Virunga National Park, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is an exceptional destination for gorilla trekking and an opportunity to spend time with the endangered mountain gorillas. This renowned park, made famous by the award-winning documentary “Virunga,” is Africa’s oldest and most biodiverse protected area. It is situated in the eastern part of the DRC, sharing borders with Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga National Park is home to over one thousand animal species, including a significant population of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. It is one of the four national parks worldwide dedicated to protecting these magnificent creatures and their habitats.
Situated on the eastern edge of the Congo Basin, Virunga National Park is the second-largest tropical rainforest globally, offering diverse habitats that extend from the Rwenzori peaks to the Semliki River basin, the savanna plains around Lake Edward, and the shores of Lake Kivu. The park encompasses the montane slopes of Nyamulagira, Nyiragongo, and Mikeno volcanoes. Unfortunately, Virunga is constantly threatened by war, illegal activities such as poaching, and natural disasters.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park provides an unparalleled experience. The park offers spectacular sights, including impenetrable jungles, red-hot lava lakes, extensive savannah plains, and snow-covered mountains. However, the main attraction that draws visitors to Virunga National Park is the opportunity to encounter the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. In this guide, we aim to provide you with comprehensive information to plan your gorilla trekking adventure in Virunga National Park.
Virunga National Park is one of the four national parks globally that offer gorilla trekking experiences to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Despite civil conflicts in the region, a few adventurous visitors have experienced the remarkable beauty of the montane Virunga forest and describe it as an incredible experience in this part of Africa. During the trek, visitors are accompanied by armed rangers and expert trackers who guide them to find the gorillas. Once located, visitors are allowed to spend at least an hour in close proximity to the gorillas, sitting quietly about ten meters away.
Similar to gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park begins in the early morning with small groups of eight tourists, two armed rangers, an expert tracker guide, and sometimes porters to assist with the trekking. Gorilla trekking in Virunga can last half a day, and the time taken to find the gorillas can range from 30 minutes to 6 hours, depending on the gorilla family’s location. The trek involves traversing thick jungle, steep slopes, and enduring cold and misty weather. It is recommended to be moderately physically fit before embarking on the trek.
Virunga National Park is home to approximately eight habituated gorilla groups available for gorilla trekking. These gorilla groups are named Humba, Rugendo, Kabirizi, Lulengo, Munyaga, Mapuwa, Nyakamwe, and Bageni, making it easier to identify them. Each group consists of up to 30 family members, led by a dominant male silverback gorilla.
The park rangers closely monitor the habituated gorilla groups in Virunga throughout the day, allowing them to know the gorillas’ whereabouts at any given time. During the morning briefing at the park headquarters, visitors are assigned to a gorilla group based on their physical fitness level. This ensures that every visitor has the opportunity to see the gorillas.
Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park offers a similar experience to trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Visitors will navigate uneven terrain, steep slopes, muddy ground, and dense jungle to reach the gorillas. It is not uncommon for rain to occur unexpectedly as Virunga National Park is, after all, a rainforest. The duration of the trek can vary, adding to the authenticity and adventure of gorilla trekking in the African jungle.
The cost of a gorilla trekking permit in Virunga National Park is USD 450 per person per trek for individuals above 15 years old. Compared to the gorilla permit prices of USD 700 in Uganda and USD 1,500 in Rwanda, the permit cost in the DRC offers a more affordable gorilla trekking experience.
Gorilla permits can be obtained by booking directly with the Virunga Foundation in Virunga National Park, although the process can be bureaucratic. Alternatively, you can book through a licensed local tour operator such as Trek Africa Tours. At Trek Africa Tours, we simplify the booking process for our travelers, eliminating administrative complexities. For assistance with gorilla permit bookings, you can contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the gorilla permit cost, the overall cost of a gorilla trekking safari in Virunga National Park includes accommodation (ranging from $100 to $300) and transfers.
The nearest town to Virunga National Park is Goma, which is approximately an hour’s drive from the park. Flights to Goma can be arranged, and various airlines provide connections to Goma from Kigali (Rwanda), Entebbe (Uganda), and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), including Uganda Airlines, RwandAir, and Ethiopian Airways.
Another option is to drive from Entebbe, which takes approximately 10-12 hours via Kisoro (near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park) and crossing the Bunagana border. Please note that immigration procedures between the two countries must be completed.
Alternatively, if arriving at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda, it is possible to reach Virunga National Park by crossing the western Rwanda border at Gisenyi and driving for 4-6 hours.
While Virunga National Park is open year-round, the best time for gorilla trekking in Virunga is during the dry seasons of June to September and December to February. These periods have minimal rainfall, the terrain is more manageable, and the dirt roads to the park are dry.
Although some travelers choose to visit Virunga during the wet season to take advantage of low-season promotions, the wet seasons, which occur from March to May and October to November, are generally avoided due to heavier rainfall. However, the availability of gorilla permits in Virunga may also influence the timing of your visit.
There are several excellent accommodation options near Virunga National Park, including:
Other accommodation options for different budgets include Lulimbi Tented Camp, Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters, Hotel Begonias, Bukima Tented Camp, Orchids Safari Club, Exodus Bukavu, and Coco Lodge.
When preparing for a gorilla trekking safari in Virunga National Park, it is important to consider the altitude, which can reach up to 5,000 meters, resulting in cold temperatures and the possibility of rain. The following items are recommended for your packing list:
It is essential to pack lightweight items to avoid excessive weight while trekking in the jungle.
Organizing a gorilla trekking safari in Virunga National Park requires careful planning, particularly due to the unpredictable civil instability in the surrounding areas. It is recommended to seek the assistance of an expert and licensed local tour operator to guide you through the logistics and ensure a smooth trip in the DRC.
Trek Africa Tours has extensive experience organizing trips to Virunga National Park, including filming safaris within this UNESCO World Heritage site. Our team is ready to offer our services and assist you in planning your gorilla trekking safari in Virunga. For inquiries and further information, please contact us via email at email@example.com.