Highlights and Main Attractions of Virunga National Park
Africa’s oldest national park lies close to the heart of the continent, protecting its natural treasures behind dense jungle and at the top of mountainous peaks. It stretches for over 250 miles, encompassing a mind-boggling array of wildlife and habitats, including 700 species of bird and around half of the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the foremost concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. The massive variations in altitude within the park’s borders – the difference between the park’s highest and lowest points is some 11,000 ft – have created a variety of different habitats and ecological niches for wildlife to occupy. From glaciers and lava flows to forests and savannahs, Virunga’s 3,000 square miles contain a multitude of natural wonders.
The park is comprised of three sectors, each with its own distinct landscape and wildlife. In the north, the towering Rwenzori Mountains reach heights of over 16,000 ft, with permanently snow-capped summits. As one of the primary sources of the Nile River, the Rwenzoris have long been associated with the legendary “Mountains of the Moon”. Further down, the endangered okapi – a curious-looking relative of the giraffe with distinctive zebra-striped legs – roams the valley of the Semliki River. One of Africa’s Great Lakes, Lake Edward, takes up most of Virunga’s middle sector, providing a wellspring of life to birds, fish, elephants, buffalos, warthogs, lions, hippos and topi, one of the fastest antelopes in Africa. Virunga’s southern sector is the most popular with visitors, abutting onto Lake Kivu and its various population centres. Here visitors can find volcanoes, chimpanzees and a number of habituated mountain gorilla groups.