- Previously known as Albert National Park
- Extends across 3,000 square miles (7,800 sq km)
- Located in the eastern part of the DRC
- A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Virunga National Park
Established in 1925, Virunga National Park was Africa’s first national park. The park, previously called Albert National Park, covers an area of 3,000 square miles, (7,800 sq km). Unfortunately, civil war and poaching has seriously compromised the wildlife population of the area.
Virunga National Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It is one of the most diverse ecosystems in Africa featuring the Lava Lake of Nyiragongo Volcano, considered the largest in the world. One of the highlights of the park is the Silverback gorillas. Other wildlife includes lion, elephant, buffaloes, okapi, giraffe, and many people’s favorites – the chimpanzee.
The park also has an array of waterfalls and caves that are part of the eight different ecosystems found in the park. Visitors can experience any of the following ecosystems:
- Montane Tropical Forest
- Alpine Forest
- Lava Flows
- African Savanna
- Riverine Forest
- Lake Shores
- Eternal Snow
Virunga National Park has an abundance of bio-diversity with more bird, mammal, and reptile species than any other national park or protected area in all of Africa.
Where is Virunga National Park
Mount Stanley is located on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. It is part of the Rwenzori mountain range and specifically located in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park of Uganda. It borders Virunga National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The majority of travelers looking to explore this national park will fly into Kigali International Airport and then take a three hour ride crossing the border at Gisenyi, Rwanda. It is possible to fly into Goma, but many people get frustrated with the lack of standards at the airport.
Best Ways to See and Experience Virunga National Park
One of the most exciting and exhilarating adventures is a trek through the montane tropical forests of the park to experience the mountain gorillas. This is probably the biggest draw for visitors. However visitors that explore the park more thoroughly will encounter waterfalls, lush forests, and an abundance of wildlife.
Chimpanzees are another highlight and common draw bringing visitors to hike and explore through the DRC’s best national park. Visitors are expected to leverage the expertise of one of the several tour operators that provide guided treks.
Similarly, travelers can employ one of the local tour operators to guide hikers up one of the volcano climbs. Combining volcano climbs, gorilla trekking, and wildlife tours in the Virunga National Park is the best way to get the most out of your experience with visit to the park.
Best Times to Explore Virunga National Park
March through May and the months of September through early December are considered part of the rainy season. Most people prefer to visit the national park outside of these months for a drier experience trekking through the forests in search of gorillas or climbing up one of the volcanoes to see a lava lake.
Virunga National Park Travel Tips
Although the area is off the US State Department warnings, the area is known for unrest. Travelers are advised to take beyond traditional safety measures when it comes to exploring the area. As long as you stay in groups and with your guide, you should be safe and have an enjoyable experience.