Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Top Tour Experiences

Democratic Republic of Congo has diverse wildlife species and offers by far some of the most outstanding tour experiences. The country is now part of the East African community adding to the great tourism diversity the region has. In the Congo you will find endemics that occur only there and can not be found in any other place.

The country is among the less traveled destinations and a lot of it is still untouched. This gives one an opportunity to enjoy exclusive tour experiences that range from primate treks to the rich culture and heritage experiences. Let us look at some of the highly rated tour experiences that you must be apart of when exploring the Congo.

Golden Monkey in Virunga National Park. Wildlife Tour Experiences
Golden Monkey in Virunga National Park. Photo by Steve Woods

Democratic Republic of Congo is among the 3 countries with mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas are primates with over 95% DNA similar to humans. This makes them among man’s closest wild relatives and mountain gorilla trekking tours are now among the highly demanded and sought after tour experiences in East Africa.

Mountain gorillas in Congo live in Virunga national park Africa’s oldest national park. The park is part of the great Virunga massif that is a chain of Volcanic mountains shared among the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorillas just like their name prefer to live in the forested mountains. They mainly feed on plant vegetation and bamboo shoots.

They live in families of up to 20 individuals or more that are led by a dominant male gorilla called Silverback. There are ten habituated mountain gorilla families that are open to tourism visitation. For now the park is currently closed due to insecurity issues but it offers incredible mountain gorilla tracking tour experiences. Unlike the other three gorilla parks, Virunga national park receives few tourists making it an ideal gorilla trekking destination especially for those who seek exclusive tour experiences.

Mount Nyiragongo is among world’s most active Volcanic mountains with its last eruption having happened in May 2021. The eruption was very destructive displacing over 364,000 people. Before the eruption mount Nyiragongo had gained momentum ranking among the leading adventurous tour activities in Virunga national park.

The mountain has a lava lake on it’s summit that is best seen early morning or in the evening. Hikers of this mountain would spend a night on the mountain summit to be able to catch a glimpse on the hot lava lake on the mountain. Much as hiking was temporarily halted, once open again the Nyiragongo will still offer by far the top mountain hiking tour experiences in the region.

It is over a year since the last eruption happened and so far no serious seismic action has been reported. We anticipate that by the end of next year maybe the mountain and park will be open again to tourism.

Democratic Republic of Congo is also home to the eastern lowland gorillas. Eastern lowland gorillas live in Kahuzi Beiga national park situated in Eastern Congo. These are endemic to the forested mountains of Kahuzi and Beiga and it is the only place to see them in the wild. Kahuzi Biega national park can be accessed via Rwanda to Bukavu on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Eastern lowland gorillas just like mountain gorillas live in families led by a dominant male gorillas. They are also vegetarian but are bigger in size compared to the mountain gorillas. Congo is therefore the only destination in the planet where you can enjoy two gorilla species tour experiences. Just like many other wildlife destinations in Congo, Kahuzi biega national offers exclusive tour experiences. There are few tourists to the park enabling one to enjoy the lowland gorilla trek without any disturbances.

For many other primates and savanna big five mammal experiences destination east Africa got you covered. You can visit Democratic Republic of Congo for the less disturbed and exclusive primate experiences. Kenya and Tanzania have the big five where you can enjoy classic savanna game drives. Uganda and Rwanda offer both the primates and savanna wildlife experiences.

Birding tour experiences

There are a number of bird species in Democratic Republic of Congo including endemics of the Albertine rift and the Congo forests. This makes the country among the ultimate birding safari destinations. Birding in the country is done in the major protected areas including Virunga national park. There are over 706 bird species recorded in the park. Some of the birds here include Yellow-Billed Barnet, Rwenzori Turaco, Narrow-tailed starling among others.

There are trails in the park that you can take on a birding expedition with chances of seeing other primates especially monkeys.

Other national treks in Congo also include golden monkey trekking in Virunga national park. The country much as it has gone through a number of insecurity issues it is still the best less disturbed wildlife destinations in East Africa. Tour experiences here can be enjoyed any time of the year. You can directly fly to Goma international airport if interested in Visiting Virunga national park. Alternatively you can fly into Kigali international airport and then connect to Virunga or Kahuzi Biega by road.

If interested in having a combined tour with Virunga and Kahuzi Biega you can connect to the two parks by Ferry along Lake Kivu.

French is widely spoken along with a number of Congolese native languages. English is also spoken but by few especially in towns. For easy communication and getting around it is advisable to get a local guide. The country can be visited any time of the year but the months of April, May and November have a lot of rainfall and double as a low tourist season. With the rainfall disturbances, some roads become impassable and tracking trails become hard to hike. This does not mean that you can not visit the country during these months. For birders it time when migratory birds set in.

