Visit Virunga National Park, Congo
While planning for the most adorable and affordable gorilla trekking safari, you should definitely give a visit to Virunga National Park in the eastern parts of Democratic Republic of Congo. The park was established in 1925, and thus it is the oldest national park in Africa.
The park is basically very popular for protecting the rare endangered mountain gorillas. It comprises of a total of over 200 individuals (mountain gorillas) and there are currently 8 habituated gorilla families which are open to trekkers. The habituated gorilla families in the park include: Munyaga, Kabirizi, Rugendo, Humba, Lulengo, Bageni, Mapuwa, and Nyakamwe.
All these families have gone through the training process and are familiar with human presence. All the gorilla families are basically tracked from the sector of the park known as Bukima Patrol Post.
Virunga National Park has for almost a year been restricted from hosting gorilla trekking safaris following a series of violent attacks in the park, including the killing of some of the park’s tour guides and kidnapping of travelers. However, the government of Congo has tried its level best to improve on the security in the park and it is soon starting to host gorilla safaris again on the 15th February 2019 as it was clearly announced by Hans Van der Stock, the product manager of Live to travel.
The news of re-opening Virunga National Park for tourism was greatly welcomed by many tour operators and hotel owners in Congo whose businesses have been on halt since the closure of the national park.
Virunga National Park boasts a variety of attractive things that visits will enjoy viewing during their visitation to the park and these include: 196 mammals, 706 bird species, 109 reptiles and 65 amphibians. The park’s flora encompasses approximately 2,077 plant species, including 264 tree species and 230 plants that are endemic to the Albertine Rift.
Notable animals to be seen in the park include various primates which include; Mountain gorillas, common chimpanzees, golden monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, Dent’s Mona monkeys, blue monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkeys, De Brazza’s monkeys, Central African red Colobus, mantled guereza, olive baboons and grey-cheeked mangabeys.
Other animal species include; African bush elephants, hippopotamuses, and African buffaloes which inhabit the national park’s central sector. Okapis, blue duikers, bay duikers, Weyns’s duikers, yellow-backed duikers, water chevrotains, red river hogs, aardvarks and bongo were recorded in the northern sector of the Park. Harnessed bush bucks and giant forest hogs are present in the southern sector. Other ungulates present in the park include; Ugandan Kob, water bucks, Topis, and common warthogs.
Virunga National Park together with the adjacent Queen Elizabeth National Park, of Uganda, forms a ‘’Lion Conservation Unit’’. The area is considered a potential lion stronghold, if poaching is curbed and prey species recover. In the national park’s northern sector, African leopard, marsh mongoose, giant pangolin, tree pangolin, crested porcupine, Lord Derby’s scaly-tailed squirrel, Boehm’s bush squirrel, western tree hyrax, Emin’s pouched rat and checkered elephant shrew were recorded during surveys in 2008. The Semliki River provides habitat for Nile crocodile.
However, all in all, the park is mostly known for its gorilla trekking activity of which a Congo gorilla permit costs US$ 400. The activity takes place in Bukima Patrol Post and trekkers should spend only one hour with the primates. The gorilla trekking tours are done in groups of 8 individuals per tracking group and trekkers are emphasized to arrive very early in the park in order to catch up with the activity which starts at 08:00 AM.
Trekkers will be first briefed before going for the activity and thus you will be updated about the rules and regulations that guide the activity. Some of the rules include; you should not be so close to the gorillas (at least keep a distance of 8 meters away from them), keep your voices at minimum, only persons above 15 years are allowed to track the gorillas, do not litter anything in the park, do not use flash cameras while photographing the gorillas, and no individual with communicable diseases (like flu, diarrhea, and cough) will be allowed to access through the park reason being that these diseases can easily be transferred to the primates and can be fatal to them.
Besides gorilla tracking, and the many other animals that guests will be able to see during the game drives and game viewing, guests will also do many other activities such as; hiking Mountain Nyiragongo, birding, and many more others. The experience achieved from hiking Mountain Nyiragongo is out-of-this-world because standing on the edge of a big crater filled with red bubbling lava is such an amazing feeling that you should not miss!! It will actually look unreal but so stunning, and hence it is likely to be the highlights of your life!