Activities in Virunga National Park are the amazing ventures that travelers can engage in when they visit the extraordinary Virunga ranges which harbor mountain gorillas. Virunga national park is found in the Albertine Rift Valley in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park was established in 1925 to protect the endangered mountain gorillas from poachers and is among the first protected areas in Africa. It covers an area of 8090 square kilometers and ranges from 680m in the Semliki River valley to 5109m in the Rwenzori Mountains. From the north to south it extends about 300km along the borders with Uganda and Rwanda in the east. Virunga national park is a tropical forest with 2 active volcanoes which are mount Nyiragongo and Nyiramuragira, and the mountain gorillas on the flanks of the Mikeno volcano. It is covered with forest vegetation, savannah vegetation, lava plains, erosion valley, and swamps. The park is a home of different animal species like elephants, hippos, lions among others, bird species, reptiles, amphibians and primates like the mountain gorilla, baboons, bush babies, vervet monkey, red-tailed monkey, black and white monkey, blue monkey among others.
Activities are the experiential things that the visitors participate in when they are on a safari in Virunga national park.
Activities in Virunga national park
Gorilla trekking is the biggest attraction and the most done of the activities in Virunga national park which involves visitors moving from one area or destination to another in search of the mountain gorillas. In Virunga national park there are about 300 gorillas and they are divided into different families of which 8 gorilla families were habituated and they include Rugendo family which was the first to be habituated and are headed by the silverback, Munyanga family, Mapuwa family, Lulengo family, Kabirizi family, Bageni family, Nyakamwe family and Humba family.
In Virunga National Park gorilla trekking begins very early in the morning at around 6:00 am at Bukima patrol post with a ranger and is usually done with a maximum of 8 people per day, trekking takes 1-2 hours hiking in different areas and the visitors are given 1 hour in the presence of the gorillas once they have been found. The visitors are supposed to wear mouth masks for protection of the gorillas from human diseases and incase a visitor is not feeling so good or has some illness like fever or cold etc he or she is advised to cancel the trekking in order not to infect the gorillas.
Gorilla permits in Virunga national park is the cheapest compared to other countries like Uganda which is $600 and Rwanda which is at $1500 ln that it costs $400 per person for non residents and $150 for Congolese residents, in case of a porter which is highly recommended to carry the bag pack and offer assistance where necessary there will be an additional cost of $15 per trek, children below the age of 15 years are not allowed to participate in trekking.
Chimpanzee habituation is another interesting among the activities done in Virunga National Park to familiarize the chimpanzees or teach them how to be approachable with human presence hence helping the visitors to get close to them and learn more about their behaviors and habits. The chimpanzee habituation process usually starts very early at around 4:30 am where the rangers go in the forest to spot where they are and later go with the visitors at around 6:00 am due to that it will be easy for the visitors in that they won’t be able to walk long distances in search of them.
Chimpanzee trekking is limited to a maximum of 4 people and the visitors have plenty of time with the chimpanzees in that they are given 4 hours a day in their presence and will be able to see chimpanzees behaviors like de-nesting like at 6:00 am, breastfeeding, hunting playing with each other and many more. Visitors are not recommended to go for the habituation process if they have some illness like a cold, fever and many other health viruses because they can die if they are exposed to health viruses and are also told not to dress up in clothes that are brightly colored in yellow, white, orange, or red because the colors may shy away the chimpanzees
Nyiragongo volcano hike is a beautiful volcano that is 3470m high above the sea level and is covered with diverse vegetation and sometimes with snow that has the world’s largest lava lake. Nyiragongo is an active volcano in that it has erupted over 34 times and the last time it erupted in 2002, water was flowing in the nearby communities. It takes a 30minutes drive by car from Goma which is the nearest to the park and an hour drive from Rumagabo to Nyiragongo volcano. The Nyiragongo Volcano trek usually starts at 10:00 am in the morning at Kibati patrol post with ranger guides and porters who are always available for hire to carry the bag during the hike and also offer support in case of slippery or hot volcanic rocks and the visitors are supposed to prepare for the hike through carrying equipment like walking sticks for support, rain gears or waterproofs in case it rains, hiking boots for easy movement, hand gloves for protection from sharp stones, sweaters, warm clothing’s like jackets, some snacks and enough water to keep them strong while hiking.