There are many descent accommodation options in the major towns and near the parks that one can choose from. To avoid any inconveniences it is better to book lodging option within the proximity of the area you are visiting.

The Wildebeest Migration Adventure

The great wildebeest migration is an annual animal migration between Serengeti and Masai mara ecosystems in Kenya and Tanzania. It features vast numbers of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and other antelope species moving over the plains of Serengeti and Masai mara for fresh pasture. This natural phenomenon happens month per month gradually transitioning into the other as the grazers move facing deadly predators especially the big cats.

Wildebeest Migration Visit East Africa. 3 Days Masai Mara
Wildebeest Migration Maasai Mara. Photo by Thomas Vijayan

The Wildebeest Migration Annual Road Map

In January at the beginning of the year the migration is often in Southern Serengeti. Here they evenly spread throughout the Ndutu conservation area and part of the Ngorongoro Crater. They would have returned from Kenya’s Masai Mara around mid October spreading through out Northern Serengeti.

The wildebeest stay in southern Serengeti throughout the months of February and March that also double as a calving period. The young ones are a great addition to the wildebeest population that eagerly await to take on their journey up north once again. The calves are however targeted by the predators like lions, leopards, cheetahs that often hide in the lush grasses ready to take down their prey.

In April and May, the wildebeest steadily start moving towards northern Serengeti as the wet season ends. This ushers in the dry season in June as the animals spread further west. Here they encounter River Grumeti their first major obstacle on their journey. The high water levels from the rains in the wet season discourage the wildebeest from quickly crossing over. The River banks are also graced with some of the deadliest Nile crocodiles that the wildebeest have to look out for.

In July and August at the peak of the dry season quite a number of them would have crossed Grumeti River. They move further north towards Masai Mara crossing the Mara River that has a number of predator crocodiles that take advantage of the wildebeest numbers. The Nile crocodiles feast big time on the herbivores that also fight hard to continue on course northwards. The wildebeest move over the Masai Mara Ecosystem till around mid October when they start crossing back to Serengeti.

The Migration cycle then starts allover again a journey that wildlife enthusiasts often want to be part of.

The Big cats

Serengeti and Masai are among the few places in East Africa with highest concentrations of big cats. These have large prides of lions whose survival is directly linked to the wildebeest and the many herbivores that they prey on. The wildebeest migration is among the few places where you can catch live action hunting in the wild.

Apart from the lions, the wilds’ most stealth predators the leopards are also many in Serengeti and Mara ecosystem. These also take advantage of even the calving period to hunt prey for their survival. Cheetahs are also present here and use their speed advantage to race out herbivores. The big cats are often accompanied by hyenas that like to steal some of the already hunted prey.

Hyenas are also deadly predators that are evenly distributed in the region. These attack in groups to easily maximize their chances of a kill.

The wildebeest Migration Experience

The best way to enjoy the wildebeest migration is on a day game drives in the parks and the respective conservancies. Luckily the migration can be easily predicated month per month which enables travelers to plan accordingly on where to visit at a particular time. Early morning game drives are highly recommended for those who would like to catch up with the early risers.

Evening game drives are ideal for you to see the wild animals retire from a busy hunting and grazing day. You are also able to catch up with the African sunset while on evening game drives. The nocturnal wildlife then start heading out as they are most active at night including the big cats.


Hot air ballon safaris are also highly recommended as they offer a panoramic view of the wildlife. It is always refreshing to observe wildlife from an elevated point of view and in the masai mara and Serengeti it is even more spectacular. The best time for ballon safaris are early mornings and late evenings. For the early morning expeditions, you can have bush breakfast that is prepared and served in the wilderness offering you uninterrupted views of the game.

Accommodation

There are a number of accommodation facilities that are strategically located within and at the outskirts of the parks. Staying at one of these beautiful Wild places ahead of your wildebeest safari expedition is very ideal. You can start your game drives right from your lodge or tented camp and occasionally have wildlife visitors like lions and other big five mammals including elephants.

It is very important to book the appropriate accommodation depending on the wildebeest migration movements. There are temporary safari camps that move with the migration throughout the year. Before you book your tour it is better to be certain where the wildebeest are for you to book the most convenient accommodation option.

