Virunga National Park, Congo
Virunga National Park, Congo

Located in the Albertine rift valley in the northeastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo, Virunga national park is Africa’s most biologically diverse national park. it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Virunga national park in Congo is one of the only four parks in the world where you can find the mountain Gorillas. The other parks are Bwindi impenetrable forest national Park and Mgahinga National park in Uganda, and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.  The endangered gorillas in Congo are found in the forests on the Virunga volcanoes where you can go for Mountain Gorilla Trekking. Virunga Mountains comprise of Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Mikeno and Mount Nyamuragira.

Mountain Nyiragongo is a stunning and interesting volcano which is still active with its last eruption that occurred in 2002.

Visit Virunga National Park

Virunga national park was the first national park to be established in Africa and the main reason was to protect mountain gorillas. It was formerly called Albert national park but was later on changed to Virunga national park. The 7,800 sq km park also shares River Ishasha, part of Lake Edward and neighboring Queen Elizabeth National park and Mt. Rwenzori national park in Uganda. it boasts for housing 22 species of primates with mountain gorillas being the prime and dominant of all. Other famous primates in the park are lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. It is also a natural habitat for more than 700 bird species, about 218 mammal species, a great number of 78 species of amphibians, 109 retile species alongside plant species that exceed 2000. Virunga national park’s notables include forest elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, hippo, okapis, warthog, giant forest hog, yellow bucked duiker, lions, water buck, topi and bush buck among others.

Over the years, the park has not been considered among the destinations to visit because of the insecurity conflicts in the region. However, since 2013, the region has had a good political situation and tourism activities are freely and confidently conducted. A safari to Virunga national park is one of Africa’s most adventurous destinations todaty because it has the variety of excting activities including; Mountain gorilla trekking, chimpanzee tracking and habituation, Nyiragongo hike on the stunning Nyiragongo Volcano, nature walks around the forest, birding and landscape viewing which rewards with magical views of M,t. Rwenzori and Nyiragongo volcano among others. The popular mountain gorilla trekking also comes with a thrilling experience when you encounter other primates such as the golden monkey, the blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, Dent’s mona monkey, De brazza’s monkey and grey-cheeked mangabey among others.

From Uganda, Virunga National Park is accessed through Bunagana border post in Kisoro- southwestern Uganda and connect to Bukima starting point. The drive takes about an hour. It is also possible to fly to Rwanda at Kigali international airport and connecting by road to Gisenyi town, then enter the DRC thorogh Goma town and connect to the park which is anbout 32km form this town. Flights can also be taken straight to Goma town by the Etiopian airways where one can then connect to the park right away.

You don’t have to worry about facilities to cater for your accommodation while on your safari to the DRC at the Virunga national park. The region provides some of the best services at Lulimbi Tented camp, Kibumba Tented camp, Mikeno Lodge and Tchengera Ilsand camp among others.

Virunga Gorilla Trekking Guide Lines

Encountering the endangered mountain gorillas, primates that share 98% genes with humans is a wondrous experience that brings lifetime memories. There are only three countries where mountain gorillas can be encountered; DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. In the DRCongo, they live in the tropical rain forest on the slopes of the virunga volcanoes in Virunga national park. The park is one of the remaining undamaged biologically diverse areas in the world and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The park is located in the eastern side of DRCongo and is gaining its fame because of gorilla trekking, a highlight for travel by most tourists that visit the park.

The information in this article guides you on the necessary things to know about gorilla trekking in DRC, the permit, the best time for trekking and more. Adventure in the wild safaris will readily answer about gorilla trekking in DRC, help you book for a permit and all other processes of the safari.

Virunga National Park Silverback Gorilla

Rules and regulations of Gorilla trekking in Virunga national park

Just like in Rwanda and Uganda, the Congolese National Park Authority enacted rules and regulations in Virunga national park to protect these endangered primates. This is the only way to conserve these giant gorillas and this has helped to protect them from being threatened by large crowds, diseases and other problems.

Due to the high DNA that the gorillas share with human beings, they are susceptible to human infections such as flu and cough. This is the reason to why persons with these infections are not allowed to visit the mountain gorillas.

A group of only 8 people is allowed to visit each gorilla family.

Gorilla trekking is conducted during the day time from 8:00am to 7:00pm. Between that time is when the gorillas are active.

Once you spot the gorillas, you stay with them for a maximum period of one hour and leave them.

You must be 15 years or above to go for gorilla trekking.

