Virunga National Park holds half of the biodiversity in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Besides, Virunga park is the second oldest national park in the world besides yellow stone. The park is also a UNESCO heritage site found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga was inscribed as a heritage site under UNESCO for the protection of the endangered gorilla community it holds and the critically rare golden monkeys.
Virunga National Park shoves up for the two active volcanoes including Mount Nyiragongo. The incredible hikes to the nyiragongo volcano are by far the best activities by the travelers who visit Virunga National Park annually. The park has faced a lot of threats from the politics which have been raging throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, Virunga park manages to stay standing due to its high resilience ability.
Besides the political unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Virunga has also been marked as unsafe for tourism due to several unpleasant incidents that have happened in the previous years. For example two rangers were killed and also tourists kidnaped on 4th/ June/ 2018, however, the park was reopened in March 2019, and it is safe for travel currently.
Virunga park is one of the most biodiverse protected areas in Africa and other parts of the world. Virunga National Park has such a hard background, so is the countries spring of life into the tourism sector of Congo. Therefore, it is protected by truly dedicated game rangers, who are over 600, to help curb the malpractices like poaching.
The park manages its community sensitization program by supporting the local community. The profits got from tourism activities are shared with the local society through proving social amenities like schools, boreholes, hospitals among others. Also, the local people get materials from the forest like fire wood, herbs, and foodstuff among others. This has led to a reduction in poaching and encroachment on the park’s land as the local people experience the benefits of tourism through better living standards.
The park is one of the biggest national parks in Congo and the other countries in the central African region. The park stretches over 7800sq.km away from the Virunga Mountains, which are found in the southern part of the park, and extends to the Rwenzori Mountains north of Congo. Virunga park is much known for its birdlife, mammals, reptiles and a lot of other wild species including the vegetation as well. The most recognizable animals of Virunga national park are the chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, buffaloes, among others.
History of the Virunga national park
Virunga National park was found in 1925 by the Belgian colonial authorities. The park strived in the aftermath of the chaos that led to the country’s independence in 1960. However, when President Mobutu Seseko assumed the power of the country’s presidential throne in 1965, and he managed the park and it flourished during his reign. However, the park continued to struggle for resilience during the civil wars the prevailed to over through president Mobutu Seseko in 1997.
In 2007, there was a partnership signed by the charities funded by the private donors and the European union together with the Congolese wildlife society, the partnership thereafter took over the management of Virunga and implemented a wide range of changes to help the park get back to its better state. The struggles over a chaotic period in the Democratic Republic of Congo led to the reduction in the mountain gorilla population to about 300 individuals only.
Wildlife of Virunga national park
Virunga National Park is the oldest and most biodiverse area in central Africa and other sub-Saharan countries. The conservation of the unique wildlife is the major reason as to why the park was gazetted and subscribed as a UNESCO site in 1979. The park has gone through a lot of trying times that perhaps would not have left it ecologically stable. However, the resilience of the park is quite remarkable that the park has managed to survive through all the political unrest to its present-day tourism glory among the African national parks.
The park is covered with a thick tropical rainforest with a quite arrange of awesome plant species that grow lustrously in the national park. Virunga national park has over 2077 species of plants including, ferns, shrubs, trees, and grasses. It has 264 species of natural wood trees especially ironwood trees, plus 230 types of grass and shrubs exclusively endemic to the Albertine rift valley region.
The park is a home for over 218 mammals, 22 primates, 706 species of birds, 109 species of reptiles and over 65 amphibians. The hike to the volcanoes is an opportunity for you the spot a lot of forest birds and the unique Albertine bird species. You can also see a lot of wild animals during the boat cruise and nature walks in the park.
The hikes to the volcanoes will give you the opportunity to see a lot of primates including the black and white colobus monkeys, red colobus monkeys, the blue colobus monkeys, the rare golden monkeys, bushbabies, and most interesting, you may see the mountain gorillas in the highlands.
The climate of Virunga
Virunga National Park is not different from the other tropical areas of Africa. It experiences a pleasant warm weather with mild rain showers all the year through. However, the areas near the equator, experience a warmer temperature throughout the day and a drastic drop during the night. The areas in the highlands are also very chilly during the night and cold during the day, however, the low lands have warmer weather during the day and relatively cold during the night.
The water bodies in Virunga are very vital factors in the modulation of the climate in the area. The largest water body in the park is Lake Kivu, Lake Edward, Lake Albert and a few other water bodies like rivers such as the Congo Nile, Semliki and other tributaries that drain the park. The water bodies are responsible for the coolness associated with them and they are also very ideal for relaxing adventure activities.
In a synopsis, the park is a mixture of both tropical and equatorial climate characterized by the mean rainfall of about 190mm and the mean temperatures between 23 to 28 degrees Celsius in the lowlands and 16 to 24 °C in the higher altitude. Much rain in Virunga National Park is experienced in March to May and September to November; These are the two rainfall seasons also known as the wet seasons of the year.
Accommodation in Virunga
Virunga has a few high and low range accommodation facilities that you can reside in during your stay in the park for your primate safaris or mountain gorilla trekking safaris. Mikeno Lodge is the only high end or upmarket option found in the Virunga National Park. Mikeno Lodge is found in the forest of Rumangabo which is situated in the southern sector of the national park. Mikeno Lodge is reached in just a one hour drive from the town of Goma. It is near to Senkwekwe Gorilla trekking center and it also has four low land gorillas which are such interesting to watch.
Bukima tented Camp is another accommodation facility in Virunga National Park. It is an old research camp that later was transformed into a somehow cozy and basic lodge made up of a tented camp. It is located in the foothills of Mikeno Mountain where gorilla trekking starts from. Bukima tented camp provides standard accommodation services at a cheaper cost and also closest to the gorillas.
Another accommodation facility is Nyiragongo Crater Cabañas which consists of small cabins or shelters managed by the Virunga National Park management. They are situated at Nyiragongo volcano slopes and are mainly used by the hikers to the Nyiragongo crater. They sleep over the night and wake up in the morning to trek back down from the mountain.
Accessing Virunga national park
The road to Virunga National Park is such a challenging route, however, you can reach Virunga National Park bypassing via Goma town which is just 32km nearest to the park. Alternatively, from Rwanda, you can connect to Gisenyi town from Kigali international airport, and then cross to Goma town to Virunga national park. It is about 2km from Gisenyi town to Bukima park headquarters.
From Uganda, you can reach Virunga national park from the Bunagana border post which is found in kisoro town. From kisoro, you can take a drive for about 1 hour to Bukima park headquarters where mountain gorilla trekking commences from in the park.
Alternatively, Ethiopian airline operates daily flights to Goma airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga national park can arrange private pick up transport for travelers who arrive at Goma international airport. It would be ideal if you book with the local tour companies because they provide guides to Virunga national parks and other tourism zones in the democratic republic of congo.