Democratic Republic of Congo second-largest country in Africa after Algeria covers about 2.3 million km2 from the capital city Kinshasha in the west to Goma town on the shores of Lake Kivu in the eastern part of the country. Formerly known as Zaire meaning “great river” Kinshasha is located on the mighty Congo River, the second-longest in Africa after the Nile River in Uganda. Kinshasha city is 15 miles away from the coast of the Atlantic ocean.
The central African country has a population of about 89 million people known as Congolese and most of them speak French as an official language. However, Congo was conquered by Belgium and obtained its independence in 1960. Following her freedom, DR Congo has faced relentless civil wars. A result of various guerrilla groups fighting to control rich mineral, timber resources, struggle for power among other factors in the great lakes region.
The areas of DR Congo prune to conflicts are reported to be in the north and south Kivu province but also encompass some parts of Virunga mountains and Congo river forest basin, the second-largest tropical forest after Amazon forest.
Fortunately, this great natural place is home to a diversity of wildlife, a watershed that the people of Congo depend on for survival and economic development.
Despite these great natural resources, for many years tourism development has remained low and wildlife conservation faces lots of challenges. However, there have been efforts to tap into this potential for tourism to thrive given that DR Congo has 7 national parks and 57 wildlife reserves.
Most importantly, among the parks are five officially listed UNESCO world heritage sites. These include Virunga National Park, which is Africa’s oldest protected area and habitat for mountain gorillas and active volcanoes; Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt. Nyamuragira, Salonga National Park, Garamba Forest National Park, Kahuzi-Beiga National Park, and Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
These beautiful landscapes are ideal for adventure safaris in DR Congo. Particularly mountain gorilla trekking safaris in Virunga National Park and lowland gorilla trekking in Kahuzi-Beiga National Park.
Despite the threat posed by rebel conflicts, efforts to protect wildlife for tourism in DR Congo have been successful. The UN peacekeeping mission established in 2010, the Congolese Institute for nature conservation and work done by Congolese wildlife rangers.
Over the years, there’s has been improvement in security and political stability in DR Congo ever. And this has been attracting gorilla trekking safaris not only in Virunga National Park but also in other parts like Garamba in the northeast. And so the tourism industry in DR Congo no longer faces a threat as it used to in the past. But, the wildlife rangers still face challenges to protect wildlife and keep locals at peace. Because in the south Kivu province, Virunga area, northeast in Garamba National Park, bandits tend to target carry out attacks on the parks killing wildlife rangers in the process especially in Virunga areas, That’s why travel advisories on the internet portray that Travel to DR Congo for safari may not be reliable as it is in her neighbors.
Therefore, many opt for gorilla and wildlife tours in Rwanda and Uganda, and a few intrepid travelers take on safaris to DR Congo or combine gorilla tours for all three destinations.
So, If you are considering visiting DR Congo, seeking jungle memories and central African safari experience. GoExplore safaris will help you to plan your safari from start to end. Our team leader has visited Virunga National Park and hiked Nyiragongo volcano. Planning your DR Congo travel experience is done in collaboration with Virunga National Park authorities
Visitors going for the gorilla safari in Virunga national park are provided security by the Congolese Institute for nature conservation. The Virunga wildlife rangers escort travelers from Goma city to the park. And this has helped many people to travel to achieve their dream DR Congo travel experience.
There are successful gorilla safaris and Nyiragongo volcano hiking reviews on Tripadvisor an indication that you too can plan a safari with us at GoExplore Safaris and we will help you to book your Congo gorilla safari and help you acquire and obtain the Visa which is a bit of stress but we always work around the clock to get you these done.
Getting to DR Congo for gorilla trekking safaris is best done through a registered Our Head Office at GoExplore Safaris You can do it on your own by contacting the official Virunga national park website. And getting there is done through Rwanda and Uganda because these countries are safe and therefore they provide better accessibility for travelers getting to the eastern part of DR Congo by road or fly-in-safaris.
AREAS OF INTEREST for DR Congo Safari
The capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasha is located on the Congo River in the west of the country just 15 miles away from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The name Kinshasha came from the local word “Nshasha” which means salt in English. People in the area mined and traded salt the city took the name of the village and salt Market-nshasha.
Goma city lies in the remote eastern part of DR Congo on the shores of Lake Kivu at the foothills of Mount Nyiragongo volcano. Goma is close to the border with Rwanda and Uganda and getting there by road takes about a 3-hour drive from Kigali city or Kisoro town southwestern Uganda. Goma city has an airport served by several international airlines such as Ethiopian airlines. Therefore, its the gateway for travelers going on safari to Virunga national park and Kuhuzi-Beiga National Park.
About a million people living in Goma live close to active volcanoes- Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt. Nyamuragira. When these volcanoes erupt, the violent magma emitted runs down to Goma city and has not only displaced many people in 2002 and recently in March 2021 but also destroy and burry buildings in the process. This active volcanic activity is reported to pose danger especially to the lives of people living on the shores of Lake Kivu. Because of the volcanic vents underneath the waters.
