Must Do Tour Activities in Virunga National Park

Tourist Activities Within Virunga National Park Congo

When you mention Virunga National Park, many people will associate it with a place where Park rangers are always killed by poachers or rebels but what most people don’t know about it is the fact that it is one of the most biologically diverse Conservation Areas not only in Africa but in the whole World. You will be surprised that more than half of all of the biodiversity in Sub-Saharan Africa is found within this National Park much as it is also undeniable that it is also severely threatened by armed conflicts.

Established as Africa’s first National Park in 1925, it was originally known as Albert National Park and became a UNSECO World Heritage Site in 1979. Virunga National Park currently covers an area of 7800 square kilometers (780,000 hectares/3000 square miles) from the Virunga Mountains in the south to the extreme Rwenzori Mountains in the North but also borders Protected Areas of other countries like Queen Elizabeth and Rwenzori Mountains National Parks in Uganda and the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda.

Virunga’s exceptional biodiversity include several unique mammals especially the critically endangered mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, leopards, giraffes, buffaloes, forest elephants and many others as well as bird species to look out for. On top of the flora and fauna, the site is also home to a number of Virunga Volcanoes including Nyamulagira, Karisimbi, Mikeno, Sabinyo and Nyiragongo, The Presence of the extraordinary wildlife and bird species as well as Virunga Volcanoes have made it possible for tourists to enjoy several activities that include;

  • Tracking The Mountain gorillas

It is obvious that mountain gorilla trekking is the main tourist activity undertaken by tourists who visit Virunga National Park. There are so far 6 habituated gorilla families (including Kabirizi, Lulengo, Rugendo, Mapuwa, Munyaga and Humba) within this immense park available for trekking thus over 48 gorilla permits are available daily for tourists. It should be remembered that Virunga National Park is one of the four Parks in the whole World where this activity can be enjoyed. Other gorilla safari destinations in Africa include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, as well as the magnificent Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

  • Climbing/Hiking Mount Nyiragongo

Mount Nyiragongo is one of the active Volcanoes in Africa (having erupted more than 34 times with the recent ones being in 2002 when the Lava Lake drained and flowed to the surrounding communities) with a vast Lava Lake in the while World and tourists to Virunga National Park can not only see the wildlife species but also climb to the summits to enjoy its beautiful views. Mount Nyiragongo trekking is one of the most popular tourist activities to DR Congo Visitors and requires 2 days and 1 night at  the summit. Virunga management can pick you from Goma town hotel or Goma boarder to the trekking start point, and can arrange everything required to trekking Nyiragongo.

  • Bird watching

Did you know that Virunga National park is actually a home to over 780 species of birds? You will be mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the beautiful bird species when you rise up early in the morning at 5:00am. Some of the notable species not to miss in the Park include the Narrow-tailed Starling, African green broad bill, Yellow-billed Barbet, yellow crested helmet-shrike, Grey-throated Barbet, Congo peafowl, Madagascar Bee-eater and the Double-toothed Barbet among others.

  • Landscape Viewing

With its magnificent montane landscape and phenomenal vegetation, Virunga National Park can be visited for landscape viewing and photography. Notable spot for this activity include the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, the eroded valleys of Sinda and Ishango regions, the Virunga Volcanoes and the Afro-Alpine vegetation of tree ferns and the thick forests. All these outstanding views offer tourists with breathtaking experiences since they don’t need to go to places physically but instead enjoy them from specific places in Virunga National Park.

  • Chimpanzee Habituation Experience

Much as this activity is not widely done as it is within Uganda’s Kibale National Park, it is an extremely interesting tourist activity within this National Park and was started in 1987 by a Zoologist named Frankfurt. This is where Chimpanzees are made familiar to the presence of humans and several tourists flock into the Park for this interesting experience.

Uganda recently introduced gorilla habituation experience in southern Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where each permit currently costs US$1500. This allows a maximum of 4 hour’s experience with the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat!

  • Nature/Forest walks

This National Park is comprised of a vast Tropical rain forest with thick vegetation that offers shelter to several wildlife species such as chimpanzees, Hippos, monkeys, forest buffaloes, forest elephants, leopards and giraffes that can be encountered by tourists during forest walks. There are different nature walk trails that tourists follow and they lead to different places in the Park.

From the discussion above, it is clear that Virunga National Park is a must visit while on a tour through Africa! For security purposes, you are advised to book your safari in DR Congo through local tour operators and you must first inquire about the political situation at that time. If you are planning a safari in neighboring countries like Ruanda and Uganda, you can add a few days in DR Congo’s Virunga massif for gorilla tracking, chimps habituation, excellent birding, forest walks and Nyiragongo mountain trekking among others.

Tipping Tour guide in Uganda and Rwanda

Visiting Rwanda with out putting a step in Uganda is mus-fortunate and the reverse is true. Many tourists prefer visiting the two countries to make their safaris more memorable. It is noted that, some of the frequently ask questions about the safari is how to tip? When to tip? Whom and why to tip?

For many people travelling overseas, tipping can be somewhat confusing. Here is the tipping guide that will alleviate the confusion every time you reach for your wallet. However, tipping is not a must but depends on the will and satisfaction of the client to the service provided to him or her. Tipping also depends on the budget of the client but the mount to tip is not fixed-clients with big wallet are free to pay more than those with small wallet. Clients with fixed budget can as well give sincere thanks to the service providers.

When to tip?

