Africa’s oldest natural park, Virunga National Park, reopened its doors to the public on February 15. An opportunity for everyone to (re)discover this true jewel in the heart of the African continent.

Founded in 1925, Virunga National Park covers 790,000 hectares in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, between Lake Kivu in the south and the Rwenzori Mountains in the north. A fauna and flora of rare biodiversity have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. In particular, it is one of the only places in the world, along with neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, where it is still possible to observe mountain gorillas, the largest primates on earth.

The opening of the park to tourists in this unstable region of Congo is an integral part of the strategy of its director, the Belgian aristocrat Emmanuel de Mérode, to promote the protection and conservation of this critically endangered species. A courageous and successful gamble: the mountain gorilla population has increased from 380 to 1000 in 15 years. It is the only great ape in the world that has a growing population! More than 14,000 tourists have visited them since the relaunch of tourism activities in 2014.

In May, security incidents temporarily shut down the park’s tourism activities, but the park reopened most of its sites on February 15, 2019. It is therefore once again possible to visit our primate cousins, under good escort, from Kakomero or Bukama, respectively 1 hour and 2-3 hours by road from Goma. It will also be possible once again to climb the Nyiragongo volcano, located at the foot of Goma, whose 200-metre-diameter lava lake, the widest in the world, reaches a peak of 3462 metres. Because, in addition to being an exceptional biological reserve, Virunga Park is also a geological wonder, home to the two most active volcanoes in Africa, the Nyiragongo and its neighbour the Nyamuragira (3058 metres).

Just as close to Goma, only 15 minutes away by motorized canoes, the island of Tchegera is also one of the sites once again open to the public. Located on Lake Kivu, this small crescent-shaped island is home to many migratory birds. It has been designed to welcome tourists in compliance with strict ecological standards. Further north, for the more sporty and adventurous, Virunga National Park also offers spectacular excursions to Mount Ruwenzori.

Also known as the Moon Mountains, the Ruwenzori peaks rise to 5,109 metres and feature the largest remaining glaciers on the African continent. Hikers and climbers of the Ruwenzori will find themselves facing landscapes of amazing variety, such as bamboo forests, alpine meadows, lakes and snow-covered peaks. The best climate on the Ruwenzori is normally observed from January to mid-March and from June to the end of August. However, this part of the park remains closed to tourists for the time being due to the proximity of the Ebola epidemic around Butembo.

It is quite possible to explore the southern part of Virunga Park open to tourism from Goma, staying at Kivu Lodge. The park also offers two accommodation options: the Kibumba camp, located at the starting point of the gorilla trek on the slopes of Mount Mikeno, and the Tchegera Island camp, located on the beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Kivu.

Un pousseur de tshukudu devant un restaurant du centre-ville de Goma le 17 février 2017. / A tshukudu driver in front of a restaurant in downtown Goma on February 17th, 2017.

NOTE BOOK

GO
Congo Airways 

STAY AND VISIT
– Lake Kivu Lodge: Himbi district 162, Avenue Alindi ;
– Le Chalet: Himbi district, Avenue Alindi near the LKL;
– Au Bon Pain: in front of the Virunga Park Reservation Office, Kanya Mulanga Boulevard;
– Virunga Park Reservation Office: Kanya Mulanga Boulevard / website: [email protected]