The Virunga National Park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and was formerly named Albert National Park. Parc National des Virunga (in French), stretches from the Rwenzori Mountains in the North, to the Virunga Mountains in the South, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Park covers 7,800-square-kilometre (3,000 sq mi) which includes forests, Savannah, lava plains, erosion valleys, swamps, active volcanoes with the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains. It was mainly founded to safe guard endangered Mountain Gorillas that were constantly poached and killed during the Congo civil War.
Virunga National Park is a sensational place to visit as it harbors a number of other animals like chimpanzees, hippopotami, bird species, forest and Savannah elephants and lions. The park is now secured and also known for its two amazing active volcanoes of Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt.Nyamuragira located in the massifs of the Rwenzori and Virungas mountains.
A number of activities are done in Virunga National Park which includes birding, nature walks, both Gorilla and Chimpanzee trekking, Mt.Nyiragongo hiking and hiking to Senkwekwe orphanage. While preparing for gorilla and chimpanzee trekking and to go for hiking, trekkers are usually advised to carry with them some crucial requirements like cold weather gears, raincoats since rain often showers during the rainy season.
Gorilla Trekking in Congo
Gorilla Trekking is a significant practice done and a life changing experience in the Virunga National Park and is worth due to the existence of the primates in that are delightful to relate with. Tourism is beginning to recover within the Virunga National park after nearly two decades of conflict.
Virunga National Park managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, Institute Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Africa Conservation Fund now is a home to about 200 gorillas in the southern areas. There was a reported decline in numbers about seven years ago, due to brutal attacks in which at least 10 gorillas were killed. Today, the gorilla population has improved and is more stable due to the efforts of rangers risking their lives in Virunga National Park.
Gorillas are sub divided into family groups with different attributes with silver backs that act as leaders. The silverback’s powerful presence, his calmness, the care that mothers show their young and the playful juveniles is overwhelming. Mountain gorillas are good natured and fascinating to watch. Trekking begins at Bukima Patrol post and usually takes about 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction with a park rangers depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night. Visitors are always required to wear surgical masks when in the presence of gorillas so as to safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas. It’s always advisable to cancel if only one has a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat since mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses especially human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.
For one to trek Gorillas at Virunga National park, they must have a gorilla permit that costs USD 465 to enjoy a safari holiday with Africa Adventure Safaris’ guide since they insure you are safe throughout your tour. The cost of a Mountain gorilla trekking permit per day includes; Adult (international) at $400and the Congolese residents at $150.
Chimpanzees habituation in Virunga National Park started in February 2014 when Congolese team trained by Frankfurt Zoological Society started living in the forests around park headquarters in Rumangabo.
Guests interested in trackers leave their camp as early as 4:30am to set for where the chimpanzees spent the previous night. Groups are limited to only 4 people and time with the chimpanzees is restricted to one hour. Chimpanzee habituation had come to a standstill due to the civil unrest1992-2001 and this had put the whole chimpanzee tourism to an end. Despite this prolonged period of conflict, Virunga National Park rangers consistently protected and monitored Tongo’s chimpanzees.
Visitors are always advised to cancel if they don’t feel well at the time of their planned walk i.e. if they have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat because just like gorillas, chimpanzees are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Most chimpanzees have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments. Chimpanzee habituation walk permit are at a cost of $100 for adult international visitors and : Adult Congolese pay $25
Mount Nyiragongo Hiking
Mt. Nyiragongo is a beautiful volcano covered with vegetation and sometimes is dusted with snow that features the world’s largest lava lake. It is a home to a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and bushbuck. Nyiragongo is greatly feared during eruptions because of the low silica content of its lava that flows extremely fluid. In 2002 Mt. Nyiragongo erupted and lava flows were clocked at 100 km/hr (62 mph) and reached all the way to Lake Kivu.
Trekkers to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano always begin at the Kibati patrol post, 30 minutes by car from Goma and one hour from Rumangabo. Normally the park rangers lead all treks and porters are always available for hire. The fitness of each group determines on the average time required to reach the summit usually takes 4 – 6 hours. Climb begins at 1989m (6,525 ft) and ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) in a short time.
People interested in trekking are always advised have proper hydration and should speak to their physicians about taking preventative measures before making the climb in case they are prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
Climbs always begin at 10:00 am with a ranger station. Check in at the Kibati station by no later than 9:15 am on the day of their climb. Trekkers are strongly advised to bring full rain and cold weather gear as the temperatures at the summit are usually below freezing. Failure to bring proper gear leads to hypothermia. Congolese Adults pay $90, international Child pays $175 and a Congolese Child pays $25 to hike.
Nature Walks in Virunga
Nature walking usually entails transferring from one destination to another for purposes of appeasing the mind, taking time to trail through various paths to spot different forms of nature like birds and relaxing from the noise of civilization and stress.
Walks in Virunga National Park are done to various areas like the Gorilla Orphanage center at Senkwekwe situated in Rumanagabo near the park headquarters where they will experience four gorillas that were saved from being trafficked by the poachers who hunt them in the thick forest vegetation for exportation and trade and also take part in tracking the chimpanzees at the thick forest of Tongo.
Birding in Virunga Park
Watching different species of birds using either your ears or eyes, telescopes, binoculars in their natural habitat is a way of relaxation and taking time. The sounds and noise from the tremendous bird species usually rise you up very early in the morning at around 5:00 am they sing with in the trees. You are compelled to get out of bed as these sounds extra ordinary and persuasive. This makes your experience Virunga National Park exceptional and rare to find anywhere else. In Virunga National park there a number of different bird species that inhabit the thick forest vegetation namely the Grey-throated Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, Narrow-tailed Starling