© LuAnne Cadd
A visit with a mountain gorilla family is a life changing experience. Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent, good natured, and fascinating to observe. The silverback’s powerful presence is awe-inspiring, yet his calm clearly earns him the title, “gentle giant”. People are equally struck by the tenderness and care that mothers show their young. And then, of course, there are the juveniles who spend most of every waking hour at play and never cease to make visitors smile. We believe your time with Virunga’s mountain gorillas will leave you feeling changed for the better.
All treks are led by park rangers and usually depart from Bukima patrol post. Treks usually require 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction, depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and the difficulty of the terrain.
To safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas, visitors will be required to wear surgical masks (provided) when in the presence of gorillas. Time with the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour. If you don’t feel well, have a fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat – please do not go on the trek. Mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Gorillas have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.
Mountain gorilla trekking permit per day:
Adult [international]: $400
Adult [Congolese]: $150
© LuAnne Cadd
Chimpanzee Habituation Walks
In February 2014, a Congolese team trained by Frankfurt Zoological Society began habituating a group of chimpanzees living in the forests around park headquarters in Rumangabo. Guests staying at Mikeno Lodge can join this team on their daily visits to the chimpanzees. The day begins when a group of local trackers leave their camp at 4:30 am to locate where the chimpanzees spent the previous night. Lodge guests set out at 6:00 am to find the chimpanzees. Groups are limited to 4 people and time with the chimpanzees is restricted to one hour. Bookings for these walks can be arranged by emailing email@example.com.
The History Behind Habituating Virunga’s Chimpanzees
In 1987, Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) developed an 80 km network of trails inside the Tongo forest and began a two-year process of habituating chimpanzees to the presence of humans. By 1989, approximately 50 chimpanzees had been habituated. Treks soon began, and for the next three years, provided an important source of tourism revenue for the park and the small community of Tongo. Unfortunately, civil unrest put an end to chimpanzee tourism from 1992-2001. Despite this prolonged period of conflict, Virunga National Park rangers steadfastly protected and monitored Tongo’s chimpanzees. The peace that returned to the Kivus was short-lived. It wasn’t until 2010 that FZS and a team of 35 people from the local community was able to re-launch the habituation process. By June of that year, the chimpanzees were once again habituated and visitors began trekking in to see them on a regular basis. In April 2012, hostilities erupted yet again and chimpanzee trekking had to be halted. The M23 rebellion, as the conflict was known, eventually ended in January 2014. The Tongo team still visits this population of chimpanzees on a daily basis. The group now consists of 32 individuals.
Chimpanzee habituation walk permit:
Adult [international]: $100
Adult [Congolese]: $35
© LuAnne Cadd
Nyiragongo is a beautiful stratovolcano that features the world’s largest lava lake. The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and bushbuck. Nyiragongo’s summit rim is largely devoid of vegetation and is frequently dusted with snow. From the rim, visitors can peer down into a churning lava lake and see and hear hot gases exploding up though a mosaic of molten lava. Although predictable and therefore safe for tourists, Nyiragongo is greatly feared during eruptions. Because of the high silica content of its lava, Nyiragongo’s lava flows are extremely fluid. During the 2002 eruption, some of Nyiragongo’s lava flows were clocked at 100 km/hr (62 mph) and reached all the way to Lake Kivu.
Treks to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano begin at the Kibati patrol post, which is approximately 30 minutes by car from Goma. The patrol post is less than a one hour drive from the Mikeno Lodge in Rumangabo. Park rangers lead all treks and porters (unaffiliated with the park) are available for hire. The time required to reach the summit depends on the average fitness of each group, but typically takes 4 – 6 hours. Altitude sickness can be an issue for some because the climb begins at 1989m (6,525 ft) and ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) in a short time. Proper hydration is the best way to adapt to the change in altitude. People prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) should speak to their physicians about taking preventative measures before making the climb. It is possible for fitter people to climb up and descend in one day, but most groups choose to overnight in basic accommodation available at the top (included in the permit fee). Trekkers are advised to bring raincoats and cold weather gear. Rain showers are a common occurrence on the climb up during the rainy season and temperatures at the summit can dip below 0°C/32°F.
Guests staying at the Mikeno lodge can arrange packed meal service for the trip, while those coming with tour groups must supply their own. There is no food service on Nyiragongo. Porters can be hired at the base of the climb to carry loads for $12/day ($24 for the overnight trip). The maximum weight that porters are authorized to carry is 15 kg.
Nyiragongo volcano trekking permit and overnight in summit shelter:
Adult [international]: $250
Adult [Congolese]: $90
Child [international]: $125
Child [Congolese]: $25
© Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park also offers spectacular trekking and climbing trips to the Rwenzori mountains in the north of the park. Known also as the “Mountains of the Moon,” the Rwenzoris reach a height of 5,109 m (16,761 ft) and contain the largest glaciers left on the African continent. Those who trek and climb in the Rwenzoris will experience a stunning variety of landscapes, including bamboo forests, alpine meadows, lakes, and snow capped peaks. The flora and fauna of the Rwenzoris is equally diverse. Forest elephant, Okapi, chimpanzees, and numerous bird species make the Rwenzoris their home. The best weather in the Rwenzoris usually happens from January through mid-March and June to late August.
Most people fly into the town of Beni and then take a local taxi to Virunga’s Mutsora ranger station. Flights from Goma can be arranged through local tour operators. Visitors also travel overland to the Rwenzoris by coming through Uganda and crossing into the DR Congo at the Mpondwe/Kasindi border.
The cost of a permit for the Rwenzoris is $232 for both trekkers and climbers. For an additional $116, visitors are welcome to overnight in the huts along the track. At this time, the park is not able to supply gear or food for guests, so please come prepared. Trekkers wanting only to reach the summit hut will need good hiking boots, rain gear, and a warm base layers. Those wanting to climb Margherita Peak or any of the other summits, will need to bring their own climbing hardware, crampons, and ice axes. Bivouc gear is also a good idea. A Virunga ranger accompanies all trekkers and climbers and independent porters are available for hire. Porters negotiate their prices on the spot, but the cost is typically less than a dollar per kilogram with a maximum of 15 kg/porter.
For more information, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rwenzori mountains trekking permit:
Adult [international]: $200
Adult [Congolese]: $70