Virunga Overview

Virunga National Park, located in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is Africa’s oldest national park and one of its most iconic conservation areas. Established in 1925 and spanning roughly 7,800 square kilometers (about 3,011 square miles), Virunga is a UNESCO World Heritage site celebrated for its extraordinary biodiversity and unique landscapes. The park stretches from the Virunga Mountains in the south to the Rwenzori Mountains in the north, encompassing vast and varied ecosystems including savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, and the ice fields of the Rwenzori — making it one of the most diverse habitats on the continent.

Virunga is perhaps best known for its population of mountain gorillas, which are among the world’s most endangered species. The park is one of the last refuges for these magnificent primates, offering a critical sanctuary amidst ongoing threats from poaching and habitat destruction. Conservation efforts within the park have been internationally recognized, although the region’s political instability and conflicts pose ongoing challenges.

In addition to mountain gorillas, Virunga hosts an astonishing array of wildlife, including elephants, lions, hippos, and numerous bird species, reflecting the park’s incredible ecological diversity. The park’s landscapes are equally varied and spectacular, from the lush forests that cloak the mountain slopes to the savannas and the active Nyiragongo Volcano with its spectacular lava lake, one of the largest in the world.

Virunga National Park’s significance extends beyond its conservation value. It plays a vital role in the livelihoods of local communities and has the potential to contribute to the region’s development through eco-tourism. Despite facing numerous challenges, including illegal mining, deforestation, and armed conflict, Virunga remains a symbol of hope for conservation in Africa, embodying the resilience of nature and the possibility of coexistence between humans and wildlife. The park’s efforts to protect its natural heritage, support local communities, and promote sustainable development are vital for the preservation of this unique ecosystem for future generations.

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Park Map
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Virunga National Park Highlights


In Virunga National Park, visitors have the extraordinary opportunity to encounter critically endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Home to a significant population of these gentle giants, the park offers immersive gorilla trekking experiences led by expert guides.

Trekking through dense forests and rugged terrain, visitors may observe gorilla families as they go about their daily lives, including feeding, playing, and caring for their young. Witnessing these magnificent creatures up close is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience, providing valuable insights into their complex social structures and behaviors.

By supporting responsible tourism initiatives, visitors contribute to the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitat, ensuring their survival for future generations to appreciate and cherish.


Along with the coveted mighty gorilla, Virunga is home to a variety of other wildlife species.  Here is a glimpse of wildlife you might experience:

African Elephant: Towering and iconic, African elephants roam the park’s savannas and forests, their impressive size and social dynamics reflecting the wild beauty of Virunga.

Buffalo: Formidable and resilient, Cape buffalo graze the park’s grasslands in large herds, their imposing presence and powerful horns a symbol of Africa’s untamed wilderness.

Leopard: Stealthy and elusive, leopards prowl the park’s forests and grasslands, their spotted coats and nocturnal habits adding an air of mystery to Virunga’s ecosystem.

Lion: Majestic and powerful, lions reign over the savannas of Virunga, their iconic roars echoing through the plains as they hunt and protect their prides.

Chimpanzee: Intelligent and social, chimpanzees swing through the park’s forests, captivating visitors with their complex behaviors and familial bonds in their natural habitat.

Giraffe: Graceful and unique, giraffes roam the park’s savannas, their towering stature and distinctive patterns adding charm to the African landscape.

Hippopotamus: Semi-aquatic and territorial, hippos inhabit the park’s rivers and lakes, emerging at dusk to graze on land, their presence a symbol of Virunga’s diverse ecosystem.

Warthog: Hardy and adaptable, warthogs forage in the park’s grasslands, their distinctive appearance and humorous antics adding character to the African wilderness.

Vervet Monkey: Agile and social, vervet monkeys thrive in the park’s forests, entertaining visitors with their playful antics and vocal communication within their tight-knit troops

Virunga National Park Pictures

Engaging Virunga

Embark on an unforgettable adventure through the lush forests of Virunga National Park to encounter the majestic mountain gorillas.  Without question, this is the most coveted part of the national park.

Led by experienced guides, trekkers will traverse rugged terrain, dense vegetation, and mist-shrouded slopes in search of these endangered primates.

Witnessing these incredible creatures in their natural habitat is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience, providing a rare glimpse into their complex social structures and behaviors.

Ascend the slopes of the magnificent Nyiragongo volcano, one of Africa’s most active and imposing stratovolcanoes.

The challenging hike to the summit rewards adventurers with unparalleled views of the world’s largest lava lake, a mesmerizing sight of molten lava churning and bubbling within the crater.

