Gorilla trekking in
Virunga National Park

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  • 8 Nights
  • Year Round
  • Congo
  • From £ 4,880 PP
  • Authentic

Trip Overview

A week in the Virunga is arguably the most diverse safari experience on offer anywhere in the world – particularly now there is access and accommodation in the central savannah area.

This trip has been designed after years of road testing and will deliver an incredible experience – getting close to the gorillas and chimps in their natural habitat as well as getting off the beaten track in Virunga.

Virunga is Africa’s oldest and most diverse national parks, and if it didn’t lie in the catastrophically troubled Democratic Republic of Congo, it would also surely be one of the most visited. After all, where else on Earth can you see such a variety of wildlife – and then climb an active volcano?

While not for the faint-hearted Virunga irrefutably remains one of Africa’s finest parks and its survival through the troubles must give great hope to conservationists everywhere.

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Highlights of this itinerary

Often the best safaris involve looking beyond the obvious highlights. It’s about the myriad exhilarating encounters that will make your heart sing. These are encounters that nobody could ever predict, but that make your safari genuinely unique.

Trip Itinerary

Gorilla trekking in Virunga

Arrival in Virunga (1 Night)
1 Night

Arrival in Virunga

Take a road transfer from Kigali to Gisenyi, where you’ll clear Rwanda immigration, before grabbing your kit and heading out on foot. Due to restrictions on Rwanda vehicles making the crossing, you’ll walk across no-man’s land to the DR Congo border, and be met by representatives from ICCN. They will help you with the Congolese border formalities, which is not as terrifying as it sounds, particularly as your entrance visa will have been pre-approved.

Proceed in Land Rovers though the colourful and bustling city of Goma on the shores of Lake Kivu, where you’ll see the remnants of the destruction caused by the 2002 volcanic eruption, when an 11km wide river of lava steamrolled through the city centre. At the edge of town you’ll stop to pick up an armed contingent of close protection rangers, who will be watching out for you for the duration of your stay. A two hour drive through into the forested hills will take you to Bukima Camp.

Accommodation: Bukima Camp

Bukima was originally a research station, and remains the only place where you can walk directly out from your camp and straight on to a gorilla trek. No vehicles, no dancers, no gift shop, no faff. The camp has six large, meru style tents with an en-suite toilet and bucket shower.

Parks & Areas

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Gorilla Trekking (2 Nights)
2 Nights

Gorilla Trekking

The length of your trek will depend on which of the habituated groups you are looking to experience, and where they are – generally there is an advance party of trackers who will be in radio communication with your ranger. However long it takes you to reach the gorillas, you will have an hour in their company, and be warned — it passes very quickly. There is a nominal minimum distance of three metres, but if one of these lumbering giants decides to amble right past you and you have nowhere to go, you may find yourself a great deal closer.

It’s likely that you’ll be out for much of the morning and back in time for a late lunch, In the afternoon, you can either kick back and relax, or walk over to an intriguing local cave system for a spot of gentle spelunking.

We’d always recommend at least two gorilla treks – and with the DR Congo permit price around a third of that in Rwanda, it is not exorbitant to do so.

There are two primary reasons for taking two trips. Firstly, you’ll almost certainly witness a different family of gorillas, in which the dynamics and structure will be different. Secondly, having been once, you’ll have had some time to review the photographs you took the first time around, and tweak your settings accordingly. Gorilla portraiture is surprisingly challenging because, although you may be incredibly close to them, the light may be limited and use of flash is forbidden.

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To Mikeno (2 Nights)
2 Nights

To Mikeno

From Bukima, the next stop is Mikeno — a beautifully appointed lodge set in primary forest. Birds and primates are both common around the camp, and after a couple of days of fairly intense gorilla trekking, it’s quite liberating to be able to wander around the grounds at your leisure.

Mikeno is set next to the Park HQ, and you’ll likely be able to meet some of the conservationists who’ve been protecting the park through thick and thin, and hear first-hand some of the challenges that they are facing. The highly-trained Congo-Bloodhounds are kenneled nearby, and it is well worth witnessing a demonstration of their tracking skills for anti-poaching patrols.

Mikeno has a nascent chimpanzee tracking program underway and, while not as smooth or polished as what you might find in Tanzania, Uganda or Rwanda, it’s great fun and very worthwhile. Set out early to try to get to the chimpanzees while they are still in their nests, and then follow them out foraging.

Another attraction at Mikeno is the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage – the only facility in the world for orphaned mountain gorillas. Set in a clearing in the forest, you can wander down from the lodge unaccompanied and watch the orphans from one of the viewing platforms. If you’ve seen the documentary film Virunga (and you should), the gorilla caregiver André Bauma, who features heavily in the film, remains part of the team.

Accommodation

Mikeno Lodge

Spacious stone thatched cottages, each with their own private forest clearing in front are generously spaced, while inside there is a fireplace that is lit each evening.

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Climbing Nyiragongo (2 Nights)
2 Nights

Climbing Nyiragongo

Trek the 3,470m to the top of Nyiragongo, an active volcano in which lies the world’s largest ephemeral lava lake, which has been known to disappear entirely for decades at a time. The climb is pleasant and largely forested, but engaging a porter to carry your pack is actively encouraged.

Sleep in the basic shelters on the rim of the crater looking down into the hypnotic bubbling mass of lava. The downhill trek is quicker and easier than the ascent, and back at the roadhead you’ll be met by your vehicle to start the transfer back to Kigali.

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