys and birds that have made Virunga National Park a home. All trekkers must obtain a valid Congo gorilla permit that costs USD 465 to enjoy the trekking experience. Tracking gorillas starts at Bukima Patrol post taking about 1 to 3 three hours and this depends on where they are located although park rangers will always led you to where they would have seen them the day before.
The Virunga National Park has great diversity in plant and animal life. Taking a guided nature walk through secure sections of the park rewards visitors with magnificent scenery and landscape including wonderful sights of volcanoes like Nyiragongo. While taking a walk through the park, one can spot all kinds of wildlife ranging from primates, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. While at the Virunga National Park, one can also take walks to view the eroded valleys of Sinda and Ishango or marvel at the snow filled Rwenzori Mountains across the border in Uganda.
Rwanda- Congo route: This is the favorite route used by most tourists. The best travel plan is to book flights in such a way that one reaches Kigali in the late afternoon or evening. Because this would be too late to start the journey to the Congo Border (closed at night), it is advisable to book a room for the night and prepare for the journey to Congo the next day. The journey from Kigali to Gisenyi (the nearest town to the Congo border) takes four hours by road. You can use private or a public means of transport to reach the border. A private taxi costs $100 while public transport is very cheap. Once you reach Gisenyi, you can hire a taxi to the Rwanda-Congo border. You need to have three key documents to cross the border –a yellow fever vaccination card, a valid passport and Visa. After presenting these documents, travelers are issued a stamp from the Rwandan side before crossing to the Congo side for another seal. Once released from the Congo side, the journey continues to Goma town which is very close to Virunga National Park takes only 30 minutes.
Uganda- Congo route: Once a visitor arrives at Entebbe international airport, there are two ways to reach the border between Uganda and Congo. One is by road and the other by plane. The road journey from Entebbe to the border is takes not less than 8 hours. If you plan to use public means, then you can book the services of various bus operators like the Horizon buses, the Jaguar buses, the Bismarkan bus or the Post buses. These bus companies charge between $15 and $20 up to Kisoro the closest town the Congo border at Bunagana.
Those who are not comfortable with the eight hours drive from Entebbe to Kisoro can book a chartered flight to Kisoro from Kajjansi flying school located between Kampala and Entebbe. It takes only 30 minutes to reach the Virunga National Park from Bunangana border.
Water transport: For travelers who love adventure and nature, a 3 hour boat cruise along Lake Kivu would be just perfect. The boat cruise allows one enjoy the great views of Rwanda’s rolling hills that are covered with green terraced plantations and distant views of the volcanoes in the Virunga region. We recommend hiring public boats for security reasons.
Accommodation is readily available within and around the Virunga National Park depending on your budget. The hotels and lodges are divided into three categories – Budget, Mid-range and Luxury. All categories offer good quality services but some extra services may not be available in budget rooms. To get the best rooms and hotels, you need to book in advance by yourself or through the services of your tour operator. There are several hotels but we will discuss these few:-
Mikeno Lodge: Mikeno Lodge is a Luxurious Lodge located outside Goma town. The lodge has 12 Luxurious grass covered rooms that are built out of lava rocks and mahogany. The rooms are spacious with en-suit bathrooms, curved baths and stone showers. The lounge area has a fireplace, bar, dining hall among many other services. The Mikeno lodge is located in a strategic area that allows for the easy spotting of Blue Monkeys, Chimpanzees, Colbus Monkeys, Golden Monkeys and birds that sing sweet melodies next to your room windows.
Kibumba Tented Camp and Lodge: This is a recently introduced lodge that is located within the Virunga Park. These offer all the three accommodation types(budget. Mid-range and luxury) and are either tented or built with permanent structures. The rooms are self-contained with lounge and dining services. Other services include linen bedding, an on-site bar and restaurant among many others.
Lac Kivu Lodge: Lac Kivu is located within the park with 20 rooms built in African style and surrounded by beautiful manicured gardens. The Lodge overlooks Lake Kivu with rooms that are spacious and offering services like Italian showers, Nespresso coffee machines, a beauty/fitness center, conference rooms, a swimming pool, WiFi and constant power.
The Virunga National Park is open to tourism all year round if not closed due to the volatile situation in Eastern Congo. However like in most countries in sub Saharan Africa, the park has two dry and wet seasons. The drier months between July and September and December to February make conditions in the park more favorable for most tourism activities. Should one decide to go in the wet seasons, they should prepare for difficult conditions that are brought about by the heavy rains. They need to come with proper shoes and stockings that are easy to dry. The rainy months of October and November and between March and June receive fewer visitors hence lowering the cost of accommodation in some lodges and hotels.
Note: Those planning to hike mount Nyiragongo should know that the temperatures at the summit can reduce to freezing points especially during the wet season. During the dry season, the day time temperatures are cool and reach an average of 250C.