The great unknown
Our Guide to
The Democratic Republic of Congo Safari
A Safari secret.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC has long been a country shrouded in darkness from its political turmoil, dwindling rainforest and internal wars over natural resources.
These days, things are ever so slowly getting back on their feet.
It is certainly an almighty adventure for those willing to charter new territory and discover truly magical moments in Africa’s wilderness.
Mountain gorilla trekking, climbing an active volcano, chimpanzee trekking and hikes in the Rwenzori Mountains.
What are you waiting for?Get Started
Welcome to the DRC
The highlight of a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo has to be Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the east and on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park plus the continent’s most biologically diverse area that is formally protected. Some 7,800 square kilometres of land ranges from swamps, erosion valleys, forests, Savannas to lava plains, active volcanoes and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains.
Virunga is important because it is home to literally a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. Virunga is home to two other Great Ape species, namely the eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees. This means Virunga is the only park in the world to host three types of Great Apes.
Another prominent species in Virunga is the Okapi, an endangered mammal that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the giraffe. You can also spot hippo, forest and savanna elephants, lions on the odd occasion, and numerous rare bird species.
Virunga National Park has three sectors:
- Northern – this region is defined by its 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.
- Central – this 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.
- Southern – This area is best known for the mountain gorillas that live on the flanks of the dormant Mikeno volcano some 4,380 metres high. It’s also the perfect habitat for 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 lava lake. A little farther north is Nyamulagira volcano, which is considered the most active in Africa. Nymulagira has erupted over 40 times since the late 1800s, as recent as November 2011.
DRC Gorilla Trekking
A visit to the Virunga Mountains is like going home. You are visiting the most fertile forest mountains, home to mountain gorillas. Here, you’ll trek for a few hours depending on where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and once with them, a precious hour can be spent watching.
You will need to wear surgical masks provided to safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas. Children must be 15 years of age or older again for safety. Permits are at their cheapest in the DRC, just US$400 per adult.
Nyiragongo Volcano Treks
The DRC is home to a stunning stratovolcano that features the world’s largest lava lake. You can trek to the summit and with an average fitness, it should take you 4 to 6 hours. 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.
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 spectacularl 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.
In the 1980s, the Frankfurt Zoological Society began working to habituate a group of chimpanzees living in the Congo forest around the park headquarters in Rumangabo. There are around 32 chimpanzees and you have the unique opportunity to leave very early in the morning to trek and find the chimps. Group size is just 4 people and you get an hour with the chimpanzees.
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 is 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. Relax here on the beach or head off to explore the island in a sea kayak or paddle board. It is a great finale to a DRC safari.
Best time to visit DRC
Between June and September the weather and conditions are best to trek the Virunga Mountains and indeed the Nyiragongo Volcano. Outside these months, temperatures can vary greatly and there are also wet seasons worth considering. Having said that, expeditions in October benefit from low season so great rates and cusp weather.
Conservation in DRC
Virunga National Park is an outstanding conservation story. It is run as a Public-Private Partnership between the National Park Authority (ICCN) of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Virunga Foundation. It is a UK based charity set up to protect the flora and fauna of the Virungas, as well as the local communities that live near Virunga’s boundary.