Hear about travel to Virunga National Park as the Amateur Traveler talks to Niall from Ireland about his visit to this stunning national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Niall says, “I came across Virunga, maybe like a lot of people, scrolling through NetFlix and came across the Virunga documentary which was Oscar-nominated a few years back. When I watched it, I saw the conservation work being done there, and ever since, we’ve been keeping tabs on the park, the charity, and the work they’re doing, and daydreaming about coming here someday. Fortunately, a couple of months ago, we got to live it out, 8 days in the park. There are 3 main reasons why people go to Virunga. The first is the picture-postcard one. It’s Nyiragongo volcano. It’s one of the only active lava lakes on earth. There are only 7 in the whole globe. The second is the mountain gorillas. There’s only 3 places you can see mountain gorillas. Virunga National Park is one of those. And finally, I’ll say Virunga is one of the oldest and the greatest national parks on Earth and one of the world’s greatest conservation projects, and you can visit it with almost no other tourists.”
Virunga National Park is on the eastern edge of the DRC near Uganda and Rwanda, pretty much in the exact heart of Africa. From the city of Goma, which has about a million people, the park runs north along the border between the DRC and Uganda.
Niall says there are 4 main sites in the park. If you just want to see the volcano, you can be in and out in 2 days. If you want to see everything it will take about 8 days. Niall spent about 10 days in the park.
You come in through the city of Goma, which has always been chaotic. Most people will fly into Rwanda and come into Goma overland. On the one side of the border with Rwanda, you will see nice houses and straight roads… but that’s not the DRC side.
The Nyiragongo volcano is still very active and is only 12 miles north of Goma. A lot of the guests to the park will only go to the volcano. To see the volcano, you hike from 2000m to 3500m in 5 stages over about 5-6 hours. It is a relatively difficult climb. The footing is not the best as much of it is scree. “Everyone who has mild fitness will be fine,” Niall says, but you will need to be secure of your footing. You start in the rainforest and hike up into the lava fields. You can stay up there overnight on the lip of an active volcano.
The mountain gorillas are basically the same ones you would see in Uganda and Rwanda, but you can see them in Virunga for less money. If you want to see gorillas, you can do that for $200 in the rainy season in the DRC. You will pay at least $500 in one of the other countries.
There is also the world’s only mountain gorilla orphanage, the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center.
There is also a possibility of doing chimpanzee trekking. That is still being developed.
The political situation in the DRC can be more complicated, so you should definitely check the situation before visiting, but it can be a stunning place to see. Virunga is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Howard Buffett in Africa
Grande Barrier Border
Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center
Tchegera Island Camp
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