Things to do and not to do in Virunga national park

  • A very important thing to do is to protect the gorillas. Do not visit them when you are sick. They are more prone to air borne infections like flu and cough. .
  • Even if you are free from any infection that can affect the gorillas, you are advised to turn your face and cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing when you are with the gorillas.
  • Maintain a distance from the gorillas. You are required to maintain a distance of 7m from the gorillas. This is because you can’t trust them of their behaviors simply because they are habituated since they remain wild.
  • Do not eat, drink and smoke when you are close to the gorillas. This helps to avoid droplets which the gorillas may pick and transmit infections to them.
  • While on the trek in the forest and when you come across the gorillas, maintain silence, do not use flash cameras and do not point at the gorillas. Do not move around them, maintain your group so that you won’t scare them.
  • In case you are in the forest and get a long call, dig a hole of at least 30cm deep, help yourself there and cover it.
  • Do not stay long with the gorillas. Once you spot the gorillas, stay with them for only an hour.
  • You are advised to always stay calm in case of anything if you are with the gorillas. For example, if they charge when you are watching them, do not run away, just follow the advice from your guide.
  • Hygiene; before you start the trek, make sure you wash your hands.

Price of a gorilla permit in DRC

Gorilla permits in DRC are still the cheapest among all the mountain gorilla destinations because the activity has not yet well picked up. Since tourism has not been taking place in the region because of rebel activities in the previous years, people have not been visiting the park and some countries still don’t allow their people to travel to the place. Now that it is declared secure and safe for travel, gorilla trekking and more activities are taking place.

A gorilla trekking permit in Virunga national park costs US$400 for each individual. This fee excludes accommodation facilities at the park. Gorilla permits should be booked in advance and this can be made easy by trusting Adventure in the wild safaris to book for your permit.

Preparing for gorilla trekking in DRC

Gorilla trekking in DRC takes you to a virgin forest whose trails have not yet faced as much foot weight as those in Rwanda and Uganda. What to consider if you desire to trek for mountain gorillas in DRC include;

Booking for the permit in advance. Just like in Uganda and Rwanda, you are required to secure a permit early enough before your travel. This is because the numbers of people that visit the gorillas are limited. Through our company, a gorilla permit and other facilities like transfer from the airport to the park, lodge and other activities can be booked and more necessary information provided.

A Visa to DRC and Rwanda if you will connect by a flight through Rwanda should be prepared or applied for in advance. To obtain a tourist visa to DRC you must show proof of purchase of either a gorilla permit or payment of accommodation in the park.

Acquire yellow fever vaccination and obtain the vaccination card. You will not be allowed to access the country without this card. Other vaccinations you are advised to acquire are for Hepatitis A and B, meningitis, and others that your physician will advise you about. It is important to have anti-malaria prescriptions from your physician and also pack some first aid pain killers.

Prepare the best equipment and clothes and shoes for the trek. The habitat of the gorillas is cold and rain is always expected at any time. Just like their name, mountain gorillas live on higher altitudes of mountains. Trekking for them involves hiking and depending on the location of the group you are meant to see, the trails could be rough. You are therefore advised to carry strong hiking boots. Other things to carry are; thick clothes, waterproof camera, rain jacket, a back pack where to carry water and snacks.

The Congo gorilla trip

DRC is a large country which will be accessed after sitting for hours in flight and when connecting from Rwanda to Virunga. If you connect to DRCongo from other countries like Uganda and Rwanda, expect to go through some busy towns especially those at the border. The drives are somewhat tiring but offer an opportunity to see various landscapes along the way.

You’ll meet kind people at the restaurants, along the way and at the park. Arrive at the park and prepare for the trek, meet the gorillas and also participate in other simple activities of Virunga national park.

Why Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park

Founded in 1925 as Parc Albert, Virunga national park is the oldest game park in Africa and one of the only 3 destinations that boast for having parks that are homes to the few remaining gorillas in the world. These endangered giant primates live only in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi impenetrable forest national park in Uganda. The park can easily be accessed through Rwanda or Goma international airport- direct flights on specific days.

Virunga national park is developing its tourism activities including gorilla tourism and other activities. You can enjoy your gorilla experience at a cheaper price than in Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda’s permit costs US$1,500, Uganda US$700 and DRC US$400. The gorillas are the same, all are wild, living on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes and in rainforests. Other wild animals that you may spot when trekking are the eastern chimps, lowland gorilla and monkeys among others.

After trekking, the rest of the time can be used to visit the Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage centre-the only orphanage in the whole world, go for a nature walk and visit the park head quarters if you are staying in Mikeno lodge.

The climate of DRC and Mountain gorilla trekking

Hiking on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes is easier during the dry season when the trails are not muddy. However much some little rain can be expected on some days during the dry season, it is not as much as that of the wet seasons. DRC is normally dry in the months of June, July, august, September and January to February. These are the peak seasons of Virunga national park. There are also high numbers of tourists in the month of December.

There are 2 rainy seasons in DRC; a short one and a long one. The shorter rainy season starts in October and ends in November whereas the longer rainy season starts in mid-March to May. These seasons can limit movement and access to the park. In fact, if you want to enjoy the discounted rates of the gorilla permit, this is the right time to travel. Lodges as well will reduce their prices in the low season that comes during the wet season- March to May and October to November.

Furthermore, during the wet season, there is plenty of food for gorillas on the lower slopes because of rainfall and so the gorillas can easily be spotted around those areas.