THE CULTURE of Congolese
There are about 200 ethnic tribes of Bantu people in the Democratic Republic of Congo collectively known as Congolese. As such, their culture and heritage are rich and diverse. The indigenous tribes are of Bantu origin. The most known include Lunda, Kongo, Luba, and Mond but there are also pygmies such as efu and Mburi in the Ituri forest northeast of the country. Congolese have kept their traditions and customs despite the colonial influences. For example, Congolese are great fishermen because they hail from the great Congo river basin. Some of the traditions still visible today include men greeting each other by head shakes, staying together in large families, use of Lingala music and languages such as Kikongo and Swahili as well as food and herbal medicine.
However, the colonial influence has its roots too. As seen in the use of French as the official language, celebration of independence day among other holidays and most people subscribe to Catholicism as a religion.
With modern influences as well as local traditions, it means that the culture and people of DR Congo embrace all walks of life.
In the capital city Kinshasha, you will find people who speak more than three languages. Being the business center, you will find all facilities and services such as shops, spas, hotels, banking, and internet. When you move away from the city to remote eastern parts of Goma city, you will find those who do not speak French. Goma city in particular being a gateway for gorilla trekking safaris in Virunga park, has several hotels, banks, and internet. Here you expect to drive on dirt and bumpy roads outside the cities but it's part of the congo travel experience.
So when visiting DR congo for your African safari, you need to learn a few words in French, Swahili, linguala, or Kikongo which are the most common local languages.
ABOUT WILDLIFE in DR Congo
DR Congo is one of the richest nations in the world in terms of biological diversity. Because of her natural ecosystems for example the congo forest and river basin is the second largest in the world after Amazon. Other important ecosystems include the Virunga mountains found outside the congo forest basin but are equally rich and diverse in terms of flora and fauna. Estimates show that DR Congo has over 400 species of mammals, over 1000 species of birds, over 700 fish species, and countless plants. Among these, include the mammal species that are endangered such as mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, Okapi known as forest giraffe, bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee), bongo, and the African pygmy hippo and crocodile.
The areas most important for ecological conservation of wildlife include Virunga national park home to mountain gorillas. the Okapi wildlife reserve in the northeast, Garamba forest national park which protects Kordofan giraffe and African elephants, Kauhuzi-Beiga National Park which protects the largest population of lowland gorillas.
WHERE TO GO in The Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park
Established in 1926, Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse conservation area and a UNESCO world heritage site. The park is part of the greater Virunga landscape, habitat for mountain gorillas, and Virunga park, in particular, is home to about 200 gorillas.
The park is located in eastern DR Congo and covers about 7800 km which encompasses rich habitats. From the active volcanoes that are Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt. Nyamuragira in the south to snowcapped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains on the border with Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
Travelers go to Virunga mainly for gorilla trekking and hiking Nyiragongo volcano. But the park’s biological diversity is beyond the gorillas. Virunga national park is also home to 700 species of birds,
Africa’s most active volcano, Mount Nyiragongo contains a lava lake on its summit standing at 3470 meters above sea level. It's steep-sloped but has been hiked by many travelers. Volcanicity records going back to 1882 show that Nyiragongo has erupted 35 times. The most recent volcanic eruptions occurred in 2002 and in February and May 2021 sending magma that runs down to Goma city-destroying or burying buildings and displacing many people. The summit of Nyiragongo is accessible and hikers get to sleep on top close to the lava lake in mountain huts. Hikers get to view the lava lake during the day and at night.
Getting to the top of the volcano is a moderate hiking experience. The trails go through tropical forests at the foothills going up volcanic rocks to the bare rocks at the summit. It can take about 4 to 6 hours depending on the fitness levels of hikers. Nyiragongo is found in the southern sector of Virunga National Park.
Nyamuragira is also an active volcano in south Virunga park and has erupted 40 times since 1885 which is slightly above the record of the famous Nyiragongo. Both volcanoes are close to each other but they erupt at different times. And the summit of Mt. Nyamuragira in particular stands at 3058 meters above sea level. It's therefore not steep as Nyiragongo but unfortunately has not been hiked.
Kahuzi-Beiga National Park
Named after two dormant volcanoes, Mt. Kahuzi and Mt. Beiga with an altitude range between 2100 to 2400 meters above sea level. Kahuzi Beiga National Park is home to the largest population of lowland gorillas. Also known as Grauer’s gorillas, it’s larger than its counterparts the mountain gorillas. With a population of about 250 lowland gorillas, Kuhuzi-Beiga provides is the best place in Africa to visit to see this great ape through lowland gorilla trekking safaris.
