Virunga region is a centre of wonders! The region is made up of a chain of Mountains along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Uganda. The mountain range is a branch of the Albertine Rift Mountains, which border the western branch of the East African Rift.
Below are five top things you didn’t know about Virunga region:
- Mountain Gorillas – Virunga region is famous for hosting Mountain Gorillas. Mountain Gorillas are the rarest specie of Gorillas which are found in Virunga region which is shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the last census, the number of Gorillas increased from 459 individuals from 400 individuals. The overall total of mountain gorillas is now 1,063 including those in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, according to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Bwindi survey. You can go on a carefully crafted gorilla safari in the Virunga Region and get to meet these great apes.
- The three Mountain Gorilla parks – Virunga region is famous for its three Gorilla parks namely; Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes national Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests. Situated in northern region is Volcanoes National Park which protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the endangered mountain gorilla and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath. Volcanoes National Park is named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif: Mt. Karisimbi – the highest at 4,507m, Mt. Bisoke with its verdant crater lake, Mt. Sabinyo, Mt. Gahinga and Mt. Muhabura. Virunga National park in DRC situated few kilometres from Goma city. It’s one of the Africa’s most biodiverse protected area, exists to protect 1/3 of the world’s wild mountain gorillas.
- The chain of Volcanoes – Virunga region is rich with amazing topography. The region is made up of dormant and active volcanoes namely: Karisimbi Volcano (14790 ft above the sea level) – the highest among all the volcanoes and shared by Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo), Muhabura Volcano (13540 ft above the sea level) shared by Rwanda and Uganda, Karisoke or Bisoke (12180ft above the sea level) shared by Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, Mt. Mikeno (14560ft above the sea level) and only found in Democratic Republic of Congo, Miunt Sabyinyo at 12050Ft above the sea level is shared by Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, Mount Gahinga at 11400Ft is found in Uganda and Rwanda, Mount Nyiragongo at 11400 above the sea level, only found in Democratic Republic of Congo and Mount Nyamuragira at 10031Ft above the sea level is seen while in DRC.
- Cultural encounters – Mgahinga National Park in Uganda offers an opportunity for Batwa trail experience which will enable you learn from true Africans with amazing history. While on cultural trip in Uganda, expect to enjoy traditional music, dance and drama performed by the Batwa pygmies. When the national park was established the Batwa were evicted from the forest and abandoned their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle. The only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage.
The Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups, visitors are also invited to the sacred Garama Cave for spiritual blessings. In Volcanoes National Park which is also part of Virunga region, Iby’iwacu cultural village is A MUST visit. The centre was purposely set to cab down poaching of Gorillas in the park, the RDB found it wise to get alternative to the EX- poachers. Visitors get to see what life was in a typical African village setting – the lifestyle, houses, traditional dances, dressing code, food, herbs and how the ancient kingdoms were generally organized. Tourists are given an opportunity to learn ancient hunting skills, try weaving baskets/mats, carpentry among other things. In Virunga National Park, Virunga national park, the batwa have been relegated to living in the edges of forest like Buniga. Batwa cultural trail is led by the Batwa themselves and offers visitors a chance to learn how they make their huts, eat some of their locally prepared foods, dance to songs/tunes from local music instruments and learn their hunting skills. Other activities during the Batwa community visit include learning how to harvest honey and their ancient farming methods/ tools.
- Other attractions – A part from Mountain Gorillas and Volcanoes, Virunga National Park also protects a variety of attraction like Golden Monkeys, birds, Chimpanzees among others. To supplement Gorilla trekking, you can go golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga National Park or Volcanoes National Park, chimpanzee trekking/ habituation in Virunga National Park.