The EA guide to DRC safaris
The DRC is dominated by the second-largest rainforest in the world, sprawling across hundreds of thousands of kilometres of the Congo River Basin where you’ll come across savannah, glacial mountains and volcanoes.
It’s no secret that the DRC has suffered ups and downs in its long history of stability. With a wealth of natural resources, there are ongoing conflict threats that endanger the wilderness and wildlife.
A DRC safari is all about action-packed adventure, chartering new territory and discovering truly magical moments in some of Africa’s last remaining, untouched wilderness areas.
Explore the great wilderness of the DRC, visiting Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Virunga National Park for the mountain gorillas and Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary where you can go bonobos trekking.
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Virunga National Park
The oldest and most biologically diverse national park in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Virunga’s a wilderness worthy of protecting. There are epic lakes, volcanic mountains, vast expanses of grasslands and swathes of forest. Virunga was founded in 1925 by King Albert of Belgium, partly as a way of protecting the gorilla population. It covers 7,800 square kilometres in the eastern part of the country and comprises of three regions.
The northern region is defined by the impressive Rwenzori Mountains towering over 5000 metres. Permanently snow-capped, its melt is one of the primary sources of the Nile River. Okapis can be found living along the Semliki River valley below this region.
The central region features Lake Edward, the Ishasha River Valley and Rwindi Plains. Lake Edward is home to some 50 species of fish and impressive bird populations and the Ishasha river valley is home to a recovering hippo population – once the world’s largest. The highest concentration of elephant, buffalo, warthogs, and topi are found on the Rwindi plains.
The southern region is best known for the mountain gorillas that live on the flanks of the dormant Mikeno volcano some 4,380 metres high. Virunga is the only park in Africa and in deed the world that is home to three species of Great Apes. It’s the perfect habitat for gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys with dense forest covering much of the south. Across the valley to the west, you’ll find Nyiragongo Volcano at 3,470 metres. Climb to the top to witness the world’s largest active lava lake. A little farther north is Nyamulagira volcano, which is considered the most active in Africa. Nyamuragira has erupted over 40 times since the late 1800s, as recent as November 2011.
Gorilla trekking in the DRC is not for everybody, but you are likely to get a better view of the animals, go hiking in smaller groups and for a fraction of the price. Around half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas reside in the oldest national park of Virunga, located in Eastern DRC that is bordered by Mgahinga National Park (Uganda) and Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda).
Kinshasa is the capital city of the DRC and sits alongside the Congo River. The megacity’s vast urban sprawl offers high-end hotels, restaurants and a buzzing atmosphere for locals and visitors alike.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve
Okapi Wildlife Reserve can be found inside the Ituri Forest in north east DRC. Founded in 1992 and listed as a World Heritage site in 1996 this 5,300 square mile reserve helps to protect rare plant and animal life as well as the traditional lifestyle and culture of nomadic pygmy hunter-gatherers.
The reserve takes its name from the okapi that live in the forest. These strange animals have zebra-like markings on their legs yet are more closely related to giraffes. Only found in this area, you may come across one of the few thousand that remain today.
There are over 100 mammal species, including 17 species of primates, an estimated 7,500 forest elephants and populations of water chevrotains, forest buffalo, bongos, dwarf antelopes and giant forest hogs. This is a birders paradise with 376 documented species in the reserve.
Lola ya Bonobo
Lola ya Bonobo is the world’s only organisation that exists to provide a sanctuary for orphaned bonobos. The bonobos live here in a semi-wild environment until they are capable of being released back to the wild. In some cases, that will never be possible, so they will live at Lola ya Bonobo for the rest of their lives.
This amazing sanctuary is on the front line in the battle to protect bonobos in the only country they are found – The Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lola ya Bonobo has expanded its conservation rainforest area – Ekolo ya Bonobo into an official and federally-recognised forest reserve that is a protected area in the DRC. The protected rainforest area expanded from 20,000 acres to approximately 120,000 acres.
Creating the Ekolo ya Bonobo Forest will ensure the long-term protection of bonobos and other critical species by giving anti-poaching patrols the means to enforce the law and prosecute hunters, a significant deterrent against human threats to bonobos. It will also represent a crucial step in bonobo and rainforest conservation since swamp forests are known to be a key habitat for wild bonobos but are virtually unexplored and not widely researched.
Climbing Nyiragongo Volcano is among the bucketlist of very adventurous travellers who seek to experience live lava action. This hike is not for the faint-hearted. It takes 4 – 6 hours depending on your pace and fitness. Beginning at 1,989 metres above sea level, you ascend to 3,470 metres in a short time so altitude sickness can be an issue for some. You hike up through impressive rainforests and the climb continues on the lava eruption fissure before you’re each the summit. You stay at summit shelters and watch the sunset beyond the mountains and the lava lake come to life below you.
The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to chimpanzees, monkeys and bushbuck to name a few species. The summit rim is devoid of vegetation and sometimes lightly covered with snow. From the rim, you can look down into the lava lake and at night time, it is a spectacular orange colour whilst hot gases explode and rumble through the molten lava.
Like all of Africa’s mountain climbs and treks, you will need full rain and cold weather gear and temperatures at the summit are regularly below freezing. You arrive at the summit sweating from the steep climb and this warmth quickly disappears, giving way to cold.
We arrange packed meals, gear rental and other conveniences to help ensure a successful summit. You sleep on the volcano in huts build vicariously close to the edge. It is all part of the adventure. We organise your trekking permit, overnight accommodation in the shelter and catering.
Virunga National Park is home to some other brilliant treks and climbs. Rwenzori is also known as Mountains of the moon and at its peak, reaches 5,109 metres.
Here you will see the largest glacier left on the African continent. The landscapes and biospheres are impressive with bamboo forests, alpine meadows, lakes and snow-capped peaks. You may get to see forest elephants, Okapi, chimpanzees, and lots of different bird species.
The best time for Rwenzori is from January to March and June to August.
Every African adventure holiday should end with some time out and in the DRC, Tchegera Island is ideal. There is a camp on the island that offers a great escape from the hectic pace of Goma and the challenge of your climbing and trekking.
It’s right on the northern shore of Lake Kivu and you get views of the lake and four impressive volcanoes. When nights are clear, you witness Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira Volcanoes and their glowing lava that turns the night sky red.
Simply enjoy time relaxing on the beach or head off to explore the island in a sea kayak or paddleboard. It’s a great finale to a DRC safari.