The park spans about 6000 km of primary tropical forests, lowland swamps, and volcanoes in the Bukavu region of South Kivu. The park is rich in flora and fauna. There are about 136 mammals, 13 species of primates including chimpanzees, and over 200 species. In addition to visiting gorillas, you can also visit the Lwiro sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees next to the park.
Kahuzi Beiga National Park is accessible by road either from Goma city or via Cyangungu town in southwest Rwanda on the shores of Lake Kivu. Those in Nyungwe forest National Park can also drive to Kahuzi-Beiga National Park and it takes about 5-hours.
Garamba Forest National Park
Garamba National Park found in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a UNESCO world heritage site. The outstanding wildlife species in the park include Kordofan giraffes and African elephants. Before the African Parks took over management of this park in 2005 through a partnership with the Congolese Institute for nature conservation, the park’s wildlife was declining in numbers due to poaching and civil conflicts.
Garamba forest spans about 5133 km stretching close to the border with South Sudan and the West Nile region in northern Uganda. Despite that the park was among the first to be gazetted in Africa in 1939, there was neglect to protect and conserve wildlife for a long time. Such a gap led to intense poaching of the park’s wildlife causing the extinction of white rhinos and reducing the population of elephants from 22000 in the 1970s to 1200 elephants by 2000. Not only was wildlife lost in large numbers but people living in Garamba areas were caught up in the conflicts.
The civil strife caused by suspected Lord resistance army a rebel movement led by Joseph Kony from Uganda along with those fighting in South Sudan took advantage and used the park as a source of income from selling ivory, rhino horns, and timber. However, the African parks helped to reverse the situation through the implementation of law enforcement dramatically reducing illegal activities and pushing the rebels out of the park. Nearly one and a half decades ago, Garamba National Park is now safe and secure which has enabled wildlife to reproduce and elephant numbers are now reported to be increasing. As a result, the people too are engaged in tourism and conservation, and health care services. With over 5000 people most of which are rangers, the time has now come for intrepid travelers to visit Garamba National Park.
Salonga National Park
Salonga National Park is located northwest of Kinshasha city in the heart of the Congo river basin and protects about 3.6 million km of dense tropical forests. This is Africa's largest protected area and the means to access the park is only by water transport. Because the congo river and its tributaries surround most of the park’s area and also meander through the forests creating natural beautiful scenery more or less similar to some of the parks in the Amazon forest.
More importantly, is the unique wildlife species found in Salonga National Park. Of great concern are the threatened wildlife species such as pygmy chimpanzees known as the bonobo, Congo peacock, forest elephants, and the African slender-snouted crocodile.
The park was established in 1970 and serious efforts to protect these species begun in 1984 when illegal activities such as poaching and encroachment posed threat to their survival. The park was then inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list.
Due to the remoteness of the park, conserving wildlife in Salonga National Park is quite challenging because the indigenous tribes including pygmies occupy the southern parts of the park. Therefore their lives depend on the park’s resources. As a result, illegal activities are carried out in the park leading to the loss of wildlife species. When poaching intensified, the park was listed by UNESCO on the list of world heritage sites in danger in 1999.
So, to ensure living in harmony with wildlife, serious conservation efforts became more strict leading to the creation of buffer zones, and Salonga national park was divided into north and southern sectors. And about six ranger stations were created to keep security tight. These include Monkoto, Mondjoku, Washikengo, Yoketelu, Anga and Mundja. This eased the operations around the park by the Congolese Institute for conservation of nature working together with the International Union for conservation of nature and the local communities.
A decade later, Salonga national park was removed from the list of world heritage sites in danger. Good conservation efforts and management have opened the park for tourism and adventure.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve
Okapi is a forest giraffe only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nowhere else. To protect the Okapi, Okapi Wildlife reserve was established in 1992 and put on the UNESCO world heritage list in 1996.
The reserve is found northeast of DR Congo in the heart of Ituri forest, an extension of the great congo river basin forests which stretch for about 13700 km. Okapi wildlife reserve adjoins western Uganda’s Semuliki National Park where the Semuliki river flows through both protected areas.
Ituri forests are still inhabited by pygmy tribes such as Mbuti, Efe, and Batwa who live in the forest surviving by hunting and gathering food for many centuries. So, both parks in the great Ituri forests are biologically diverse with unique wildlife and cultural heritage. Okapi wildlife reserve, in particular, is important for Okapi, 13 species of primates, forest elephants and buffaloes, pygmy hippo, Bongo, water chevrotain, and a variety of birds not found elsewhere in east and central Africa.
LANDSCAPES AND MOUNTAINS
One of the activities you can do in DR Congo is to explore its beautiful natural landscapes. Mountains in DR Congo include breathtaking sites of two active Virunga volcanoes, snowcapped peaks of Rwenzori mountains, several dormant volcanoes such as Mount Mikeno in the center of Virunga National Park, Mt. Kahuzi, and Mt. Beiga which form Kahuzi-Beiga National Park.
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