A Journey to Congo’s Virunga Mountains : Nestled in the heart of Africa’s Great Lakes region, the Virunga Mountains are a breathtaking destination that offer a unique combination of stunning natural beauty and incredible wildlife encounters. Located in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Virunga Mountains are home to the world-famous mountain gorillas, as well as a diverse range of other wildlife, including chimpanzees, golden monkeys, and forest elephants. In this article, we’ll take you on a journey to Congo’s Virunga Mountains and share some tips for making the most of your visit.
Getting to the Virunga Mountains
The Virunga Mountains are located in the eastern region of the DRC, which is known for its challenging terrain and limited infrastructure. The best way to get to the Virunga Mountains is by flying into the nearby town of Goma, which is located on the shores of Lake Kivu. Goma is served by several international airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, and RwandAir.
Once you’ve arrived in Goma, the Virunga Mountains are accessible via a combination of road and boat. From Goma, you can take a 1.5-hour drive to the town of Rumangabo, which is located at the edge of Virunga National Park. From there, you’ll take a short boat ride across Lake Kivu to Bukima, which is the starting point for gorilla treks.
Gorilla Trekking in the Virunga Mountains
Gorilla trekking is the main attraction in the Virunga Mountains, and it’s an experience that’s sure to stay with you for a lifetime. The gorillas in the Virunga Mountains are part of the same family as the gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The experience of trekking through the lush forests to see these majestic creatures up close is truly unforgettable.
To go gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains, you’ll need to obtain a permit from Virunga National Park. The permits can be booked online in advance and cost $400 per person. The permits are limited to just eight people per gorilla family per day, so it’s important to book well in advance. The trek itself can be quite challenging, as the forests are dense and the terrain is steep. However, the reward of seeing the gorillas up close is well worth the effort.
Other Wildlife Encounters
While gorilla trekking is the main attraction in the Virunga Mountains, there are plenty of other wildlife encounters to be had in the region. The forests are home to a variety of primates, including chimpanzees and golden monkeys. There are also forest elephants, which are smaller than their savannah-dwelling cousins but no less impressive.
Hiking in the Virunga Mountains
For those who enjoy hiking, the Virunga Mountains offer some of the best hiking opportunities in Africa. The forests are home to several trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding landscapes, as well as the opportunity to encounter wildlife. The most popular trails include the Bukima Trail, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes, and the Tongo Trail, which passes through dense forests and offers the chance to see chimpanzees.
Accommodation in the Virunga Mountains
Accommodation in the Virunga Mountains is limited, but there are a few options available. The Mikeno Lodge is a luxurious lodge located in the heart of Virunga National Park. The lodge offers spacious cottages, each with its own fireplace, and stunning views of the surrounding forests and mountains. There are also several budget lodges and campsites available in the area.
The DRC has a history of political instability, armed conflict, and criminal activity, so it’s essential to stay informed and take appropriate measures to minimize risks. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind when exploring the DRC:
- Stay informed: Before you travel to the DRC, it’s important to stay informed about the security situation in the region. Check travel advisories issued by your government and monitor local news sources for updates on security incidents.
- Travel with a reputable tour operator: To minimize risks, it’s best to travel with a reputable tour operator that has experience operating in the region. They will be able to provide you with local knowledge, arrange safe transportation, and offer guidance on safety measures.
- Avoid traveling alone: It’s always safer to travel in a group or with a guide, especially if you’re exploring remote areas or national parks.
- Avoid political rallies and demonstrations: Political rallies and demonstrations can quickly turn violent in the DRC, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Keep an eye on your surroundings at all times, especially in public places and crowded areas.
- Avoid carrying large sums of money or valuable items: Keep your cash and valuables in a secure place and avoid carrying large sums of money or wearing expensive jewelry.
- Use caution when using public transportation: Public transportation in the DRC can be risky, so it’s best to use reputable taxi services or arrange for transportation through your tour operator.
- Respect local customs and traditions: Be respectful of local customs and traditions, especially in rural areas where traditional practices may be more prevalent.