Virunga National Park DR Congo, Gorilla Trekking & Mountain Nyiragongo Volcano Hike.
Virunga National park also called Parc National des Virunga was established as a National park in 1925 to protect and conserve the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas. The park covers an area of 7800 sq kilometers (3000 sq kilometers) consisting of forests, Savannah, lava plains, erosion valleys, swamps, active volcanoes with glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains.
The park is strategically situated eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo along the border of Uganda and Rwanda. There are various wildlife animals like the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas, lions, colonies of hippopotami, savannah elephants, chimpanzees, okapi, bird species that inhabit the park and settles within the massifs of the Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains.
The Rwenzori mountains also called the Mountains of the Moon due to their permanently snow capped peaks with more than 5000 meters (16,400 ft) are found in the north. The snow that melts continuously is regarded to be the primary source of the magnificent River Nile.
In the middle of the park is the Ishasha river valley that acts as a habitat to restored hippo, Lake Edward with very many species of fish and birds as well as the Rwindi plains that inhabit populations of buffalo, warthogs, topi, elephants.
In the south are the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas that inhabit the Mikeno Volcano (4380m/14,557 ft) border that is covered by thick forest vegetation that inhabits chimpanzee and various monkeys. A variety of activities can be taken on and these include Gorilla trekking, Chimpanzee tracking, Nature walks to the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage, Hiking Mountain Nyiragongo Volcano that is situated approximately 3470m/11,382 ft in the western direction and has vast active lava lakes at the top that spew lava into the sky providing good clear views with its red lighting in the sky at night.
How to Get to Virunga National Park DR Congo
Virunga National Park is situated 32 km west of Goma (capital of North Kivu province) and reaching this place one has to travel with someone who has knowledge about the whole area. The roads are not in good shape so the visitor has to be cautious when travelling and driving.
An appropriate way to get to the town of Goma flexibly is through Rwanda due to its well structured infrastructure especially roads. Form Kigali one takes only three hours to get to the DR Congo across the border and in only ten minutes he/she will have reached Goma. One can also go south west of Uganda to the Bunagana border where they can get a less costly visa that enables them to enter the DR Congo.
Things To Do in Virunga National park DR Congo
Gorillas are well built apes with longer arms compared to the legs and these tend to use all these limbs to move from one place to another and this is known as knuckle walking. There are four subspecies of Gorillas that is the eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), the western lowland gorillas and the cross river gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehl).
These consist of adult males called silver backs with unique silver hair on their backs with the western gorillas having brownish grey hair while the mountain gorillas from the east and others have blackish hair/fur. The fur is always very thick due to their habitat which is very cold and mountainous and the eastern low land gorillas are the biggest of all. Gorillas feed on leaves, shoots, roots, vines, fruits and this is due to the fact that they are herbivores for they eat vegetables.
Gorillas live together a hierarchical way where the silver back is the leader and at the top, followed by adult females who are followed by young gorillas including females and males called black backs who usually leave the group when they grow older then the juveniles.
These live in groups of 6-12 and the silver back makes prior decisions on what should be done for example when it comes to eating, where to move and rest at night because it is his responsibility to ensure that the group is safe and well protected from any harm. These are very timid animals though lively when it is day and when night falls every gorilla builds a nest of leaves/plants fibre in which they sleep and mothers share nests with the infants.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience
Chimpanzee Habituation is carried out in Virunga National Park in the areas around Rumangabo with all guests at Mikeeno Lodge freely to join the Habituation Team daily.
The Local ranger guides transfer into the forest very early in the morning at 4:30 am where as the rest interested transfer to tack at 6:00 am.
Travelers interested in the experience should book at Mikeeno Lodge and only 4 people are allowed to go track the Chimpanzees staying in their presence for a period of one hour taking numerous photos.
Bird watching in Virunga National Park can be carried out using binoculars or the naked eye to spot their various attributes and interactions in their natural forest habitat. The procedure requires you to use both your ears and eyes in order not to miss out on watching the brilliant bird species. In Virunga National park there a number of different bird species that inhabit the thick forest vegetation.
While still asleep at dawn, you will hear sounds and noise from the tremendous bird species which usually rise up very early and sing with in the trees at around 5:00 am and due to this, you will be compelled to get out of bed since the sound that comes from them is extra ordinary and persuasive.
The Birds in the forest/ park feed on insects and some include; the grey throated barbet, double toothed barbet, yellow billed barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, Narrow tailed Starling.
Mountain Nyiragongo Volcano Hiking
Mountain Nyiragongo Volcano is a beautiful strato volcano and one of the world’s most active volcanoes situated in Virunga National Park along the western arm of the Great Rift Valley close to Lake Kivu and the DR Congo Rwanda border in the East.
The volcano has a 1.2 km diameter summit caldera with the world’s most vigorous and largest lava lake that is approximately 60 feet high in a wide vertical sided cinder cone that was found on the crater floor. which reacts making the lava flow down in form of fluids and is made of melilite Nephelinite.
For example, Mountain Nyiragongo Volcano exploded on 17th January 2002 and the lava lake depleted from the cracks in the western part and during this time, Goma town was affected leading to massive deaths and about 200,000 people were displaced.
Usually, the volcano erupts with other two volcanoes i.e Shaheru and Baratu as well as other candid cinder cones which were formed after blunt eruptions. The lava flow from these is not harmful to humans due to its low silica content. Another volcano called Murara was also formed a few kilometers from Mount Nyiramuragira volcano.
The volcano’s inclines have thick forest vegetation covered with snow and this inhabits lots of wildlife like the monkeys, chimpanzee and bushbucks. When visitors are at the volcano, they will gaze down into the vigorous lava lake and hear sounds of hot gases bursting a montage of molten lava.
All treks to the summit begin at the Kibati patrol post which is just an hour’s drive from Mikeno Lodge in Rumangabo and only 30 minutes by car from Goma Town. Reaching the top of the summit depends on how fast a group can trek to the top though, usually the whole activity takes about 4-6 hours.