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Virunga National Park

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Virunga National Park is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, but was labelled a site in danger in 1994 due to political conflict and poaching.


Virunga National Park is a 7800 square kilometer World Heritage Site that lies on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it borders Uganda as well as Rwanda. It is the oldest national park in Africa and the second oldest in the world (after Yellowstone). It is named after the Virunga Mountain (volcanoes) range that lie in the south of the park. the park however is much larger and stretches all the way north to envelop Lake Edward as well as the Rwenzori Mountains.


One of the approximately 200 remaining mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park

The history of the park is deeply affected by the country of which it is part. For much of its long history, Virunga National Park has struggled to survive through many of Congo's troubled times. Thanks to the dedication of certain politicians, conservationists, park rangers and wardens, the park not only has survived, but is currently experiencing a dramatic renewal. The park was founded in 1925 by King Albert I of Belgium and originally known as Albert National Park, the first national park on the continent of Africa. It was founded primarily to protect the gorillas living in the forests of the Virunga Mountains controlled by the Belgian Congo, but later expanded north to include the Rwindi Plains, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains in the far north.

In the first 35 years, the boundary of the park took shape, poaching was kept to a minimum and sustainable tourism thrived due to the work of a large body of hand-picked Congolese rangers and dedicated wardens. Land remuneration and the use of park resources such as fishing and hunting by the local population became an on-going problem and attempts were made to solve these issues.

When the Belgians granted Congo independence in 1960 the new state deteriorated rapidly, and so did the park. It was only in 1969 when President Mobutu began to take a personal interest in conservation, that the park was revived. In the process it was renamed Virunga National Park, and the first Congolese Wildlife Authority was established (now called ICCN). Virunga fared well for the better part of the 1970s. Foreign investment helped to improve the park's infrastructure and training facilities, and the park became a popular destination for tourists, receiving on average 6500 visitors a year. In 1979 UNESCO designated the park as a World Heritage Site. In the mid 1980s the Mobutu regime began to lose its hold on power and the country began a long slide into chaos. The park suffered terribly. Poaching depleted Virunga's large mammal populations, infrastructure was destroyed, and many rangers were killed. The Congolese Wildlife Authority slowly lost control of Virunga and UNESCO changed the World Heritage Site status to "endangered."

Over the twenty-five years that followed, the park staff endured an almost uninterrupted series of trials that included a refugee crisis from the Rwandan Genocide that contributed to the severe destruction of park forests, and armed militia penetration throughout the park. The Kivu War, the most recent of Congo's conflicts, centered exactly on the park, with rebel forces occupying the park headquarters and evicting the park's staff. By the end of 2008 it seemed as if Virunga was finished.

The political situation in the DRC has changed exponentially since then. The park is back in the hands of the ICCN and enjoying the greatest resurgence of tourism and development in its history. International donors are investing in the development of the park's infrastructure at unprecedented levels. Virunga's management is efficient and transparent, and morale among the rangers is at an all time high.

Tourism has increased from zero in 2008, to approximately 2000 in 2010 with numbers growing steadily. New tourist activities are being developed in the park, including the habituation of chimpanzees in the Tongo forest and a high-end lodge conveniently located near the center of the three main tourist attractions in the southern sector, north of Goma.

Africa's first national park survived decades of chaos against all the odds, not because of circumstance but because of the dedication of the rangers and staff who believe in the value of saving Virunga National Park and its wildlife.

the nightly glow from the lava lake within the Nyiragongo volcano can be seen from miles away


The nightly glow from the lava lake within the Nyiragongo volcano can be seen from miles away Virunga National Park is unrivalled in its diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. The parks bounderies envelop low land tropical forest in the north; high alpine forest in the Rwenzori Mountains; riverine forest around the Semliki and Rutshuru rivers; swamplands around lake Edward, savannah north and south of the lake; montane forest on the hills of the Virunga volcanoes and old (and new) lava flow landscapes.

