The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to Virunga National Park, an incredible destination that very few tourists have seen. It's really the only place in the DRC that we recommend visiting at this time, but we highly recommend it! Virunga is inspiring – it is Africa’s oldest national park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area. It is also home to a quarter of the world’s approximately 900 remaining mountain gorillas. Two other Great Ape species can also be found in Virunga, the eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees. The 3,000 square mile parks boasts volcanoes, forests, savannahs, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains. Other distinctive animal inhabitants of the park include the Okapi, an endangered species that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the giraffe. Large colonies of hippopotami, forest and savanna elephants, lions, and numerous rare bird species can also be found in the park.

The southern section of the Virunga National Park is open to adventurous travelers. But again, due to safety concerns, Virunga is currently the only area within the Democratic Republic of Congo to which Extraordinary Journeys offers trips at this moment in time.

Secrets and Tips

Pre-book a morning with the Congo Hounds at Mikeno Lodge

If you want to hike Nyiragongo bring warm clothes! You can rent sleeping bags, warm jackets & hiking packs from Mikeno Lodge

If you don’t speak French or Kiswahili consider bringing a private guide

Good To Know

Virunga Nation Park is Africa's oldest national park. It is also Africa's most biologically diverse protected area and home to 22 primate species.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are our favorite areas in Virunga?

Virunga is an incredibly diverse park. Its 3000 square mile area boasts volcanoes, forests, savannas, lava plains, erosion valleys and snow-capped mountains. Our favorite area is the park’s southern sector. The “Gorilla Sector” in the south of the park, bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is home to a quarter of the world’s approximately 900 remaining mountain gorillas. In this southern area of the park you can also hike the Nyiragongo Volcano and spend the night next to one of the world’s most active lava lakes.  

Further north in the park are where you find open savannahs, Lake Edward teeming with hippopotami and the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.

At this point we are only sending clients to the southern sector of the park as the security situation further north in park fluctuates. We keep ourselves up-to-date on the security situation and if we feel we can start selling other parts of the park, we would be thrilled to do so.

Who would like Virunga?

Virunga is perfect for safari veterans who want to go somewhere new and different as well as any active, adventurous travelers eager to get off-the-beaten-path.

It is also perfect for primate lovers. You can see mountain gorillas and eastern chimpanzees when staying as few as 2 nights! Because Virunga still gets comparatively few tourists there is a good chance there will be less than the maximum 8 people permitted on your gorilla trek, allowing you an intimate wildlife experience and the chance to get some fabulous pictures!

Virunga is an active traveler’s dream. In just a few nights you can do multiple gorilla and chimpanzee treks and hike up the top of an 11,300-foot active volcano and camp out on top!

Who would not like Virunga?

Virunga is perfect for active travelers which means it is not the best choice for travelers with mobility issues. The activities that make Virunga so special all involve fairly strenuous physical activity including the gorilla treks and hiking the Nyiragongo Volcano.

Additionally, there are no 5 star accommodation options in Virunga. Both Mikeno Lodge and Bukima Tented Camp are lovely and very comfortable and honestly, luxury accommodation around gorilla trekking areas in Uganda and Rwanda are limited as well. That said, if 5 star accommodation is a must for your gorilla trek we recommend Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda or Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge in Uganda.

When is the best time to go?

Virunga can be a year round destination. Rain is possible throughout the year and given the high altitude it can get quite cool, particularly at night. Temperatures at Rumangabo where Mikeno Lodge is located range from 55 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It is cooler at Bukima where most gorilla treks begin, and temperatures on the Nyiragongo volcano can fall below freezing.

July, August and September are the driest months of year. This can mean that the gorillas move to higher altitudes resulting in longer treks. November is the heavy rainy season but the views can be spectacular!

Is there a time you should avoid going?

While rain and cool temperatures can happen year round, there is no time of year that weather should prevent you from going to Virunga.

The security situation in the area around Goma and Virunga’s southern sector are quite stable at the moment. However, given the region’s history we keep a very close eye on the situation and receive regular updates from the park itself. If the situation changes for the worse, which we do not anticipate, we will let you know.

Virunga does have a refund policy in place for lodging and permits should the security situation require that a trip be cancelled.

How much should you budget for a safari to Virunga?

Virunga is excellent value for money, and if needed can be done on quite a tight budget. Gorilla permits are currently $400 which is cheaper than both Uganda and Rwanda and both Mikeno Lodge and Bukima Tented Camp are very well priced and extremely comfortable.

However, depending on your budget we do recommend adding a private guide to your trip. The people of Eastern DRC, including the staff, guides and rangers of Virunga, speak French and Kiswahili but fluent English speakers can be few and far between. If you do not speak either of those language, a private guide can really enhance the experience and smooth out the logistics. A private guide can add anywhere from $200 to $500 per day to your trip but can be well worth the expense. 

What are some of the ways you can experience Virunga?

While the highlight of a trip to Virunga is the gorillas or a night spent atop the Nyiragongo Volcano, the southern sector park offers a huge range of activities.  Many of these activities are centered at Mikeno Lodge, which is set within the borders of the Virunga Park headquarters at Rumangabo. These activities include chimpanzee trekking, nature walks, visiting the orphan gorillas at the Senkwekwe Centre and a visit to a local coffee estate. A tour of the Virunga Park Headquarters or a morning visit to the canine anti-poaching unit the “Congo Hounds” give guests a better understanding of everything that goes into keep Virunga running.

Travelers, especially those descending Nyiragongo, might want to spend a night relaxing on the shores of Lake Kivu at Tchegera Island Camp, taking in views of the volcanos and the fabulous bird life.

What animals will you see?

There is so much to see in Virunga! The park is home to 700 species of birds, one-fifth of all the amphibian species found in Africa, and 220 species of mammals including 22 primates!

It is the only national park in the world to host three taxa of great apes; the mountain and eastern lowland gorillas and the eastern chimpanzee. You can see both mountain gorillas and chimpanzees on treks. You won’t see eastern lowland gorillas on your treks but there is one orphan lowland gorilla living at the Senkwekwe Centre at Mikeno Lodge.

Other primates who make their home in the dense canopy of trees in the southern sector include Sykes, blue, colobus, Vervet, and golden monkeys, baboons, and an enormous variety of birds. You might see any or all on your gorilla or chimp treks or just while sitting on the porch of you room!

Further north (outside of the southern sector), the Semiliki River Forest area is home to the unique and endangered Okapi which is actually most closely related to the giraffe.

CONNECT with your personal travel expert.

Have you started planning your safari on your own? Are you totally overwhelmed with all the information out there? Let us help you cut through all the conflicting information online and start planning a safari that is completely tailored to you. Get in touch with us and we can discuss your travel passions and help you begin the planning process for your dream safari.

Elizabeth Gordon