Why Visit Virunga National Park
- Track mountain gorillas in the heart of Africa
- Follow chimpanzees through the forests (when in range!)
- Spend a night on Nyiragongo Volcano and watch the world’s largest lava lake at night
- Climb the Rwenzori Mountains – Mountains of the Moon – home to Africa’s largest glaciers
- Visit Senkwekwe - the only orphan mountain gorilla sanctuary in the world
A Little More Information About Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and one of the most exciting. The park’s 7800 square kilometres (3000 square miles) includes forests, savannahs, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes and the glacial peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains. It is also the only park in the world to have populations of three great ape species – the chimpanzee, the lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla, but wandering through the shadowy forests you may find Okapi, both forest and savannah elephants, large colonies of hippo’s, numerous rare birds and even lion. Added to this, half of all the biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa can be found in Virunga. It is perhaps no wonder that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most exciting places to explore in the Democratic Republic of Congo, perhaps in all of Africa.
The park itself is comprised of three main sectors.The northern sector is defined by the Rwenzori Mountains that border Uganda. At over 5000 meters (16,400 ft), the summits of the Rwenzoris are permanently snow-capped and snowmelt from the Rwenzoris is one of the primary sources of the Nile River. Okapis can also be found here, living along the Semliki River valley.
The central sector is based around Lake Edward, the Ishasha river valley and the Rwindi plains. Lake Edward contains over 50 species of fish, as well as numerous bird species and the lake itself and the adjacent Ishasha river valley are home to the park’s recovering hippo population – once the world’s largest. The park’s highest concentrations of elephant, buffalo, warthogs and topi are found on the Rwindi plains of the central sector, offering a much more traditional plains game safari.
Virunga’s southern sector is best known for the mountain gorillas that live on the flanks of the dormant Mikeno volcano (4380m/14,557 ft), with four habituated mountain gorilla families near Bukima. Humba (eight individuals), Rugendo (eight individuals), Mapua (21 individuals) and Nyakamwe (nine individuals). There is another habituated group - Kimbombo consisting of 25 individuals – but it is further away from Bukima. The dense forests that cover most of southern Virunga, also make it ideal habitat for chimpanzees and numerous species of monkey, including the Blue and Colobus found in high numbers, particularly around Mikeno Lodge.
When to go
Jan to Feb and then end of May through to October are drier times, with heavier rains in November and March and April. That said, this is a rainforest region with its own micro-climate so expect the unexpected!