One of the popular National parks and reserves in DR Congo, Virunga National Park is located on the slopes of the Virunga volcanic mountains. Formerly referred to as Albert National Park, this Congo Park is bordered by Virunga Mountain in the south, Rwenzori Mountains in the north, Volcanoes National park (Rwanda) and Rwenzori National Park Uganda respectively. Other national parks in the neighborhood include Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.
The park covers 700sq km and was established in 1925 becoming the very first gazetted national park in Africa. In 1975, the park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site which protects the endangered mountain gorillas that share a habitat as far as Rwanda and Uganda.
These include Africa’s two most active volcanoes, Nyamuragira (3,068m) and the neighbouring Nyiragongo (3,470m), which alone account for two-fifths of the historical volcanic eruptions on the African continent.
More than 2000 higher plants have been identified, of which 10% are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Approximately 15% of the vegetation are Afromontane forests. the park protects both tropical rainforest and eastern steppe species, and its range of altitudes adds to the habitat variety. The diversity includes: bamboo and Hagenia forest on the mountains; equatorial forest along the Semiliki; wooded savannah of the Rwindi; steppes; various low savannahs; swamps and transitional habitats; dry thick forest; Neoboutonia macrocalyx forest on the lava plains; wet thick forest; alpine forests; and sparse vegetation above 4,300 m comprising mainly lichens and spermatophyta, although Graminae have been found growing at over 5,000m
There are several mammals in the park but the most popular are the giant gorillas. The Park is home to two species of gorilla-mountain gorilla and the eastern lowland gorillas. An estimated 22 species of primates are found in the park with other species like eastern chimpanzee. Other mammals in the park total to 218 species and they include the buffaloes, forest elephants, pygmy, defassa waterbuck, warthog, kob, hippo, buffalo, forest hog, bong, okapi, giraffe, Rwenzori duiker and others. More than 706 birds (including forest ground thrush, Nahan’s francolin, shoebill and papyrus warbler among others) , 109 reptiles and 38 amphibians are recorded in the park
Some of the adventures in the Virunga National Park include gorilla trekking safaris, mountain climbing at Nyirangongo Volcano and Rwenzori and also trekking for Tongo Chimps-a habituated chimpanzee family in Tongo hills in southern Virunga National Park. It is important to have and book your gorilla trekking permit in advance before you arrive at the park entrance.
Lodging and accommodation for tourists in the park is available from Mikeno lodge which is one hour drive form Goma town, camping at Senkwekwe Gorilla centres, Bukima partrol post for camping facilities and Nyirangongo crater cabanes for hiking adventures.