Located in the northeast corner of DR Congo, Virunga National Park is part of Virunga Conservation Area along with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park. It was established as Albert National Park in 1925 and changed to Virunga in 1969. In 1979 it became a world heritage site.
Due to its dramatic variations in altitude, from 680 m (2231 ft) to 5,109 m (16,765 ft), moisture levels and topography, Virunga National Park possesses a very wide diversity of plants and habitats, making it the top African National Park for biological diversity.
The scenery of Virunga National Park is truly stunning. It contains several volcanic mountains such as: Karisimbi, Mikeno, Visoke, Sabinyo, Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo, with the last two still very active. A wide-range of plant species abound here, with more than 2,000 identified. It also contains more than 200 mammals and 22 primate species: the mountain gorilla, the eastern plain gorilla and the eastern chimpanzee. For those wishing to see more than just primates, some of the largest wild animal concentrations in Africa occur along the rivers of the park. Mammals in the savannah area include: elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, antelope, warthog, pelicans and lions.
The civil war in the early 1990’s in Rwanda had a devastating impact on neighboring DR Congo. It is estimated that around two million refugees moved into the Kivu province. This mass influx of people had a marked impact on the fauna and flora, with massive poaching and deforestation resulting. In 1996, the World Heritage Committee recognized that major effort would be needed for at least ten years after this tragedy to rehabilitate and restore management of the park and regain local support for its conservation. Sadly, nearly all of the gorilla tourism has ground to a halt, with a small number of tour operators still operating there.
Virunga is a land of extremes when it comes to many things, including weather. It is home to the most and least rainfall in the DR Congo. Although rain can be experienced at any time of year, the months with the most precipitation are March to May and September to December. The raised elevation also keeps temperatures roughly around 20 and 23C (65-73F) in the lowlands.