Virunga National Park is the oldest African National Park in French,known as Parc National des Virunga and formerly known as the Albert National Park, it is a 7,800-square-kilometre (3,000 sq mi) National Park that stretches from the Virunga Mountains in the south, to the Rwenzori Mountains in the north, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.
The park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979. In recent years, poaching and the Congo Civil War have seriously damaged its wildlife population. The park is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Virunga Foundation, formerly known as the Africa Conservation Fund (UK). The current park director since 2008 is the Belgian Prince Emmanuel de Merode.
The most tourist activities that travelers experience in the park includes:
Nyiragongo Volcano is located in the east of Congo DRC, at around 19 km from Goma and is the most active volcano in the world. In 1977 and 2002, flows of very liquid lava broke out from cracks in the volcanic slopes. The lava covered 17 km reaching the town of Goma in just a few minutes, killed dozens of people, and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
The eruptions temporarily drained the Lava Lake in the summit crater while volcanic gases suffocated the heather forests on the upper slopes. Now the forest is recovering, and the wildlife is beginning to return. The climb up to and down from Nyiragongo is strenuous and takes about 4-5 hours in often hot conditions, but the path is relatively easy and not excessively steep; there are a lot of rare birds and small mammals along the trail.
Mountain Gorilla Treks
A visit to mountain gorilla family is a life changing memorable experience. Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent, thrilling, good natured, and fascinating to observe. The silver back’s powerful presence is awe-inspiring, yet his calm clearly earns him the title, “gentle giant”. People are equally struck by the tenderness and care that mothers show their young. And then, of course, there are the juveniles who spend most of every waking hour at play and never cease to make visitors smile.
We believe your time with Virunga’s mountain gorillas will leave you feeling changed for the better. All gorilla trekking tours are led by park rangers and usually depart from Bukima patrol post. Treks usually require 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction, depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and the difficulty of the terrain.
Chimpanzee Habituation Walks
You can also go for chimpanzee habituation walk in the forests around park headquarters in Rumangabo. All guests staying at Mikeno Lodge can join this team on their daily visits to the chimpanzees. The day begins when a group of local trackers leave their camp at 4:30 am to locate where the chimpanzees spent the previous night. Lodge guests set out at 6:00 am to find the chimpanzees. Groups are limited to 4 people and time with the chimpanzees is restricted to one hour.
Mountain Rwenzori Trekking
Virunga National Park also offers spectacular trekking and climbing trips to the Rwenzori Mountains in the north of the park. Those who trek and climb in the Rwenzori will experience a stunning variety of landscapes, including bamboo forests, alpine meadows, lakes, and snow capped peaks.
The flora and fauna of the Rwenzori is equally diverse. Forest elephant, Okapi, chimpanzees, and numerous bird species make the Rwenzori their home. The best weather in the Rwenzori usually happens from January through mid-March and June to late August.