The dry season from June to September doubles as the peak tourist season a time when accommodation facilities get fully booked. Incase you plan to travel during this Time it is highly recommended for you to book your accommodation in advance. October is a transition month from the dry to wet season but still busy and features River crossings of the wildebeest from Masai Mara to Serengeti. You would still need to book your accommodation in advance a year or couple months before to avoid missing out.

During the wet season mainly in November, March, April and May, there are high chances of rainfall which makes some game drive trails impassable. This however does not prevent one from enjoying the migration especially with the calving period. A number of lodges also offer discounted rates during this time of the year and could ideal to travel if you want to save some money.

Birding

For birders, the wet season is the best time to visit as the migratory birds set in coming from as far as Europe. General wildlife viewing is also great including the big cats that are spotted hiding in the lush vegetation.

Now that we are in the middle of the peak tourist season, you can plan your safari now and visit towards the end of year or book for the next season come 2023. Visit East Africa for these and much more wildlife adventures.

East African Birding Destinations to Visit this June

The East African region stands out in the many birding destinations world wide. The region has over 1500 recorded bird species including endemics that can not be found In any other places. East Africa’s diverse wildlife also Makes birding journeys in the region more memorable as you get to see a number of wildlife species including the big five mammals. As we kick start the peak tourist season, lets look at some of the birding destinations you should not miss visiting this June.

Shoebill Stork at Mabamba Swamp. Birding destinations
Shoebill Stork at Mabamba Swamp Uganda. Photo by Newman Dixon

Mabamba Swamp Uganda

Covering an area of 2424 hectares, Mabamba swamp is among Uganda’s best birding destinations. Its situated on the Northern shores of lake Victoria and comprises of marshes of papyrus, water Lillies among other swamp vegetation species. The swamp is home to over 300 bird species including the rare shoebill stork. Other notable birds here include the grey crowned cranes, Hammerkops, Egrets, African Jacana, Palm-nut Vulture, swamp flycatcher among others.

The beauty about birding in Mabamba is its done by motorized canoe riding through a maze of the thick swamp vegetation an adventurous activity in itself. Birders here are often interested in finding the shoebill stork as the wetland is the best place to see the shoebill stork in Uganda. The best time of birding is very early morning as the shoebill prefer hunting its favorite meal (Lung fish) around that time. Evenings are also great times for birding as you get to also enjoy the African sunset.

While in Uganda ensure to visit Mabamba for your ultimate birding excursion. Birding here is doable all year round. Incase you want general birding safaris in Uganda the best time to Visit is from November to April when migratory birds set in giving one a wide range of opportunities to watch.

Akagera national park is Rwanda’s only Savanna national park and an important birding Area in the country after Nyungwe forest. There are over 480 recorded bird species here with 100 endemics and can therefore not be found in any other national park. The parks diverse ecosystems of wetland, grasslands and woodlands gives it an advantage making it an excellent area for a birding safari.

Notable birds to see in Akagera include the African fish eagle, Africa Jacana, shoebill stork, booted eagle, crested barbet, grey crowned cranes, western reef heron among others. Birding journeys here are very much complemented by safari game drives featuring the big five mammals. The park now has both the White and black rhinos that were reintroduced in the park after they had gone extinct.

Birding safaris in Akagera can be done throughout the year with the dry season offering opportunities to see wetland birds among others. The wet season especially in November Is a great time to see migratory birds with these spanning upto April.

This wanderlust ecosystem is not only famous for its wildebeest migrations, big cats but also a birders haven. The park is located in northern Tanzania and together with Kenya’s Masai Mara form the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Here the renown annual mass wildebeest migration takes place as wildebeest, Thompson gazelles, zebras, and many others move over the endless plains of the Serengeti.

There are over 500 bird species recorded in Serengeti alone with about 5 Endemic bird species found in no other place. Notable birds here include Fischer’s Lovebird, Kori Bustard, Secretary bird, silver bird, grey backed fiscal, among others. The best time for a birding safari adventure in Serengeti is from November to April when resident birds are nesting and in full plumage. The migratory birds also set in coming from as far as Europe and north Africa.

You can still enjoy a birding safari in the dry season when savanna game drives are very much enjoyable with less disturbances from the rains. Birding safari journeys in Serengeti are very enjoyable as you get to see more the park has to offer including East Africa’s most sought for wildlife species.

Lake Nakuru is strategically located on the floor of the great Rift Valley and is surrounded by wooded and bushy grasslands. The park covers a land area of 188 square kilometers and is among Kenya‘s Best wildlife and birding destinations. Its a soda lake previously famous for its thousands of flamingos that were driven away to other lakes by harsh climate conditions. They however still occur though in few numbers if compared to the past.

