© LuAnne Cades
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 on 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. Children must be 15 years of age or older to go on a gorilla trek. Time with the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour. If you don’t feel well at the time of your scheduled trek (i.e. you have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat) – please cancel. Mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Gorillas have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.
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 are made in person at Mikeno Lodge.
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.
If you don’t feel well at the time of your scheduled walk (i.e. you have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat) – please cancel. Like the gorillas, chimpanzees are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Chimpanzees have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.
Chimpanzee habituation walk permit:
Adult [international]: $100
Adult [Congolese]: $25
Chimpanzee trek permits can be purchased at Mikeno Lodge only.
© 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 sometimes 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 low 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. 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 the vast majority choose to overnight in the basic accommodations available at the top (included in the permit fee) because the best time to view the lava lake is at night.
1. All climbs begin promptly at 10:00 am. Late arrivals will not be allowed to climb and permits are non-refundable. For security reasons, there will be no exceptions. The Kibati ranger station, which is the trailhead for Nyiragongo, is approximately 30 minutes from Goma by car. Kibati is approximately 45 minutes from Bukima Tented Camp and Mikeno Lodge by car. All climbers must check in at the Kibati station by no later than 9:15 am on the day of their climb. Climbers typically descend the volcano at between 6:30 – 7:00 am the next morning and arrive back at Kibati station by 11:30 am. If one intends to fly out of Kigali on the same day, please make sure not to schedule your departure flight before 6 pm.
2. Trekkers are strongly advised to bring full rain and cold weather gear (moisture-wicking base layer, sweater or fleece, jacket, rain resistant pants, long underwear, warm socks, hat, and a 0°C/32° – rated sleeping bag). Temperatures at the summit are routinely below freezing. Although most people arrive at the summit sweating from the steep climb, this sense of warmth quickly gives way to cold. A complete change of base layers is a must. Failure to bring proper gear will lead to hypothermia. Please do not endanger yourself and others by coming unprepared for these conditions.
3. All guests can arrange packed meal service and gear rental for the trip at an additional charge at checkout. Packed meal service includes snacks, lunch, and dinner on Day 1 and breakfast and snacks on Day 2. Water is also included for both days. The gear package includes a sleeping bag, jacket, fleece top, hat and rain poncho. Porters can be hired at the base of the climb to carry loads for $24 round trip (gratuity not included). The maximum weight that porters are authorized to carry is 15 kg. Porters can be arranged by speaking with a Virunga National Park ranger at the Kibati station.
4. Packed meal plan includes snacks, lunch, and dinner on Day 1 and breakfast and snacks on Day 2. Water is also included for both days.
The gear package includes a sleeping bag, jacket, fleece top, hat and rain poncho. Porters can be hired at the base of the climb to carry loads for $24 round trip (gratuity not included). The maximum weight that porters are authorized to carry is 15 kg. Porters can be arranged by speaking with a Virunga National Park ranger at the Kibati station.
Nyiragongo volcano trekking permit and overnight in summit shelter:
Adult [international]: $300
Adult [Congolese]: $90
Child [international]: $175
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 $200 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.
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Rwenzori mountains trekking permit:
Adult [international]: $200
Adult [Congolese]: $45
© Virunga National Park
Tchegera Island Camp is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of Goma or to relax after climbing Nyiragongo volcano. Situated off the northern shore of Lake Kivu, Tchegera camp offers spectacular views of the lake and four volcanoes. On clear nights, Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira volcanoes add to the drama by turning the night sky red with their glowing lava. There is also an abundance of birdlife on the island, including African eagles, cormorants, herons and gulls. Whether one chooses to relax on the beach or explore other parts of the island in a sea kayak or by paddle board, Tchegera is the perfect place for rest and relaxation.
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Permit and round trip boat transfer: $100 per person
Single with all meals: $160 per night
Double with all meals: $216 per night
Double w/ twin beds with all meals: $216 per night
All prices include 16% Gov’t VAT; accommodation reservations include breakfast, lunch, and dinner.