Camping overnight on the rim allows visitors to witness the fiery spectacle under the starry sky, creating an unforgettable and surreal experience amidst the volcanic landscape.

Explore the park’s diverse ecosystems on guided nature walks led by knowledgeable rangers. From lush rainforests teeming with birdlife to vast savannas inhabited by grazing antelope, these walks offer a chance to immerse oneself in the park’s natural beauty while learning about its flora, fauna, and conservation efforts.

Virunga National Park Trails

Nyiragongo Volcano Trail

Rating: Difficult

Distance and Elevation Gain: Approximately 9.3 miles (15 km) round trip with an elevation gain of 5,249 feet (1,600 meters)

Description: The Nyiragongo Volcano Trail is a challenging trek to the summit of one of Africa’s most active volcanoes.

Hikers will navigate steep and rugged terrain, passing through lush rainforest before reaching the barren lunar landscape of the volcano’s crater.

The highlight of the journey is camping overnight at the crater rim and witnessing the mesmerizing lava lake below.

Bukima Gorilla Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Approximately 3 miles (5 km) round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: The Bukima Gorilla Trail offers an unforgettable opportunity to trek through dense forest in search of mountain gorillas.

Hikers will follow experienced guides as they track gorilla families, observing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

The trail provides an immersive wildlife experience and a chance to contribute to gorilla conservation efforts through sustainable tourism.

Tongo Trail

Rating: Moderate to Difficult

Distance and Elevation Gain: Varies, typically 4-6 miles (6.4-9.6 km) round trip with moderate to steep elevation gain

Description: The Tongo Trail leads hikers through Virunga’s diverse landscapes, including bamboo forests, alpine meadows, and volcanic slopes.

Along the way, hikers may encounter various wildlife species, including rare birds and primates.

The trail offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lakes, making it a rewarding adventure for nature enthusiasts.

Mikeno Ridge Trail

Rating: Difficult

Distance and Elevation Gain: Approximately 8 miles (13 km) round trip with a significant elevation gain of 4,921 feet (1,500 meters)

Description: The Mikeno Ridge Trail traverses the rugged terrain of the Virunga Mountains, offering hikers a challenging ascent to the summit of Mount Mikeno.

Hikers will navigate steep inclines and rocky terrain while enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

The trail is renowned for its diverse flora and fauna, including endemic plant species and rare mountain gorillas.

Mount Karisimbi Trail

Rating: Difficult

Distance and Elevation Gain: Approximately 17 miles (27 km) round trip with a strenuous elevation gain of 9,842 feet (3,000 meters)

Description: The Mount Karisimbi Trail is a demanding multi-day trek to the summit of the highest volcano in the Virunga Mountains.

Hikers will traverse through dense forest, bamboo stands, and alpine meadows, camping overnight at designated campsites along the way.

The trail offers unparalleled views of the surrounding volcanoes and the Rwandan countryside, rewarding those who conquer its challenging terrain.



1. What is Virunga National Park known for?

Virunga National Park, located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is renowned for its exceptional biodiversity, stunning landscapes, and its population of endangered mountain gorillas. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is Africa’s oldest national park and is home to a diverse array of habitats, including active volcanoes, lush rainforests, savannas, and swamps.

One of the park’s most significant attractions is its population of critically endangered mountain gorillas, which reside in the forests of the Virunga Massif. The park’s gorilla population has been the focus of extensive conservation efforts aimed at protecting these iconic primates from poaching, habitat loss, and other threats.

In addition to mountain gorillas, Virunga National Park is home to a wide variety of other wildlife, including elephants, hippos, chimpanzees, and numerous bird species. The park’s diverse ecosystems support an abundance of flora and fauna, making it a haven for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Virunga National Park is also known for its dramatic landscapes, including the towering peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains, the lava plains of the Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira volcanoes, and the scenic shores of Lake Edward and Lake Kivu.

Despite facing numerous challenges, including political instability and poaching, Virunga National Park remains a symbol of conservation success and a testament to the importance of protecting Africa’s natural heritage. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the beauty and biodiversity of one of the continent’s most remarkable wilderness areas.

  • Britannica, Lake Edward,, retrieved March 2024.
  • NASA Earth Observatory, Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo,, retrieved March 2024.
  • Virunga, Virunga National Park,, retrieved March 2024.
  • Virunga National Park, Gorilla Trekking,, retrieved March 2024.
  • Visit Virunga, Virunga National Park,, retrieved March 2024.
  • Visit Virunga, Nyiragongo Volcano Trek,, retrieved March 2024.
  • UNESCO, Virunga National Park,, retrieved March 2024.