Pelicans however occur in large numbers as well other birds. Other Notable birds here include the greater blue-eared starling, Batuleur, crab-plover, grey crowned Cranes, Maccoa duck, great snipe among others. The best time for birding adventures around lake Nakuru is during the breeding season from November to April when birds are in full plumage. This is the time when migratory birds also set in giving one a variety of species to see.

The park is also home to other wildlife species including Rhinos, waterbucks, giraffes, buffaloes, zebras among others. While on a visit east Africa expedition you can check out the above featured birding destinations for your memorable wildlife expedition.

Other notable must visit birding ares include Nyungwe forest, Bwindi impenetrable national park, the Ngorongoro crater among others.

Beautiful Less Explored East African Wildlife Destinations 

There are many less explored East African Wildlife Safari destinations despite the popularity of the region. Wildlife safaris in East Africa have gained momentum over the years becoming a new normal for nature lovers.

East African Countries because of their diverse wildlife have become Africa’s leading safari destinations as seen in increasing tourist arrivals. Local tourists in East African Wildlife destinations have also increased as people seek to reconnect with nature.

Most visited national parks include Serengeti  and Masai Mara ecosystems for Wildebeest migration and the Big Five mammals.  Bwindi Impenetrable  in Uganda and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda are famous for Mountain gorillas. Ngoro Ngoro Crater in Tanzania is famous for the Big five and the beautiful scenic views.  Murchison falls National Park in Uganda is famous for the diverse wildlife species, the strongest waterfalls among others.

Many other East African wildlife destinations remain less explored yet they equally offer great wildlife one on one safari encounters. Lets look at some of these places.

Selous is Africa’s largest game reserve situated in Tanzania covering a total area of 50,000 square kilometers. The reserve has undisturbed diverse wildlife making it East Africa’s must visit destination for those seeking intimate and classic safaris.

Common animals in Selous Game Reserve include Africa’s big five that are the Elephants, Rhinos, Lions, Buffaloes and leopards. Others include Giraffes, Nile crocodiles, Hippos, wild dogs, spotted hyenas, wildebeest, Zebras and antelopes like impalas, elands, water-bucks and bush-bucks. 

Eland in Selous Game Reserve Tanzania. Tanzania Wildlife Safaris
Eland in Selous Game Reserve Tanzania. Courtesy Photo

Wildlife Activities

Game drives are most common with encounters of Africa’s Savanna wildlife.  Boat cruises are also done along rivers and channels enabling tourists to see animals like Crocodiles and Hippos.  Selous game reserve has one of the highest hippo populations in East Africa thus an ideal place to see hippos. 

Nature walks are great options for those interested in close one on one encounters with wildlife. Wildlife you see while on foot guided nature walks include elephants, buffaloes, zebras and sometimes lions. There are overnight fly-camping excursions for those interested in nocturnal wildlife and like to sleep out hearing animal roars.  These are arranged by lodges therefore ensure to book in advance.

For Birders, Selous Game reserve has over 440 recorded bird species.  Various bird species are often seen flying around the Miombo woodlands, lakes, Swamps and rivers in Selous game reserve. Commonly seen birds include Fish Eagles, Turacos, white-crowned plovers, Ibises, yellow-billed storks, horn bills, Egrets, herons and so many others.

To avoid humans and wildlife conflicts, no local human settlement is allowed in the game reserve. This has enabled wildlife conservation and its why the reserve has large populations of different wildlife species.

Best time to Visit

The best time to visit Selous game reserve is in the dry season from July to November. During the dry season its a easy to do the major wildlife activities with no or minimal rainfall disturbances. Selous game reserve can also be visited in the wet season as they are usually good times for birding.

Accommodation

There are a number of tented camps and lodges that offer great services and are always ready to compliment safaris. Many of the accommodation facilities are concentrated in the northern  part of the reserve. Some of them include; Selous Serena Camp, Sand Rivers Selous, Selous Rufiji River Camp and many others.

Depending on where you are in Tanzania, the game reserve can be accessed by road or a domestic scheduled flight.

Located in southwestern Rwanda, Nyungwe forest national park has one of Africa’s oldest rain forests.  The forested park is a home to primates like chimpanzees, Vervet monkeys, l’hoest monkeys, owl-faced monkeys, red-tailed and blue monkeys. There are over 320 bird species in the forest and most of which endemic to the Albertine rift valley.

Nyungwe park has well developed  trails that are followed while on adventures seeking to explore the parks’ hidden wildlife treasures.  The tourism potential of Nyungwe national park has not been fully explored as there is still so much uncover.  There are over 70 mammal species recorded here including the rarely seen Mongoose, Serval cats, leopard and giant forest hogs.