Hiking usually takes 4-6 hours and sometimes 6-7 hours to reach on the top of the volcano depending on the speed of the visitors hiking and the breaks they are having during the hike and the visitors who will reach at Kabita patrol point later than 10:00 will not be allowed to hike because they cannot trek alone. On top of the Nyiragongo volcano, there are tents with mattresses where the visitors will spend a night, a campfire to warm them and a chef who will prepare different dishes for them, coffee and breakfast for the next morning. There is a good and clear view on top of the volcano for photographs and many others.
Senkwekwe orphanage center, this is a facility located in Rumangabo near the park headquarters that was established in 2010 to take care of the orphaned gorillas that were rescued from the poachers. it is the only facility in the whole world that caters for the orphaned gorillas and was named after one of the wild silverback gorillas that were killed in Virunga in 2007.
The Senkwekwe orphanage center is a home of 4 gorilla families that were rescued from being killed and they include Ndakasi, Ndeze which were the first ones to be rescued, Matabishi, Yalala, then Maisha and Kaboko which later died due to health conditions. It has gorilla doctors for safety from diseases and offers other services like food, shelter, water and many other services to the orphan gorillas in Virunga national park. Visitors who come to Senkwekwe orphanage spend a great time with the gorillas through playing with them, interacting with them, learning their behaviors, how they feed, how they play with each other and many more.
The facility gets funds from the community, well-wishers, and others that help in the proper running of the facility and funds also help the facility to take care of the eastern lowland gorillas from being poached.
Nature walks in Virunga, nature walks are among the activities done in Virunga whereby the visitors follow the trails to different areas in the tropical rain forest to spot different wildlife species. Visitors engage in nature walks so as to relax from the noise, relieve from stress among others. During the nature walks they will be able to spot the endangered gorillas, monkeys, baboons, elephants, buffaloes, okapis, lions, antelopes, hippos on the water banks of lake Edward , bird species like the narrow tailed starling, Madagascar bee-eater , track chimpanzees, visit the Senkwekwe orphanage and many more hence giving them a great experience in the Virunga national park.
Birding is also another activity that is done in the Virunga national park because it’s a birders paradise or a home of over 706 bird species. It is the process whereby the visitors wake up very early and go to the forest with the ranger to spot different bird species using either their eyes, binoculars or following the birds’ voice when singing in the trees. The birds in Virunga national park live in big trees where they build nests and holes for shelter and they feed on the tree fruits and insects as food, bird species in the park include the African olive pigeon, handsome francolin, white-headed wood hoopoe, thick bellied sea eater, chestnut throated apalis, blue-spotted wood dove, Angolan swallow, blue-headed sunbird, strange weaver, tropical boubou, Rwenzori batis, grey throated barbet, double toothed barbet, alpine swift, mountain greenbul, barred long-tailed cuckoo, black-headed waxbill and many more others.
Landscape viewing in Virunga, Virunga is the only park with the best view of the landscapes which include the volcanoes in the Virunga conservation area, the Rwenzori mountains, eroded valley that is spotted in the Ishango and Sinda region, forest cover, afro-alpine vegetation, snow summits among others which the visitor a great experience and good photographs that will be taken during the view.
However Virunga national part has a number of accommodation facilities that the tourist can use while on the Virunga safari including the luxurious Mikeno lodge that is located within the forest and offers a good view experience of the rift valley, for example, the Mikeno volcano, Nyiragongo volcano, the chimpanzees, baboons and different bird species to the visitors. The Lulimbi tented camp is another lodge located in the heart of Virunga and it is home to a large number of animals like the buffalos, hippos, warthogs, elephants, giant forest hog, topi, crocodiles, Uganda kobs, and birds. There is also Nyiragongo volcano summit shelter which is located in Nyiragongo 5ft high and provides basic sleeping bags to the visitors hence recommended to carry their own sleeping bags. Nyiragongo volcano summit shelter is adventurous in that it offers a clear view of the wildlife species like chimpanzees bushbucks among others. Virunga National Park has many more accommodation facilities like the Bukima lodge, Tchegera island camp among others. The national park can be visited at any time of the year.
Virunga national park is one of the 4 parks in the world with gorillas apart from Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga national park in Uganda. Activities in Virunga National Park are many and the tourists can engage in while on the safari so also see the different wildlife species hence making the safari in Virunga national park interesting and exciting.