Major Activities and Attractions in Virunga National Park

March 20, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Major Attractions and Activities in Virunga National Park: Virunga National Park is a remarkable and diverse protected area located in the Albertine Rift Valley in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Park Spans is approximately 8,090 square kilometres. Its elevation varies significantly, ranging from 2230 feet in the Semuliki River valley to 5109 feet in the Rwenzori Mountains. It stretches approximately 300 kilometres from north to south along the international borders with Uganda and Rwanda in the east.

The park is a haven for diverse habitats, including active volcanoes, snowfields, savannahs, forests, and lakes. Over 3000 faunal and floral species have been recorded in the park, with more than 300 of these species endemic to the Albertine Rift making this area ecologically significant. Some of the notable inhabitants include the mountain gorillas and the golden monkeys

Animal species in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park is a diversity hotspot teeming with fascinating animal species, and some of the popular inhabitants include the endangered mountain gorillas: There are eight habituated gorilla families, such as the Kabirizi, Bageni, Mapuwa, Rugendo, Munyaga, Humba, and Lulebongo gorilla families. Other primates in the park include chimpanzees, Central African red colobus, olive baboons, Red-tailed monkeys, Blue monkeys, De Brazza’s monkeys, Dent’s mona monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkeys, Grey-cheeked Mangabey and the Mantled Guereza. Mammal species in the park include Hippos, Okapi, African bush elephants, Lions, Leopards, Giant forest hogs, African buffaloes, waterbucks, tree pangolins, and Emin’s piched rat.

Bird species in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park is home to 706 bird species, of which 20 are endemic to the Albertine region, making the park a haven for birdwatchers and offering a rich avian diversity. Some of the fascinating bird species found within the park include the Grey Headed (throated) Barbet often seen parched on branches emitting melodious calls, the Rwenzori Batis often flitting the forest understory hunting for insects, the shy Red-throated Alethe often foraging for insects and berries in the leaf litter, the Collared Apalis, the secretive Mountain Masked Apalis often in the bamboo thickets and mossy forests, the stunning Dusky Crimson-wing, the dazzling Regal Sunbird often hovering around flowering plants sipping nectar, Strange Weaver, the powerful Wahlberg’s Eagle, the African Goshawk, the acrobatic African Hobby,  Harrier Hawk, the ground-dwelling Tambourine Dove, the Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird which is often heard before it is seen, and the colourful Brown-necked Parot often feeding on seeds and fruits.

Red-chested Sunbird

The communities around Virunga National Park are diverse and rich in cultural heritage. Let’s explore some aspects of their cultures:

Local Tribes: The region surrounding Virunga is inhabited by various ethnic groups, including the Banyarwanda, Nande, Hunde, Tutsi, and Hutu. Each tribe has its unique language, customs, and traditions.

Traditional Practices: Rituals: Communities engage in rituals related to birth, marriage, and death. These rituals often involve music, dance, and storytelling.

Art and Craftsmanship: Local artisans create beautiful crafts, including pottery, beadwork, and woodcarvings.

Traditional Medicine: Herbalists and healers play a crucial role in community health, using knowledge passed down through generations.

Livelihoods: Many community members rely on agriculture, fishing, and livestock farming for their livelihoods. Beekeeping is also common, with honey production contributing to local economies.

Major activities carried out in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo offers a plethora of exciting activities for nature enthusiasts and adventurers and the major activities carried out include;

  • Mountain Gorilla Trekking

Experience with Gorilla Trekking: The first place where mountain gorilla tracking was done was Virunga. In the park’s southern region, tourists can visit five habituated gorilla populations. Experienced park rangers lead the treks, which often start at the Bukima patrol post. The gorillas’ prior night’s lodging and the roughness of the terrain determine how long a hike takes. When among the gorillas at Virunga, tourists must wear surgical masks, which are supplied. This is done to preserve the health of the gorillas. There is a rigorous one-hour limit on spending time with the gorillas.