Part of the Virunga Massif, Virunga national park is a home to about 200 mountain gorillas. Most of these have been habituated into 6 families for tourism purposes. Trekking starts in the morning under the guidance of an armed ranger to the locations of the gorillas.

It is highly recommended that you use a tour operator when planning for your tour to DRC because the country just recovered from instabilities and tourism in the eastern parts is still in its earlier stages. Tour operators will advice you on which other places that are safe to visit, more interesting activities to do, even those in the neighboring countries for example canoeing, water rafting viewing the world’s mighty falls in Uganda.

Gorilla trekking experience in the DRC

The driver guide will transfer you to the starting point of the trek where you’ll meet your local guide and other trekkers if available. You’ll get instructions from the guide and he’ll tell you more about the park, the behavior of gorillas more so those of the group to be trekked and prediction of the time the trek may take. They are never certain about the time to end the trek but it can be short or long, depending on how far the group being trekked has moved. It is therefore important to go trekking after having an early breakfast, pack enough water and carry some food or snacks in your back pack.

Always remember to follow the rules and regulations when you are in the forest and when you find the gorillas. After spotting the gorillas, you are allowed to stay with them, observe them and take photos (do not use flash cameras). After an hour or less, you leave the gorillas and set back to where you started the trek. On the way to or from the forest, you may sight out some of the rest of the residents of the forest; lowland gorillas, baboons, monkeys and lots of birds.

Encountering the gorillas

The ease of finding gorillas in Virunga national park today is due to the effort that has been applied towards protection of these giants by the respective bodies. In July 2007, six gorillas were killed in virunga national park and this called for significant institutional and security reforms which have today helped to cover this gap and realize increase of the gorilla population over the years.

Park rangers are playing a great role in protecting the mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the park. Trails are maintained to ease penetration to the park. These make it easier to get it into the forest and find the gorillas, an experience that you can’t compare to anything else. Maintaining a distance of 7m away from the gorillas, you are allowed to interact with them up to a maximum of an hour. The one hour with the gorillas is the crowning part of the trek.

Accessing Virunga National park

Travelling by Air

Most tourists travelling to Virunga national park pass via Kigali international airport in Rwanda. It is easier and more reliable to pass via Rwanda since other main airports of the DRC are far away from the park, for example in Kinshasha. When you fly to Kigali, the driver guide picks you and transfers you to your hotel if you arrived in the evening. In the morning, you are transferred to DRC through Gisenyi- Goma border to Virunga national park.

There is an alternative of using direct flights to Goma airport though this is limited by the fact that most airlines do not have daily flights to this airport. Airlines that fly to and from this airport are Ethiopian airlines, Turkish Airlines, Brussels, Air France and Kenyan airlines among others.

Traveling by road

If you book for your safari with us, transportation will be with the use of a “4 by 4” safari van to connect to Virunga national park. However, if you organize for the safari through the park, transportation from the border in Gisenyi/Goma is arranged to transfer you to9 the park.

Connecting to Virunga national park by road will depend on where you are coming from and where you wish to enter from.

From Uganda, you’ll connect via Kisoro town through Bunagana border and then proceed to the gorilla trekking starting point at Bukima. This happens so if there are some tourist activities you were doing in the southwestern part of Uganda. However, if you just entered through Entebbe airport to connect to DRC, then the first day would be for traveling to Kisoro where you spend an overnight before proceeding to Bunagana border.

From Rwanda by road, the journey is shorter than from the capital of Uganda. From Kigali international airport in Rwanda, connecting to Gisenyi/Goma border takes about 4 hours and extra one and a half hours to link to Virunga national park.

Traveling by water

Water transport on Lkae Kivu is mainly used by those who want to connect from Bukavu to virunga national park after other activities. They use ferries from Bukavu via Idjwi Island to Goma. A speed boat takes 3 hours while a public boat takes about 5 ho0urs to arrive at the landing site at Goma. From Goma, you are transferred to Virunga national park, this takes a duration of about one and a half hours.

Riding on a slow boat will cost you US$50 while the public boat ride will cost US$300-400. You can as well make bookings in advance for swift boats. These swift boats require you to obtain tickets in advance.

Please note the following about border crossing

When travelling to Virunga national park, most tourists enter DRC through land borders. This is because the process to go through is not complicated. At the main border- Gisenyi/Goma, there is a border post (Grande Barrier border post) where tourists check-in and are cleared before proceeding to DRC. This is where you’ll obtain your visa that you will have earlier applied for. Before travelling to DRC, ensure that you have the following;

  • A Valid yellow fever vaccination card. If you do not have this card, you’ll not be allowed to proceed into the country and you’ll have to get one there which is at a higher cost.
  • Have all your paper work finished before travelling. Arrange all the travel documents and make a copy for safety purposes. It will ease the process at the border.
  • Endeavour to always read about the updated travel information of the country before travelling.

Book with for gorilla trekking in DRC…..