Flora and fauna[edit]

The park boasts an astounding biodiversity due to the large variety of habitats it offers. In the southern sector the Mountain Gorillas attract most attention but the montane forests are also home to other primates such as Chimpanzees, Golden monkeys, Blue monkeys and black and white colobus. Forest Elephants and Buffalo are also found in this area as is the very shy Golden Cat.

The central area of the park consists mostly of savannah with species such as Lion, Leopard, Kob, Hyena, Topi, warthog etc. The lake, once containing the largest population of Hippo's (over 20.000), is now slowly regenerating after many troubled years and Hippo's and Crocodiles are once again a common sight.

In the North of the park in the deep Congolese forest the most elusive of African creatures is found: the Okapi.


Get in[edit]

The southern sector (Gorillas and Volcano) of Virunga National Park is easily accessible in a number of different ways the most common are:

  • Overland via Uganda, cross the border in Bunagana, from where the Mountain gorilla sites Jomba and Bikenge are easily accessable within 1 hour. The border crossing is easy, and a local visa can be bought at the border for only 50$, however this visa is not a fully recognized visa and can only be used to visit the park and subsequently leaving the country at the Bunagana border post again.
  • Overland via Rwanda, cross the border at Gisenyi/Goma, the border crossing is easy if you pre arranged a visa, if not it will be difficult or expensive (280$ if bought at the border).
  • Fly into Goma, from within the DRC many flights connect to Goma, from outside the DRC Entebbe is the only city connected by TMK. Once again make sure you have a pre arranged visa.
  • NB: Virunga National Park has established a tourism visa for $105 USD which is easy to buy in combination with a Virunga National Park permit. It is valid for 14 days for travel within the DRC although entry and exit are only permitted at the Grand Barriere between Goma and Gisenyi. (July 2017). As of 2016 Congo Travel and Tours sponsors visas on arrival and beforehand via embassies.


Virunga National Park Park Permits:

  • Nyiragongo Volcano Trek Permit: $300. If you have a sleeping bag, you can stay overnight and sleep on the summit in one of the twelve summit shelters (each contains two single beds) with a view over the largest lava lake in the world. Although these shelters aren’t plush, they offer a welcome escape from the elements. The cost of staying in a summit shelter is included in the permit fee. A meal plan can be bought for an additional $75, or meals & cold weather gear hire for $100. This is not including the cost of the porter to carry the food and gear up. Porters can be hired at the base of the climb to carry loads for $12/day ($24 for the overnight trip). The maximum weight that porters are authorized to carry is 15kg.
  • Rwenzori Mountain Trek Permit: 200$ (multiday trek), plus $116 if you wish to stay in the huts along the way. Different treks are possible (4-5-6 days). As of July 2017 the park does not supply food or gear so come prepared.

Get around[edit]

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  • Climb Nyiragongo Volcano
    The Lava Lake of the Nyiragongo Volcano, the largest in the world
    — This volcano, famous for its lava lake, is a technically easy climb from the direction of Goma. A trip to the top should take <6 hours, most climbers spend the night at the top. This also makes it possible to see the boiling lava by night, when it becomes even brighter.
  • Visit the Mountain Gorillas — The Mountain Gorillas are located in the Mikeno Sector, about a two and half hour drive from Goma. They can also be approached from Bunagana (border of Uganda). The permit is $400, so slightly cheaper than in Uganda or Rwanda. The visits are also a bit more authentic and in smaller groups. There are several operators who can organise this, but all book via the ICCN (Congolse Wildlife Authority)sales office in Goma. You can also book directly with ICCN ([email protected]). They can also organise transport.
  • Rwenzori Mountain Trek
    Glacier of the Rwenzori Mountains in Virunga National Park
    — The Rwenzori Mountains are a snow capped mountain range in the north of Virunga National Park on the Border with Uganda. The highest peak in the range lies on the border and can be climbed from both countries. The trek to the glacier can be made in a 4-5 or 6 day trek. in order to start the trek visitors will need to travel to Beni by airplane (either from Goma or Entebbe).
  • Visit the Tongo Chimps — Virunga National Park has a habituated Chimpanzee group in the picturesque hills of Tongo, located in the southern sector of Virunga National Park, west of the park headquarters of Rumangabo, Tongo is a unique forest island and home to a small population of chimpanzees. The forest lies on one of the lava flows from Nyamulagira Volcano and is estimated to be 300 years old. NB Tongo is not yet open for visitors due to safety issues, please check the Virunga National Park Tourism Website for current information on the chimpanzee treks