Impact on Conservation: Buying a permit to go gorilla trekking makes a direct donation to the preservation of mountain gorillas.
The money raised from permit purchases goes towards park maintenance and preservation.
Combine your experiences:
Think about mixing your Virunga gorilla hike with excursions in the nearby Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda or Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
You can watch uncommon species in their native environments and gain knowledge about their behaviours through these encounters.
Recall that seeing mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park entails both a privilege and a duty to preserve these amazing animals for the next generation.

  • Chimpanzee Tracking in Virunga National Park

Chimpanzee tracking in Virunga National Park is an exhilarating experience that allows you to explore the lush tropical rainforest and encounter our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Here’s what you need to know: These incredible primates live on the park’s slopes.
Chimpanzee Habituation: In the Tongo woodland of Virunga, a Frankfurt Zoologist introduced chimpanzees in 1987. Over fifty chimpanzees were trained for tourism activities after two years. Unfortunately, poachers and rebels caused insecurity that hindered this activity until 2014, when a local community team with training resumed it.
Chimpanzee tracking permits are $100 per person for each trek, which is somewhat less expensive than other locations.
The event gets underway at roughly six in the morning.
One chimpanzee family is open to visits by groups of four people.
You will get an hour to see these chimps’ actions, such as den-nesting, hunting, playing, and nursing after you find them.

  • Mountain Nyiragongo Hike

Mountain Nyiragongo in Virunga National Park offers an exhilarating hiking experience. Here are the details:

Trek Overview:

The Nyiragongo volcano trek is divided into five sections, with a 15-minute break at each stop. Hikers commence the ascent at the Kibati Ranger Post at an altitude of 1,870 metres and reach the summit at 3,470 metres. The round-trip hike covers approximately 6.5 kilometres. The average climbing time is between 4 and 6 hours, with the descent taking around 4 hours.

Trail Highlights:

Section 1: Dense forest at the base of Nyiragongo. Keep an eye out for wildlife like monkeys and bushbucks.

Section 2: Open-skied trails with beautiful views of the valley below.

Section 3: Cross old lava flows and pass steaming volcanic fissures.

Section 4: Traverse high montane forests.

Section 5: A steep 300-meter ascent to the summit.

The Reward:

At the top, exhaustion melts away as Nyiragongo reveals its gift: the world’s largest lava lake. Witness the mesmerising mosaic of molten red fire. As the sun goes down, Nyiragongo begins its nightly glow against a backdrop of stars.

Essential Gear:

The temperature at the summit can drop below freezing, so bring adequate rain and cold weather gear. Pack extra pairs of dry, clean socks, gloves, and headwear. Trekkers are responsible for their equipment, food, and water (at least 3 litres).

Porters and Rentals:

Local porters are available for hire at the start of the trek at Kibati Ranger Post. If needed, you can rent hiking equipment or hire a cook from the park at an extra cost. Conquer Nyiragongo’s slopes and witness the world’s fiery heart at its summit

 

  • Nature walks in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) offers captivating nature walks that allow you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the wilderness. Here are some highlights:

Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Centre:

Located in Rumangabo, next to the Park Headquarters, this centre is home to four rescued gorillas: Matabishi, Maisha, Ndakasi, and Ndeze. These gorillas were saved from poachers who hunted them within the dense forest for export and wild game meat. Visitors can observe these gorillas as they relax, play, and interact peacefully under the protection of park rangers.

Chimpanzee Tracking at Tongo Forest:

Explore the dense forest of Tongo, where habituated chimpanzees reside. Witness these intelligent primates as they go about their daily activities, including foraging and social interactions.

Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Centre:

Named after the dominant silverback Senkwekwe, who was tragically killed in 2007 during conflicts with rebels. The centre provides vital care to orphaned gorillas, including medication, feeding, and safety. It’s the only place in the world dedicated to caring for gorillas.

