Virunga national park located in eastern DR Congo borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi covers 7900km2, is one of Africa’s most biodiverse conservation areas. The park located in the Albertine Rift of the great rift valley was established in 1925 making it among some of the oldest parks in Africa. The park is home to a diversity of habitats ranging from swamps, snowfields, lava plains and savannahs. These habitats are found on the Virunga Volcanoes, Ruwenzori mountains, Lake Edward and the flat plains between different volcanoes. Because of the varied landscape, the park offers amazing activities for people with different interests.
The Volcanoes, which erupt at regular intervals every few years are the dominant outstanding landscape together with the eroded valleys.
The prime activity in Virunga national park is gorilla tracking and in the recent years chimpanzee tracking was added on the list. Birdwatching tours picked up with Virunga said to have over 700 bird species within its boundaries. The Rwenzori mountains are found within the park and are open for hiking opportunities. The park is home to the Virunga volcanoes in Congo with hiking mostly happening on Mikeno volcano, Nyiragongo volcano and Nyamuragira volcano.
Wildlife in Virunga National park
Virunga national park is home to about 218 mammal species. The park has a high concentration of wildlife mostly because of its size and the habitats. It has large herds of Elephants, Buffalos and Uganda Kobs. It is also said to have the largest concentration of Hippopotamuses in Africa by the banks of Lake Edward. Other mammals in the park include; Lions, Blue Duiker, Aardvark, Bushbuck, Water buck, Giant Forest hog, Bongo, Topi, Hippopotamus, Warthogs, Okapis, Leopards, Tree pangolin, Marsh mongoose, bush pig etc.
The park is also home to several primate species like; Mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, Red tailed monkey, Olive Baboon, Grey-cheeked mangabey, Blue monkey, Dent’s mona monkey, De Brazza’s monkey, mantled Guereza, Central African Red Colobus, Hamlyn’s monkey,
Virunga national park is home to about 706 birds species which include several Congolese and Albertine Rift endemics making it a preferred bird haven for a mazing birdwatch trips. Most of the birding happens in the forested part of the park with an armed ranger guide on the trip. The birds to look out for include; Northern pintail, Red-billed Teal, Red-necked Spurfowl, Mourning Collared Dove, Mozambique Nightjar, Alpine Swift, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-bellied Bustard, Black-billed Turaco, Black-winged Stilt, White-fronted Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Temminck’s Courser, Montagu’s Harrier, White-thighed Hornbill, Green Wood-hoopoe, Wahlberg’s Honeybird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Spot-flanked Barbet, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Striped Kingfisher, Lanner Falcon, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Albertine, Yellow-crested Helmet-shrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Red-backed Shrike, African Paradise-flycatcher, Blue-headed Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Purple Indigobird, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Mountain wagtail, Thick-billed Canary, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Blue Crested-flycatcher, Flappet Lark, Moustached Grass Warbler, Stout Cisticola, Bracken Warbler, Mosque Swallow, Eastern Mountain Greenbul, Willow Warbler, Brown Thrush Babbler, Narrow-tailed Starling, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat,
Activities in Virunga National park
Gorilla trekking is the prime activity in Virunga national park. This is the only place you find mountain gorillas in Congo. Just like in Uganda and Rwanda, one must have a valid gorilla trekking permit issued by the organization in charge. You will then be informed of the location from where you will begin your gorilla trek. Virunga national park has seven gorilla groups habituated for tourism
In the morning of the gorilla trek, you will transferred to the park offices where you will receive a briefing from the park ranger in charge about the expectations in the forest. After this you and the people in your group will start the trek in the forest to search for the mountain gorillas.
Chimpanzee trekking in Virunga national park was started much later than the gorilla trekking. Most of what happens currently has to do with chimpanzee habituation as they get the chimps to get used to humans so that they are able to stay in the presence of people and not run off and hide when they get detect presence of people. Just gorilla trekking, you will receive a briefing before you start your hike into the forest.
Virunga national park is home to some of the Virunga volcanoes as others are located in Uganda and Rwanda and or shared amongst 2 countries or all the three. Some of the volcanoes are active and others are dormant. The most common volcanoes for hiking are Mt Mikeno, Mt Nyamuragira and Mt Nyiragongo. Depending on your interests, you can choose to do an overnight stay where you hike to the top or just a short hike to part of the volcano.
The nature walks happen in the forest for those interested in learning more about the flora of the forest and enjoy the butterflies in a very unrushed way. The walking trails are dependent on the length of trail and approximate time it takes on the trail plus the unique features. The most common is the trail to waterfalls and or one with many primates outside of the common 2 of mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.