If your looking for a forest destination to satisfy your mountain gorilla and lowland gorilla encounters, Congo's Virunga National Park is the answer to that. Beyond its ranking as Africa's oldest park (close to 100 years), it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with surface area of 7,800 Km2 (3000square miles). As per a census done in 2012, the park is blessed with 196 mammals, 706 bird species, 65 amphibians and 109 reptiles.
Scenically, the Park is as diverse as its wildlife occupants, lying in the shadows of the Africa’s third highest mountain, Rwenzori Mountain (5,109m above sea level). On a clear day you can see all the way to its snow caped peaks. A mix of both active and dormant volcanoes dominate sections within Virunga park. At their feet you will find pockets of scenic crater lakes that feed the surrounding Albertine Rift Valley with mineral rich waters. Virunga’s tropical forest is home to 60% of last surviving population of mountain gorillas, an estimated 604
Mountain gorilla trekking
Nothing beats the thrill of walking through the dense forest to encounter one of the 8 habituated families here. At the climax of the gorilla adventure, you will spend a wonderful hours admiring how they have adapted to the jungle and taking tons of pictures!
While most males here weigh 100 kg ( 220 pounds) and have a height up to 6ft, the females weighs 80 kg (176 pounds) and are under 5 ft. Its incredible being amongst a huge family of these gentle beasts and witnessing their daily routines. You will watch them playing, caring for babies, climbing trees, grooming, eating over 10 kilograms of food and walking across the path 5 meters in front of you.
Considering that the experience can last as long as four hours, we will provide you packed lunch and sufficient water to keep you energized.
Even better, the guides who will accompany you are knowledge and have mastered the art of storytelling. Their stories about the park will leave you at a loss of words; emphasis is usually on trees that are as old as 300 years, the top 50 birds, endemic insects and all the other animals to whom the park is home.
Be prepared to hike for an hour or more before you find the gorillas. The adventure is intimate as each family of gorillas is visited by a maximum of eight tourists. The enables the two ranger guides entrusted with protecting your group to answer all of your questions without feeling overwhelmed.
You will be amazed by the intelligence of the gorillas here. Compared to mountain gorillas, they are less hairy. As such, he are force to think outside the box to overcome the chilly weather. During rainy days, they make umbrellas from large leaves to cover themselves from showers. Your decision to visit this park brings in valuable revenue and contributes to safeguarding the future of its wild occupants.
Their hearing, sight, smells, taste and touch are similar to humans. Lowland gorillas make sleeping nests at night by bending over branches and putting leafy twigs under their heads to make a comfortable bed to sleep on. Inter communication is by soft grunts, barks, scream and paint hoots. They can be hard for a distance of three kilometers through the forest when there is danger and one can tell by their faces when they are happy, sad, surprised or even angry.
They are also called knuckle-walkers because they use their knuckles for support when walking. And possess big toes. Their arms are longer than the legs and can also walk upright.
The beauty with lowland gorilla tracking over mountain gorillas is that you are assured of good pictures because they prefer to stay on ground that in high in the trees.
Best time to travel
The dry season is much more recommendable as the park is dry as easier to hike through. It cuts across June-September and February. Besides, primates are not quite inactive in wet seasons. They prefer to sit back as they wait for their bodies to heat up.
One other ultimate highlight of Virunga is surely be the hike to Nyiragongo, an active volcano that is safe to visit anytime of the year.
What to know
Please consider what you wear. Red clothing is a bad idea because it makes the gorillas restless. They associate it with blood and death.