Nature Walks and Relaxation:

Nature walks allow you to escape the usual noise and chaos, connecting with the natural environment. Sight remarkable mammal, bird, and tree species as you explore the park’s diverse habitats. Virunga National Park’s nature walks offer a peaceful retreat and a chance to appreciate the wonders of the wild.

  • Birding in Virunga National Park

Bird watching in Virunga National Park is a captivating experience for both seasoned birders and novices. This remarkable park, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), boasts over 290 bird species protected within the Virunga Region. Here’s what you need to know:

Albertine Rift Endemics: Virunga is home to 17 of the 25 Albertine Rift endemic bird species. Keep an eye out for the scarlet-tufted sunbirds, Grauer’s swamp warblers, and other unique species.

Best Time for Bird Watching:

Birding can be enjoyed throughout the year, but the dry season (from June to August) is ideal. During this time, mist is less frequent, making bird spotting easier.

Bird Species Highlights Rwenzori Turaco: A striking bird with vibrant plumage, Francolinus nobilis (Noble Francolin): Often seen in grassy areas, Grey-throated Barbet: Recognizable by its grey throat and green body, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird: Spotted in the forest understory, White-throated Bee-eater: Found near water sources, Mountain Masked Apalis: Inhabits bamboo thickets and mossy forests, Regal Sunbird: Hovers around flowering plants.

Combine Experiences:

Pair bird watching with other activities like mountain gorilla trekking or golden monkey tracking. Explore the avian wonders of Virunga National Park. The best time to visit Virunga National Park depends on the activities you plan to undertake and your preferences. Here are some considerations:

Mountain Gorilla Trekking and Mount Nyiragongo Hike: The dry seasons are ideal for these activities. They occur from June to September and December to February. During these months, the rains are reduced, and the forests are clearer, allowing for better photography and views. December is the busiest month, so book gorilla trekking permits in advance.

Rainy Season (Low Season): From early March to late May and October to November, the park experiences more rain. While trails may be muddy and slippery, this is the low season when gorilla permits are usually discounted. Lodges also reduce room prices during this time.

Weather Variability: Virunga’s weather is unpredictable due to its location within a tropical rainforest.

Be prepared for sudden changes, even during the dry season.

Bird Watching: The rainy season is the best time for birdwatching (March to May and October to November). Breeding season peaks and migratory bird species are abundant.

Where can I find accommodation in Virunga National Park?

Virunga National Park offers a selection of unique camps and lodges to visitors. Here are some options for accommodation around the park:

Virunga Lodge: Located in Rwanda, this premier luxury gorilla lodge provides stunning views of the Virunga Volcanoes and the Musanze Valley. Each of the ten luxurious bandas has a private terrace with panoramic vistas. Ideal for luxury travellers tracking the endangered mountain gorillas

How do I access Virunga National Park?

Accessing Virunga National Park is relatively straightforward. Here are the steps to get there:

Arrive in Rwanda: Fly into Kigali International Airport in Rwanda. Many international airlines operate flights to Kigali. Aim for a flight that lands in Rwanda no later than 8 am to allow time for the next steps.

Drive to the Border: From Kigali, embark on a 4 to 5-hour drive to reach the recommended border crossing point. The recommended border for tourists visiting Virunga is the Gisenyi-Goma border, also known as the Grande Barrier. This border is just 15 kilometres away from the park.

Check-in with the Tourism Office: Upon arrival at the border, check in with the tourism office at the Grande Barrier border building. This is the first step when you cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Security Convoy: All visitors to the park are escorted by a security convoy from Goma throughout the park until they return to Goma. Whether you’re travelling by private or group transportation, this is the process when you enter the DRC.

Alternative Route from Uganda: Tourists can also access Virunga National Park via southwestern Uganda at the Bunagana border post. The southern part of the park can be accessed through Uganda, and a one-hour drive will take you to gorilla tracking areas like Jomba and Bikenge gorilla families.

Remember to have all the necessary documents to enter the DRC, and enjoy your Virunga adventure