Virunga National Park – Africa’s oldest protected area

Virunga National park is the Africa’s oldest national park to be conserved due to its biodiversity and the endangered rare mountain gorillas, almost more than half of what’s in Sub Saharan Africa in concentrated in this park and the forest.

The park was established in 1925 by the King of Belgium King Albert 1 and the protected area was name Albert national regarding to the founder Albert the king of Belgium, the park was mainly gazetted to protect the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas which can also be found in Uganda and Rwanda particularly.

After 1960 when Congo had gotten independence the park deteriorated just like the country and it was not until the early 70s when the president picked interest in conservation that the park was revived and renamed Virunga National Park

This park also boosts of two active volcanoes. Virunga national park though has for a long time been threatened by political conflicts in DRC but somehow it’s still surviving and was recently reopened. Established in 1925 by the then King of Belgium King Albert 1 and it was first called Albert national Park.

The park size is about 7800 sq. km and stretches from Virunga Mountains in the South up to the Rwenzori in the north. The park is well known for a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles concentration compare to other protected areas in Africa, and it is also home to notables like the chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, giraffes, and buffaloes.

It’s the oldest wildlife protected area in the entire African soil created to protect and conserve the unique wildlife species within the region for science and research purposes and protecting an indigenous threatened fruit-gathering community.

The vestiges of Virunga’s rich diverse ecosystem that includes block mountain, volcanic mountains, the Albertine rift, craters and crater lakes, rainforests, woodlands, open grasslands, swamp and wetland vegetation amongst others extend into Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable, Queen Elizabeth, Semliki, Rwenzori and Mgahinga National Park as well as Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Of recent mountain gorillas in Virunga have been the major attraction in this park given the fact that this is among the few parks in the area with these endangered gorillas. People prefer to track the gorillas here also because the cost is low and the park is also less congested compared to other tracking centres like PNV and Bwindi.

This park is still fresh for new discoveries since it has not had a lot of tourism activity for a long time since its inception and it would be a good idea for those who want research and adventures in the same line. For some good time the area has been free for rebel activity and it is safe to travel, there is of course propaganda that the place is not safe but what of the influx of tourist coming in every day.

The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 because of the ecological approach though political upheavals have had negative implications on the conservancy.

The 1990’s war period in the Rwanda was so challenging to the Virunga because of high influx of refugees into the Virunga conservancy who encroached on wildlife resources.

In 1994, the Virunga conservancy was declared World Heritage in Danger and later became a Ramsar site of international importance in 1996. The Virunga is still rated a strong ecological pillar for the entire east and central African ecosystem.

Virunga National Park is located in Eastern DR Congo. Travel by road to Virunga is challenging in some way from the rest of DR Congo except Goma Town 32km close. Many travelers to Virunga National Park fly to Kigali International Airport, connect by road through Gisenyi town, and cross to Goma in DR Congo by dirt road. From Gisenyi it is average 2-hour drive to reach the park headquarters at Bukima. Travelers from Uganda side cross at Bunagana border post in Kisoro town and take an hour drive to Bukima the Mountain gorilla trek starting point.

Ethiopian Airways operates single flights each week to Goma. The park arranges private transport for travelers arriving by air at Goma Airport. Seek guidance from Virunga National Park on the best way to travel into the park. Travellers may need ranger escorts at times to guide them on the best way to make it to the tourism zones.

Major Attractions in Virunga National Park The Virunga conservancy is many travellers’ dream destination because of pleasant warm weather and mild showers. The equator line runs through the Virunga and carries with it high temperatures. Some parts of the Virunga are at a higher altitude and get chilly all the time. The Virunga volcanic soils are rich in nutrients for plant growth and the favourable temperatures ensure rapid plant growth. The surrounding large water bodies; Lakes Kivu, Edward, Albert and other smaller lakes, Rivers Congo, Nile, Semliki and other tributaries have cool breezes and are ideal for water adventure activities.

This protected area is very rich in wildlife species, with a vibrant plant species of 2,077, 264 are tree species and 230 of the grasses, shrubs, and plants are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Swamp and wetland vegetation ring the water bodies rising to open grasslands, woodlands, rainforests, montane forests, heath and alpine vegetation in the highlands. The Virunga is top travel destinations for travellers with an eye for wandering in the lush vegetation to explore and discover the beauty that is hiding in the African wilderness.

Note that Virunga massif that extends into Rwanda and Uganda is the only habitat for Mountain gorillas on earth. Mountain gorilla trekking safaris to Virunga are the most popular of tourism activities in DR Congo. There are not so many Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park despite the large size of the habitat and six families are open for tourism activities. Kabirizi family is the popular to many travellers on gorilla trekking safari to DR Congo. Kabirizi is a dominant polygamist silverback with the largest of the gorilla family that has close to three dozen members.

Chimpanzees tracking safaris are the second most popular tourism activity in the Virunga that started in 1987 by Frankfurt Zoological Society for research study purposes. Travellers walk into and explore the rainforests on the lookout for families of chimpanzees that are less bothered by curious eyes of adventurers. Travellers tracking chimpanzees are restricted to one-hour interaction with the chimpanzees. Chimpanzee habituation exercise is an exciting travel activity that gives travellers an entire day unlimited interaction with families of chimpanzees. The chimpanzee habituation teams set out early morning and wander into the rainforests looking for chimpanzees before they leave their nests, spend entire day observing and discovering their habits until evening when they make nests for the night.

Virunga National Park is a majorly tropical rain forest with dense vegetation, but some of the areas are covered by other forms of vegetation like; woodland, grassland and swamp.

For the adventure travellers visiting Virunga Park set out in the morning and walk into the wilderness to explore and discover the breath-taking beauty of the landscape in the area.

Use defined trail to leads you to the secret corners with unbelievable sightings as you enjoy the unique sounds from the wilderness and other melodies of wonder within the protected area.