Planning for African gorilla safaris in East and Central Africa? Here are the best top National Parks to visit and you can experience the mountain gorillas, lowland gorilla and the chimpanzees trek in Africa. After encountering the primates tours in these parks you can as well combine with the visit to the wildlife parks and the holiday places like Lake Kivu, Lake Bunyonyi and the Mutanda Lake Resort.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park
In the forested depth of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo lies Virunga National Park one of the most bio-diverse places on earth and home to the planet’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Virunga National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and borders Uganda as well as Rwanda. It is the oldest national park in Africa and the second oldest in the world after Yellowstone National Park. It is named after the Virunga Mountain range that lies in the south of the park. The park also stretches all the way north to envelop Lake Edward as well as the Rwenzori Mountains.
The history of the park affected the country, poaching depleted Virunga’s large mammal populations, infrastructure was destroyed and many rangers were killed, but thanks to the dedication of certain politicians, conservationists, park rangers and wardens, the park not only has survived, but is currently experiencing a dramatic renewal. The park was founded in 1925 by King Albert 1 of Belgium and originally known as Albert National Park, the first national park on the continent of Africa. It was founded primarily to protect the gorillas living in the forest of the Virunga Mountains controlled by the Belgian Congo, but later expanded north to include the Rwindi Plains, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountain in the far north.
When the Belgians granted Congo independence in 1960 the new state deteriorated rapidly, in the process it was renamed Virunga National Park and the first Congolese Wildlife Authority was established now called ICCN. Foreign investment helped to improve the park’s infrastructure and training facilities and the park became a popular destination for tourists, receiving on average 6500 visitors a year. New tourist activities are being developed in the park, including the habituation of chimpanzees in the Tongo forest and high-end lodge conveniently located near the centre of the three main tourist attractions in the southern sector, north of north of Goma.
Biodiversity of the park
The park boasts an astounding biodiversity due to the large variety of habitats it offers. In the southern sector the mountain gorillas attract most attention but the montane forests are also home to other primates such as chimpanzees, Golden monkeys, Blue monkeys and black and white Colobus monkeys, plus forest elephants and buffaloes are also found in this area as well as the shy golden cat.
The central area of the park consists mostly of savannah with species such as lion, leopard, Kob, hyena, Topi, warthog among others. The lake, once containing the largest population of Hippo’s, is now slowly regenerating after many troubled years and Hippo’s and Crocodiles are once again a common sight. In the North of the park in the deep Congolese forest the most elusive of African creatures is found: the Okapi.
Accessibility to the park
There are only two routes that a tourist can access to reach Virunga National Park and these include;
Via Uganda, cross the border in Bunagana, from where the Mountain gorilla sites Jomba and Bikenge are easily accessible within 1 hour.
Via Rwanda, cross the border at Gisenyi/Goma, the border crossing is easy if you pre – arranged a visa, if not it will be difficult or expensive.
Tourist attractions in the park
The mountain gorillas live in Virunga mountain ranges, which are shared by Volcanoes National park in Rwanda, Mgahinga National park in Uganda and Virunga national park in DR Congo. Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park are a source of tourism attraction under ICCN. In the process of conserving mountain gorillas, the other subspecies of eastern and western gorillas in DRC have also received conservation attention including other wildlife that share habitats with mountain gorillas which has made diversity of wildlife relevant besides gorillas.
Mount Nyiragongo is an active stratovolcano with an elevation of 3,470 metres in the Virunga Mountains associated with the Albertine Rift. It is located inside Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about 20 km (12 mi) north of the town of Goma and Lake Kivu and just west of the border with Rwanda. Lava flows through down town of Goma and reaches Lake Kivu, only to 150 km depth. The most recent large eruption of Nyiragongo occurred in 2002 where 147 people killed. During this eruption lava flows moved through the city of Goma on the shores of Lake Kivu destroying 13% of the city and approximately 12,000 to 15,000 homes displaced hundreds of thousands of people
Kahuzi Biega National Park
Kahuzi Biega National Park is a protected area near Bukavu town in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is situated near the western bank of Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border. Kahuzi Biega National Park was established in 1970 by the Belgian photographer and conservationist Adrien Deschryver, the park is named after two dormant volcanoes, Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega, which are within its limits. Set in both mountainous and lowland terrain, it is one of the last refuges of the rare species of Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), an endangered category under the IUCN Red List.
The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1980 for its unique biodiversity of rain forest habitat and its eastern lowland gorillas. The park lies west of the Bukavu town in South Kivu Province, covering an area of 6000 km2. A small part of the park is in Mitumba Mountain range of the Albertine Rift in the Great Rift Valley, and the larger part is in lowland terrain.
Biodiversity of the park
The park is home to some of the last remaining populations of Eastern lowland gorillas in the wild. There were an estimated 600 living in the park in 1990, but there are only believed to be a couple hundred still alive after the tumultuous fighting of the 1990s and 2000s. In comparison to the western lowland gorillas, with a population of over 100,000 in Congo-Brazzaville, the total population of eastern lowland gorillas numbers at less than 4,000.
They’re also not to be confused with the mountain gorillas sought by tourists in Rwanda, Uganda, and Virunga National Park. The Eastern Lowland Gorilla is noteworthy for being larger than their western counterparts or mountain gorillas.
Accessibility to the park
The park is accessible by a decent road from Bukavu. Taxis, buses, and car hires can be made to reach the park. In order to have permission to visit, you need to contact Kahuzi-Biega National Park and request a letter of invitation. You need a letter of invitation to apply for your D.R. Congo visa. Book your airline tickets to Kigali, Rwanda (KLM or similar) and to Kamembe – Cyangugu – Ruzizi (Rwanda air) in advance. You need a copy of your paid airline e-ticket to apply for a D.R. Congo visa. You may not need a visa to visit Rwanda. When you have your visa, let KBNP know your travel dates. Fly to Kigali Airport in Rwanda it is the closest international airport.
Do not try to cross the D.R. Congo border without someone from D.R. Congo government, hopefully from the ICCN (Institute Congolais de Conservation de Nature) who run the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. If they are with you, your crossing will be smooth and quick.
Attractions in the park
Kahuzi Biega National Park is a home to the largest population of the Eastern Lowland Gorilla, and the only place in the world where you can visit them. Gorillas are the largest of the primate species, but they are also known as the most gentle and peaceful. They are also one of the closest relatives to humans, second only to the chimpanzee.
The Eastern Lowland Gorilla is a sub species closely related to the Mountain Gorilla, which resides in the mountains bordering Rwanda, Uganda and DRC. There are small differences between the two sub species. The Eastern Lowland Gorillas found in Kahuzi Biega are larger in size, with a bigger, longer face and fewer nose prints.
Birds in the park
The park features 349 species of birds including four species that are on the IUCN Red list namely; Yellow-crested Helmet-Shrike, Congo Peafowl, African Green Broad bill and Rockefeller’s Sunbird.
Volcanoes National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Bwindi Forest National Park
Among the places for your holidays include the Lake Kivu, Bunyonyi, Mutanda, Mulehe among others and all travelers visiting DRC Congo, Uganda and Rwanda can not miss to relax at any of the Lakes after the gorilla safari adventures and mount hiking.