Estimated to cover an area of about 7800km squared, Virunga National Park is Democratic Republic of Congo’s most visited the Park. The park is situated in the Eastern part of DRC and provides the best wild experience to tourists especially nature lovers. The park is a home to the endangered mountain gorillas and its one of the few places in the world where these elegant primates can be trekked. With only 900 mountain gorillas estimated to be left in the world,Virunga National Park is said to harbor 20% of them and these can easily be seen on a safari to Democratic Republic of Congo.
In the past, gorilla safaris to DRC were greatly affected by the civil war and also the various encroachments on the park but this has reduced recently. As you read this, a gorilla trekking tour to Virunga national parks is one of those trips that will offer you the best tracking experience as it takes you close to the primates. One thing that has greatly marketed the activity is the low prices of the gorilla trekking permits (USD400) which is slightly lower than that of Uganda (USD600), and Rwanda (USD750).
Currently, there are six gorilla families in Virunga National Park and these include;-
- Rugendo Family; this gorilla family was habituated in 1989 and it has 6 individuals and these include 3 silverbacks. Just like another family, this group is led by a male gorilla known as Rugendo who is also termed as the father of Humba. These two gorillas were the first in the group. Unfortunately, Humba separated from his father and moved on leading to other 8 individuals to leave the group with him. This reduced the number of members and until when several births occurred in the group. In 2001, Rugendo was affected by the war and many of its members died including Rugendo, the group’s leader.
- Humba Family: After breaking up with his father in 1998, Humba moved to Bukima sector of Virunga national park and formed his new group called Humba Family. This family is the closest to Goma and most tourists who don’t want to move a lot opt for it when it comes to trekking. This family is said to have the calmest gorillas and it comprises of sixteen individuals including two silverbacks.
- Kibiriza Family: This has the largest number of gorillas with a total of 34 individuals including two silverbacks. Most trekkers prefer this family because of the many gorillas and they find it more thrilling to spend an hour with it than other families. Initially, the group was called Ndungutse and this was from the leader at that time who was called Ndungutse who was assassinated I n 1997 by gunmen. The name of the family later changed to Kabiriza when Kabiriza, the elegant silverback became the leader of the group.
- Munyaga Family: With a total of seven individuals and two silverbacks, Munyaga Family is located near Goma at a place called Bukima. The family got its name from a silverback which was its leader for a very long time until 1998.
- Mapuwa Family: This Family has fifteen individuals including one silverback. Called Mapuwa. This group is located in the areas of Jomba near Congo- Uganda border. Mapuwa was a son of Rugendo and moved away from his father’s family in 1998 to start his own.
- Lulengo Family: Lulengo family comprises of six mountain gorillas and one silverback known as Lulengo. The group is found in Jomba near Congo-Uganda border. This group also has an origin at it started under Rugabo family, the first gorilla group in Mikeno Sector. Today it’s an independent group on its own and it is interesting to trek.
Accessing Virunga National Park
There are two ways one can use to assess Virunga national park. One is by travelling from Goma to the Park. This journey is about 80km. Although one can use this route, it’s challenging because of the bad roads which make it unsafe for the tourists to use.
The best way to access the park is by travelling from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city using the well maintained roads to the border at Goma. Crossing the border is easy simply because of fewer restrictions. From Goma, Virunga National Park is just a 10 minutes’ walk.