Interior of Tent, Bukima Camp, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Virunga National Park

The park’s 7,800 square kilometres includes forests, savannahs, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes and the glacial peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains.

Virunga National Park the only park in the world to have populations of three great ape species – the chimpanzee, the lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla, but wandering through the shadowy forests you may find Okapi, both forest and savannah elephants, large colonies of hippo’s, numerous rare birds and even lion.

Added to this, half of all the biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa can be found in Virunga. It is perhaps no wonder that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most exciting places to explore in the Democratic Republic of Congo, perhaps in all of Africa.

Landscape of Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

The northern sector

The park itself is comprised of three main sectors. The northern sector is defined by the Rwenzori Mountains that border Uganda. At over 5,000 metres, the summits of the Rwenzoris are permanently snow-capped and snowmelt from the Rwenzoris is one of the primary sources of the Nile River. Okapis can also be found here, living along the Semliki River valley.

Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

The central sector

The central sector is based around Lake Edward, the Ishasha river valley and the Rwindi plains. Lake Edward contains over 50 species of fish, as well as numerous bird species and the lake itself and the adjacent Ishasha river valley, are home to the park’s recovering hippo population – once the world’s largest. The park’s highest concentrations of elephant, buffalo, warthogs and topi are found on the Rwindi plains of the central sector, offering a much more traditional plains game safari.

Gorilla lying down, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

The southern sector

Virunga’s southern sector is best known for the mountain gorillas that live on the flanks of the dormant Mikeno volcano (4,380 metres), with four habituated mountain gorilla families near Bukima. Humba (eight individuals), Rugendo (eight individuals), Mapua (21 individuals) and Nyakamwe (nine individuals).

There is another habituated group – Kimbombo consisting of 25 individuals – but it is further away from Bukima. The dense forests that cover most of southern Virunga, also make it ideal habitat for chimpanzees and numerous species of monkey, including the Blue and Colobus found in high numbers, particularly around Mikeno Lodge.


Discover some of our suggested activities to include on your holiday

Nyiragongo molten lava, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Climb Mount Nyiragongo

Spend a night on Nyiragongo Volcano and watch the world’s largest lava lake from above.

Upemba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Explore Virunga’s Savannah

Head north, into Virunga National Park’s savannah grasslands and stay at Lulimbi Camp, beside the Ishasha River.

Suggested Holiday Idea

Bbay gorilla playing, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Gorilla Sanctuary

Visit Senkwekwe – the only orphan mountain gorilla sanctuary in the world.

Suggested Holiday Idea

Anti Poaching Bloodhound and Ranger, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Anti-Poaching Demonstration

Meet the park’s anti-poaching bloodhounds and witness a demonstration for their abilities.

Suggested Holiday Idea

Looking out from Nyiragongo towards Rwanda, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Helicopter Safari

Take a helicopter safari over the Virunga Mountains, spending time on active volcanoes.

Mountain gorilla, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Track Mountain Gorillas

Go in search of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains.

Suggested Holiday Idea

Chimpanzee Portrait, Kibale Forest, Uganda

Track Chimpanzees

Follow chimpanzees through the forests, tracking a habituated family.

Suggested Holiday Idea

Where to stay

Some of the wonderful places to stay that we frequently recommended.

Nyiragongo Summit Shelter £££££

  • Democratic Republic of Congo

They are very much shelter and not much else. These fibre-glass huts keep out the wind and stay surprisingly warm but are very spartan. Inside each hut are small foam mattresses, which lie directly on the floor. However, after the hike to the top, they will feel like a king-size bed.

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Mikeno Lodge £££££

  • Democratic Republic of Congo

This is a great little lodge and the only small, boutique-style property in the area. Each of the 12, solid lava stone and natural thatch bungalows sit in the heart of Virunga National Park, overlooking the forest or valley with Nyiragongo and Mikeno volcanoes in the distance.

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Bukima Camp £££££

  • Democratic Republic of Congo

Bukima means the place where there are monkeys and whilst it was originally built as a base for researchers, it is now used as the starting point for Virunga mountain gorilla treks. The six, large meru-style safari tents (4 doubles and 2 twins) are all en-suite (flushing loos and bucket showers) with a small dresser and simple safari chairs, with a similar, but much larger main mess tent, where wholesome, simple meals are taken and where batteries can be charged.

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Meet our experts

A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.

Chris Johnston

Chris is the Conde Nast Traveller chosen Specialist for Africa.

25 years ago, my first trip to Africa took on a life of its own. I planned for three months, I stayed for two years. Whilst there, I was mistaken for a priest, attacked by sharks and arrested. Yet the countless, clattering journeys opened my eyes to the beauty of the landscapes and the grace of the people. My recent trips are undoubtedly more comfortable, but the welcome is as warm as ever and the best experiences are still those I never see coming.

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