Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park is one of the tourist activities that have sold the tourism industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga National Park is an iconic attraction for its stunning lush beauty and endangered mountain gorillas, making it undoubtedly the best place for gorilla trekking. Located in the Albertine Rift Valley in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo right in the Capital Kinshasa, the park is 7,800 square kilometers. The park was formed in 1925 mainly to protect the mountain gorillas inhabiting the forests of the Virunga massif, making it the very first national park ever established in the African continent. In 1979, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Virunga National Park, located in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, can be accessed by both road and air. Many travelers interested in gorilla trekking in Virunga National park fly to Kigali International airport in Rwanda and thereafter connect by road through Gisenyi town crossing to Goma in Congo by a dirt road. From Gisenyi, it is about a 2 hours’ drive to get to the park headquarters of Bukima. If traveling from Uganda, travelers cross at Bunagana border post in Kisoro town and take a one-hour drive to Bukima, the starting point for gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park. Ethiopian airways operate single flights each week to Goma Airport. Travelers doing a trip without the help of a tour operator may need ranger escorts to guide them on the best way to make it to the tourism sites safe and easy.
The park is comprised of three different sectors say the northern, central and southern sectors each with an unrivaled diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. Virunga National Park is a habitat to not only mountain gorillas but also birds, reptiles, mammals that include among other forest elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, chimps, and monkeys.
Virunga’s southern sector is best known for its montane tropical forests, active volcanoes and the gentle mountain gorillas that live on the flanks of the dormant Mikeno volcano. The world’s entire critically endangered mountain gorillas live only in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi which spans parts of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. Virunga national park is home to a third of the total population.
Mountain gorillas are the major attraction in this park and tourists oftentimes prefer to track gorillas from the Virunga National Park because it is less congested compared to the other parks in the region and the cost of the gorilla tracking permit is also relatively low.
As of now, there are eight habituated gorilla groups in Virunga National Park which are open to tourists to track, and they are Kabirizi gorilla group, Humba, Rugendo, Lulengo, Mapuwa, Munyaga, Nyakamwe, and Bageni gorilla groups.
Kabirizi gorilla group: this group was previously named Ndungutse after a very humble and giant silverback that was killed during a crossfire between the Congo army and the rebels in the Bukima patrol post. The group is currently led by Kabirizi, a humble silverback but faces competition from Masibo, a young silverback. The group currently has 19 members.
Humba gorilla group: this group has 9 members and is currently the calmest gorilla group, making it one of the most opted for gorilla groups by tourists. Humba is the lead silverback of this group.
Rugendo gorilla group: habituated in 1989, this group is one of the oldest in the park.
Mapuwe gorilla group: this group is found near the Congo-Uganda border, Bunagana, and is led by Mvuyekure. The number of members in this group is 22 gorillas.
Lulengo gorilla group: living in the Jomba area near Bunagana, the group was named after a technical director of Virunga National park that was killed by a landmine. The group has 9 members.
Munyaga gorilla group: this often lives in the Bukima sector of the Virunga National Park. The group prides in having an adult female Bilali that gave birth to twins who unfortunately died in infancy. The group has a bold headed silverback called Kadogo.
Nyakamwe gorilla group: one of the newly habituated gorilla group in Virunga national park that is available for trekking by tourists, and has 11 gorilla members.
Bageni gorilla group: this is currently the largest gorilla group in Virunga National Park with 26 members. There is stiff competition in the though, and it is anticipated that the group may split up soon.
For one to be able to go gorilla trekking in Congo, one must first purchase a gorilla tracking permit from the park headquarters at $400 per person and $150 applicable to only Congo citizens. The cost of the permit is the lowest compared to Uganda and Rwanda. Eight persons per group per day are allowed to trek gorillas and allowed only an hour once you meet the. Sick persons are advised not to opt to trek as you would be putting the life of the gorillas at risk. Persons below the age of 15 are not allowed to trek.
For one to have a successful gorilla trekking trip in Virunga national park, one must carry some very essential items to aid you, say good hiking boots (preferably waterproof), waterproof jackets, long sleeved shirts, and good trousers, a hat, camera snacks and enough water for refreshment, insect repellent creams, and a waterproof backpack to safeguard your important items like the camera from the rains.
During the gorilla trekking expedition in Virunga National Park, travelers are advised to follow some rules and regulations say maintaining a 7-meter distance from the gorillas, keep as silent as possible, not to touch the gorillas, turn away from the gorillas must you need to sneeze, not to stare at the gorillas, keep the park liter free, stay calm should a gorilla charge and to always follow your guides instructions among others. These rules are for your own safety and conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is best done during the dry months of June to September and mid-December to February where the paths are less slippery. The rains can, however, fall at any time, irrespective of the season. Packing correctly, therefore, is very essential. Contact your trusted tour operator to put together a gorilla trekking safari in Virunga National Park for you.