Situated in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Virunga National Park is Africa’s most diverse protected area. Its home to the endangered mountain gorillas, a number of birds and many other mammal species.
The park is a UNESCO world heritage site covering a land area of 7800 square kilometers. This beautiful national park is part of the Virunga massif and has some of the major outstanding volcanoes. It is also the oldest national park in Africa having been established in 1925 to protect mountain gorillas.
Wildlife in Virunga National Park
This beautiful national park is considered Africa’s most diverse national park all thanks to the wildlife it has. Its a home to the endangered mountain gorillas with over 10 habituated gorilla families open for tourism. From mountain gorillas, there are golden monkeys, chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and many other monkey species seen while primate tracking here.
The park is a bird haven with many bird species including Central African forests natives and endemics. Birds endemic to the Rwenzori area and the Albertine region like the Rwenzori Turaco also live here. Birding excursions in Virunga are very rewarding as you get to see many species.
There are a savanna part of the park near lake Edward that has Africa’s giants including Elephants, hippos and many others. Other notable savanna wildlife species in Virunga include buffaloes, topis, kobs, that can be seen while on game drives to the park.
The forested mountains the park has introduces you to other wildlife species including forest elephants, giant forest hogs and others. The major mountains in the park can be hiked especially the Volcanic active Mount Nyiragongo.
Attractions in Virunga National Park
Mount Nyiragongo is an active strato-volcano and has the largest Lava Lake on the entire planet. Adventurous tourists take a 5 to 6 hours hike to the summit of mount Nyiragongo to see the boiling lava.
The mountain has other wildlife attractions that can be encountered while on the hike. These include the three horned chameleon, monkeys, chimpanzees and a number of birds.
The Mountain Hike is divided into Five sections with stop overs for 15 minutes for a rest or break. Mount Nyiragongo can be hiked anytime of the year though great hiking is enjoyed in the dry season. This is because little or no rainfall makes it easy to hike the mountain.
Virunga National park is one wildlife destination where you see the rare mountain gorillas in the wild. With one third of the mountain gorilla population in the Virunga massif, it’s one of the less explored gorilla destinations.
There are over 10 habituated gorilla families in the different sectors of Virunga National park open for tourists. If you are looking for exclusive mountain gorilla tracking experiences then this is the place to be.
Tchegera Island has a beautiful crescent shape that is top of crater rim of an extinct volcano. The island offers great views of the Virunga Volcanoes including the active volcanoes of Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo. Mount Mikeno and Karisimbi can also be clearly seen from Tchegera Island. While at the Island, you can go Kayaking, snorkeling or have a nature walk and some birding.
Virunga national park can be accessed through Rwanda by flying into Kigali International Airport. From there you connect to the park via Grand Barriere Border in Gisenyi in a 4 to 4.5 hours driver to the border.
In-case you are in Uganda, you can pass via the Bunagana border in Kisoro district and directly head to the Park. It has over time had various security issues therefore when visiting ensure your safety or use a trusted local operator.
Accommodation in Virunga National Park
Accommodation is a great part of any safari and Virunga national park as a number of safari lodges where you can stay. Mikeno Lodge and Kibumba Tented camp are the main two lodges in Virunga National park and the most convenient places to stay when visiting Virunga.
Outside the park you can stay in Goma town that has many hotel options from budget to Luxury Hotels. Notable hotels include Ihusi Hotel, Kivu Lodge, Goma Serena Hotel among others. You can also stay at Tchegera Tented camp on Tchegera Island that offers a very adventurous stay.
These accommodation options outside Virunga national park are best to stay at prior to or after the visit to the park. This is because the park has standard itinerary packages with scheduled departures and accommodation meant to ensure safety of tourists. With these itineraries if you are visiting the park especially for gorilla tracking you spend at least two nights in the parks’ accommodation facilities.