Virunga National Park was created in 1925, thus being the oldest national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is in the Albertine Rift Valley in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo. It has an altitude ranging from 680 meters (2,230 feet) in the Semliki River valley to 5,109 meters (16,762 feet) in the Rwenzori Mountains. From north to south, the Park extends about 300 kilometers (190 miles), largely along the international borders with Uganda and Rwanda in the east. It covers an area of 8,090 square kilometers (3,120 sq miles) and is listed in the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1994 due to political conflict and poaching.
Virunga National Park can be accessed through an overland via Uganda, cross the border in Bunagana, from where the Mountain gorilla sites Jomba and Bikenge are easily accessible within 1 hour. The border crossing is easy, and a local visa can be bought at the border for only US$ 50, however this visa is not a fully recognized visa and can only be used to visit the park and subsequently leaving the country at the Bunagana border post again. It can also be accessed through an overland via Rwanda, cross the border at Gisenyi/Goma, the border crossing is easy if you prearranged a visa, if not it will be difficult or expensive (US$ 280 if bought at the border). Guests can also fly directly into Goma, from within the Democratic Republic of Congo many flights connect to Goma, from outside the DRC Entebbe is the only city connected by TMK. Once again make sure you have a prearranged visa. Your tour company can organize a 2-week tourist visa. The visa process takes 1-2 weeks, so apply in advance.
The park inhabits a number of attractive things such as wildlife, various bird species, unique plants and many more. Virunga National Park’s flora encompasses 2,077 plant species including 264 tree species and 230 plants that are endemic to the Albertine Rift, well as the park’s faunal species include 196 mammals, 706 bird species, 109 reptiles and 65 amphibians as of 2012.
Some of the present animal species in the park include; Hippos, elephants, African buffaloes, duikers, okapis, water chevrotains, red river hogs, bush bucks, water bucks, top’s, common warthogs, and Uganda Kob, among others. Primates available in Virunga include mountain gorillas, common chimpanzees, golden monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, Dent’s mona monkeys, blue monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkeys, De Brazza’s monkeys, Central African red Colobus, mantled guereza, olive baboon and grey-cheeked mangabey.
The Semliki River provides habitat for Nile crocodile and many of them were observed at the northern shore of Lake Edward in 1988 for the first time. Other wildlife species which can be spotted in the park also include Lions, Leopards, pangolins, marsh mongoose, and many bird species such as Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, Archer’s ground robin, red-throated alethe, Kivu ground thrush, collared apalis, mountain masked apalis, dusky crimson-wing, Shelley’s crimson-wing, red-faced woodland warbler, stripe-breasted tit, blue-headed sun bird, regal sun bird, Rwenzori double-collared sun bird, handsome francolin and strange weaver, among others.
The park is however most popular for protecting the rare endangered mountain gorillas which can only be found in three countries all over the whole world, (Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda). Gorilla trekking is the most popular activity carried out in this park and it is one of the best activities which have led to the development of Congo because the park receives a high number of tourists which go there to track these rare endangered primates. Most interesting is that out of all the three countries where the tracking activity of these mountain gorillas can only be done Congo is the cheapest destination for the activity.
The gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda was raised to US$ 1500 per Rwandan gorilla permit and many gorilla lovers remained worried especially the low earners who would also wish to get this lifetime experience of trekking the mountain gorillas. The good news is that you will get the same lifetime experience in Congo’s gorilla safaris and at an affordable and reduced price which is unbeatable to all other gorilla trekking countries.
A Congo gorilla permit costs US$ 400 which is a cheaper price to that of Rwanda and still to that of Uganda which also costs US$ 200 more than that of Congo. Your permit will be booked for you before your arrival in Congo a good local tour company that you will have chosen to use such as Eco Tours Congo or Congo Parks.
Besides gorilla trekking, the park is also a home to two active volcanoes; Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. Nyamuragira has been described as Africa’s most active volcano and has erupted over 40 times since 1885. As well as eruptions from the summit, there have been numerous eruptions from the flanks of the volcano, creating new smaller volcanoes that have lasted only for a short time (e.g. Murara from late 1976 to 1977).
A hike to Nyiragongo volcano is one of the most enjoyable things you will ever get when you visit Congo (Virunga national park) due to the volcano’s magnificent scenery that it will offer to you, especially at its summits. Nyiragongo contains a wide crater at its summit, with a width of 2 kilometers, which boasts a spectacular bubbling lava lake that hikers will get surprised and amazed at seeing it.
Mount Nyiragongo has a good shelter at the summit where hikers will stay, which is called Mount Nyiragongo summit shelters. Some of the accommodations for guests to live in while in Virunga national park include; Mikeno lodge, Lulimbi tented camp, Bukima tented camp, Kibumba tented camp, and Tchegera island camp, among others.