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How to visit The Virunga National Park DRC

IRELAND | Saturday, 9 July 2016 | Views [880]

With our guard Angie after the Gorilla Trek

With our guard Angie after the Gorilla Trek

This is a how to guide to visiting the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic Of Congo, for a detailed story of my experience please click on the following link https://journals.worldnomads.com/riverstrails/story/141689/Congo-(Kinshasa)/Kigali-to-Virunga-National-Park-DRC-in-3-Days

It was thanks to the brilliant Netflix Documentary simply titled "Virunga" that got me planning on visiting this part of the world, no doubt that many of you planning this trip have got the same reason too. It takes a bit of planning but what i experienced in the couple of days there was without a doubt one of the best adventures Ive ever been on!

First of all the Virunga National park website www.visitvirunga.org should be your first port of call as you have 2 options when planning this trip: You can do it indpendently as I did or go with a travel agent. The National Park provides a full lisiting of approved travel agents, of course as I said I booked independently through the national park so cannot comment on any of those however whilst encountering a delay at the border into the DRC a gentleman from Kivu Travel approached us and offered his assistance which we were very much in need of so if this is how he deals with non-guests Im sure he would be a reliable individual to book with. The website also provides you with information regarding transport, accomodation and Visa's.

Ill now outline how I proceeded in booking and planning my trip:

Getting into the DRC

To get into The DRC one must have a visa which can be obtained through the National Park, you must book a Gorilla Trek or Volcano Trek or stay at Mikeno Lodge to apply for a visa. So once you have made any one of those bookings you will receive an order number, this will be required when you proceed to the online Visa application process via the "Visas" option on the website.The process is pretty starightforward and costs $105, the only response I got after I applied was from the National Park seeking a copy of my passport other than that nothing, the thinking is that if theres an issue youll hear about it otherwise everythings fine.I also recommend getting your Yellow Fever Certificate as this was asked for when crossing the border, please dont be like a gentleman I met along the way who didnt have it and let a health official inject him on the border! 


Getting to The DRC
I got there via Rwanda and met many others doing the same, I did see some flights into Goma when researching this trip but other than that would have no more advice on that option. I flew direct to Kigali from Amsterdam with KLM and enjoyed a short stay there before moving on. I got a Kigali Coaches and Tours Bus from the main station, Nyabungogo, direct to Gisenyi which is the Rwandan Town right on the Border, these buses are quite regular as a lot of locals go to Gisenyi to enjoy Lake Kivu and costs around 3000franc. From Gisenyi its quite easy to negotiate a motorcycle taxi to the border, they’ll drop you just a short walk away from the border.
On a side note on my return through the border my bags were searched by Rwandan Officials for plastic bags as Rwanda has a ban on plastic bags.

Transport in The DRC
The national park also supplies you with the option of availing of their transport options and despite its high price I would definitely recommend it as it is very reliable: always on time, new and comfortable vehicles and you are always accompanied by an armed guard. The only time I didnt avail of their services was when I initially gained entry into Goma I again negotiated a motorcycle Taxi from the border to my Hotel, Lac Kivu Lodge.
The drive to the Bukima where you start your Gorilla trek is one where you would definitely need them as the road is quite rough and requires the capabilities of a 4x4 in parts. I have heard of people negotiating their own transport to Kibati Patrol Post for the Volacno trek but was persuaded by the national park that it was safer to go with them. At the end of the day the National Park, understandably, is doing their best to attract visitors so the last thing they need is bad publicity if anything were to happen to you. I would only advise it if you are an experienced traveller in Africa and are fluent in French as there is almost no English spoken there.
The transport can be booked online through the national parks website its only necessary to confirm your pick up locations such as your accommodation in Goma so that they know where to pick you up. The pick up time for the Gorilla Trek was 6:30am and the Volcano Trek 8:30am, upon completing the volcano climb the driver was there to take us back to the hotel to pick our bags up and then drop us straight to the Border.

Accomodation & Food
On arrival in Kigali I stayed at The Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel they can also arrange airport transfers for you for around $15 however its very easy to arrange transport upon arrival to Kigali as things are a lot more subdued shall we say as opposed to other places you’ll encounter when travelling around Africa. The Hostel was in a nice quiet residential area with some nice restaurants within walking distance.
As for Goma my research only found 2 suitable places to stay and I chose Lac kivu Lodge based on its reviews and ability to book online. Obvioulsy security is high on the list when choosing somewhere to stay and I can say that there was never a time when I didn’t feel safe staying there. As there were 2 of us we got a double room that cost roughly $40 per person per night (not cheap I know but as I said security is unfortunately a factor) that included breakfast although we didn’t know that until the second day as they didn’t mention it at all at check in. the breakfast was great when we did have it on the second morning with a great selection of pastries, cheeses and cold meats. The rooms were clean and modern, if anything it was probably the ebst place I stayed in my 3 months in Africa it even had a lovely pool which was great after a lengthy gorilla hike!
Alternatively The National Park also provide their own accommodation which as all else before can be book through their website. Again I cannot comment on these options as I didn’t stay with them but upon arrival to Bukima Camp for the Gorilla Trek the guys showed us around and I can say that the facilties looked top notch!They showed us Bush Tents that had everything you would need and more including a shower and toilet inside the tent.
Prior to arriving in Goma I packed a few bars, fruit and various other snacks which came in handy as understandably there aren’t really any well stocked supermarkets there, there is of course bottled water and the basics, there was also a bakery not too far from Lac Kivu lodge that came in handy too. Otherwise the best meals I had whilst there were in the hotel or a neighbouring hotel La Chalet, main meals were around $15, again not exactly budget I know but you gotta eat!The food was tasty and service was good.


The Treks
Always remember to have your permits on you for the treks.
Gorilla Trek
The National Park picked us up from our accommodation in Goma at 6:30am and after picking our armed guard up it was roughly a 2 hour drive along some very bumpy roads till we got to Bukima. You will be shown into a briefing room where you will meet your head tracker and they’ll give you a lowdown on the size and makeup of the family youll be visiting.
The trek itself took us around 45mins to an hour to finally reach the gorillas, its advisable to wear trousers, long sleeve clothing, insect repellent and water as its obviously quite physical hiking through dense forest. You get to spend an hour with the gorillas and the guides are really good at helping you get the best positon for great pictures, they’ll also clear the area between you and the gorillas with machetes so that you can get a clear view of them. After the hour had elapsed the guys lead us back out iof the forest and back to the camp before being driven back to Goma.

Volcano Trek
The National Park picked us up at 8:30am from Goma at and again picked up our guard before driving approximately 45mins to Kibati Patrol post. After showing our permits and signing in we were given a briefing on the climb. You have the option of availing of a porter to assist you on the climb this is something that entirely depends on youre own fitness level and just exactly how much you wanna bring up with you. The heaviest items I had to carry was the 4.5 litres of water I chose to bring which in the end was just right. I also got the hotel to make up a sandwich roll for dinner to compliment the small snacks I purchased from a shop. I would recommend however that you purchase the majority of your food before arriving in Goma because finding anything decent at a reasonable price in Goma was non existent. I brought a warm jacket and hat, sleeping bag and wore trousers that could be zipped off into shorts so as to save weight. The climb took under 6 hours to complete but that depends on the fitness of the group as the speed of the climb will go as fast as the slowest person. Once on the summit you are assigned a hut which is quite cosy and comfortable as it gets quite cold at the top. Obviously the climb down is shorter with mine taking roughly 3 and a half hours to complete.




Tags: africa, congo, gorilla, rwanda, trekking, virunga


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