Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo was first gazetted as a national park in 1925 as Albert National Park. In 1969, it was later renamed Virunga National Park following the country’s gain to independence from Belgian. It happens to be the most selling among all National Parks in Congo.

Virunga is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This national park is the oldest and most biologically diverse protected area on the African Continent.

This National Park is found in the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo and it is situated in the Albertine Rift Valley. The national park is also known as Parc National des Virunga in French.

Virunga Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is elevated at an altitude of 680 meters in the Semiliki River valley to 5,109 meters in the Rwenzori Mountains. The national park extends to Uganda and Rwanda covering an area of 8,090 km².

In 1926, a Belgian zoologist called Jean-Marie Eugène Derscheid headed the first Belgian mission to map the national part, encompassing the areas of Mount Karisimbi and Mount Mikeno.

It was in the late 1950s, that Tutsi herders encroached Virunga National Park with their cattle, destroying the natural habitat to an altitude of 3,000 meters which put a threat on the livelihood of the park’s gorillas.

Virunga Park in DRC has two volcanic mountains within the park’s enclosures and these are; Mount Nyiragongo, which is an active stratovolcano and Mount Nyamuragira, which is an active shield volcano.

Virunga National Park is located in the Congo- Nile river basin with the park’s central part encompassing two-thirds of Lake Edward and extends to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. The southern sector has Lake Kivu and mountains Nyiragongo, Mikeno and Nyamuragira; and borders Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The northern part of the national park has savanna and montane forests and neighbors Semiliki and Rwenzori Mountain National Parks.

Virunga National Park is home to more than 3,000 flora and fauna species, with more than 300 only found in the Albertine Rift Valley inclusive of the eastern lowland gorillas and golden monkeys.

Virunga Park is home to 196 mammal species, 706 species of birds, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species and 22 primate species; all of which have increased over the recent years due to ongoing conservation campaigns by various environmentalists and organizations.

Primate Species Found in Virunga Park in DRC

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a wide variety of primate species like; mountain gorillas, common chimpanzees, red-tailed monkeys, Dent’s Mona monkeys, blue monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkey, De Brazza’s monkey, Central African red colobus monkey, Olive baboon, grey-cheeked mangabey and the mantled guereza.

The national park is home to a third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas and has the renowned Senkwekwe Center, which is the only facility in the world that looks after orphaned mountain gorillas. This rehabilitation center is situated at the park’s headquarters in Rumangabo. 

According to the 2018 census that was carried out in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi territory, it has been recorded that there is an estimated number of 1000 mountain gorillas in the region.

Wildlife Species in Virunga, Congo

Virunga National Park in DRC is home to a large number of wildlife which include; hippos, the African Bush Elephant, African buffaloes, Okapi, waterbucks, topi, common warthogs, Uganda Kob, bay duiker, red river hog, bongo, harnessed bushbuck, African Leopard, giant pangolin, yellow-backed duiker and blue duiker to mention but a few.

Bird Species found in Virunga National Park

Virunga in Congo is a birding haven. The national park is home to 706 bird species which include; grey-chested illadopsis, olive sunbird, bronze sunbird Klaas’s cuckoo, mountain yellow warbler, brown woodland warbler, green sandpiper, amongst others. This makes Virunga National Park a haven for those who want to do bird watching activities in the national park.

Communities Living within the National Park

Virunga National Park has four distinct ethnic groups of people living within the park’s boundaries and these include; the Hutu, Tutsi, Mbuti and the Batwa people. The park’s management partners with organizations around the world to work closely with communities living within and around the park; to provide resources needed to sustain the livelihoods of the people living in these communities.

Activities in Virunga

  • Mountain Gorilla Trekking: Virunga National Park shelters a third of the population of mountain gorillas in the world. The national park has 8 habituated gorilla groups available for tourists to track, with the Kabirizi gorilla family being the largest and most sought after group by gorilla trekkers. This gorilla group can be found in the Bukima sector and has a total of 34 individuals. Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park in the DRC can be tracked at a fee of 400 USD; with trekking, activities starting at Bukima Patrol Post. Tracking can last a period of 3- 8 hours with an hour of direct contact with the gorillas. Other gorilla families that can be tracked by tourists in Virunga National Park include; Bageni, Humba, Mapuwa, Lulengo, Munyaga, Nyakamwe and Rugendo. The best time to go gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is during the dry seasons which are between June to August and December to February. Don’t forget to pack a good pair of hiking boots when heading out to go track mountain gorillas.
  • Hiking to Mount Nyiragongo: Mountain Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano found within Virunga National Park and tourists can embark on hiking expeditions to the lava lake in the mountain. Hiking begins at the head trail at Kibati Patrol post which is a 30 min drive from Goma city and an hour from Mikeno lodge. Hiking expeditions start at 9 am and last between 1- 6 hours.
  • Chimpanzee Habituation: Tourists visiting Virunga National Park in Congo can certainly enjoy spending quality time with the Tongo group of chimpanzees which have been habituated. The chimpanzees are found in the forested island of Tongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chimpanzee Habituation permits are 100 USD in Congo.
  • Hike to Mountain Rwenzori: From the Congo side, tourists in Virunga National Park can embark on a hiking expedition on Mountain Rwenzori, which sits on the borders of Uganda and the DRC. Hiking expeditions on Mount Rwenzori from the Congo side take between 4- 6 days and is best done during March, June, and August.

Other activities carried out in Virunga National Park include; guided nature walks, landscape viewing and bird watching.

Accommodation in Virunga National Park in DRC.

For any tourist looking for accommodation in Virunga Park, here are some options to choose from; 

  • Mikeno Lodge: The lodge is a luxury accommodation facility located in Rumangabo; just a 90-minute journey from Goma town. The lodge has 12 individual bungalows, each accommodating a maximum of 2 people. The rooms in Mikeno Lodge are spacious with a private deck, en- suite bathrooms, a fire place, and a lounge area. The lodge offers its guests services like; buffet meals at its restaurant, free ample parking, spa treatments, Wi-Fi internet and a swimming pool among others.
  • Bukima Tented Camp: Bukima Tented Camp is situated on the boundary of Virunga National Park and was originally used by researchers only but now opens its doors to all those visiting the national park. This tented camp has 6 tents facilities with views of Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Mikeno.
  • Other accommodation facilities near and within Virunga include; Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Tchegera Island Tented Camp, Kibumba Tented Camp, Lulimbi Tented Camp to mention but a few.
Gorilla Family in Virunga
Gorilla Family in Virunga

How to get to Virunga in DRC.

Virunga Park is located in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park can be accessed by road and air. Tourists can travel from Kigali City in Rwanda by boarding a domestic flight from Kigali International Airport to Gisenyi Airport then board/ hire a car from Gisenyi to Goma in DRC. There are also direct domestic flights from Kigali International Airport to the airport in Goma.

Alternatively, one can take a taxi from Kigali to the ‘Grande Barrier’ in Gisenyi crossing to Goma which is a 3-hour journey. Hiring a taxi will cost you 100 USD for a one-way trip from Kigali in Rwanda to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Do get in touch with one of our trusted tour operators in case you want to purchase a tour package for any activity in Virunga National Park.

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