The Virunga National Park (French: Parc National des Virunga), formerly named Albert National Park, is a 7800 square km 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 Institute Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Africa Conservation Fund (UK).
The park is known for its exceptional bio-diversity, containing more bird, mammal and reptile species than any protected area on the African continent. Although mountain gorillas are now extremely rare and listed as one of the most critically endangered species, successful conservation work has helped to secure the remaining populations. Their populations actually increased during the years of political upheaval in the region (1994–2004), and have continued to do so even throughout the difficult period of 2007-2008. The 2010 Mountain Gorilla census has indicated that the conservation efforts of Virunga have been very successful regarding the Gorilla population. Savanna and forest elephants as well as chimpanzees and low land gorillas can still be found in Virunga, along with Okapi, giraffes, buffaloes and many endemic birds. The neighboring Mount Hoyo area was managed with the park and is home to a population of Bambuti Pygmy people, caves and waterfalls.
Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park
Thinking of taking a gorilla safari in DR. Congo? You cannot escape the Virunga national park in DR Congo. This park is a UNESCO heritage site, Africa’s oldest park and situated in the eastern side of the country and boarders both Uganda and Rwanda.
Virunga National Park covers an area of 7,800 km2 and is a habitation centre to about a quarter of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, and tourists are starting to find their way back to the DRC to see these prepossessing animals. The experience of trekking the mountain gorillas in Virunga national park is simply breath taking. The trails you take while on your hunt for these gentle giants of the forest are less developed, making the experience extremely natural and authentic.
This national park is a home to 25% of the world’s estimated 900 mountain gorillas with some unique ape species that can be sighted in this place, including the eastern Lowland Grauers gorillas and the Chimpanzees. Covering an area of over 4,000 square miles, the Virunga is a combination of volcanoes, forests, savannah, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys and the glaciated peaks of Mountain Rwenzori and also inhabited with some distinctive animal species like the endangered species of okapi that looks like a zebra but closely related to the giraffe, large colonies of hippopotami, both savannah and forest elephants, lions and its numerous distinctive bird species.
This park is now the best possible destination for adventurous travelers to visit the once again accessible southern section of the Virunga National Park for the amazing Gorilla trekking experience. Gorilla trekking takes place in Mikeno area, close to the park headquarters about two hours’ drive from the gateway town of Goma. With an early start you can visit the gorillas as a day trip from Goma with good range of descent hotels like the excellent Mikeno lodge situated close to the Gorillas habitat in lush tropical woodland with stunning views over Virunga lowlands.
Going on a gorilla trek is an outstanding once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it is at the top of many travelers bucket list. It’s just so thrilling to be amidst these great apes in the middle of an impenetrable jungle. A visit to a mountain gorilla family is truly a life changing experience. These unique animals are so canning, well mannered, and appealing to behold. The silverback’s mighty and formidable physic yet calm earn him the name “gentle giant”.
You will be struck by the affection and care that mothers give to their young ones. Obviously, the juveniles spend most of their time playing and they never cease to make visitors happy. Your time with the Virunga’s mountain gorillas won’t leave you the same way you came you will have changed your perception about these calm creatures. Some tourists go back calling them family, and not animals anymore.
The treks are controlled by park rangers and frequently depart from Bukima patrol post. These treks usually take 1-2 hours of hiking, depending on where the gorillas slept the previous night and the complication of the terrain. In the urge to safeguard health of Virunga’s gorillas, visitors are required to put on the provided masks whilst the gorilla’s presence. Only children of 15 years of age or older are allowed going on a gorilla trek. Time with the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour. Your gorilla trekking adventure will commence in the morning and you will be driven up to the gorilla trekking starting point. You will pass by small countryside villages and the people who run to the road to beckon at you; will give you a notice of a different way of life.
On your first observation, you may spot mothers carrying their little ones, juvenile gorillas occupying themselves, or the dominant silverbacks watching their family! This is one adventure that you can never regret taking a chance. Make your choice now to trek the Virunga’s mountain gorillas.