Buy[edit][add listing]

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  • Mikeno Lodge[1]
    Bukima Camp is situated in the foothills of the Mikeno Mountain, the home of the Congolese Mountain Gorillas
    The only high-end option within the park. The lodge is situated in the forest of Rumangabo in the southern sector of the park, 1 hour north of Goma. 5 minutes walk from the lodge the Senkwekwe gorilla center is located where guests can see the only 4 captive mountain gorillas in the world, 2 of which were the baby orphans rescued after their mothers were killed in the 2007 gorilla massacre. The lodge is owned and operated by the Park, assuring that all profits from the lodge are reinvested in conservation efforts. For bookings and reservations contact the Virunga National Park sales office: [email protected] or +243991715401 (rates: 200$ p.p.p.n. sharing full board (2011 price))
  • Bukima Patrol Post[2]— An old research camp transformed into a cosy and basic tented camp at the foot of Mikeno Mountain where the hikes to the gorillas start. It is a cheaper option to spend the night close to the gorillas, but offers all essentials, toilet, shower, BBQ area, drinks for sale etc. The views are amazing day and night (when the glowing Nyiragongo volcano can clearly be seen. For bookings and reservations contact the Virunga National Park sales office: [email protected] or +243991715401 or book directly through the Virunga National Park Tourism Website. [3] (rates: 40$ p.p.p.n. half board)
  • Nyiragongo Crater Cabanes
    The cabins are situated almost at the edge of the crater, a short walk from the astounding view of the crater lake.
    Small cabins, nowadays more like shelters, are built and managed by the park. An overnight in the cabins is included in the permit fee for visiting the volcano and checking out the amazing lava lake! Just note that the cabins are not maintained properly, and windows or doors might be missing. Bring your own sleeping bag or rent one. For bookings and reservations contact the Virunga National Park sales office: [email protected] or +243991715401 or book directly through the Virunga National Park Tourism Website. [4]


Other campsites at Jomba (another gorilla site) and Tongo are expected at the time of writing but not yet active/safe

Congo Travel and Tours supplies bilingual guides and personnel directly to tourists as well as to operators that can bring you on budget tours and camping kits into the park, in tandem with the Virunga Authority and ICCN who chiefly benefits from the tourism. They can also arrange the luxury lodges like Mikeno and Bukima on tour with Virunga Park.


Stay safe[edit]

Virunga National Park is located in a region that is often troubled by unrest. In the last three years, the southern sector of Virunga National Park (gorillas and volcano) has been considered safe for visitors with over a 100 tourists visiting these sites every month. The Rwenzori mountains are also open for tourists and can be reached from Beni in the North of the park. The management of Virunga National Park is emphasize the importance that all visitors be aware of current security issues at the time of their visit. Before organizing a trip to Virunga National Park it is wise to inform yourself on the security situation, check [5] for the latest independent news feeds on this region, as well as detailed information on the parks activities outside tourism.

Virunga National Park strongly advises against the use of own transport, escorted transport can be arranged through the National Park or via CTT or other tour operators, more information about this can be found on Virunga National Parks tourism website [6] please use park transport or the transport supplied by trusted tour operators. All visitors using our transportation are automatically escorted by our rangers. Escorts for people using their own vehicules can be arranged.

Get out[edit]

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