Activities in Nyungwe Forest

Chimpanzee tracking is the common tourist activity done in Nyungwe forest national park. There are other primate trekking in search for Colobus and L’hoest monkeys plus other primates in the Park.

Birding, guided nature walks and canopy walks are also available in the park where you get to meet rarely seen wildlife species.

There are extensive tea plantations at the edge of the park giving opportunities for one to learn about tea growing. You also get to interact with local people in the area getting to know more about their ways of life. Those interested in exclusive primates, birding and nature encounters, Nyungwe forest national park is an ideal place to visit.

Nyungwe National Park Rwanda. Land of A thousand Hills
Tropical Rain-forest in Nyungwe. Courtesy Photo

Getting There

The park can be accessed by road from Kigali in a long drive taking a 6 to 7 hours.  This gives one an opportunity to explore the Rwandan countryside and beautiful scenery of the interlocking highlands. You can fly to Kamembe airstrip and connect to the park in an hours drive to avoid the long drives.  

Accommodation

While visiting Nyungwe Forest Park you can stay at Gisakura guesthouse which is the main budget accommodation option available. Nyungwe Top View hotel and Emeraude resort are mid range and Only&Only Nyungwe House is the luxury option. All these are within the vicinity of the park and offer great services.

This national park is located in Aberdare mountain ranges in central Kenya about 160 kilometers from Nairobi Kenya’s capital city. The park is located east of the great East African rift valley.  It’s very mountainous with altitudes ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level.

Aberdare national park has various landscapes which makes it a unique East African wildlife destination. The park offers scenic views of the steep slopes, V-shaped valleys that are crossed by water streams and rivers. 

Some rivers and water streams form waterfalls in the national park the most popular waterfalls being Karuru waterfalls. Different vegetation types flourish in Aberdare national park ranging from Savanna grasslands and tropical rain-forests at the lower mountain slopes. Bamboo forests, heath and moorland vegetation flourish as you go to the higher mountain slopes.

Elephants in Aberdare Mountain National Park. East African Wildlife
Elephants in Aberdare National Park Kenya. Courtesy Photo

Wildlife & Activities

Aberdare national park is home to various wildlife commonly seen being forest elephants, buffaloes, black rhinos, lions and forest hogs. Rare animal sightings include leopards, elands, duikers, Jackals, wild-dogs, bush-bucks, African golden cats and bongos.

There are over 250 bird species recorded in the park. Common birds include Sun-birds, plovers, Sparrow hawks, Aberdare Cisticola, African yellow warblers, crowned eagles, African goshawk and African paradise flycatchers.

Primates also exist in Aberdare and some of them include Olive baboons, sykes monkeys, colobus monkeys and olive baboons. 

The wildlife here is seen while on game drives, guided nature walks, birding and mountain hiking.

This is the most isolated national park in Uganda located in the northeastern part. With a land area of 1,442 square kilometers, the park is home to over 77  mammals and 475 birds species.

The northeastern part of Uganda is semi arid but very magnificent with unique wildlife.  With this, Kidepo valley national park has often been referred to as the True African Wilderness. 

Giraffes in Kidepo Valley NP, East African Wildlife
Giraffes in Kidepo Valley NP. Photo by Jonathan Benaiah

Wildlife & Activities

Kidepo valley national park is a ideal place for rewarding game drives and an excellent East African Wildlife destination.  While here look out for Lions often seen sitting on rock outcrops within the park. 

There are buffaloes, zebras, elephants, leopards, jackals, bush pigs, giraffes, antelopes that include elands, Uganda kobs, oribis and many others.

Most of these animals live in the Narus valley that has the park’s permanent water points throughout the year. The Narus valley is thus an ideal place for game drives and birding. There are also guided nature walks in Kidepo valley to the mountain areas for those interested in mountain climbing.

Some walks are also done through the Narus valley to the neighboring Karamojong communities which offer a unique cultural experiences.  The Karamojong are some of the few African communities that have over the years stuck to their original cultural practices. 

Getting there

Given that the park is isolated, it takes an 8 to 10 hours drive to get there. This involves en route stop overs for photography and also for a lunch break. Once can also fly from Entebbe international airport or other airstrips into the park and then head to the lodge.

Accommodation

The lodges in the park offer great service and include Apoka Safari Lodge, Adere Safari Lodge and Ngamoru Safari Lodge.

Anyone seeking intimate and less crowded African safaris should include Kidepo valley national park on the bucket list.