Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo along with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Mgahinga gorilla national park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda are the only destinations where the world’s endangered mountain gorillas dwell. Trekking to see mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park was at first disrupted by civil wars caused by the M23 rebels who occupied the Mikeno area of the national killing many mountain gorillas putting tourism to a standstill.
Presently, political situation is stable and peace recovered hence encouraging peaceful and enjoyable gorilla tourism safaris. There are over 8 gorilla families that have been habituated for trekking in the Virunga national park at a cost of 400 $ for a single gorilla permit. Over 3000 tourists a year visit the southern sector of Virunga National Park to admire the gorillas as well as the lava lake of the Nyiragongo Volcano.
During our gorilla photo safari to Africa we visited two countries: Rwanda for mountain gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park and Democratic Republic of Congo in Virunga National Park for the Nyiragongo hike and gorilla trek. On the 6th of July 2017, we arrived in Rwanda at Kigali international airport, picked by company representative from Nature Adventure Africa Safaris Ltd. We were taken for a Kigali city tour to visit the Gisozi genocide memorial, the King’s palace and craft shops and the local markets too. After the city tour we were driven to Kigali Serena Hotel for our dinner and overnight.
Just a short two hour’s drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, the park is a central location for exploring some distinctly Rwandan experiences. While a visit to the mountain gorillas is often at the top of visitor, the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking and visits to the fascinating golden monkeys. Gorilla briefing took place at Kinigi headquarters in Volcanoes National Park home of the rare mountain gorilla.
8 visitors allowed per family each day, the entire experience is a privilege. Lucky visitors trek anywhere from 2 to 8 hours depending on movements and allocation of the gentle giants. For one hour trekkers get an up close view of a gorilla family, including the Susa group made famous by Dian Fossey. Tracking gorillas is an extraordinary experience worthy to be taken because of the existence of the primates in Volcanoes National Park. These apes are charming, friendly and smart to be amidst.
They are sub-divided into relational groups and carry different attributes like say the silver backs that act as the leaders, the fully developed female gorillas as the caretakers and the youthful and are at all times within the trees. After the gorilla trekking experience, in evening visited the local communities around the park to buy some local crafts and to see and know how they live their daily life. We returned to our lodge for dinner and overnight stay.
The following day with morning breakfast we transferred to Congo via Gisenyi to Goma the capital of north Kivu region with lunch en-route. We crossed over to DRC with all the paper formalities including the DRC tourist visa; crossing was the border was unproblematic. The Virunga guide was already waiting for us ready to transfer us to Bukima Tented Camp. Bukima Camp is situated in the foothills of the Mikeno Mountain, the home of the Congolese mountain gorillas. Virunga National Park is habitat to about 200 of gorillas that live mostly in the southern side of the park. The Congolese National Park Authorities, together with the Institute Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its associate the Africa Conservation Fund manage the national park.
Early in the morning after breakfast we transferred to Kibati patrol post to set off for the Nyiragongo volcano hike. The Nyiragongo is one of the most active in Africa. It is noted for long active lava lakes which appear in the summit crater. Nyiragongo is one of eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains. Hiking up the 3,470 metres Nyiragongo volcano is an experience of a lifetime. Mount Nyiragongo, active volcano in the Virunga Mountains of east-central Africa. The Nyiragongo is located in the Great Rift Valley, east of the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Rwandan border.
At 10:00am, we set off with seven other visitors, two rangers, and a team of porters to summit the 11,382-foot mountain and see it for our self. Our trek to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano began at the Kibati patrol post, 30 minutes by car from Goma and less than a 1 hour from Mikeno Lodge. Park rangers led us to the trek and porters were available for hire. The time required to reach the summit depends on the average fitness of each group, but typically took us 6 – 7 hours because in our group we had some old people so stopovers were many.
Finally, we reached the top, there dozens of metal cabins cling to the mountain side and after dropping our bags in one of them, we joined the group gathered at the volcano’s edge. Mount Nyiragongo lava lake bubbles a few hundred feet beneath me. The night on the rim of Nyiragongo´s summit caldera was an opportunity to observe and photograph the activity of the lava lake, the crater area and surrounding landscape during different times of the night.
Morning we descended from Nyiragongo´s summit back to the Kibati patrol post and transfer back to Bukima Tented Camp for a welcome shower and lunch. In the morning, the Virunga guide took us through a briefing before heading into the forest for the awaited trek. He covered the geography, history and some of the truths of the gorilla family we were to be visiting. The tour guide also offered us guidance on ways to conduct our self when you are with the gorillas in the forest.
An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virunga offers stirring views in all directions. Then, abruptly, the trail enters the national park, immersing trekkers in the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and chattering of the monkeys, and littered with fresh spoor of the mountains’ elusive populations of buffalo and elephant. Through gaps in the forest canopy, the magnificent peaks are glimpsed, easily accessible and among the highest in Africa.
The trek can be 20 – 40 minute hike from the way into the forest while on others it can take more than an hour’s walk to get to the Mountain gorillas since they are always on the go in the search of food. As you ascend onto the precipitous slopes of the volcanoes and into the jungle, you will need to tow yourself up the sharp paths by holding onto branches, plant roots, bushes, and many others. An on foot stick can also be handy. You are likely to get dehydrated so be sure to take sufficient amount of water.
The trek into the forest can be exhausting but the meeting with these apes is worth every endeavor. Our hike took only 1 hour searching for these gentile apes, once with the shy gorillas, we spent a thrilling time watching the gorillas which was truthfully a once in a life time experience. Remember were given an hour in the forest with these Mountain Gorillas. After the gorilla trekking adventure, we returned back to Goma then to Kigali for our flight back home.
I recommend those planning to track mountain gorillas in Virunga national park, to book with Nature Adventure Africa Safaris Ltd. Congo gorilla permits costs $400 per person while Rwanda Gorilla permits cost $1500 USD per person.