© 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 depart from the Bukima, Kakamero, or Jomba patrol posts. Tourists not staying at the lodge will likely depart from Kakamero, which is one hour from Goma by car. Treks from Kakamero usually require 2-3 hours of hiking in each direction, depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and the difficulty of the terrain. Tourists staying at the Mikeno lodge will likely begin their trek from Bukima, which is a one-hour drive from Rumangabo. Those crossing into Congo from Uganda may choose to start their gorilla trek from the Jomba patrol post. Hiking times from these departure points will likely range from 30 minutes to two hours in each direction, again depending on where the 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.
Gorilla trekking permit per day: (all prices include 16% Gov’t VAT)
Adult [international]: $465
Adult [Congolese]: $174
(opening date to be announced)
© LuAnne Cadd
Tongo Chimpanzee Treks
Located in the southwestern area of Virunga National Park, Tongo is a unique forest island that is home to a small population of chimpanzees. The forest covers a volcanic mound that formed during an eruption of Nyamulagira volcano some 300 years ago.
The trekking day begins when a group of local trackers leave their camp at 3 am to locate where the chimpanzees spent the night. Once the trackers have zeroed in on the exact location of the chimpanzees, they stay with them until daybreak. At approximately 7 am, the trackers relay their position to a Virunga National Park ranger, who will guide the visitors in to see the chimpanzees. Groups are limited to 4-6 people and time with the chimpanzees is limited to one hour.
While in Tongo
In addition to visiting the chimpanzees, tourists can also hike to the crystal clear waters of Tongo’s rivers, and view large gas vents in the earth – reminders of just how volcanically active the region remains. A visit to the Chimpanzee Resource Center in Tongo is also recommended. The center shows presentations about the FZS project and how the community played – and continues to play – a vital role.
The History Behind Habituating Tongo’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, all without the use of artificial inducement. 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 of 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.
Virunga’s chimpanzee trekking has faced many challenges, but thanks to a dedicated team of rangers and local villagers, it has persevered. With peace now taking hold in the region, Tongo chimpanzee trekking is set to begin again. The re-opening date will be announced on this site and on virunga.org.
Tongo Chimpanzee trekking permit per day: (all prices include 16% Gov’t VAT)
Adult [international]: $116
Adult [Congolese]: $40
(opening date to be announced)
© 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. Visitors prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) should take preventative measures. 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 meals for the trip, while those coming with tour groups must supply their own. There is no food service on Nyiragongo. Porters can be hired to carry gear for $12/day ($24 for the overnight trip). The maximum weight that porters are authorized to carry is 15kg.
Nyiragongo volcano trekking permit: (all prices include 16% Gov’t VAT)
Adult [international]: $232
Adult [Congolese]: $29
Child <15 years [international]: $87
Child <15 years [Congolese]: $6