Virunga National Park 

Virunga National Park is located in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, within the Albertine Rift Valley. It is a section of the Virunga conservation area which is made up of eight volcanic mountains shared by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. The park is well-known as a home to the endangered mountain gorillas, a regular sight among the three countries. It is surrounded by Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, both of which are home to the mountain gorillas.

Virunga National Park, established in 1925 and covering over 8,090 km2, is one of Africa’s oldest and largest national parks. The park comprises of two active volcanoes, Mountain Nyiragongo known for holding the world’s largest lava-dammed lake, and Mountain Nyamuragira. Other mountains found here are Mount. Karisimbi and Mikeno are dormant volcanoes.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Park has a diverse vegetation cover with over 2000 plant species including ambatch, common reed, thorns, papyrus and kowal fruit, dense forests, montane forest, and bamboo vegetation in high altitude areas. The Park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 due to its diverse biodiversity, and it is one of the many UNESCO sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga boasts hosting over 196 mammals which include primates like mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, blue monkeys, olive baboons, grey-cheeked mangabey, red colobus monkeys, 200 reptiles like chameleons and snakes, 70 amphibians like frogs, and over 800 bird species like the Rwenzori Turaco, Regal sunbird, dusk crimsonwing among many others which also led to the park being declared as an IBA site.

Despite the political insecurities faced by the Democratic Republic of Congo, the park has remained operational and security has been boosted with over 700 armed rangers guarding the park and visitors. It is one of the most visited parks in the country and offers the cheapest mountain gorilla trekking permits in the world at only $400 per person.

Activities in Virunga National Park

Gorilla Trekking

This activity involves visiting fully habituated gorillas in their natural habitat. Fully habituated gorillas are accustomed to human presence; therefore, they are calm when humans are close to them, however, there are some rules to follow when visiting them like not wearing brightly colored clothes. This activity starts very early in the morning with a briefing from the rangers before setting off for a hike toward the designated gorilla family.

The difficulty of a gorilla trek depends on the location of a gorilla family as some live very high in the mountains. Once you find the family, you get to spend about an hour with them before descending.

Gorilla trekking approximately takes 6 hours or more depending on the speed of trekkers, only 8 members are allowed to visit one gorilla group and Virunga currently has only 8 fully habituated gorilla groups. The trekkers are accompanied by more than 2 armed rangers to protect and guide them.

Virunga Gorilla trekking permits cost only $400, but be sure to be well-prepared both physically and mentally before embarking on this great adventure.

Chimpanzee Trekking experience

The dense montane forests favor the stay of chimpanzees within the park, the over 2000 plant species also provide abundant food for these primates. Virunga National Park has habituated chimpanzee groups that are available for visiting, since chimpanzees are more aggressive compared to gorillas, you need to follow the guidelines given while visiting them.

Chimpanzee trekking is not as challenging as gorilla trekking because they stay at low altitude areas, the treks commence in the morning and take about 4 hours.

Bonobos, the pygmy chimpanzees can also be trekked here. Chimpanzee trekking permits cost about $100 per person and can be purchased from the park headquarters.

Bird Watching

There are over 800 different bird species in Virunga National Park, bird lovers have an opportunity to view a variety of different birds and learn more about them. Find them among the trees as you hike the mountains or during nature walks. With such a big bird population, the park was internationally recognized as a top birding spot.

Monkey Trekking

This activity is similar to chimpanzee trekking. There are a variety of monkeys found in Virunga National Park such as the Hamlyn monkeys, blue monkeys, Mona Monkeys, African Red Colobus monkeys, and red-tailed monkeys among many others. The activity is also less challenging compared to gorilla trekking hence amateur hikers can take part in it.

Hiking Mount Nyiragongo

An active volcano located within the park is the second most visited site in D.R. Congo, its last eruption occurred in 2021 leading to the formation of the world’s largest lava lake. The lake still produces smoke to date and the lake glows at night with red hot colors. Hikers can spend a night beside the lake in cabins. The Nyiragongo hike costs $300 per person. During the hike, one gets to see beautiful vegetation and comes across various animal species like monkeys and even elephants once in a while.

Hiking Mount Karisimbi and Mikeno

Mount Karisimbi is the highest mountain among the 8 Virunga mountains, it also has a snowcapped peak, and Mount Mikeno has a rough terrain hence giving a challenge to seasoned hikers who want to test their skill set. Visit any of these mountains and get rewarded by the beautiful views offered by each.

Visiting the Congo bloodhounds

These are dogs that have been highly trained to protect the park from poachers. They were trained by Dr. Marlene Zahner, and they can sniff poachers who are miles away. Since their introduction to the park, poaching has largely reduced. Visit their training site and learn more about their achievements and how they are trained to this good.

How to get to Virunga National Park?

The Park can be easily accessed through Rwanda via Gisenyi town which is a 4-5 hours drive from Kigali. Alternatively, one can choose to land directly at Goma International Airport. You can use a boat ride from Bukavu port to Goma port which is a 7-hour cruise and then drive to Virunga National Park.

What is the best Time to Visit Virunga National Park?

The best visiting time is the dry season, between July and September. During these times, trails for hiking and trekking are easy to use as they are less muddy and slippery. However, since the area is covered by dense vegetation cover. Additionally, it can rain at any time hence you need to be more prepared in case it does rain. Other than that, the park is favorable throughout the year.

Popular Safaris
Share Safari
Our Partners
Uganda Wildlife Authority
Uganda Safari Guides Association
Uganda Tourism Board
Association of Uganda Tour Operators
Safari Go
Start chat
Chat with us!
Native Africa Tours
Hi, How may I help you?