How to get to Virunga National Park
How to get to Virunga National Park is a simple task whereby a traveler has to 1st organize all necessary documents to enter Congo and then finding the park is easy. Virunga National park is a 15-minute ride away from Goma town the main hub for the tourists coming to Virunga National park for tourism purposes. Virunga national park has been existent for the oldest time in Africa since April of 1925 and was reserved as a protected area soon after that. Virunga national park is a site of importance and marked on the List of the World Heritage in Danger by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1994. This list was first established in 1972 to recognize and protect the places that hold great heritage but are at the verge or risk of extinction. Also in a way, this list was to create more awareness of what was taking place and in a way protect these places as conservation efforts were increased. For a place to be put on this list, it is first assessed and evaluated then also conservation efforts are put in place and it is closely monitored. In the past two decades since the park was listed, there has been great improvement despite the unrest the area presents.
This park has been closed and reopened a few times due to different reasons but with the reopening of Virunga national park earlier in the year of 2019 on the 15th of February under the new management that is more security conscious, there is hope for this great tourist destination to thrive again. All visitors to the park are escorted by a security convoy straight from Goma throughout the park until they return to Goma. All visitors to the park must check in with the tourism office at the Grande barrier border building before joining the convoy. Whether you are travelling by private transportation or group transportation, this is the first step when you cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There are several ways to get to the Virunga national park and the most commonly used way is flying into Rwanda to the Kigali International airport. There are many international air carriers that land at this airport so you may check with the most favourable for your home. If you choose to fly into Rwanda to connect to Virunga national park for any of the packages offered by the park, it is advisable to book a flight that will be landing in Rwanda not later than 8 am so as to make it in time for check-in with the park or alternatively you may book a flight into the country a night before so that you are well rested to start your Virunga tour the next day as early as 7:30 am. When you land at the Kigali on the day to start your tour, you will embark on a 4 to 5-hour drive to connect to the recommended border for tourists visiting Virunga that is the Gisenyi-Goma border that is the Grande Barrier. This border is just 15 kilometres away from the park. Previously, the Bunagana border of Uganda-Congo was being used but currently, tourists are advised against using this border due to the instability in the area from the military troops that inhabit the place. The Grande Barrier border building is where all the visitors to Virunga converge to start off their tours.
The other way to connect to Virunga national park is by landing directly into the Democratic republic of Congo at the Goma International Airport. The main international carrier that lands at this airport is the Ethiopian Airlines that operates daily flights to this airport. This is a faster way to connect to Virunga if you are not interested in the sight-seeing of Rwanda. This way you drive straight to Goma and back unlike if you connected from Kigali as on your last day you get to do a city tour of Kigali visiting the local market for souvenirs and the Genocide Memorial grounds. This is the better option for the tourists that are more time conscious and have less time to spend on the road.
There are also daily boat transfers between Bukavu and Goma so if one is doing a visit of the lowland gorillas at Kahuzi Biega, you can book a morning boat transfer from Bukavu port to the Goma port to connect to Virunga for the mountain gorilla visit or the Nyiragongo hike. This boat transfer is a 3-hour ride and costs about 50 dollars or less. Or you can take on the 7-hour ferry ride from Bukavu to Goma and book accommodation in Goma so as to start your tour the next day at the allocated set off time.
Before you book your flights into the country either Rwanda or the Democratic republic of Congo, it is very important to check with your travel agent if the time and dates align with the package you are interested in as all packages to Virunga have specific set off times and others even have specific set off days, for example, the packages going further to the Rumangabo sector that is the Mikeno lodge and Bukima Lodge guests usually set off from Goma only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.