Tipping is always done after the service and excellent service providers are expected to earn more. In others wards, the client can tip when checking out of the Hotel/Lodge, at the airport after drop off, in the park after tourist activities like Chimpanzee, Gorilla trekking, boat cruises, community visits among others.

Whom to tip?

While on Rwanda and Uganda gorilla safari and wildlife tour, safari guides, drivers, rangers, Waiters and Waitresses, Barmen and bar women, Hotel and trekker porters, Airport porters, Petrol (Gas) Attendants, Card guards, Massage/ Beauty Therapist and so on are expected to be rewarded a tip.

Safari guides/ drivers play a role of driving the visitors from one place to another and are in position to answer all the questions asked. More so, the guides ensure that visitors stay in the greed upon accommodation and do each activity in time.

The ranger guide play a leading role in the park or game reserve by briefing visitors before starting any activity, answer any question asked by the visitors, escort visitors to dangerous places like forest where animals like lions, leopards, hyenas among others are expected to be.

The ranger guards, in most case are armed to ensure that visitors are safe even in dangerous places harboring man eaters. In case of danger, the ranger guard can shoot the dangerous animals or rebels to safe guard the tourists.

Porters are lugged carriers, the help visitor lifting heavy lugged from one place to another.

Car guides ensure that all vehicles are secure.

Massage or Beauty Therapist do massage to the tired visitors after a full day movements. They also beautify visitors.

How to tip?

Tour Guides and drivers

In Uganda and Rwanda it is a common practice of tipping the tour guide/ driver at the end of your tour. If you are doing a group tour, then we recommend tipping anything from $ 20 to 100 per person. It goes without saying that you may tip more if you are very happy with the service.

With a private tour i.e. only one couple or a family, then we recommend you tip the driver (who will usually also be your guide) anything from $100 and up. Guests are welcome to tip more if they feel that the driver/guide made their trip enjoyable.

Rangers and trackers more often than not play a big role in making your safari special and memorable: The trackers help find animals such as the Big 5, and it becomes apparent how useful their tracking skills are during a safari. Rangers don’t just keep you safe, but also share valuable and entertaining information with you. Tipping is not compulsory, but if you feel that the ranger did a good job, then it is recommended that you tip $ 50 to $ 100 per family (or couple) per day.

Petrol or gas Station Attendants

For travelers on self drive must visit petrol stations to refill their vehicles with petrol, diesel or pressure. These petrol attendants fill up your vehicle, take the payment, and some times clean your windscreen, check the oil, water and tire pressure. In case you get confusion with the directions, you can always stop at your nearest petrol station to get clear directions. The average tip can be anything from $ 2 and up.

Car Guards

Travelers can expect to find car guards just about anywhere you park. These guards will offer to watch your car and help you park in exchange for a tip of $ 2 and up. Note that you will find car guards putting on bright official garments clearly showing the company of operation.

Health and Beauty services

At least a tip of $ 4 or more is tipped for a massage and beauty therapist. The same applies to hair stylists.

Waiters and Waitresses

They a play a role of serving food to the visitors, ensure that meals are provided in time among others. They really need a tip of at least $ 10, 20 or more.

Why to tip?

Visitors tip service providers as a sign of appreciating their services and to motivate them improve even more. The tip also act as a measuring scale of whether the services are good or bad but   it shouldn’t be misunderstood that failure for the client to tip means bad services but it can happen when the client has fixed budget.

For  more information about Uganda Rwanda wildlife and mountain gorilla safaris, visit www.ugandaholidaysafaris.com

 

Tips on Securing a Gorilla Permit in Rwanda & Uganda

Are you considering tracking the endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda or Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Well if you are then it’s always important to know what you will need to pay for before you embank on this life changing journey. Apart from securing a gorilla permit, it is advisable to book a fully inclusive Uganda safari that includes all the features of an all inclusive tour package i.e accommodation, transportation, guide fee that you will need; and an official gorilla permit handled by each of the national parks to see the gorillas. Note that quotes for almost all Uganda safaris fully inclusive of all items mentioned above. Usually you have to book your safari early enough in order to obtain these several months in advance. If you are going with a tour company it will be arranged for you.

In Uganda it costs USD 500per day per person for a gorilla permit in high season. In low season a permit costs $350 to track gorillas during the months March – May and October – November. You can get the permits in Kampala (the capital of Uganda) at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) headquarters. It is possible to make an international booking for permits using email direct with UWA but they do not accept credit cards so it gets a bit complicated. See their web site for more details. To make it simple, you can just purchase your whole gorilla trekking tour through a specialized company, like Gorilla Expeditions Ltd.

silverback-gorillaIn Rwanda you can get permits through the Rwanda Tourism Board offices (ORTPN) in Kigali or Ruhengeri (near the PNV). You can call (250) 576514 or 573396 or email at reservation@rwandatourism.com. The permits cost USD 750 per person per day (from June 2012). Most people will get their permits through a tour operator that specializes in trekking. It is difficult to obtain a permit without booking a tour at the same time. When I went Gorilla tracking in Rwanda, permits were sold out for 4 months in advance, so book early especially if you plan to go between June – October. In the DRC its best to just arrange your permit (USD 400) and tour through a tour company of your choice.
For more information about gorilla permits and planning a gorilla safari, visit www.ugandaholidaysafaris.com, a guide dedicated to offering all the information you need to know about gorilla trekking in Africa.