The park lies in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda, and includes part of Lake Edward, the Semliki River valley, parts of the Rwindi, Ishasha and Rutshuru valleys south of the lake, the Virunga area within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and part of the Rwenzori range. Lake Edward belongs to the Nile river system and Lake Kivu to the Congo Basin river system.
Features include hot springs in the Rwindi plains and the Virunga Massif volcanoes, such as Nyamuragira (3,068 m) and Nyiragongo (3,470 m), are still active. The areas of lowest and highest rainfall in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in Virunga National Park.
Some of the largest wild animal concentrations in Africa occur along the rivers of the park. Mammals in the savannah of the Rwindi area include: elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, numerous antelope including kob, defassa waterbuck and topi, warthog, lion and various monkeys. Large numbers of pelicans occur on the lower Rutshuru.
In the Semiliki Valley and on the slopes of the Virunga mountains are gorilla, chimpanzee and okapi. In the extreme north are forest hog and bongo. Birds include Nahan’s francolin, forest ground thrush, shoebill and probably papyrus yellow warbler.
Flora and fauna
The park boasts an astounding biodiversity due to the large variety of habitats it offers. In the southern sector the Mountain Gorillas attract most attention but the montane forests are also home to other primates such as Chimpanzees, Golden monkeys, Blue monkeys and black and white colobus. Forest Elephants and Buffalo are also found in this area as is the very shy Golden Cat.
The central area of the park consists mostly of savannah with species such as Lion, Leopard, Kob, Hyena, Topi, warthog etc. The lake, once containing the largest population of Hippo’s (over 20.000), is now slowly regenerating after many troubled years and Hippo’s and Crocodiles are once again a common sight.
In the North of the park in the deep Congolese forest the most elusive of African creatures is found: the Okapi.
Climb Nyiragongo Volcano
This volcano, famous for its lava lake, is a technically easy climb from the direction of Goma. A trip to the top should take <6 hours, most climbers spend the night at the top. This also makes it possible to see the boiling lava by night, when it becomes even brighter.
The Mountain Gorillas are located in the Mikeno Sector, about a two and half our drive from Goma. They can also be approached from Bunagana (border of Uganda). The permit is $400, so slightly cheaper than in Uganda or Rwanda. The visits are also a bit more authentic and in smaller groups. There are several operators who can organise this, but all book via the ICCN (Congolese Wildlife Authority) sales office in Goma.
Rwenzori Mountain Trek
The Rwenzori Mountains are a snow capped mountain range in the north of Virunga National Park on the Border with Uganda. The highest peak in the range lies on the border and can be climbed from both countries. The trek to the glacier can be made in a 4-5 or 6 day trek. in order to start the trek visitors will need to travel to Beni by airplane (either from Goma or Entebbe).
Visit the Tongo Chimps
Virunga National Park has a habituated Chimpanzee group in the picturesque hills of Tongo, located in the southern sector of Virunga National Park, west of the park headquarters of Rumangabo, Tongo is a unique forest island and home to a small population of chimpanzees. The forest lies on one of the lava flows from Nyamulagira Volcano and is estimated to be 300 years old. NB Tongo is not yet open for visitors due to safety issues.